All Posts tagged work

Blueberries reduce Alzheimer’s, more

Eating purple fruits such as blueberries and drinking green tea can help ward off diseases including Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s, a University of Manchester report claims. New research from Professor Douglas Kell, published in the journal Archives of Toxicology, has found that the majority of debilitating illnesses are in part caused by poorly-bound iron which causes the production of dangerous toxins that can react with the components of living systems. These toxins, called hydroxyl radicals, cause degenerative diseases of many kinds in different parts of the body. In order to protect the body from these dangerous varieties of poorly-bound iron, it is vital to take on nutrients, known as iron chelators, which can bind the iron tightly.

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Brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of chelators, as is green tea, with purple fruits considered to have the best chance of binding the iron effectively. However, despite conflicting reports, the widely-publicised benefits of red wine seem to work in a different way, and have no similar benefits, Professor Kell’s paper noted.

This new paper is the first time the link has been made between so many different diseases and the presence of the wrong form of iron, and gives a crucial clue as to how to prevent them or at least slow them down. Professor Kell argues that the means by which poorly-liganded iron accelerates the onset of debilitating diseases shows up areas in which current, traditional thinking is flawed and can be dangerous. For instance, Vitamin C is thought to be of great benefit to the body’s ability to defend itself against toxins and diseases. However Professor Kell, who is Professor of Bioanalytical Science at the University, indicates that excess vitamin C can in fact have the opposite effect to that intended if unliganded iron is present.

Only when iron is suitably and safely bound (“chelated”) will vitamin C work effectively. Professor Kell said: “Much of modern biology has been concerned with the role of different genes in human disease. “The importance of iron may have been missed because there is no gene for iron as such. What I have highlighted in this work is therefore a crucial area for further investigation, as many simple predictions follow from my analysis.

“If true they might change greatly the means by which we seek to prevent and even cure such diseases.”

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Placebos may work – even when the patient knows

For most of us, the “placebo effect” is synonymous with the power of positive thinking; it works because you believe you're taking a real drug. But a new study rattles this assumption.Researchers at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have found that placebos work even when administered without the seemingly requisite deception.

Placebos—or dummy pills—are typically used in clinical trials as controls for potential new medications. Even though they contain no active ingredients, patients often respond to them. In fact, data on placebos is so compelling that many American physicians (one study estimates 50 percent) secretly give placebos to unsuspecting patients. Because such “deception” is ethically questionable, HMS associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk teamed up with colleagues at BIDMC to explore whether or not the power of placebos can be harnessed honestly and respectfully.

To do this, 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups: one group, the controls, received no treatment, while the other group received a regimen of placebos—honestly described as “like sugar pills”—which they were instructed to take twice daily. “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle,” says Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

For a three-week period, the patients were monitored. By the end of the trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief as compared to the control group (59 percent vs. 35 percent). Also, on other outcome measures, patients taking the placebo doubled their rates of improvement to a degree roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications. “I didn't think it would work,” says senior author Anthony Lembo, HMS associate professor of medicine at BIDMC and an expert on IBS. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

The authors caution that this study is small and limited in scope and simply opens the door to the notion that placebos are effective even for the fully informed patient—a hypothesis that will need to be confirmed in larger trials. “Nevertheless,” says Kaptchuk, “these findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual. I'm excited about studying this further. Placebo may work even if patients knows it is a placebo.”

This study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School.

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Broccoli helps fight stomach problems

Extracts of broccoli and banana may help in fighting stomach problems, research suggests. Laboratory studies show fibres from the vegetables may boost the body's natural defences against stomach infections. Trials are under way to see if they could be used as a medical food for patients with Crohn's disease. Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes symptoms such as diarrhoea and abdominal pain. It affects about 1 in 1,000 people, and is thought to be caused by a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. The condition is common in developed countries, where diets are often low in fibre and high in processed food.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool looked at how roughage from vegetables influenced the passage of harmful bacteria through cells inside the gut. They found that fibres from the plantain, a type of large banana, and broccoli, were particularly beneficial. But a common stabiliser added to processed foods during the manufacturing process had the opposite effect.

