Sunday, August 11, 2013

Red-headed men are less at risk of prostate cancer because of their unusual genes, study reveals

My father was a redhead and all my prostate tests have turned up negative so I rather like this study  -- JR

It may have become something of a magnet for ridicule and discrimination.  But now, it seems, there may be major health benefits to being ginger, especially for men.  New research shows that naturally red-headed men are 54 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer as those with blond, brown or black hair.

Why hair colour should be such a powerful influence on cancer risk is not clear.

But scientists behind the findings, published online in the British Journal of Cancer, think it might be to do with the way genes that dictate hair pigmentation also influence tumour development.

Britain has some of the largest numbers of ginger-haired people per head of population. Globally, the figure is one to two per cent, but  it is 13 per cent in Scotland, 10 per cent in Ireland and six per cent in England.

Previous studies have hinted that having red hair affects health in other ways.

Scientists at Louisville University in Kentucky, found ginger-haired people feel pain and the cold more than everybody else because their pain threshold may be partly dictated by the same gene that sets their hair colour – MC1R.

Red-heads, being fair skinned, are also known to be more at risk of skin cancer.

But researchers from Finland’s National Institute for Health and Medicine, in Helsinki, and the US National Cancer Institute, based in Maryland, wanted to see if the same genetic factors also influenced a man’s chances of prostate cancer.

Nearly 32,000 cases are diagnosed annually in the UK and 10,000 men die from the disease a year. Men over 50 are more likely to develop a tumour.

The researchers looked at 20,000 men aged 50 to 69 who were recruited to a long-term health study in the late 1980s.  Among the data collected were records of what colour their hair was aged 20.

Researchers found that 1,982 men went on to develop prostate cancer.  Researchers stressed that only one per cent of the men studied had red hair, compared to more than 40 per cent with light brown hair.

Scientists think it is possible that the MC1R gene may help to control the way some cells divide and grow.

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK said: ‘This research does indicate an association between having naturally red hair and a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.  ‘But the strength and exact nature of this association is still unclear.

'We would not wish any man with red hair who has a concern about prostate cancer to hold back from seeking advice.’


Using a mobile phone in the car does NOT make driving more dangerous, claims study

For almost 20 years it has been a wide-held belief that talking on a mobile phone while driving is dangerous and leads to more accidents.

However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University and the London School of Economics and Political Science contradicts this by suggesting talking on a phone while driving does not increase crash risk.

Researchers collected data from mobile network operators and accident reports and found that there was no direct correlation between the number of phone calls made during a certain time period and the number crashes during the same time.

The findings contradict the influential 1997 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine that concluded using a phone at the wheel increased the crash risk by a factor of 4.3.

This figure gave mobile phone calls made while driving the same level of danger as drink-driving.

'Using a cellphone while driving may be distracting, but it does not lead to higher crash risk in the setting we examined,' said Saurabh Bhargava, assistant professor of social and decision sciences in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

'While our findings may strike many as counter-intuitive, our results are precise enough to statistically call into question the effects typically found in the academic literature.

The research found that dangerous mental distractions exist even when drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. The findings showed that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction times get slower and brain function is compromised.

For the study, Bhargava and the London School of Economics and Political Science's Vikram S. Pathania examined calling and crash data from 2002 to 2005.

During these three years phone operators began offering price plans that included free calls on weekdays after 9pm.

The researchers identified calls made on phones while driving by checking which calls were routed through multiple cellular towers and discovered that the amount of calls made by drivers at 9pm increased by 7 per cent.

They then compared the relative crash rates before and after 9pm using data on approximately 8 million crashes across nine U.S states, as well as the list of all fatal crashes across the country.

Bhargava and Pathania found that the increased phone use by drivers at 9pm had no corresponding effect on crash rates.

Additionally, the researchers analysed the effects of legislation banning mobile phone use while driving and similarly found that the legislation had no effect on the crash rate.

'One thought is that drivers may compensate for the distraction of cellphone use by selectively deciding when to make a call or consciously driving more carefully during a call,' Bhargava said.

'This is one of a few explanations that could explain why laboratory studies have shown different results.'

Pathania, a fellow in the London School of Economics Managerial Economics and Strategy group, added a cautionary note: 'Our study focused solely on talking on one's cellphone.

'We did not, for example, analyse the effects of texting or internet browsing, which has become much more popular in recent years. It is certainly possible that these activities pose a real hazard.'

The findings were published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.


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