Music can boost your immune system

Listening to music can give your immune system a boost and may help fight off disease, researchers have discovered.

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent

Elvis Presley impersonators at a street party in Baker Street, central London Photo: EPA
Scientists found that after listening to just 50 minutes of uplifting dance music, the levels of antibodies in volunteers’ bodies increased.

They also found that stress hormone levels, which can weaken the immune system, decreased after being exposed to the music.

Volunteers who played a percussion instrument along with the music also benefited from the immune boost.

The researchers, from Sussex University and the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, say their findings demonstrate how music could be used to help aid patients’ recovery while in hospital.

In a separate, unpublished, study they also found that playing music while a patient was under anaesthetic during an operation also helped to lower the levels of harmful stress hormones.

Dr Ronny Enk, a neurocognition expert at the Max Planck Institute, who led the research, said: “We think the pleasant state that can be induced by music leads to special physiological changes which eventually lead to stress reduction or direct immune enhancement.

“Stress reduction probably plays an important role, but the stress reducing effect seems to be different for various types of music.”

The researchers tested 300 people, asking them to listen to 50 minutes of happy, joyful dance music or to a random collection of tones.

They found that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, decreased significantly in those listening to the dance music compared to the control group. After listening, the levels of the antibody immunoglobin A, the immune system’s first line of defence, were heightened.

The researchers did not test whether different types of music would have different affects, but other studies have shown that personal preference for music can also influence the stress reducing impact it can have.

Dr Enk added: “We’d expect that different kinds of music might show different physiological and immunological effects. Not only the music itself is important but probably the personal appraisal of the listener will also be important. We did not use relaxing music, but rather exciting music that were joyful dance tunes from different centuries.

“Listening to music in hospitals might show benefits for patients and may for example lead to shorter recovery times, but we are still to test this ourselves.”

Fat children ‘should be taken from parents’ to curb obesity epidemic

Council warning to families guilty of neglect

From The Times – Jill Sherman, Whitehall Editor

Grossly overweight children may be taken from their families and put into care if Britain’s obesity epidemic continues to escalate, council chiefs said yesterday.

The Local Government Association argued that parents who allowed their children to eat too much could be as guilty of neglect as those who did not feed their children at all.

The association said that until now there had been only a few cases when social services had intervened in obesity cases. But it gave warning that local councils may have to take action much more often and, if necessary, put obese children on “at risk” registers or take them into care. It called for new guidelines to be drawn up to help authorities deal with the issue.

There have been some reported cases where children under 10 have weighed up to 14st (89kg) and a three-year-old has weighed 10st – putting them at a high risk of diabetes and heart disease. Only last week a 15-year-old girl in Wales was told by doctors that she could “drop dead at any moment” after tipping the scales at 33st.

David Rogers, the Local Government Association’s public health spokesman, said that by 2012 an estimated million children would be obese and by 2025 about a quarter of all boys would be grossly overweight.

“Councils are increasingly having to consider taking action where parents are putting children’s health in real danger,” he said. “As the obesity epidemic grows, these tricky cases will keep on cropping up. Councils would step in to deal with an undernourished and neglected child, so should a case with a morbidly obese child be different? If parents consistently place their children at risk through bad diet and lack of exercise, is it right that a council should step in to keep the child’s health under review?”

“The nation’s expanding waistline threatens to have a devastating impact on our public services. It’s a huge issue for public health, but it also risks placing an unprecedented amount of pressure on council services.”

The association called for a national debate on how much local authorities should intervene in obesity cases. As a basic minimum, social services or health visitors should talk to the families involved, give them advice and show them how to provide healthy meals. “But in the worst cases [the children] would need to be put on ‘at risk’ registers or taken into care.”

Last year Cumbria County Council put an eight-year old girl into care as she was dangerously overweight.

Anne Ridgway, of Cumbria Primary Care Trust, said that it was extremely rare for a child to be put into care just because of their weight. “Even then the care proceedings may well have been instigated because of related problems rather than exclusively because of their weight,” she said. Extreme cases of obesity could become a child protection issue because obesity “can have very serious consequences for a child’s health and the parental behaviour that leads to childhood obesity can be a form of neglect”.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Children who are dangerously overweight should be brought into hospital, where they can be given 24-hour care for several weeks or months. But their parents should have access to them.”

The Conservative Party said that taking children into care was a serious step. Andrew Landsley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said that in many cases “it would be better to help the parents provide better nutrition for their child rather than break up the family”.

