Father and son readingImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Physical and mental exercise has been found to be beneficial for our brains, but scientists have now found it could also improve the learning ability of our children.
In a mouse study, researchers found the benefits gained from these activities were passed on to their offspring, despite not altering their DNA.
Further research is needed to see if this replicates in humans.
The German study is being published in the journal Cell Reports.
Exercise is recommended to keep the mind sharp in the over-50s and doing puzzles and brain training exercises has been found to delay the onset of dementia and reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Researchers from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) found that when they exposed mice to a stimulating environment in which they also had plenty of exercise, their offspring which they had later also benefitted.
The younger mice achieved better results in tests that evaluated their learning ability than the control group.
They also had improved synaptic plasticity - which is a measure of how well nerve cells communicate with each other and the cellular basis for learning.
They found this in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is important for learning.
This phenomenon is known as epigenetic inheritance.

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What is epigenetics?

  • Epigenetics is a growing field trying to understand how the environment interacts with genes.
  • Previously it was believed that acquired skills don't modify the DNA sequence so therefore can't be passed on to children.
  • But in recent years scientists have found that in some circumstances lifestyle factors such as stress and trauma in parents can affect the next generation.
  • For example, a poor diet increases the risk of disease in ourselves but also raises the risk in our children.
  • This phenomenon is known as "epigenetic" inheritance, as it is not associated with changes in DNA sequence.

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They found the benefits were conveyed through the RNA molecules that are contained in sperm, along with paternal DNA.
"Presumably, they modify brain development in a very subtle manner improving the connection of neurons. This results in a cognitive advantage for the offspring," said Prof André Fischer from DZNE.
The researchers say that whether their findings are translatable to people needs to be determined.
Prof Marcus Pembrey, from Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said the research was an "important step" in unravelling "what, if anything, contributes to an individual's intelligence beyond genetic inheritance and learning after birth".
He added: "If this system of the offspring inheriting a 'head start' applies to humans, it might help to explain the so-called Flynn effect, where the population IQ in industrial societies has risen every decade for the last century."

Mum and dad holding hands with walking babyImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Prof Simon Fishel, of the private Care Fertility group, said it was a "fascinating study" providing "further increasing evidence of how we conduct our lives before we conceive our children may have consequences for our offspring".
He said it "opens up further the enthralling study of a 'transgenerational inheritance' and added: "However, there is much work to do to understand if this study can not only be replicated in mice, but other mammalian species too, and ultimately in humans."
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Spilt sugar A spoonful of sugar helps wounds heal faster

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Can sprinkling sugar into a wound speed up the healing process? The papers are today reporting on some new research we touched on back in August.
When Moses Murandu was a child in Zimbabwe and gashed his leg his father sprinkled sugar into the wound when dressing it.
Well now Moses is a senior nurse and lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and he's been conducting clinical trials to see the impact sugar has when used as a dressing on infected wounds.
He funded the initial study at Selly Oak on a few patients himself. Treating problems like open infected wounds and bedsores. And the results were so promising he's now been awarded £25,000 to expand the trial with up to 300 patients in different hospitals across the Midlands.
His initial paper has also just been accepted for publication in the November issue of Wounds International. While this early study was limited to just 21 patients, the conclusions are extremely positive.
We had not anticipated the immediate and dramatic abolition of wound odour which enabled us to move patients from isolation to the open ward within 24 hours of commencing treatment, nor the marked reduction in analgesic requirements, particularly in venous ulcer patients who had previously refused bed rest in elevation on the grounds that this was intolerably painful.
Sugar is often much cheaper than other more sophisticated dressings and treatments. Though you do need a sterile source.
UPDATE Having spent a very interesting morning with Moses, I think it might be worth stressing just how hard he's worked to get this project off the ground. We simply didn't have time to go into this in the report.
It took some six months to convince the relevant authorities to drop the £25,000 new drug registration fee for this trial. Then Moses had to approach a number of different hospitals to find consultants and nurses who were happy for the trial to go ahead on their ward. Finally the trial itself has involved a lot of work for Moses. He had to get up at six to check on his patients, then go off to the day job as a lecturer and then return to check on his patients again in the evening.
But he told me what makes it all worthwhile is seeing his patients happy and comfortable after weeks of dealing with pain from wounds that just won't heal.
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A dementia patient being comforted by a relativeSpending time with loved ones with dementia is important even after they fail to recognize the faces of friends and family, a dementia charity says.
A survey found that 42% of the public think there is no point in keeping up contact at this stage.
But the Alzheimer's Society said family visits stimulated feelings of happiness, comfort and security.
Even as the condition progresses, it said people with dementia can still hold an "emotional memory".
This means they continue to feel happy long after a visit or experience that they may have forgotten.
The charity is calling on people to visit friends and relatives with dementia regularly and help them take part in activities they enjoy.
In a separate survey by the charity of 300 people affected by dementia, more than half said they were no longer taking part in any, or hardly any, social activities.
And 64% said they felt isolated following their diagnosis.

