Friday, April 15, 2011

Genes could hold the key to a long and healthy life

How about that!

Longevity genes that may control the speed of ageing have been discovered by scientists. The researchers have pinpointed eight genetic variations that control the production of a crucial hormone which is linked to old age as well as diseases of the elderly.

They believe that by manipulating the DNA strands they could slow down the ageing process and ward off age related conditions.

The genes control levels of the steroid dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate [DHEAS], one of the most abundant in the body and vital to many key functions. Levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate [DHEAS] are known to peak in our mid to late 20s and then decline as we get older. By the time we reach 85, the body contains about five per cent of its peak amount.

Researchers have established links between declining DHEAS levels and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and lymphoma, as well as a decreased lifespan.

A group scientists from across the globe analysed the DHEAS levels and 2.5 million genetic variants in 14,846 people from Europe and the USA. Results, published in PLoS Genetics journal, identified eight common genes that controlled the concentration of DHEAS, with some of those genes associated with ageing and age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and lymphoma.

Researchers say their findings provide the first genetic evidence that DHEAS can cause common age-related diseases or a decreased lifespan. Supplements of the steroid have already been commercially available for the past few years.

Dr Guangju Zhai, the study author from King's College, London, said that while taking it could theoretically slow down the ageing process, it was too early to say for sure how effective it could be. "It is hoped that through manipulation or gene therapy we could slow down the ageing process or the affect of age related diseases," he said.

Dr Zhai and his team now plan to spend the rest of the year looking closely at each gene in the hope of discovering more. "The next stage will be to identify which genes have which function, and which have a particular effect on DHEAS levels. "Once this is identified that could be the next stage in coming up with technology to manipulate the genes and maybe even get the body to increase DHEAS levels itself."

Professor Tim Spector, senior co author from King's said: "For 50 years we have observed the most abundant circulating steroid in the body, DHEAS, with no clue as to its role. "Now its genes have shown us its importance in many parts of the ageing process."


Government and companies 'hoodwink consumers' over healthy lifestyles, according to food freaks

They are in a pet because the government is less Fascist than they are

Big business and the Government could be colluding to “hoodwink consumers” in the name of encouraging healthier lifestyles, academics have warned.

Health policy experts claim that ministers’ attempts to “nudge” shoppers into eating better or taking more exercise, rather than banning junk food, are little more than a “smokescreen for inaction”.

They say that simple attempts to change people’s behaviour ignore the complex range of factors that have led to Britain’s obesity rate rising, from the low price of fatty and sugary food to its availability on every street corner.

It comes after leading charities and pressure groups walked out of a joint Department of Health initiative with food and drink manufacturers and major retailers, saying they were “profoundly disappointed” by limited targets that allowed corporations to dictate public health policy.

In a paper published at on Friday, Prof Tim Lang and Dr Geof Rayner from the Centre for Food Policy at City University say it is now widely accepted that obesity is caused by several factors including diet, physical activity, genetics, over-supply of food, marketing and consumer choice.

But they claim that rather than drawing up detailed action plans and drafting regulations to deal with the problem, the British Government alone is focusing on the fashionable discipline of behavioral economics known as “nudge” theory.

The idea is that by finding easy ways for people to choose healthy lifestyles, such as by displaying fruit and veg at the checkout instead of chocolate, ministers avoid the need to pass new laws or restrict commercial activity. It also avoids accusations of heavy-handedness by a “nanny state”.

But the authors claim the theory is overly simplistic, writing: “It dispenses with the complexity of real life contexts and acknowledges only the immediate proximal horizons of consumer choice. At a stroke, policy is reduced to a combination of cognitive and ‘light’ environmental signals, such as location of foods within retail geography.”

They cite the availability of stop smoking packs in high-street chemists and the introduction of London’s bike rental scheme as examples of “nudge-inspired interventions”.

They also point out that a scheme encouraging shoppers to buy healthier food required them to spend £117 in order to redeem £50 worth of vouchers. “The lesson here might be that nudge is a smokescreen for, at best, inaction and, at worst, publicly endorsed marketing.”

The authors concede that social norms have a role in determining consumer behaviour, but ask: “How can ‘nudge’ reshape the agri-food business’s long commitment to lower the price of fat, soft drinks, or high calorie readymade foods or the ubiquitous ‘offer’ of food at every newsagent, station platform, and petrol station?”

They conclude: “Our final worry is that nudge becomes collusion between the state and corporations to hoodwink consumers. At least nannies are overt.”

In a response piece published by the BMJ, Dr Adam Oliver from the London School of Economics argues that nudge ideas are not meant to replace laws but are just “an additional tool to complement regulation by moving society incrementally in a direction that might benefit all of us.”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the UK in the fifties and sixties. There were always shops on street corners selling a limited selection of groceries, crisps, sweets, newspapers, soft drinks and tobacco, usually just opposite the local pub. Well the pubs have gone and it looks like the corner shops won't be far behind. Just how many people do they want to ruin to make our society healthier?