Dr Barry Campbell, from the University of Liverpool, said: “This research shows that different dietary components can have powerful effects on the movement of bacteria through the bowel. “We have known for some time the general health benefits of eating plantain and broccoli, which are both high in vitamins and minerals, but until now we have not understood how they can boost the body's natural defences against infection common in Crohn's patients. “Our work suggests that it might be important for patients with this condition to eat healthily and limit their intake of processed foods.”

The research, published in the journal Gut, and carried out in collaboration with experts in Sweden and Scotland, investigated special cells, called M-cells, which line the gut and ward off invading bacteria. Work was carried out in laboratory-grown cells and tissue samples from patients undergoing surgery for stomach problems. Clinical trials are now underway in 76 Crohn's patients to find out whether a medical food containing plantain fibres could help keep the disease at bay. “It may be that it makes sense for sufferers of Crohn's to take supplements of these fibres to help prevent relapse,” said Professor Jon Rhodes of the University of Liverpool.

 

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Why a Restricted DIet Leads to Longer Lifespan

The research is being presented at the conference of the British Society for Research on Ageing (BSRA) in Newcastle. It was conducted by scientists at the BBSRC Centre for Integrated Systems Biology of Ageing and Nutrition (CISBAN) at Newcastle University.

Working with the theory that cell senescence – the point at which a cell can no longer replicate – is a major cause of ageing the researchers set out to investigate what effect a restricted diet had on this process. By looking at mice fed a restricted diet the team found that they had a reduced accumulation of senescent cells in their livers and intestines. Both organs are known to accumulate large numbers of these cells as animals age.

Alongside this the CISBAN scientists also found that the telomeres of the chromosomes of the mice on restricted diets were better maintained despite their ageing. Telomeres are the protective 'ends' of chromosomes that prevent errors, and therefore diseases, occurring as DNA replicates throughout an organisms lifetime but they are known to become 'eroded' over time.

The adult mice were fed a restricted diet for a short period of time demonstrating that it may not be necessary to follow a very low calorie diet for a lifetime to gain the benefits the scientists found.

Chunfang Wang, the lead researcher on this project at CISBAN, said: “Many people will have heard of the theory that eating a very low calorie diet can help to extend lifespan and there is a lot of evidence that this is true. However, we need a better understanding of what is actually happening in an organism on a restricted diet. Our research, which looked at parts of the body that easily show biological signs of ageing, suggests that a restricted diet can help to reduce the amount of cell senescence occurring and can reduce damage to protective telomeres. In turn this prevents the accumulation of damaging tissue oxidation which would normally lead to age-related disease.”

Professor Thomas von Zglinicki, who oversaw the research, said: “It's particularly exciting that our experiments found this effect on age-related senescent cells and loss of telomeres, even when food restriction was applied to animals in later life. We don't yet know if food restriction delays ageing in humans, and maybe we wouldn't want it. But at least we now know that interventions can work if started later. This proof of principle encourages us at CISBAN in our search for interventions that might in the foreseeable future be used to combat frailty in old patients.”

CISBAN is one of the six BBSRC Centres for Integrative Systems Biology. The centres represent a more than £40M investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to support the development of systems biology in the UK. The centres are also supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Systems biology uses the study of a whole, interconnected system – a cell, an organism or even an ecosystem – with computer modelling to better make the outputs of biology more useful to scientists, policymakers and industry.

Prof Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive and keynote speaker at the BSRA Conference, said: “As lifespan continues to extend in the developed world we face the challenge of increasing our 'healthspan', that is the years of our lives when we can expect to be healthy and free from serious or chronic illness. By using a systems biology approach to investigate the fundamental mechanisms that underpin the ageing process the CISBAN scientists are helping to find ways to keep more people living healthy, independent lives for longer.”

