The Recovery Room: News beyond the pandemic — November 6
The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines and our daily lives for most of this 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 has not stopped us from publishing hundreds of fascinating stories on a myriad of other topics.
We start this week with the latest installment in our Medical Myths series, this time taking a close look at vegetarian and vegan diets, quickly followed by news of a discovery that reveals why consuming more red meat increases the risk of cancer. Both articles proved highly popular this week, in a climate where plant-based diets are definitely on the menu.
Next, we examine another curiosity of medicine, the shocking response some people have when confronted with great works of art. And it seems the effect that experience might have on your heart could be undone by following a ketogenic diet — more on that below.
Finally, we look at the benefits of sunlight (and what to do if it’s in short supply), deep dive into the different types of memory, and look at how the United States Air Force hope to boost their personnels’ cognitive performance with a supplement-packed energy drink.
Below are 10 recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.
1. Medical myths: Vegetarian and vegan diets
We begin our selection with the latest Medical Myths article. This week, we look at some misconceptions surrounding plant-based diets.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming increasingly popular, but are they always healthful? Is weight loss guaranteed? Do vegans and vegetarians get enough nutrients from the food they consume, or are supplements always needed?
This article is emerging as one of 2020’s most popular, with over 162,000 sessions in the 5 days since its publication. Look out for more Medical Myths from MNT‘s Senior News Editor, Tim Newman, in the coming weeks.
One of the reasons a person might decide to follow a plant-based diet is the association that eating meat, especially red meat, has with cancer. This week, we reported on a new study that offers a new insight into what the mechanism linking red meat and cancer might be.
The authors of the study discovered a significant correlation between high consumption of a carbohydrate from red meat and increased development of certain antibodies that heighten the risk of cancer. Foods could be ranked according to the level of the carbohydrate — Neu5Gc — they contain, allowing a person to assess not only how much of it they consume in their diet but also their relative risk of cancer.
3. Stendhal syndrome: Can the beauty of art make us ill?
As well as the latest in our Medical Myths series, we also published a new Curiosities of Medical History feature. This week, Maria Cohut, Ph.D., looks at the Stendhal syndrome — the phenomenon of becoming unwell after ‘overexposure’ to art.
Although the term was only coined as recently as 1989, there are anecdotal reports going back to at least the 19th century. Symptoms include nausea, heart palpitations, perceptual disturbances, with feelings of inadequacy and depression.
It seems to affect mostly foreign tourists, some of whom have had to be taken to the hospital. But what exactly does it take to trigger an episode of the Stendhal syndrome?
4. New vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease shows potential in mice
News this week was a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that leverages links between the immune system and memory. A new vaccine uses the body’s own immune cells to target the toxic beta-amyloid molecules that accumulate harmfully in the brain.
So far, the vaccine has been tested in a preclinical study in mice, but the study suggests it is safe and effective. The vaccine did not, for example, cause a dangerous inflammatory response.
Further studies are needed before the vaccine can be used as a treatment in people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, if successful, this new type of immunotherapy treatment may also work for other aging-related disorders, the authors say.
Heart failure affects around 5.7 million people in the U.S., and there is, as yet, no cure. Lifestyle changes and medicines can improve the quality of life and increase the life span of people with heart failure.
This week, we reported on a significant dietary change that appears to reverse heart failure, at least in mice.
The mice were fed a high fat, low carb ketogenic diet for 3 weeks. In effect, failing heart muscle cells were encouraged to switch to a new source of energy that uses fatty acids rather than carbohydrates. This raises the prospect of using dietary treatments, rather than drugs, to treat heart failure in humans.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that fasting for 24 hours also significantly improved the condition by activating the same ketogenic metabolic pathway.
6. Unwanted thoughts are easier to control when rested
Sleep is essential for health, and it’s something we explore in depth in our recent Science of Sleep hub. Hearth health, resistance to disease, and even athletic performance are all dependent upon getting regular, high quality sleep.
Of course, it’s also the key to mental health and well-being, as a new study that looks at the role of sleep in suppressing unwanted thoughts shows. Sleep deprivation increased both the difficulty of suppressing intrusive thoughts and ideas and their frequency by around 50%. This could have implications for conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.
7. A third of older people may be prescribed ‘inappropriate drugs’
A new study, reported by MNT this week, focuses on the topic of ‘deprescribing’ drugs in older people, something the authors conceded is still in its infancy in the U.S.
The benefits of intervening to reduce the number of inappropriate drugs prescribed to people could be significant, as those who receive them are 17% more likely to be hospitalized and 26% more likely to be sent to an emergency room, with additional healthcare costs of around $458 each, on average.
8. What to know about the health benefits of sunlight
Vitamin D has featured in several MNT articles in recent weeks, both in the context of COVID-19 and as a way to reduce frailty in old age. Its effects are important and wide-ranging, and many people take vitamin D supplements as an insurance policy against ill health. However, sunlight is how most people up their vitamin D levels.
In this new article, we look at the full range of sunlight’s health benefits for physical and mental well-being, not all of which can be attributed to the production of vitamin D. We also look at alternatives to sunlight, such as light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
10. Good nutrition and intensive exercise may improve mental abilities
Finally in this week’s Recovery Room, we published news of how a nutrient-rich supplement drink, combined with a bout of intensive exercise, could improve cognitive functioning. The research was carried out by the U.S. Air Force Research Lab working with scientists at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
The protein-rich supplement given to the test participants contained a variety of fatty acids, vitamins, and nutrients. It increased working memory, reaction time, and lean muscle mass, and it decreased resting heart rate. The participants receiving a placebo did not display improvements to the same degree.
However, our editors found that the study has some shortcomings in terms of its design and interpretation, as you’ll see in the article.