Helen Foster

How many of this year’s medical breakthroughs and findings have you taken in? Put yourself to the test with our quiz. Give yourself a point for each correct answer, and see how you rate at the end…

What might you want to avoid if you’re taking blood pressure medication?

a) Drinking green tea

b) Having sex in the morning

c) Taking a zinc supplement

Green tea may actually make the beta-blocker nadolol less effective


A. Often lauded for its health benefits, green tea may actually make the beta-blocker nadolol, commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, less effective. This was the finding of a Japanese study in January, which also showed that just two cups a day were enough to have an effect.

Exactly why this happens isn’t known but the researchers from Fukushima Medical University speculated that chemicals in the tea affect how the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream.

However, before you quit green tea entirely, Claire L. Preston, a pharmacist and specialist in drug interactions from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says: ‘The 30mg dose used in the trial was lower than the 80-240mg dose normally prescribed to treat high blood pressure, which means we don’t know the exact result on the usual dose.

‘Until we do, maybe you don’t have to give up green tea entirely. But it would be a good idea to mention to your GP if you drink a lot of green tea and notice that nadolol – or any other beta-blocker – doesn’t control your blood pressure as well as expected.’

Spanish researchers have made sausages they claim help gut health

Spanish researchers have made sausages they claim help gut health – what’s the key ingredient?

a) Antibiotics

b) Baby poo

c) Yogurt


B. Bacteria is already used to make certain sausages, like salami and pepperoni, as bacterial fermentation in the manufacturing process gives them a tangy flavour.

A Spanish team wondered if they could make sausages healthier by using ‘friendly’ probiotic bacteria – which can boost gut health – in this process.

They tried a few different types and sources but the live bacteria grown from the contents of babies’ nappies was the only kind to survive digestion and reach the gut in large enough quantities to boost health. This is possibly because the types of bacteria extracted were resistant to acid in the stomach.

As yet, the sausages are not on sale, although the researchers did say they tasted pretty good.

Which of these increases your risk of heart disease by almost a third?

a) Eating soya

b) Drinking a can of fizzy drink every day

c) Using bubble bath


B. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. discovered that people drinking one sugary, fizzy drink a day upped their risk of heart disease by 29 per cent.

The researchers also found that the more added sugar people eat in their daily diet (ie, the sugar that is added to processed food, such as sweets and treats), the higher their risk of heart disease.

Exactly why sugar is proving such a risk isn’t known – the team said it could be due to a number of factors, including sugar’s ability to raise bad cholesterol or simply because it causes weight gain.

Bee researcher Michael Smith from Cornell University in the U.S. decided to discover which was the most painful part of the body to be stung on

Where’s the most painful place to get stung by a bee?

a) The nose

b) The toes

c) The genitals


A. Bee researcher Michael Smith from Cornell University in the U.S. decided to discover which was the most painful part of the body to be stung on, after an accidental sting to his testicles didn’t hurt as much as he’d expected it to.

Smith graded stings compared with being stung in the forearm, which he classed as a five. His research revealed the most painful place was the nostril – rating nine out of ten on the pain scale – while the genitals measured between 7 and 7.3, and the middle toe just 2.3. His theory is that as the nostril is an orifice, it may have a lower threshold for pain so that it can quickly alert us to anything entering the body.

But what if you’d rather not get stung at all? ‘Bees are attracted by carbon dioxide. Calm down, don’t breathe a lot and slowly walk away,’ Smith advises.

Which health problem has started to affect more of us for the first time in middle age?

a) Chickenpox

b) Scurvy

c) Hay fever


C. Until recently, hay fever was a condition that predominantly started in childhood – but sufferers are increasingly developing it in middle age, said Professor Jean Emberlin, scientific director of Allergy UK, in May.

The reason is that most if not all of us have the potential to develop hay fever if we reach a certain level of pollen exposure. More of us seem to be reaching this level, possibly because the past few years have seen high pollen counts (due to wet and warm springs).

It’s thought that stress in middle age may take people to the tipping point, as stress hormones can affect the immune system, making it over-react to harmless substances such as pollen.

