Male infertility treatment ‘insensitive’

Gareth and his son

Male infertility care can be insensitive and one-sided, says charity Fertility Network UK which has surveyed men seeking help to become fathers.

Men can feel excluded, with female partners being the main focus of attention in clinics, it found.

The charity says men’s needs are too often ignored, which must change.

Gareth Down, 31, set up a support group for men with fertility problems because he says he had nowhere to turn for help when he needed it.

Men’s feelings

At the age of 20, in a blunt conversation with his GP, he was told tests showed he had no sperm.

After eight years, nine cycles of treatment and four miscarriages, he and his wife Nat finally had a baby 17 months ago.

He said a men-only space for sharing experiences was important, and would have made him feel much better about his personal situation.

“I just wanted to rant sometimes, but I didn’t feel my thoughts were valid.

“Women are the ones having to go through it all and I felt I didn’t have a right to talk or complain.

“But now I can say in confidence what other men feel.

“It just makes you feel less alone.”

Gareth says the long, agonising wait for a baby “nearly broke us many times over”.

He says male fertility should be treated like any other medical condition.

“It’s still quite a taboo subject – made even worse when you’re made to feel like you’re wasting NHS time and resources.”

Overlooked

Fertility Network UK says very little is known about how men cope with infertility – men are often reluctant to share their experiences.

Forty-one men responded to its online questionnaire, designed with researchers from Leeds Beckett University.

On average, men who responded had been trying for a baby for five years and most had suffered directly from male infertility.

Nearly all the men said fertility problems had affected their wellbeing, with many saying they felt worthless or “less of a man”.

Many felt excluded or marginalised.

One man said: “The whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultants’ letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife. There seems to be no equality.”

Another said: “I now know what it feels like to be identified on official documentation… as an appendage to one’s spouse.”

‘Suffer in silence’

Some said they were treated insensitively: “A very rude GP… then on the analysis result, rather than explaining the result, called me at work to ask if I had had a vasectomy.”

A lack of emotional support for men going through treatment for infertility was another common complaint.

“There are always women in the media admitting that they have had infertility issues but we do rarely hear about the man. I know it is a big issue for men and the risk of being called ‘less of a man’ but I feel infertility is something that many men suffer in silence, fearful of being called hurtful names.

“It is a silent problem that many men suffer,” said one of the men who responded to the anonymous survey.

Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network UK, urged men to speak out and said clinics should pay extra attention to the care needs of the men they see and treat.

“Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create the family they long for without medical help they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do.”

A line

What are the causes of male infertility?

There are many reasons why men can be infertile.

The most common cause is poor quality semen, the fluid containing sperm, either because there is a low sperm count, the sperm isn’t moving properly or it is abnormal.

Damaged testicles, ejaculation disorders and low levels of testosterone – the male sex hormone – can also cause infertility.

However, 25% of cases of infertility are unexplained in the UK.

Tests to find out the causes of male infertility include semen analysis and a urine test.

More information on how infertility can be treated is available on NHS Choices.

Alzheimer’s nutrient drink falters in clinical trial

Older woman holding a glass of strawberry-flavoured drink

There is no good evidence that a nutrient drink being sold online in the UK to “help” people with early Alzheimer’s actually slows the disease, say experts.

Latest trial results in patients who took Souvenaid did not find it preserves memory and thinking.

The authors say in Lancet Neurology that bigger studies are needed to show if the product can work as hoped.

And consumers should be aware that the £3.49 per bottle drink “is not a cure”.

Manufacturer Nutricia says its drink should only be taken under the direction of a doctor, specialist nurse or pharmacist.

What is the drink?

Souvenaid comes in strawberry or vanilla flavour and contains a combination of fatty acids, vitamins and other nutrients.

Taken once daily, the idea is that the boost of nutrients it provides will help keep Alzheimer’s at bay in people with the earliest signs of this type of dementia.

But the latest phase two clinical trial results do not prove this.

What the trial found

The study involved 311 patients with very early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. All of them were asked to take a daily drink, but only half were given Souvenaid – the other half received one with no added nutrients.

After two years of participating, the patients were reassessed to see if there was any difference between the two groups in terms of dementia progression, measured by various memory and cognitive tests.