'Bleak and lonely'

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, said: "After spending time with friends and family over the festive period, New Year can be a bleak and lonely time for people with dementia and their carers. It's so important for people with dementia to feel connected throughout the year.
"Spending time with loved ones and taking part in meaningful activities can have a powerful and positive impact, even if they don't remember the event itself. We're urging people to get in touch with us and find out how we can help you stay connected."
A survey of more than 4,000 members of the public indicated that 68% would still visit someone with dementia who no longer recognised them.
However the charity says that people's busy lives often mean they don't manage to follow up on these good intentions, leaving many living with dementia feeling isolated.
There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK.
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 Lung cancer

 Scientists believe they have discovered a way to "steer" the immune system to kill cancers.

Researchers at University College, London have developed a way of finding unique markings within a tumour - its "Achilles heel" - allowing the body to target the disease.
But the personalised method, reported in Science journal, would be expensive and has not yet been tried in patients.
Experts said the idea made sense but could be more complicated in reality.
However, the researchers, whose work was funded by Cancer Research UK, believe their discovery could form the backbone of new treatments and hope to test it in patients within two years.
They believe by analysing the DNA, they'll be able to develop bespoke treatment.
People have tried to steer the immune system to kill tumours before, but cancer vaccines have largely flopped.
One explanation is that they are training the body's own defences to go after the wrong target.
The problem is cancers are not made up of identical cells - they are a heavily mutated, genetic mess and samples at different sites within a tumour can look and behave very differently.


They grow a bit like a tree with core "trunk" mutations, but then mutations that branch off in all directions. It is known as cancer heterogeneity.

The international study developed a way of discovering the "trunk" mutations that change antigens - the proteins that stick out from the surface of cancer cells.
Professor Charles Swanton, from the UCL Cancer Institute, added: "This is exciting. Now we can prioritise and target tumour antigens that are present in every cell - the Achilles heel of these highly complex cancers.
"This is really fascinating and takes personalised medicine to its absolute limit, where each patient would have a unique, bespoke treatment."
There are two approaches being suggested for targeting the trunk mutations.
The first is to develop cancer vaccines for each patient that train the immune system to spot them.
The second is to "fish" for immune cells that already target those mutations and swell their numbers in the lab, and then put them back into the body.

'Early days'

Dr Marco Gerlinger, from the Institute of Cancer Research, said: "This is a very important step and makes us think about heterogeneity as a problem and why this gives cancer this big advantage.

"Targeting trunk mutations makes sense from many points of view, but it is early days and whether it's that simple, I'm not entirely sure.
"Many cancers are not standing still but they keep evolving constantly. These are moving targets which makes it difficult to get them under control.
"Cancers that can change and evolve could lose the initial antigen or maybe come up with smokescreens of other good antigens so that the immune system gets confused."


James Gallagher, health editor, BBC News website
Harnessing the power of the immune system - what's known as immunotherapy - is the most exciting field in cancer and probably in all of medicine right now.
But while that excitement is justified, claims that a cure for cancer is around the corner are not.
Medical research is littered with the graves of hyped treatments that just never worked.
Two decades ago, gene therapy was "hype-central" and we're still waiting for it to transform medicine.
This study demonstrates some spectacular science that furthers understanding of how the immune system and cancer interact.
But this new knowledge has not been used to treat a single patient. There have not even been animal studies. So there is a real risk it will not work.
Even if it does, this is an hugely expensive approach that would need to be customised to every patient in a process that takes more than a year from start to finish.

Some immunotherapy treatments work spectacularly with some patients' cancer disappearing entirely.
They take the brakes off the immune system, freeing it up to fight cancer.
The researchers hope the combination of removing the immune system's brakes and then taking over the steering wheel, will save lives.
Professor Peter Johnson, from Cancer Research UK, said the research had shown "impressive results in the clinic" and although "the technology is complicated and quite recent... once you start doing it the cost will come down".