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Thirty years ago Maria de Sousa, then at the beginning of her career, noticed that lymphocytes were attracted to places with surplus of iron. This, together with

1- the fact that the vertebrate immune system (IS) was incredibly more complex that those of its ancestors (and evolution rarely increases complexity, which is energetically costly, unless something is gained)

2- the IS unique capacity to reach everywhere in the body

led her to a revolutionary new idea – could this new complexity be evolutionary sound, because it allowed the IS to perform some important new function, maybe protecting the body against iron toxicity?

In fact iron, although an essential element for most life forms, can also be toxic to these same organisms when free (not attached to proteins). This means that in this form it needs to be “watched” and regulated around the clock. In vertebrates, this is done through hepcidin, a liver protein that “moves” iron between cells and plasma according to the body needs (or potential dangers). The problem is that the hepcidin liver cells have limited mobility so a complementary far reaching iron control system was needed. Lymphocytes, with their unique capacity to move throughout the body were the perfect candidates and since 1978, de Sousa and her group have been chasing this idea.

Much of their work has been done on hemochromatosis – a disease where there are problems in the absorption of iron through the digestive track leading to too much iron in the organism and to its toxic accumulation in the organs.

From this work we know now that hemochromatosis patients also have a defective IS, and more, that their iron overload levels correlate with their lymphocyte deficiency – the less lymphocytes they have the more severe the disease. Work in animal models with iron overload problems or instead, with lymphocyte deficiencies have again found links between excess of iron in the body and deficient IS further supporting de Sousa's “immuno-iron idea”.

And meanwhile, human lymphocytes were shown to produce several proteins crucial for the regulation of iron levels – ferritin, which acts as the body storage of iron (so holding to it when there is too much in the body or releasing it when there is deficiency) and ferroportin, which is the cells' iron “exit door” (again releasing or retaining iron as necessary) . The fact that lymphocytes had both proteins gave them the potential to be a “mobile” and easily “mobilizable” iron-storage compartment, characteristics perfect for an important role in iron homeostasis.

Nevertheless, the exact mechanism how this could happen remained elusive

But hepcidin, the central piece of iron regulation, is known to be also an important player in the immune response what has raised the possibility that it could be in it the clue to this problem. In fact, during infection hepcidin shuts down the “door” through which iron leaves the cell (ferroportin) reducing iron availability in the plasma and thus helping to control infection – as bacteria need iron to divide. And now several studies have shown that hepcidin is produced by a variety of cells involved in the immune response. Finally, last year, a study suggested, for the first time, that lymphocytes were also capable of producing the protein putting the possibility that hepcidin could actually be “the missing link” of de Sousa's theory.

To clarify this hypothesis Jorge Pinto, Maria de Sousa and colleagues at the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMC) of Porto University looked at hepcidin production in human lymphocytes in situations of toxic iron concentrations or immune activation, as de Sousa's theory proposed that lymphocytes could play a role in both situations. They found that hepcidin not only was produced by all classes of lymphocytes, but also that its production increased both in the presence of high quantities of iron, and when lymphocytes were activated, backing de Sousa's proposals.

Pinto explains: “We show, for the first time, that lymphocytes can “feel” the toxic levels of iron in circulation and respond by increasing their own capacity to retain it within, restoring “normality”. The same mechanism is seen being used in situations of (iron) demand, such as when the cells are activated by the occurrence of an infection and need to divide.”

They also found something else totally unexpected – that hepcidin was involved in this second mechanism, suggesting an even closer dependence between the two systems than de Sousa had thought.

To Hal Drakesmith, a researcher at the University of Oxford working on the possibility of manipulating iron transport as a way to combat infections such as HIV, malaria and Hepatitis C these results raise particularly interesting questions as he explains “This seems to suggest that control of iron metabolism may be an integral component of lymphocyte immunity. Withholding iron from pathogens is an accepted part of our defence against infection, but a role for lymphocytes in controlling iron transport has not been proposed before.