The treatment did not appear to offer an advantage, although patients in the Souvenaid group did have slightly less brain shrinkage on scans, which the researchers say is promising because shrinkage in brain regions controlling memory is seen with worsening dementia.

But experts remain cautious.

Prof Tara Spires-Jones, a dementia expert at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Some of the other tests of brain structure and function were promising, but overall this study indicates that a specific change in nutrition is unlikely to make a large difference to people with Alzheimer’s, even in the early stages.

“There is strong evidence that a healthy lifestyle including exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce risk for developing dementia, but once the brain damage starts, a dietary intervention is unlikely to stop the disease.”

Another expert, Dr Elizabeth Coulthard from University of Bristol, said people should think carefully before buying something that is, as yet, unproven.

Dr David Reynolds, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, advised: “If people are worried about their memory, or are considering buying and taking Souvenaid as a supplement to manage their diet, then it is important that they discuss this with their GP.”

A spokeswoman from Nutricia said: “We are pleased that this adds to the body of evidence for Souvenaid and we remain committed to ongoing and further clinical research.”

Beware potential signs of pancreatic cancer

Nikki Davies

One in three adults might ignore potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer, according to a charity.

Stomach ache, indigestion, unexplained weight loss and faeces that float rather than sink in the lavatory can be warning signs of the potentially deadly disease, says Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Early detection and treatment are vital to save lives.

Nikki Davies was diagnosed in March, aged 51. Her tumour was caught early, meaning a surgeon could remove it.

“I have been incredibly lucky that mine could be operated on and hadn’t spread, as far as we can tell.

“My message to others would be that no-one knows your body like you do.

“Know what the symptoms are and talk to your GP if you notice anything that’s unusual for you.

“Deep down, I think you know something is wrong.

“For me, it was the pain. It felt like an animal was eating me from the inside. It was in my back too, between my shoulder blades. And I’d lost a lot of weight very quickly.

“I didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer before my diagnosis, and I certainly wouldn’t have known what the symptoms were.”

Know the signs

Currently, about one in 10 people diagnosed with the condition survives beyond five years.

Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze died from pancreatic cancer aged 57Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionHollywood actor Patrick Swayze died from advanced pancreatic cancer aged 57

This is in large part due to most patients being diagnosed at a late stage, when treatment options are very limited, says Pancreatic Cancer UK.

Its survey of 4,000 UK adults suggests awareness of the symptoms is still too low.

Alex Ford, chief executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We do not want people to panic if they have some or all of these symptoms, because most people who have them will not have pancreatic cancer.

“But it is vital that people know more about this disease, and talk to their GP if they have any concerns.

“The earlier people are diagnosed, the more likely they are to be able to have surgery, which is the one treatment which can save lives.”

Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

  • stomach and back ache
  • unexplained weight loss
  • indigestion
  • changes to bowel habits, including floating faeces

Other symptoms include:

  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice (yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin)
  • feeling and being sick
  • difficulty swallowing
  • recently diagnosed diabetes

Just a few nights of bad sleep upsets your brain

Restless night's sleep

Thanks to the clocks going back, many of us managed to grab a little bit of extra shut-eye over the weekend.

And that’s no bad thing because, as a country, we seem to be chronically sleep-deprived. According to the Sleep Council, the average Briton gets six-and-a-half hours sleep a night, which for most people is not enough.

Lots of studies have shown that cutting back on sleep, deliberately or otherwise, can have a serious impact on our bodies.

A few nights of bad sleep can really mess with our blood sugar control and encourage us to overeat. It even messes with our DNA.

A few years ago, Trust Me I’m a Doctor did an experiment with Surrey University, asking volunteers to cut down on their sleep by an hour a night for a week.

Dr Simon Archer, who helped run the experiment, found that getting an hour’s less sleep a night affected the activity of a wide range of our volunteers’ genes (around 500 in all) including some which are associated with inflammation and diabetes.

Disturbed nights

So the negative effects on our bodies of sleep deprivation are clear. But what effect does lack of sleep have on our mental health?

To find out Trust Me teamed up with sleep scientists at the University of Oxford to run a small experiment.