Which of these is believed to be key to a healthy old age?

a) Buying a kitten

b) Listening to One Direction

c) Eating shellfish

Listening to Harry, and other chart-toppers, plus keeping up with technology, are keys to healthier old age


B. Yes, listening to Harry Styles, his bandmates and other chart-toppers, plus keeping up with technology, are keys to a healthier old age.

The advice was part of a ‘healthy ageing prescription’ from the charity Ready for Ageing Alliance. Its rationale was that keeping abreast of what’s going on and learning new things helps to stimulate brain cells and strengthens the connections between them.

‘Don’t let age be an excuse for not trying out new things,’ says researcher David Sinclair from the International Longevity Centre UK (a think tank on longevity and ageing).

What was named the leading killer of British women?

a) Heart disease

b) Dementia

c) Osteoporosis


B. Almost 32,000 women a year now die of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – three times as many as those who die from breast cancer and 22 per cent more than those who die of heart disease – it was revealed in October. Dementia is also the third biggest killer of men (heart disease is the first).

So why has this happened? Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, says: ‘Age is the main risk factor in the development of dementia, and women tend to live longer than men.

‘Plus there is a better understanding of dementia among doctors, so they are now more likely to record it as the under-lying cause of death.’

Dementia leads to death when brain cells become so damaged that key functions such as lung control or swallowing are affected – meaning that patients often succumb to illnesses like pneumonia.

Doing a set of squats or bicep curls provides a rapid memory boost

Which of these provides a rapid memory boost?

a) Drinking a cup of prune juice

b) Watching a film

c) Doing a set of squats or bicep curls


C. Researchers from the U.S. asked volunteers to remember a series of pictures. One group then did 20 minutes of exercises, including squats and lifting weights, while the rest just moved their legs.

Two days later, when the volunteers were asked to repeat the test, the exercisers remembered more pictures than before.

‘We think resistance exercise releases hormones that affect the brain processes involved in memory,’ says lead researcher Lisa Weinberg from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

You don’t need to go to the gym to get results, she adds. A set of squats that work the large muscles in the legs is likely to have the same effect.

Which of these supplements might help you to quit smoking?

a) Omega 3 fish oil

b) Vitamin C

c) Probiotics


A. The University of Haifa in Israel ran a trial and discovered that quitters taking omega 3 fish-oil supplements for a month cut their cigarette cravings by 11 per cent.

One theory is that omega 3 dampens down brain pathways that use the compound dopamine, which have been linked to cravings.

How long does it take bugs such as norovirus or the one that causes colds to spread round an office?

a) 12 hours

b) Six hours

c) Two hours


C. Scientists from the University of Arizona placed a sample of harmless bacteria on a door handle and a desk top at the start of the working day in various offices. Within two hours, up to 60 per cent of all surfaces in the offices carried traces of the bugs – unwittingly put there by workers who’d come into contact with the germs.

‘The bacteria we used was the same shape, size and genome as the norovirus and rhinovirus, the virus that causes colds, and so the results would show the spread for these infection,’ said the research team.

Sleeping poorly makes the brain act older – but how much older?

Regularly sleeping badly (waking up in the night, having trouble falling asleep or waking up too early and not being about to get back to sleep) over years is linked to problems with memory and concentration

a) Three years

b) Five years

c) Ten years


B. Regularly sleeping badly (waking up in the night, having trouble falling asleep or waking up too early and not being about to get back to sleep) over three or four years is linked to problems with memory and concentration.

These cause the brain to act about five years older than it should, said researchers at the California Pacific Medical Centre Research Institute in April.

The reason for this is likely to be that sleep clears the brain of waste products. Poor sleep interferes with this process – creating a build-up of proteins in the gaps within the cells.

This affects how well cells communicate, and has been linked with a greater risk of problems such as Alzheimer’s disease as we age.  

How did you do?

8 to 11 points

Top marks. Your recall is excellent – and you definitely don’t need to worry about boosting your memory. It’s likely your health is in good condition as well.

4 to 7 points

Not bad. It sounds as if you may have paid attention to the health findings that affect you or your family – but you didn’t take much notice of the rest.

Less than 4 points

Could do better. Seems like you’re missing out on some news that may keep you thriving in 2015. Pay a bit more attention over the next 12 months and your body might thank you. 

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