“Crucially – says Pinto – we still believe that the main regulator of systemic iron levels is the liver but not only are lymphocytes (and not liver cells) able to sense toxic forms of iron, but they are also able to travel and be activated in specific places where the pathogens accumulate helping to control infection. “

These results are a major step to understand the link between the IS and iron and, if confirmed in live organisms –all this work was done on human cells in the laboratory – can be the beginning of a totally different view of what the immune system is and how to approach immunologic problems.

As Hal Drakesmith says “the paper describes several new findings which are highly likely to be of interest and importance to the iron and immunity fields of research” A simple example is the anaemia that usually accompanies chronic inflammatory diseases and that so far can not be clearly explained. Pinto and Sousa's results suggest that lymphocyte chronic activation, so characteristic of these diseases, by leading to hepcidin production could be part of the phenomenon as iron is an integral part of red blood cells.

Pinto, de Sousa and colleagues now plan to go back to those diseases of iron overload associated to immune abnormalities and see if hepcidin proves to be, in fact, the connection between them. Other possibility is the construction of mice without the hepcidin gene in the bone marrow – where lymphocytes develop – to analyse the changes that this could bring to both iron homeostasis and the immune response.

Whatever happens this is a strikingly interesting story with decades of persistence and believe behind it and which, I am sure, still has much to tell us.

By Catarina Amorim

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Memories are made of this

“This protein is present in the part of the brain in which memories are stored. We have found that in order for any memory to be laid down this protein, called the M3-muscarinic receptor, has to be activated.

“We have also determined that this protein undergoes a very specific change during the formation of a memory – and that this change is an essential part of memory formation. In this regard our study reveals at least one of the molecular mechanisms that are operating in the brain when we form a memory and as such this represents a major break through in our understanding of how we lay down memories.

“This finding is not only interesting in its own right but has important clinical implications. One of the major symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Our study identifies one of the key processes involved in memory and learning and we state in the paper that drugs designed to target the protein identified in our study would be of benefit in treating Alzheimer's disease.”

Professor Tobin said there was tremendous excitement about the breakthrough the team has made and its potential application: “It has been fascinating to look at the molecular processes involved in memory formation. We were delighted not only with the scientific importance of our finding but also by the prospect that our work could have an impact on the design of drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.”

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Becoming a Dietitian

Would I enjoy a career as a dietitian?

If you are interested in food, nutrition and health, enjoy communicating with people and have an aptitude for science – an exciting future lies ahead of you when you become an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

Dietitians need to have a critical and enquiring mind, good organisational skills and initiative, good written and verbal communication skills, and be able to work effectively with people.

What do dietitians do?

Dietitians apply the art and science of human nutrition to help people understand food and health relationships and make dietary choices to get the most out of their lifestyle.

Dietitians are trained to:

  • understand food science;
  • interpret nutrition science;assess people's nutritional needs;
  • advise on nutrition and diet for general good health or for special needs such as sport or medical conditions;
  • implement and manage nutrition services and programs;
  • teach others;
  • undertake research; and
  • develop nutrition communications, nutrition programs and policies.

What are my career options?

The diverse range of job opportunities and working conditions for dietitians will enable you to develop a wide variety of interests and skills and use them in many different situations.

  • Patient care Working as part of a health care team in hospitals and nursing homes, dietitians are responsible for assessing the nutritional needs of patients, planning appropriate diets and educating patients and their families.
  • Community nutrition and public health Dietitians are involved in nutrition and health education programs. This can be at the local community level or for the population at a national level. Dietitians working in public health also assist with health planning, setting nutritional standards, and developing and implementing nutrition policies.
  • Food service and management Dietitians combine management skills and nutrition expertise when delivering food services in hospitals, nursing homes, meals on wheels, hospitality and catering. Dietitians also manage nutrition services and health programs.
  • Consultancy/private practice Dietitians provide consultancy services to individuals, groups and organisations which include individual counselling, group programs, preventive health programs and nutrition education. Dietitians also prepare nutritional information for publication, work with the media and in public relations.
  • Food industry Dietitians working in the food industry are involved in food regulatory issues (food law), food safety and quality systems, consumer and health professional education, nutrition research, product development, nutrition-related marketing and public relations.
  • Research and teaching Dietitians work as part of research teams investigating nutrition and health issues and developing practical nutrition recommendations. Dietitians are also involved in training student dietitians, doctors and other health professionals.
  • Other fields Dietitians are able to transfer their skills to other fields such as management, public relations, marketing, program management, communications, media, health promotion, policy development and information technology.