This time, we recruited four volunteers who normally sleep soundly. We fitted them with devices to accurately monitor their sleep and then, for the first three nights of our study, let them get a full, undisturbed eight hours.

For the next three nights, however, we restricted their sleep to just four hours.

A woman after a good night's sleepImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Each day our volunteers filled in a psychological questionnaire designed to reveal any changes in their mood or emotions. They also kept video diaries. So what happened?

Sarah Reeve, a doctoral student who ran the experiment for us was surprised by how quickly their mood changed.

“There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people”, she said.

“Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive.”

Three of our four volunteers found the experience unpleasant, but one of them – Josh – claimed to be largely unaffected.

“This week probably hasn’t taken as much of a toll as I thought it would on me,” he said. “I feel perfectly fine – not happy, sad, stressed or anything.”

Yet the tests we did on him showed something very different.

His positive emotions fell sharply after two nights of disturbed sleep, while negative emotions began to rise.

So even though he felt OK there were signs that he was, mentally, beginning to suffer.

‘Stuck’ in negative thoughts

The outcome of our small test reflects the results of a much bigger study looking at the impact of sleep deprivation on the mental health of students.

Researchers recruited more than 3,700 university students from across the UK who had reported problems sleeping and randomised them into two groups.

One group received six sessions of online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) aimed at improving their sleep; the other group got standard advice.

Ten weeks into the study, the students who received CBT reported a halving in rates of insomnia, accompanied by significant improvements in scores for depression and anxiety, plus big reductions in paranoia and hallucinations.

This is thought to be the largest ever randomised controlled trial of a psychological treatment for mental health, and it strongly suggests that insomnia can cause mental health problems rather than simply be a consequence of them.

Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, who led that study thinks one of the reasons why sleep deprivation is so bad for our brains is because it encourages repetitive negative thinking.

“We have more negative thoughts when we’re sleep-deprived and we get stuck in them,” he said.

Reassuringly he doesn’t think a few nights of bad sleep means you will become mentally ill. But he does think it increases the risk.

“It’s certainly not inevitable,” he said. “In any one night, one in three people is having difficulty sleeping, perhaps 5% to 10% of the general population has insomnia, and many people get on with their lives and they cope with it. But it does raise the risk of a whole range of mental health difficulties.”

The positive side of this research is it implies that helping people get a good night’s sleep will go a long way to helping improve our sense of well-being.

Norbert Schwarz, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, has even put a figure on it.

He claims: “Making $60,000 (£48,400) more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.”

So, sleep well.

Early blood test could indicate risk of miscarriage

Pregnant mother with young child

A blood test in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy could indicate a risk of miscarriage or premature birth, early research suggests.

US doctors believe they have found molecules in the blood that can be linked to serious birth complications, months before symptoms are apparent.

The findings could help doctors take steps to avoid premature birth.

But experts warned against overstating the findings, citing the “small and preliminary” nature of the research.

In the UK, one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, while Britain has one of the highest rates of premature birth in Europe.

The proposed blood test screens for molecules called microRNA, which are found in blood cells in the placental bed – a thick membrane that lines the uterus during pregnancy.

Predicting problems

The team, from the Laboratory for Reproductive Medicine and Immunology in San Francisco, assessed the microRNA cells’ ability to predict premature birth, pre-eclampsia, and miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In total, they looked at 160 births – over a series of four published studies.

The results predicted miscarriage and late pre-eclampsia with about 90% accuracy and premature birth before 34 weeks with about 89% accuracy.

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition where abnormally high blood pressure and other problems develop during pregnancy.

It affects up to 10% of all first-time pregnancies and often leads to premature birth.

Unlike that of miscarriage, the risk of pre-eclampsia and premature birth can be managed by medical intervention.

The study authors said the test could possibly be used in combination with other established screening tests.

‘Root cause’

Daniel Brison, honorary professor of clinical embryology and stem cell biology at the University of Manchester, said the study was “exciting looking” in a much needed area.

But he added: “Although the results might seem exciting and cutting edge, there is unfortunately a high risk of them being wrong.

“We’d need larger follow-up studies to be sure whether these results are valid.”

Tim Child, associate professor at the University of Oxford and medical director of Oxford Fertility, echoed his concerns but described the research as important.

