Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The magic bullet?
Recent studies suggest we have found the magic bullet in terms of improving our life, health and longevity. Two papers have clearly identified the key factors that we can alter if we wish to live longer healthier lives - most of us know what they are - yet few of us in the developed world seem willing or able to adhere to a lifestyle of not smoking, eating a Mediterranean style diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, pulses,lean meat and low in salt and saturated fat, exercising for 30 minutes a day, staying slim and drinking in moderation.

Research by Chiuve SE, Sacks FM, Rimm EB studies the primary prevention of ischemic stroke by healthy lifestyle factors. The authors compared, using data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, how adhering to 5 healthy lifestyle habits (not smoking, no obesity, getting 30 minutes or more of exercise/day, following a healthy diet, and consuming some but not more than 3 alcoholic beverage drinks/day) and the risk of ischemic stroke.

As has been found for coronary disease and diabetes, the small percentage of subjects (6% of their population) who met all 5 criteria had a risk ratio for stroke of 0.31 (in comparison with subjects not following all 5 components of the healthy lifestyle). The lowering of risk of stroke was 44% without moderate alcohol consumption (versus 69% with the alcohol component included). Thus, even for people who have a very healthy lifestyle, the moderate consumption of alcohol led to considerably greater reduction in their risk of ischemic stroke.

A second paper by Danaei G et al, studied the causes of cancer in the world: (Comparative Risk Assessment of Nine Behavioural and Environmental Risk Factors. Lancet 2005; 366:1784-1793). The authors state that primary prevention through lifestyle and environmental interventions remains the main way to reduce the burden of cancers. The authors estimated mortality from 12 types of cancer attributable to nine risk factors in seven World Bank regions for 2001. They found that of the 7 million deaths from cancer worldwide in 2001, an estimated 2.43 million (35%) were attributable to nine potentially modifiable risk factors. Of these, 0.76 million deaths were in high-income countries and 1.67 million in low-and-middle-income nations.

Among low-and-middle-income regions, Europe and Central Asia had the highest proportion (39%) of deaths from cancer attributable to the risk factors studied. A total of 1.6 million of the deaths attributable to these risk factors were in men and 0.83 million in women. Smoking, alcohol misuse, and low fruit and vegetable intake were the leading risk factors for death from cancer worldwide and in low-and-middle-income countries. In high-income countries, smoking, alcohol misuse, being overweight and obesity were the most important causes of cancer. Sexual transmission of human papilloma virus is a leading risk factor for cervical cancer in women in low-and-middle-income countries. The authors conclude that reduction of exposure to key behavioural and environmental risk factors would prevent a substantial proportion of deaths from cancer. A second paper in the same edition Bofetta P et al, Alcohol and Cancer: Review Lancet Oncology 2006; 7:149-156 provides a balanced review of alcohol’s implication in various cancers.

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