Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forget five, now it's eight portions of fruit and veg a day for good health (?)

The Marmot's at it again. Epidemiogical rubbish, of course. International comparisons are very dicey. There could be many differences in different national populations other than their diets. Just let one fact sink in: Southern Europeans have a much more vegetarian diet than Australians do yet Australians live longer! If the Marmot reads this (unlikely) he would no doubt want to say: "Yes. But there are many other differences ...". To which I would say: "Precisely"

For years the advice has been clear: eating five portions a day of fruit and vegetables is the key to a healthy life. But five may no longer be enough.

A study has found that to get maximum defence against heart disease, you need to eat at least eight daily servings of fresh food.

The Government’s five-a-day advice has its roots in World Health Organisation guidelines to include 14oz of vegetables in a daily diet. But there have been doubts over whether eating more than this level of fruit and veg meant even greater health benefits. Now the new study suggests every extra portion provides added protection.

Significantly, those in the ­highest category – eating eight or more a day – have a 22 per cent lower chance of dying from heart disease than those who consume three ­portions, the UK average. A ‘portion’ weighs just under 3oz, equal to a small banana, a medium apple or a small carrot.

The findings come from an ongoing European investigation into diet and health, looking at 300,000 people in eight countries. Dr Francesca Crowe, of Oxford University, is working on the project. She said that although ischaemic heart disease (IHD) – the most common form – was less likely in those who ate lots of vegetables, it could be explained because these people might also have healthier lifestyles.

However, the study specifically showed a reduced risk of dying from IHD of around four per cent for each additional portion of fruit and veg consumed above the lowest category, which was those who ate two or fewer portions.

The average intake of fruit and vegetables across all the countries in the study was five portions. People in Greece, Italy and Spain ate more and those in Sweden less.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, of the University College London, said the findings were of ‘huge practical importance’. He said: ‘Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death. A reduction of 22 per cent is huge. There would need to be big shift in dietary patterns to achieve this healthy consumption of eight portions a day. It is worth trying to move in that direction.’

Scientists have previously suggested 15,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone ate five a day.


Drug offers new hope in treatment of deadly form of skin cancer

SCIENTISTS have heralded a new therapy for one of the deadliest forms of cancer after trials showed a new drug can extend the lives of patients with advanced malignant melanoma.

Patients taking the new drug, which attacks a genetic mutation found in about half of all cases of the aggressive skin cancer, live significantly longer than those given standard treatment, a landmark study has found.

Preliminary results suggest that the drug, known as RG7204 or PLX4032, is the first melanoma therapy with a proven benefit on survival. Though the cancer is treatable if caught early, fewer than 10 per cent of patients survive for a year if it has spread.

The trial has been so successful that Roche, the drug company, has ended its control arm, so that participants who had received a placebo can now take the active drug.

While RG7204 is suitable for only the half of melanoma patients whose tumours carry the right mutation, and only 80 per cent of these respond, scientists said it would transform treatment of the disease.

Richard Marais, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “What this means is that now, for the first time in melanoma, we have a treatment that actually works for an appreciable proportion of patients.”

James Larkin, of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “This is an incredibly exciting breakthrough. Malignant melanoma is a very difficult disease to treat and with a growing incidence in younger people the results of this trial are very encouraging.”

The drug also marks a milestone in the development of personalised genetic medicine, as it was designed to target a genetic mutation that is found in about 50 per cent of melanoma patients. The mutated gene, called BRAF, was identified in 2002 by a British team led by Professor Mike Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge.

The company is also developing a diagnostic test for the BRAF gene targeted by RG7204, to identify which patients can benefit. Such targeted treatment is considered to be the next frontier of cancer medicine.

In a separate study, published in the journal Nature, a team led by Dr Andy Futreal, of the Sanger Institute, has identified a gene that is mutated in one in three cases of kidney cancer.


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