“Pre-eclampsia, premature birth and miscarriage are significant issues all around the world, so any research is important,” he told BBC News, stressing that “while the number [of cases studies] is very limited, the statistical relationship between the test and the complication is very high.”

He added that he hoped ongoing research would help doctors understand “the root cause” of placental disease.

How collaboration is improving orthopedic patients’ outcomes

Image result for How collaboration is improving orthopedic patients’ outcomes

Some in the health care industry speculate that consolidation is the fate for most providers. But Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) has evidence that a sustainable advantage is gained not so much from economies of scale, but rather from economies of knowledge. Expertise correlates to patient outcomes and operational efficiency. And through collaborative relationships with third-party hospitals from up the road to across the globe, and advanced education used by medical professionals in more than 150 countries, HSS is getting bigger by helping others get better.

“154 years of specialization gives HSS the opportunity and responsibility to focus on sustainable leadership, at a time when quality is the answer to meeting the global challenges of surging demand and cost,” says HSS President and CEO Lou Shapiro. “At HSS, a unique level of experience has long propelled the most advanced knowledge and prolific invention and innovation; now, we are syndicating that to other institutions in a sustainable business model that fuels growth through quality performance for consumers, our partner institutions, and for HSS.”

The HSS Global Orthopedic Alliance was created recognizing that specific needs vary among health systems. The Alliance systematically transfers knowledge, protocols and other support from HSS to achieve different degrees of transformation, the highest of which is recognized as an HSS Center of Excellence.

Through the Alliance, HSS provides mentorship, education, and consulting to hospital systems that want to specialize in musculoskeletal care and adopt the model of care that has been successful for HSS. To date, it has collaborated with hospital systems in six countries outside the U.S., including Brazil, Greece, Ghana, China, South Korea and England.

“We’ve had great success exporting our brand to other health systems around the world,” says Dr. Charles Cornell, orthopedic surgeon at HSS, and Medical Director at HSS Orthopedics at Stamford Health, a collaboration between HSS and a top Connecticut hospital system launched early this year. “The heart of the mission of the Hospital for Special Surgery is to deliver the best of care around the world. And we found the best way to do this is to collaborate with exceptional health organizations.”

One such organization is Hospital Alvorada, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 2014, HSS formalized a relationship with Hospital Alvorada, with a focus on total joint replacement, of which HSS performs more than 10,000 each year. Inclusive in the partnership is access for physicians and surgical staff at Hospital Alvorada to seminars, symposia and continuing education videos online through the education portal HSS eAcademy, as well as other mentorship and training opportunities. This has benefitted both hospitals — and patients — immensely.

“The partnership with HSS did attract more surgeons to the hospital,” said Dr. Osvaldo Pires, Orthopedic Surgeon at Hospital Alvorada, Sao Paulo, Brazil. “[When you have] better surgeons, of course, you have better outcomes. The quality of the surgeons hired by the hospital increased significantly.”

As a result of its partnership with HSS, Hospital Alvorada is well on its way to establishing its own reputation as a leader in the field of joint replacement and musculoskeletal medicine in Brazil. In this way, HSS’s Shapiro hopes to take the impeccable skill and knowledge found at HSS to help as many people as possible the world over.

“People come [to HSS] from all over the world,” adds Shapiro. “But the entire world doesn’t come to New York.”

Envision shares tank 34% after big earnings miss, company to review ‘strategic alternatives’

Envision Healthcare shares tanked 34.2 percent to a 52-week low after the company posted a weaker-than-expected profit. The S&P 500, meanwhile, rose 0.1 percent and hit an all-time high.

On Tuesday, the company reported adjusted earnings per share of 73 cents for the third quarter, well below the Reuters estimate of 88 cents. Envision’s revenue of $1.99 billion matched analyst expectations.

The health-care company also warned of a fourth-quarter shortfall, forecasting an adjusted profit of between 44 cents and 54 cents a share. Analysts polled by StreetAccount were expecting profit guidance of $1 per share.

Envision Chairman William Sanger said in a statement the company will start a “review of strategic alternatives” with the goal of “enhancing shareholder value.” “The Board believes that a review at this time — with all options on the table, including continuing to execute on our strategic plan — is in the best interests of Envision shareholders,” he said.