'Elegant study'

Dr Stefan Symeonides, clinician scientist in experimental cancer medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said designing a personalised vaccine was currently impractical, especially when a patient needed treatment straight away.
But he added that the "very elegant" study did provide a ground-breaking insight into current immunotherapy drugs, which do not yet work for most people.
"It's not just the number of antigens, it's how many of the cancer cells have them," he said.
"This data will be quoted in discussions for years, as we try to understand which patients benefit from immunotherapy drugs, which ones don't, and why, so we can improve those therapies."
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Obesity is the biggest threat to women's health and the health of future generations, warns England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.
Her annual report, which focuses on women this year, said tackling obesity should be a national priority to avert a "growing health catastrophe".
She said the food industry needed to do more or it should face a sugar tax.
Dame Sally is also calling for better treatment of ovarian cancer and more open discussion on incontinence.
England's top doctor said obesity was so serious it should be a priority for the whole population, but particularly for women because too often it shortened their lives.
In England in 2013, 56.4% of women aged 34-44 and 62% of women aged 45-54 were classified as overweight or obese.
Obesity increases the risk of many diseases including breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Sugar tax

Dame Sally warned that if the food industry did not clean up its act then new taxes may be the only option.
She told the BBC: "I think it is inevitable that manufacturing has to reformulate and resize, that supermarkets and others need to stop cheap promotions on unhealthy food and putting unhealthy food at the check-out, and limit advertising dramatically.
"I think we're at a tipping point. If industry won't deliver then we'll have to look at a sugar tax."
Elsewhere in the report, the chief medical officer recommended that:
  • clinical staff be better trained to recognise and respond to violence against women, including female genital mutilation, domestic abuse and sexual violence
  • more research is needed to improve maternal and child mental and physical health
  • more research on screening tests, preeclampsia and foetal growth is also needed
  • children should receive integrated personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) with sex and relationships education (SRE) at school
  • a full range of contraception services should be available to all women, at all reproductive ages

Pregnancy health

Dame Sally highlighted the fact that women had to look after their physical and mental health during pregnancy for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Calculate your BMI (body mass index)
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Five ways to help women lose weight

If a woman is obese during pregnancy, research indicates there is an increased chance of miscarriage and premature birth.
A woman's overall health during pregnancy also has an impact on the health of the child in later life, the report said.

A pregnant woman's health affects the conditions inside the womb which in turn can have life-long consequences for the health of the child including the risk of obesity or type 2 diabetes.
Dame Sally said she wanted to "bust the myth" that women should eat for two when pregnant, adding a healthy diet with fruit and vegetables and avoiding alcohol was important.
Prof Nick Finer, from University College London's Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said obesity was now "the most pressing health issue for the nation".
"Estimates of the economic costs of obesity suggest they will bankrupt the NHS.
"Elevating the problem of obesity to a national risk could help to address the current 'laissez faire' attitude to this huge, angry, growing health catastrophe," he said.

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Media captionSize acceptance campaigner Kathryn Szrodecki: "It's scare tactics...the biggest killer for women is dementia and Alzheimer's"
The report makes 17 recommendations across a range of women's health issues.
In her report, Dame Sally highlighted the need for early diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, which are more common in women than men.
She recommended that everyone with an eating disorder should have access to a new and enhanced form of psychological therapy, called CBT-E, which is specifically designed to treat eating disorders.
This should be available to all age groups across the country, she said.
Lorna Garner, from Beat, the charity that supports people with eating disorders, said the recommendation would have "a dramatic and positive impact on a very large proportion of the individuals diagnosed with eating disorders".

What is CBT-E?

It's a one-to-one psychological therapy which focuses on changing the patient's views on body image and helping them to accept their bodies as they are.
The 'E' stands for enhanced because it is tailored to the individual, with the aim of helping them to learn more productive ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.
Keeping patients engaged in the process and preventing any relapses is a key part of the therapy.
Extensive studies have shown that it works for all eating disorders, with a 66% success rate for people with bulimia and binge-eating disorders.
The therapy lasts from five to nine months and can also be used on children over 14 years old.
Therapists can be trained online to deliver CBT-E, which helps patients to be treated quickly.

Ovarian cancer survival is lower in England than in other comparable countries
The report also called for better treatment for ovarian cancer, which kills more women in England than any other gynaecological cancer.
With survival from the cancer among the lowest among developed nations, Dame Sally recommends longer operating times to increase the likelihood that all the cancer is removed during surgery.
Training in specialised surgical skills to remove gynaecological cancers and an audit of treatments are also highlighted in the report.

