Monday, March 07, 2011

Happiness 'helps you live longer', review of 160 studies concludes

This is of course largely epidemiological but the confluence of many lines of evidence does indicate a probably correct conclusion

People who are happy and positive about life live longer, scientists have concluded after reviewing dozens of studies about longevity. Researchers found "clear and compelling evidence" that happiness paves the way to better health and longer lifespans.

The review of more than 160 studies found the evidence connecting an upbeat outlook to a healthier life was even stronger than that linking obesity to reduced longevity. [That's not saying much!] It backed previous studies that found a “glass half full” approach was good for your health.

Scientists from the University of Illinois found positive moods reduced stress-related hormones and increased immune function. Their study, published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing, found happiness lead to quicker recovery from exercise. It also concluded that anxiety, depression, and pessimism were linked to higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.

People who felt intense anger or lived in stressful environments were more likely to be sick more often and died earlier. “I was almost shocked, and certainly surprised, to see the consistency of the data,” said Prof Ed Diener, who lead the study.

“The general conclusion from each type of study is that your subjective wellbeing, that is, feeling positive about your life, not stressed out, not depressed, contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations. “(The) overwhelming majority ... support the conclusion that happiness is associated with health and longevity."

Prof Diener noted that while current health edicts focus on obesity, smoking, eating habits and exercise "it may be time to add 'be happy and avoid chronic anger and depression' to the list."

"Happiness is no magic bullet, but the evidence is clear and compelling that it changes your odds of getting disease or dying young.”

The review looked at eight different types of long-term studies and experimental trials involving both human and animal subjects.

For example, 5,000 university students studied for more than 40 years provided evidence that the most pessimistic students tended to die younger.

In another study, based on 180 catholic nuns, researchers found those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts of their young lives.

Animals who lived in stressful conditions, such as crowded cages, had weaker immune systems and a higher susceptibility to heart disease. They also died at a younger age than those in less crowded conditions.


Found at last, the rogue genes behind heart disease

Genes? What's this about genes? I thought it was junk food that killed you off! Silly me. Can I eat my big Macs openly now?

Heart disease is linked to just a few rogue genes as well as lifestyle choices, landmark research into Britain’s biggest killer has found. The 18 genes that raise the risk of cardiac problems, from heart attacks to hardening of the arteries, have been pinpointed in three studies involving hundreds of scientists worldwide.

The breakthrough opens the door to ways of treating and even preventing heart disease, which is to blame for one in eight deaths around the world – including more than 90,000 a year in the UK. Heart attacks alone kill one Briton every six minutes and cost the economy £9billion a year. The potential of the findings is so great that heart disease could be eradicated within 50 years, say researchers.

The discovery, detailed in the journal Nature Genetics, more than doubles the number of known heart disease genes.

Some of the newly discovered genes affect cholesterol, blood pressure and other processes important to heart health – but how many of the others damage the heart and arteries is, as yet, a mystery. This has excited the scientists because it suggests there are important causes of heart disease yet to be found – and that drugs to combat the effects of the genes could one day make a huge improvement to health.

Dr Robert Roberts, of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Canada, said: ‘This is a landmark result because we have identified so many genes and most operate using completely unknown mechanisms to us right now. Now our job is to understand how these genes work, develop a new group of drugs to target them and identify people who will benefit most.’

Professor Nilesh Samani, of the University of Leicester, who co-led the largest of the studies, said: ‘Understanding how these genes work, which is the next step, will vastly improve our knowledge of how the disease develops, and could lead to new treatments.’

The 18 genes were discovered in three studies in which almost 300 scientists from around the world, including many Britons, analysed the DNA of more than 200,000 people.

They focused on genetic links to the narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. This narrowing, caused by the build up of fatty deposits or plaques, raises the odds of a host of ills, from blood clots to angina, heart attacks, heart failure and irregular heartbeats.

Dr Thomas Quertermous, of Stanford University, in the U.S., said that drugs tailored to stop the blood vessels from becoming clogged up could ‘profoundly reduce the risk of a heart attack’.

Professor Hugh Watkins, of Oxford University, who co-led one of the studies, said the first new drugs could be on the market in under a decade.

Some of the North American researchers said the breakthrough meant we were ‘inching closer’ to a genetic test that will tell a person their risk of a heart attack. However, for most people, other factors such as smoking, poor diet and a lack of exercise can play a much greater role in causing heart attacks.


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