Much of Envision’s business is in hurricane-stricken Florida, “but this is the company’s third earnings disappointment since last year’s combination of Amsurg and legacy EVHC,” Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Joseph France said in a note Tuesday. “We still like outsourcing and believe that the business can recover, but this seems unlikely in the near term.”

France downgraded the stock to neutral from overweight and slashed his price target to $30 from $70. Envision traded near $26.70 on Wednesday. He noted that “this process will take a while and its outcome is uncertain.”

The company’s stock had already fallen sharply this year. Entering Wednesday’s session, Envision shares were down 32.7 percent.

Pharma execs would welcome Amazon into drug distribution, say the space is ‘ripe for disruption’

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The prospect that Amazon will enter the pharmacy space has cast a pall over stocks of drug distributors and retail pharmacies, erasing hundreds of millions of dollars from their market value.

But in another sector of the drug space, Amazon’s entry would be welcomed: pharmaceutical companies.

“Just like science is disrupted with gene therapy or novel treatments, I think the drug distribution channel also should be disrupted with improvements based on technology or efficiency,” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders told analysts on the company’s third-quarter conference call Wednesday.

Pfizer chief Ian Read made similar comments in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday.

“We haven’t had any conversations with them [Amazon],” Read said, but we’re “more than willing to talk to anybody who can ensure” the efficiency of the distribution system.

Amazon is considering an entry into the space, with a decision expected as soon as Thanksgiving. Last week, news that Amazon had secured wholesale pharmacy licenses in 12 states further fueled speculation – though experts say those licenses don’t facilitate an entry into drug distribution; they support Amazon’s existing business in medical equipment.

Still, conviction – or hope – runs high that Amazon is interested in pharmacy. Wells Fargo analyst David Maris, who covers drug companies, points out that the URL AmazonRx.com is registered to the Amazon Legal Department.

“We do not see the Amazon threat alleviating any time soon,” wrote David Larsen and Matt Dellelo, analysts covering the drug supply chain space for Leerink, in an Oct. 31 research note. “While these licenses may be related to other health-care products and devices, in our view it is likely that Amazon will eventually get into the pharmacy services space.”

Most exposed, they wrote, are retailers – CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid– followed by drug distributors – McKesson, AmerisourceBergen andCardinal Health.

Others have focused on Amazon’s potential to disrupt the pharmacy benefit manager – or PBM – space, which is dominated by three major players: Express Scripts, CVS Caremark and UnitedHealth’s Optum.

PBMs, in addition to operating mail-order pharmacies, negotiate drug prices on behalf of insurers and employers, which can often lead to adversarial relationships with pharma companies.

“I’ve always thought that the current system is pretty inefficient, when you have PBMs, the pharmacy benefit managers, between the manufacturers and the ultimate users,” said Joel Marcus, CEO of Alexandria Real Estate, which caters to life science companies.

If Amazon entered the space, Marcus told analysts on the company’s third-quarter conference call this week, “it’s going to rationalize the system.”

Another biopharma CEO, speaking on the condition of anonymity, put it more bluntly: “We’d be fools not to consider anyone who can disrupt the insurance/PBM stranglehold these companies have over patients and us.”

To be sure, many point out the pharmacy space is complicated and heavily regulated, which could deter Amazon from pursuing it.

“We’ll see on the pharmacy side; there’s a lot of regulation there, a lot of red tape,” Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson, who covers Amazon, said on Squawk Box Friday. As an example, he pointed to Amazon’s wine business.

“They’re in the business of shipping wine across state lines right now, and they’re looking at getting out of that, because that has too much regulation,” Olson said. “So I’m not 100% convinced they’re going to be getting into the pharmacy space, but we’ll see.”

Some in the drug industry argue that’s precisely why Amazon could successfully disrupt the pharmaceutical supply chain.

“It’s an area rife with inefficiency and a lot of turf,” said the aforementioned biopharma CEO. “It’s overly complicated; that’s the opportunity.”

Stay Away: Cleaning frenzy at Ipswich hospital to contain virus

HEALTH authorities are asking Queensland residents from Ipswich not to go to the hospital emergency department unless absolutely necessary.