What are the salaries – public sector and private practice fees?

In the public healthcare sector dietitians' salaries are similar to other allied health professionals, nurses and teachers. To find out about salaries you should visit the website of the relevant State/Territory Departments of Health or obtain the relevant awards (eg Health Professionals), collective agreements or enterprise agreements in your State or Territory.

In other work areas dietitians' salaries reflect salaries for that industry, e.g. university lecturers. It is against the Trade Practices Act for DAA to set or recommend fees therefore dietitians in private practice or consulting do set their own fees. DAA does survey members on what fees are being charged and the survey results are provided as a guide to what you may expect to pay if consulting a dietitian.

What course do I select?

To become a dietitian you need to complete a tertiary level course accredited by DAA. Currently there are courses in ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. Courses vary depending on the university. Some examples of current courses include: a one to two year post-graduate diploma or master degree following a bachelor of science degree (including physiology and biochemistry), or a four year integrated undergraduate course. Courses cover food, nutrition, health and diet-related medical conditions, and skills in communication, counselling, education, health promotion, management, research and critical analysis of literature.

How will my expertise be recognised?

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APD) are recognised professionals who have the qualifications and expertise to provide expert nutrition and dietary advice. APDs need to meet detailed criteria developed by DAA. These include ongoing education to keep up to date with advances in health and food sciences and a commitment to a Code of Professional Conduct. All APDs can be identified by the APD title and logo, and are listed on a national APD register.

Source: Dietitians Association of Australia

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Iranian scholars share Avicenna’s mediaeval medical wisdom

For pulmonary ailments, certain mediaeval physicians had a useful medical textbook on hand offering detailed information remarkably similar to those a modern doctor might use today. One of the fathers of medicine, the great Persian scholar Avicenna left a wealth of information in his many works. Iranian academics dust off one of these in an article published today in the SAGE journal Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease, sharing in English details of Avicenna's work that still fascinate both physicians and historians of medicine alike.

Seyyed Mehdi Hashemi and Mohsen Raza dug deep into Avicenna's original ancient text, housed in the Central Library of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran, where they both work. In particular, they aimed to highlight Avicenna's work on respiratory diseases, which may be informative or interesting to physicians and pulmonologists today.

Avicenna discusses respiratory diseases in volume three of the Canon of Medicine, covering the functional anatomy and physiopathology of the pulmonary diseases that were known in his time in detail. His descriptions of the signs and symptoms of various respiratory diseases and conditions are remarkably similar to those found in modern pulmonary medicine. The topic is covered under five chapters: breathing, voice, cough and haemoptysis, internal wounds and inflammations and principles of treatments.

The authors also highlight both herbal and non-herbal treatments Avicenna recommends for respiratory diseases, and their signs and symptoms from the second volume of the Canon of Medicine. Avicenna suggested 21 herbs to treat respiratory disorders, and today we know that several of these herbs contain bioactive compounds with analgesic, antispasmodic, bronchodilatory or antimicrobial activities. For instance, Avicenna would have prescribed opium at that time for cough and haemoptysis, a practice which today has an established therapeutic basis.

“In the time of Avicenna, the presentation of respiratory diseases, their treatment and their prognosis was much different than in modern times,” says Hashemi. Mediaeval physicians had a greater reliance on history, physical examination (which was mostly based on visual observation), individual variation, environmental factors, diet, and so on, for diagnosis and treatment.