Taboo issues

There should be more awareness of women's problems "below the waist" and more discussion of taboo topics such as urinary and faecal incontinence and the menopause, the report said.
More than five million women suffer from incontinence in the UK, a condition that can seriously affect the quality of their lives.
Bosses should also make it easier for women to discuss their menopausal symptoms without embarrassment, which could help them reduce their sick leave and improve their wellbeing at work.
Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said women should be placed at the centre of their care throughout their lives.
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Coud your kid be a child genius? Coud your kid be a child genius? Getty
EVERY parent thinks their child is a genius but there’s a way to be sure from an early age – and it involves a RAISIN.
Scientists have found that by placing the fruit under a cup and telling a toddler not to touch it, they can tell how clever the youngster will turn out to be.
While most two-year-olds make an immediate grab, those who resist for one whole minute will score an average 19 per cent higher on tests by the time they are eight, the University of Warwick found.
Here, RUTH HARRISON reveals other tell-tale signs of a high IQ from birth up to the age of ten.



Chubby baby ... you might have a genius on your hands

Chubby baby ... you might have a genius on your hands Getty
WOMEN who give birth to hefty babies can rejoice at news that the heavier a newborn, the higher their intelligence.
A study of more than 3,000 babies published in the British Medical Journal found that larger birth weights meant slightly higher IQ.
It is thought to be down to the fact that heavier babies have been better nourished.

Age one & two

MANDARIN? French? Spanish? Can you talk to your child in a different language?
One trick to encouraging brain development in a toddler is if it is spoken to in different languages, according to a report in scientific journal Child Development.
Those born to parents who speak more than one language perform better on IQ tests.
So parents and parents-to-be, it’s time to brush up on those foreign tongues.

Age three

FOR your child to have the best chance of reaching great heights, they have to stand at er . . . a great height.
Tall kids are more likely to ace tests, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The study team noted: “As early as age three, before schooling has had a chance to play a role, and throughout childhood, taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests.”

Age four


They might not be Picasso but arty kids are usually smarter They might not be Picasso but arty kids are usually smarter Getty
ARTISTIC youngsters who can create a realistic image of a human by this age are more likely to be more intelligent in their teens.
Researchers at King’s College London studied 15,000 pictures drawn by four-year-olds and found that those with an early eye for art were more likely to do better in later IQ tests.

Age five

FIBBING can be a good thing. Researchers found that children who do it at an early age are more likely to do well in later life.
A Canadian study of 1,200 children aged two to 17 found that kids who are able to lie early on are more intelligent.
The experts from the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University say this is because the complex processes involved in conjuring up a tale are a good indicator of a child’s IQ.

Age six


Musical kids are more emotionally developed Getty
PLAYING a musical instrument helps boost a child’s emotional intelligence at this age.
Musical kids are more emotionally developed
Researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine looked at the brain scans of 232 healthy children aged six to 18.
They found that the more a child played an instrument, the better their skills with “anxiety management and emotions.”

Age seven


Kids who read do well in intelligence tests Getty
LOTS of reading early on is a key indicator of higher intelligence in later years, scientists have found.
Those kids who have better-than-average reading skills at the age of seven, immersing themselves in novels, perform well in IQ tests as teenagers, according to a joint study by the University of Edinburgh and King’s College London back in 2014.
Kids who read do well in intelligence tests

Age eight

IS your lass or lad of around this age always pushing back bedtime?
Research by the London School of Economics shows that clever adults are more likely to stay up late and started the habit at an early age.
Researchers noted: “More intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be nocturnal adults who go to bed late and wake up late on both weekdays and weekends.”

Age nine


Most important meal for the brain

Most important meal for the brain Getty
IF your child is eating a healthy breakfast at this age, their chances of achieving above-average marks in academic tests are doubled.
Those downing cereals, breads and dairy in the morning do best in assessments at the end of Key Stage Two, according to a University of Cardiff study of 5,000 pupils aged nine to 11.

Age ten


Talkative children often smarter

Talkative children often smarter Getty
BY the age of ten, your child can be tested by Mensa to find out their specific IQ level.
Key indicators of smartness, Mensa says, include a love of talk, making up different rules for boardgames and getting fed up with other children.
If you think your child could make the genius grade, take a look at mensa.org.uk for its IQ tests.
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