Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How a good education can keep you younger for longer

As usual, we have below hasty assumptions about the direction of causation. A more reasonable explanation comes from the fact that IQ seems to be one aspect of general biological fitness. On average, high IQ people have it all healthwise and live longer too. And IQ is highly correlated with educational success. So high IQ people stay longer in the educational system but it is not education that leads to longer life. High IQ does

Your parents and teachers will no doubt have lectured you on the value of a good education. But it seems the advice may apply to more than just career prospects. Those who pass more exams before leaving formal education stay biologically younger than their years, according to researchers.

In contrast, those who leave education with fewer qualifications are prone to age more quickly, with their lack of achievement leaving a lifelong mark.

The pattern is not changed by social and economic status later in life, the findings suggest. The study, by researchers from University College London, examined the length of ‘telomeres’ from around 450 office workers. Telomeres are protective strips of DNA that form tiny ‘caps’ on the ends of chromosomes, protecting against ageing processes.

They have been called the ‘chromosomal clock’ because they appear to be central to biological ageing. Longer telomeres are a sign of being biologically younger and healthier.

Participants were separated into four groups according to whether they had no qualifications, or, when leaving formal education, had O-levels, A-levels or a degree. The results showed people with lower educational attainment had shorter telomeres, suggesting they may age faster.

The study found telomere length increased with each stage of educational attainment, suggesting ageing slows and health improves the more qualifications are attained.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation, is published online today in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the MRC’s Population and Systems Medicine Board, which funded the research, said the study backed up the longstanding message that ‘your experiences early in life can have important influences on your health’.

Andrew Steptoe, BHF professor of psychology and the lead author of the study, added that ‘long-term exposure to the conditions of lower status’ was behind faster cellular ageing, not current income.

The researchers were based primarily at UCL, but also collaborated with Professor Jorge Erusalimsky from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California, San Francisco.

The subjects of the study were drawn from participants in the Whitehall II study, set up in 1985 to investigate the importance of social class for health by following more than 10,000 men and women working in the civil service.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘This research reinforces the need to tackle social inequalities to combat ill health.’


Paracetamol (acetaminophen) found to have link to blood cancers

aka Panadol, Tylenol etc.

Regular users of paracetamol have an increased risk of developing blood cancers, researchers have found. The tablets contain a chemical called acetaminophen which has been linked to cases of cancer in a number of individuals who were taking the drug.

The findings will terrify the millions in America and worldwide who pop the pills to cure minor ailments without so much as a second thought.

Earlier work has shown that aspirin use might lower the odds of dying from colon cancer but increase the risk of bleeding ulcers. The picture has been less clear for blood, or haematologic, cancers, however.

The finding adds another twist to the complicated evidence linking cancer and painkillers, and hints acetaminophen might be different from the rest. 'Prior to this study there was very little evidence that aspirin reduces your risk of haematological cancers,' said Emily White of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who worked on the new research.

There were some suggestions that acetaminophen might increase the risk of the cancers, on the other hand, but those were based on individual cases of blood cancer.

Studies of individual patients aren't considered as strong as the new one, which tracked a large population of healthy people over time. 'We have the first prospective study,' White said.

Still, she warned, there is no proof that acetaminophen causes cancer, and the new results need to be confirmed before they are used in any treatment decision.

Earlier work has linked acetaminophen to asthma and eczema as well, but scientists still don't agree on whether the drug is the actual culprit or just an innocent bystander.

The new study suffers from the same limitations, in that people who use lots of painkillers could be dealing with medical problems that set them up for cancer down the road.

The scientists followed nearly 65,000 older men and women in Washington State. At the outset, they asked the participants about their use of painkillers over the past ten years and made sure that no one had cancer (except skin cancer).

Over some six years on average, 577 people -- or less than one percent -- developed a cancer involving the blood cells. Examples of such cancers include lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS.

More than nine per cent of people who developed one of these cancers used high amounts of acetaminophen, compared to only five percent of those who didn't get sick.

After accounting for things like age, arthritis and a family history of certain blood cancers, chronic acetaminophen users had nearly twice the risk of developing the disease.

'A person who is age 50 or older has about a one-percent risk in ten years of getting one of these cancers," White said. "Our study suggests that if you use acetaminophen at least four times a week for at least four years, that would increase the risk to about two percent.' No other painkillers -- including aspirin and ibuprofen -- were tied to the risk of blood cancers.

Dr. Raymond DuBois, a cancer prevention expert at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said acetaminophen works very differently than other painkillers and so might be expected to have different effects on cancer. 'It was quite surprising to see that acetaminophen use increased the risk of blood cancers,' said DuBois, who was not involved in the study.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that sells Tylenol, did not respond to requests for comment.

White said it is too soon to make any recommendations based on the new study, and that none of the painkillers is free of side effects. 'Long-term use of any over-the-counter drug might have adverse effects," she said. 'You have to weigh the benefits against the risk of all the drugs.'


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