Bid to plant genetically-modified trees in UK

By Jasper Copping –

Scientists have applied to plant genetically modified trees in Britain despite fears that they will damage native wildlife, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Supporters of GM trees say the technology can also be used to help protect Britain’s forests from disease

They have asked the Forestry Commission for permission to put GM trees on its land for an international study into biofuels. But environmental campaigners have pledged to fight the scheme.

It is the first time scientists have tried to grow GM trees here since 1999, when activists destroyed 115 specimens at a test site in Bracknell, Berkshire.

Scientists from the University of Southampton said the time had now come to try and “move the debate forward” on GM trees. Their project involves poplars that have been genetically altered to reduce the amount of lignin, a constituent of wood. The team believe this will make it easier for the trees to be used to produce ethanol, a so called “biofuel” which can be used to replace petrol in cars, as well as pulp for paper.

Supporters of GM trees say the technology can also be used to help protect Britain’s forests from disease and improve the quality of the country’s timber produce.

Professor Gail Taylor, who is leading the new project, said: “We’re in a black hole at the moment, as far as research goes. But it is hard to imagine a world in the future where these technologies are not deployed more widely.

“We need to get the evidence to see if these things can be deployed on a wide scale.

“The extreme environmentalists are preventing us from collecting the evidence. We have to go public and try to move the public debate forward. We know what the consequences will be but we need that debate.”

But Clare Oxborrow, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “We have major concerns. We have no idea what the interaction with wild trees could be. There could be unforeseen consequences.

“There is a growing global movement for a complete moratorium on GM trees, because of their ecological impact. These trees could cross-pollinate with wild trees over great distances. If traits are passed on to native trees it can have a significant negative impact on biodiversity.”

Anne Peterman, from the international group Global Justice Ecology Project, which is running a campaign called Stop GE (genetically engineered) Trees, said: “GM trees are a very bad idea, for a lot of reasons. If these trees are released into the environment, then contamination is inevitable. We do not support any trials, because there is no guarantee against escapes of the genetically modified traits.”

Trees are expected to become a major source of biofuel and the Southampton team believe the GM modified ones will have an ethanol yield 40 per cent greater than “normal” poplars.

They are carrying out the research with academics from France and Belgium and are seeking locations in Britain and Belgium. They have submitted an application with the Forestry Commission to use one of the UK sites run by its research agency, Forest Research. If it is approved, the location will be made public.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will also have to approve the scheme, but scientists have been encouraged by recent comments by Joan Ruddock, the Environment Minister, in which she appears to endorse new GM trees trials, provided they comply with strict guidelines. Earlier this year, the Minister attended a meeting in Germany to discuss the issue with politicians from around the world.

The meeting outlined the circumstances in which trials could go ahead. Until the end of trials in the 1990s, British scientists were in the vanguard of research into GM trees and were the first to grow elm that could resist Dutch elm disease. Researchers at the University of Abertay in Dundee found that anti-fungal genes transferred into the elm genome were able give the trees the capacity to fight off the killer fungus.

Scientists believe other tree diseases, such as chestnut blight and sudden oak death, which is affecting a growing number of oak and beech trees in the UK, could also be tackled by genetic modification. Trees have also been genetically altered to grow more quickly, be more tolerant of weedkillers and resistant to pests. Professor Claire Halpin, from the University of Dundee, worked on the field trials of poplars destroyed by saboteurs in 1999.

She said: “The real tragedy of the attacks on the field trials were that they actually prevented us accumulating the knowledge of just how useful they could be. I can’t see any justification for interfering with field trials.

“The whole area has had such a bad press that it would be a real bonus to find an example where they could show a conservation benefit – to make people stop and think again that it could be beneficial, rather than the entrenched positions – almost knee-jerk responses that some of the conservation groups have come out with.

“In other parts of the world, people really are pursuing it much more actively than we are at the moment. If these trees do offer benefits we will be left behind.”

Although research in the UK stopped at the end of the 1990s, other countries have invested heavily in the technology and experts fear a lack of new research could leave the British forestry industry struggling to compete with foreign competition.

Jane Karthaus, from the UK’s Confederation of Forest Industries, said: “We are always open-minded and if there were a potentially significant (GM) breakthrough which, for example, would allow a reduction in pesticide use, or would tackle a challenge thrown up by climate change, such as, from new pests and diseases then we would consider it within the context of sustainable forest management with partners in the environmental sector and in government.”

There have been five field trials of GM trees in Britain. Three were completed normally: two trials of eucalyptus conducted by Shell in Kent, one in 1993 and one in 1995, and a trial of paradise apple carried out by the University of Derby in 1995. But two trials of poplars by the biotechnology company Astra Zeneca, at Jealott’s Hill, Bracknell, Berkshire, one due to be completed by 2002 and the other by 2004, were destroyed by eco-activists in 1999.

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