The Queensland Times say staff are still dealing with an outbreak of a highly contagious norovirus including a major cleaning operation to stop the virus spreading.

No new cases have been confirmed since Wednesday but two more patients are showing symptoms. Norovirus is an infection that lasts up to 72 hours and causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

As part of the effort to stop the virus spreading through the hospital, a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regime has been underway in the affected wards.

As part of the effort to stop the virus spreading through the hospital, a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regime has been underway in the affected wards.Source:Getty Images

So far, two cases have been confirmed with 11 patients showing symptoms.

But West Moreton Hospital and Health Service says testing to determine if an individual is positive for the virus can take up to 72-hours to be processed at an off-site forensic lab.

Precautionary measures are still in place at Ipswich Hospital to manage the outbreak.

Patient admission has been halted to two wards within the hospital and all visitors, including staff and other patients, have been reminded to practice appropriate hygiene, as per standard practice.

As part of the effort to stop the virus spreading through the hospital, a rigorous cleaning and disinfecting regime has been underway in the affected wards.

A general increase in cleaning common, high use areas has also been implemented, a West Moreton spokesman said.

The response has diverted resources and the hospital has asked resident not to visit the emergency department unless necessary to ensure there are no delays in patient flow as a result.

The advice given by Ipswich Hospital executive director Luke Worth earlier this week still stands.

“We are working with our healthcare partners, Mater Springfield and Saint Andrews, as well as our rural hospitals to plan transfers of appropriate patients should that need arise — which it has not at present,” Mr Worth said, earlier this week.

“We’d also encourage people not to come to the Emergency Department unless their complaint is of serious nature requiring urgent medical attention, but instead to use their general practitioner or the 13 HEALTH phone service.”

Norovirus can be transmitted by touching surfaces or through direct or indirect contact with another person who is infected.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramping.

The illness generally lasts for up to two days. People can decrease their chance of coming into contact with norovirus by frequently washing their hands and disinfecting surfaces, particularly in shared spaces.

DNA study provides insight into how to live longer

Blowing out birthday cake

Every year spent in education adds an average of 11 months to people’s lifespan, say scientists.

The researchers say a person loses two months for every kilogram overweight they are – and seven years for smoking a packet of cigarettes a day.

Unusually, the Edinburgh university team found their answers by analysing differences in people’s genetic code or DNA.

Ultimately they think it will reveal new ways of helping us to live longer.

The group used the genetic code of more than 600,000 people who are taking part in a natural, yet massive, experiment.

Clearer picture

If someone smokes, drinks, dropped out of school and is overweight, it can be difficult to identify the impact of one specific unhealthy behaviour.

Instead, the researchers turned to the natural experiment.

Some people carry mutations in their DNA that increase appetite or make them more likely to put on weight, so researchers were able to compare those programmed to eat more with those who were not – irrespective of their wider lifestyles.

Dr Peter Joshi, from the university’s Usher Institute, said: “It doesn’t mess up the analysis. You can look directly at the effect of weight, in isolation, on lifespan.”

Similar sets of mutations have been linked to how long people spend in education and the enjoyment they get from smoking or drinking.

DNA

The research team also found specific mutations in human DNA that alter lifespan, reported in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Mutations in a gene (a set of instructions in DNA) that is involved in running the immune system could add seven months of life on average
  • People with a mutation that increased levels of bad cholesterol knocked eight months off life expectancy
  • A rare mutation in a gene – APOE – linked to dementia reduced lifespans by 11 months
  • And one that made smoking more appealing cut lives by five months

Dr Joshi says these genetic variants are the “tip of the iceberg”. He says around 20% of the variation in lifespans may be inherited, but only 1% of such mutations have yet been found.

However, he said that while genetics does influence lifespan, “you’ve got even more influence” through the choices you make.

Dr Joshi told the BBC: “We hope to discover novel genes affecting lifespan to give us new information about ageing and construct therapeutic interventions for ageing.”

There are also some disease mutations that clearly affect life expectancy, and to devastating effect, such as the Huntington’s gene. People with Huntington’s often die in their 20s.

However, in order to follow people until the end of their lives, many of the people studied were born before 1940.

Prof David Melzer, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “An extra year of education then may have been much more important than it is now.”