Even so, several of Avicenna's observations related to signs and symptoms, aggravating and relieving factors and the treatment of pulmonary disorders are still valid and can be explained by modern science. For example, one of the important symptoms in the diagnosis of asthma that Avicenna discusses is dyspnea during sleep that leads to awakening. Avicenna also observed plaster-like material in tuberculosis patients' sputum, which is now known as lithoptysis (stone spitting), where a patient coughs up calcified material due to perforated bronchial lymph node.

Despite many limitations and the lack of modern instruments in his day, Avicenna adopted a scientific approach to the diagnosis and treatment, not only of respiratory disorders, but also more generally to illnesses he treated and mentioned throughout the Canon of Medicine.

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Eating more fish: The answer to lupus?

New research from the University of Ulster today offered hope to millions of lupus sufferers worldwide. Dr Emeir Duffy, from the School of Biomedical Sciences, and Dr Gary Meenagh, from Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast, have discovered new evidence to suggest that fish oil can greatly reduce the symptoms of the disease.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Lupus is a disorder of the Immune System, where the body harms its own healthy cells and tissues. The body tissues become damaged causing painful or swollen joints, unexplained fever, skin rashes, kidney problems, complications to the cardiovascular system and extreme fatigue. There are approximately 500 diagnosed cases of SLE in Northern Ireland and it is most common in women of child-bearing age.

At present there is no cure but a key to managing lupus is to understand the disease and its impact. Steroids are the main drug used in the treatment of lupus and they should be administered for the shortest period possible to reduce side-effects. But recently researchers have been looking specifically at its management through diet.

Fish oils contain long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids which are essential for normal growth and development but also have anti-inflammatory and anti-autoimmune properties. Dr Duffy said: “We have been investigating how fish oil can improve the quality of life for lupus sufferers. “In lupus, the body's immune system does not work as it should. Antibodies, which help fight viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances, are not produced effectively. The immune system actually produces antibodies against the body's own healthy cells and tissues. These auto-antibodies contribute to inflammation and other symptoms of the disease.

“Participants in the study who were taking fish oil supplements, three times per day for twenty-four weeks, saw a reduction in disease activity, an improvement in quality of life and reported an overall feeling of improved health by the end of the study compared to those taking a placebo supplement. Participants taking the fish oil also showed a reduction in fatigue severity, the most debilitating symptom for lupus sufferers. “From our study and from other work, there is evidence that increasing dietary intake of the polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish can have beneficial effects for lupus sufferers. Good examples of fatty fish include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon”.

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Emotions can predict future eating disorders

To this end, the following emotional variables have been specified: those relative to emotional experience —the frequency of positive and negative emotions, anxiety, low self-esteem and the influence of diet, weight and the body shape on the emotional state—; negative perception of emotions, negative attitude to emotional expression, alexithymia —the inability to identify own emotions and to express them verbally— and the manner of controlling negative emotions.

Moreover, another variable has also been taken into account: the need for control. This variable is not strictly emotional, but has a clear emotional component, given that people with a high need for control, experience anxiety and unwellness when perceiving lack of control.

Study of women

In order to undertake the study, 433 women took part; 143 of these suffered from some kind of eating disorder and 145 in risk of contracting one. The results of the study show that, in general, the majority of the variables put forward can be used as predictive of suffering an eating disorder. The variables which, above all, alert to greater risk of developing an eating disorder are when the emotional state of the person is excessively influenced by diet, weight and body shape, when self-esteem is low, and when, in anxiety situations, emotions are not expressed and the person tends to act in an impulsive manner.

These results have important implications, above all when drawing up prevention programmes for eating disorders. With the data obtained, it can be said that many of the emotional variables dealt with in Ms Pascual's work should be taken into account when drawing up these prevention programmes.

Serious illnesses

Eating disorders are very serious illnesses that have dire consequences for the sufferer, both physically as well as psychologically and socially, and there are disorders that are evermore widespread. Much research has been undertaken in order to find out the factors involved in their development, but the role played by the various emotional variables at the onset of these disorders has hardly been investigated. This thesis presented at the UPV/EHU focused on this matter more deeply.

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