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The East African : Feb 23rd 2015
34 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK FEBRUARY 21-27,2015 S CI E N C E tributor to mortality and morbidity globally. A study conducted between 1990 and 2010, and recently published in the Lancet, described the increasing burden of NCDs on the continent as a growing health iceberg hidden under epidemics of infectious diseases. Total deaths Globally, non-communicable diseases kill more than 38 million people each year, according to WHO. Almost three-quarters of these deaths, or about 28 million, occur in low- and middle-income countries. The UN organisation says car- High quantities of sodium are found in processed foods. Pic: File We are killing ourselves with salt, warns WHO On ave≥age, people a≥e taking double the app≥oved amount of sodium, a new ≥epo≥t says By JEFF OTIENO The EastAfrican A cross the world, people are consuming much more salt than is necessary, putting their health at risk, says the World Health Organisations in a report. WHO, the public health arm of the United Nations says that on average, people consume around 10 grammes of salt per day, which is double what the organisation recommends from all sources, including processed foods, ready-made meals and food prepared at home. Children aged two to 15 years should consume less than the standard amount, adjusted to their energy requirements for growth. Equally, the growth of the mid- dle class has triggered a rise in the consumption of processed and ready-made foods such as bacon, cheese and ham. The WHO is concerned that if the trend persists, countries are likely to experience increasing cases of non-communicable diseases associated with high sodium intake. “There is an appreciable amount of scientific evidence linking high sodium intake to diseases like hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and stroke,” notes WHO. For poor nations in Africa, the high intake of sodium means that governments are likely to shoulder an even heavier public health burden. According to Njenga Njuguna, a consultant physician based in Nairobi, East Africa too is witnessing the middle class consumerism that involves eating more processed foods and ready-made products. “The problem is that the majority of such foods have a higher salt content,” said Dr Njuguna. According to WHO guidelines, 100 grammes of salt has about 38,000 miligrammes of sodium. The same amount of powdered broths and gravies contain 20,000mg of sodium, soy sauce (7,000mg), cheese puffs and popcorn (1,500mg), bacon (1,500mg) and sauces and spreads (1,200mg). Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand have some of the lowest sodium content. The analysis, for example, shows that 100g of fruits contains only 5mg of sodium. Currently, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the main con- “Non-communicable diseases are now the main contributor to mortality and morbidity globally.” World Health Organisation diovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, or 17.5 million people annually, followed by cancers (8.2 million), respiratory diseases (four million), and diabetes (1.5 million). To check NCDs, the organisa- tion is urging member countries to come up with health programmes that target a cut in sodium intake. As per the WHO study, reduc- ing sodium intake significantly reduced blood pressure problems among adults and children. “Reducing sodium intake to less than two grammes per day was more beneficial for blood pressure than reducing sodium intake but still consuming more than two grammes daily,” says WHO. Equally, higher sodium intake was associated with higher risk of incident stroke, fatal stroke and fatal coronary heart disease. The UN body advises govern- ments to help guide the population on sodium intake. “The WHO is not saying that we should stop sodium intake altogether. We should stick to the required amount since sodium loss can also lead to a state of low blood volume that can cause a condition called hyponatraemia,” said Dr Njuguna. Symptoms of hyponatraemia in- clude nausea, vomiting, headache, short-term memory loss, seizures and coma. See related opinion on page 33 Resea≥che≥s find a way to ≥educe diabetes ≥isks By NICHOLAS BAKALAR New York Times News Service LOWERING BLOOD pressure can significantly reduce the risk for many of the complications of Type 2 diabetes, a review of data from 40 trials involving more than 100,000 people with diabetes has found. Diabetics are more vulnerable to the effects of hypertension than otherwise healthy people. Recent guidelines suggest that a systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 140 millimetres of mercury is a good goal for people with diabetes, but the new study found that a 10-point lowering from 140 was associated with a 13 per cent reduction in the risk for death. The analysis was published in JAMA, an international peer-reviewed general medical journal, An author of the study, Dr Kazem Rahimi, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Oxford, said: “If you are diabetic with a reading of 135 and not taking medication for high blood pressure, you are likely to benefit from taking it.” A patient’s sugar level is checked. Picture: File A cost of vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D deficiency in childhood may be linked to hardening of the arteries in middle age, a long-term Finnish study has found. The study in The Journal of Clinical Endo- crinology & Metabolism, began in 1980, when 2,148 children aged three to 18 were enrolled, and were examined up to age 45. “There’s a lot of data showing that vitamin D insufficiency is bad for health,” said the lead au- thor, Dr Markus Juonala, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Turku in Finland. The authors acknowledge that they found as- sociations only with the condition of arteries, not with heart problems or stroke. “The findings say nothing about cardiovascular disease,” Juonala said. “We don’t know about that yet.” Premature birth tied to heart risks in mother Premature delivery is tied to increased heart risks in the mother, a review of studies has found. Pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes are recognised risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the mother. But this analysis, published in The European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, found that preterm delivery itself also increases the risk. “I don’t want to scare women who have a premature baby,” said the lead author, Dr Karst Y. Heida, a gynaecology resident at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands.. “But it’s important that we are aware of women who are at increased risk.” A child is vaccinated against polio. Pic: File Study to give answers to animal-human diseases The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has announced that it is teaming up with the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics to study biological data using computer technology, with the aim of combating dangerous viral infections that strike animals but can also be transmitted to humans. The joint study initiative includes a genetic module for Rift Valley fever and African swine fever. The new technology sheds light on biological threats that could enable countries to better prevent, respond and ultimately protect the health of humans, animals and the environment. 1,600 digital hearts to boost research in cures Doctors in London have stored 1,600 beating human hearts in digital form on a computer. The aim is to develop new treatments for heart disease by comparing the detailed information on them and the patients’ genes. It is the latest project to make use of advances in storing large amounts of information. The study is among a wave of new big data ventures that are transforming the way in which research is carried out. BRIEFS Hormone replacement linked to ovarian cancer Hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of ovarian cancer, an analysis of 52 separate studies has found. The University of Oxford research published in the Lancet, found an extra case for every 1,000 women taking the drugs for five years from the age of 50. Lead researcher Sir Richard Peto said claims there was no risk for short courses of HRT “simply isn’t true.” Scientists moot idea of artificial polio vaccine An international team of scientists is seeking develop a wholly artificial vaccine to combat polio. The hope is that the new approach will address shortcomings in the existing vaccine, and thereby help to eliminate polio altogether. The World Health Organisation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are giving a $674,000 grant towards the project. The synthetic vaccine is made, in a way, like a super-chemical that assembles itself to look like the virus but has no way of ever replicating.
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