The coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines and our daily lives for most of the past year. Medical News Today have covered this fast-moving, complex story with live updates on the latest news, interviews with experts, and an ongoing investigation into the deep racial disparities that COVID-19 has helped unmask.
However, this hasn’t stopped us from publishing hundreds of fascinating stories on a myriad of other topics.
This week, our editors busted myths about consuming sugar, reported on a significant breakthrough that may lead to a cure for paraplegia, and found a surprising link between a person’s diet and their risk of disease. It’s not all down to genetics, after all.
MNT also published an animated guide to exercising the core muscles and a pair of articles on depression — the first on how a person’s metabolism may predict the recurrence of this condition, the second on how personalized deep brain stimulation may relieve it.
Finally, we released an in-depth feature all about antioxidants, a story on how online therapy may be here to stay, and an article about why stepping away from your desk to take a walk through the woods should become a habit for anyone who finds their work stressful.
We highlight this research below, along with some other recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.
1. Medical myths: All about sugar
This week’s Medical Myths article looks at sugar — the sweet stuff that finds its way into so many of our foods and beverages. What is sugar? Is it addictive? Does it cause diabetes, make children hyperactive, or cause cancer? Senior News Editor, Tim Newman, tackles each of these myths in turn.
This article is the week’s most popular, with 40,000 sessions so far. It also features a highlights video presented by MNT‘s Research Editor, Yella Hewings-Martin, Ph.D. Be sure to scroll down a little and check it out.
2. Paralyzed mice walk again after cytokine treatment
The search for a way to repair spinal injuries and cure paraplegia has continued for decades, so far without success. However, this week, MNT reported on a new treatment that restored the ability to walk in mice with paraplegia.
Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany used a genetically engineered virus to deliver instructions to produce a designer signaling protein to motor neurons in the brain. This protein, called hyper-IL-6, was then distributed to more remote regions of the nervous system, where it triggered regeneration.
Within 2–3 weeks of receiving a single injection of the virus, the paralyzed mice were able to walk again. As senior study author Dr. Dietmar Fischer remarks, “this came as a great surprise to us at the beginning, as it had never been shown to be possible before after full paraplegia.”
Read our full coverage of this promising finding and the team’s future plans for research.
3. Intimate links between diet, gut microbes, and health identified
We also reported on another surprising finding, this time concerning the human gut microbiome. An international study involving institutions across Europe and the United States found that a person’s gut microbiota exert a stronger effect on the risk of developing certain conditions than their genetics.
The researchers also found that eating a diet rich in healthful, plant-based foods and healthful, animal-based foods, such as oily fish, led to high levels of “good” microbes in the gut. Many of the microbes they found are new to science and yet to be named.
This article explains how these findings could lead to the development of healthful diets that are specifically formulated to suit each person’s unique biology.
4. The 8 best core exercises for gym and home training, from beginner to advanced
One of this week’s most popular articles, attracting more than 177,000 views over 4 days, was this roundup of core exercises.
Access to public gyms remains restricted for many people, but all of the exercises in this article are doable at home, with minimal or no equipment.
The article begins with an explanation of what the core is, the muscles that make it up, and the benefits of training for core strength. Each exercise is accompanied by an animation that shows how to complete it with the correct form, as well as some advice for people looking for more of a challenge.
5. Link between sunscreen ingredient, diet, and cancer risk investigated
A common ingredient in sunscreen came under the spotlight this week, as our team reported on links between benzophenone-3 (BP-3), diet, and breast cancer.
The link is not entirely straightforward. In mice who ate a low fat diet at puberty, BP-3 appeared to offer some protection against one kind of tumor development while also increasing the aggressiveness of another. However, mice who ate a high fat diet during puberty saw none of the beneficial effects of BP-3 on tumors, which grew more aggressively.
This is concerning, as researchers detected BP-3 in 96% of the U.S. population between 2003 and 2012. One recent study found that a single heavy application of sunscreen could exceed the point at which BP-3 becomes a risk.
“When there are alternatives, stay away from BP-3,” recommends one of the authors of this new study.
6. Metabolism may be able to predict major depression
An international pilot study has identified two types of metabolic marker that could predict whether or not a person is likely to have recurrent episodes of major depressive disorder.
With around 17.3 million U.S. adults experiencing at least one major depressive episode each year, the ability to predict which individuals are most likely to experience a recurrence could have huge benefits for mental health.
The authors of this study claim that their method for analyzing metabolism “was able to unmask a latent signature of future risk of recurrence with 90–99% accuracy.” Our new article looks at this study and its limitations in detail.
7. Personalized brain stimulation lifts a patient’s depression
Also on the topic of depression, another of our most recent articles reports on the prospect of treating depression with personalized therapies.
The finding emerged in a new case study from the University of California, San Francisco. The researchers found that stimulating three specific brain areas in the patient’s brain could help induce calm, renew energy levels, or reignite pleasure.
The patient, a 36-year-old female, reported that “every time they stimulated, I felt like, I’m my old self, I could go back to work, I could do the things I want to do with my life.” The researchers now plan to include more patients with the same condition in an expanded clinical trial of this deep brain stimulation methodology.
8. What do we really know about antioxidants?
Last week’s Recovery Room featured the first article in our new Honest Nutrition series. It was on the topic of the link between nutrition and mental health. This week, we look closely at what we really know about antioxidants.
What are antioxidants, and what role do they play in the body’s defenses? Are the antioxidants present in supplements the same as those present in foods, and are they as effective? Can too many antioxidants harm health?
This article in our Honest Nutrition series looks at the evidence and recommends some ways to get enough antioxidants in the diet.
9. Many psychiatry patients prefer online therapy
A previous Recovery Room featured a guide to finding free online therapy, which was timely, given the pandemic-related restrictions on meeting people.
New research data suggest that many clients who undergo psychiatry may wish to continue attending therapy sessions online rather than resuming their sessions in person, with nearly 50% preferring to continue this way. The majority, nearly 83%, chose video chat over telephone sessions.
Only a small percentage, slightly over 1%, chose to postpone their treatment until they could meet with their therapist once pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.
10. Spending time in green spaces may reduce workplace stress
Finally, this article offers some evidence for what many people deeply believe: Escaping the office and getting out into nature is good for mental health.
Researchers in Japan calculated each of the 6,466 participants’ sense-of-coherence (SOC) score at the beginning and end of the study. Scientists developed SOC scoring as a measure of a person’s sense of living a meaningful, manageable life.
The researchers found that workers who took walks in natural settings at least once per week showed “a significantly positive association” with a strong or middle SOC score. This should enhance their resilience in the face of stress.
If you’re thinking of venturing out today, study co-author Prof. Sasahara certainly recommends it, saying: “Forest/green space walking is a simple activity that needs no special equipment or training. It could be a very good habit for improving mental health and managing stress.”
We hope that this article has provided a taste of the stories that we cover at MNT. We’ll be back with a new selection next week.
Coming soon: A sneak preview of what’s in our drafts folder
We publish hundreds of new stories and features every month. Here are some upcoming articles that may pique our readers’ interests:
- What can science tell us about mediums who hear voices?
- Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure
- A blood test could diagnose depression and bipolar disorder