The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines and our daily lives for the past year. Medical News Today has 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.

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This week’s Recovery Room begins with a focus on Parkinson’s disease in the latest in our Medical Myths series. We also have a worrying report on the potentially harmful effects of a very common food additive and articles on the beneficial effects of beetroot juice, cocoa, and high fiber diets.

We take a look at the remarkably similar effect that living in space and long-distance swimming has on the heart. Finally, we share the story of parents who helped found a school for autistic children in their community and why it is that people can sometimes misinterpret the meaning of screams.

We highlight this research below, along with several other recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.

1. Medical Myths: All about Parkinson’s disease

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, so this week, our Senior News Editor Tim Newman took a long, hard look at some misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 6.1 million people worldwide, but does it affect them all in the same way? Do all people with the disease experience tremors? Does a tremor always signify Parkinson’s? How effective and long-lasting are treatments for the disease, and is it always fatal?

Click below to learn the answers to these questions and more.

Learn more here.

2. Can a common food preservative harm the immune system?

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Over the past week, our most popular article, with over 107,000 page views, was our report on a common food preservative that may affect the immune system.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the preservative tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is present in up to 1 .250 popular foodstuffs. The EWG monitors the presence of toxic chemicals in food and drinking water.

Animal studies have shown that TBHQ has immunotoxic effects, particularly on the immune system, possibly causing chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions. The lead author points out that the risks associated with a weakened immune system are heightened during a pandemic and indicates that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should review all such food chemicals for safety.

Learn more here.

3. Beetroot juice may boost health via changes in oral bacteria

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Drinking beetroot juice could help maintain cardiovascular and cognitive health because it promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the mouth. A new study found that these bacteria can convert inorganic nitrates present in beetroot into nitric oxide.

Scientists do not know much about or understand this characteristic of the oral microbiome, so this new research into beetroot juice’s role in maintaining a healthy microbial balance in the mouth has important implications. For example, it demonstrates how oral hygiene might protect against some of the effects of aging.

Click below to learn more about how the researchers conducted the study and what to eat and drink to include nitrates in your own diet.

Learn more here.

4. Exercise did not prevent an astronaut’s heart from shrinking

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What happens to the human heart after 1 year in space? In the case of astronaut Mark Kelly, his heart shrank by around 0.74 grams per week during a year in orbit. However, it continued to function well in zero gravity, assisted by 2 hours of intense daily exercise.

A new study that MNT reported this week found that another weightless activity, extreme swimming, has a similar effect on the heart. This was surprising because Benoit Lecomte, a long-distance swimmer who participated in the study, exercised for 6 hours per day, though at a lower intensity than Mark Kelly’s 2 hours of exercise.

To learn more about the fascinating topic of space medicine and weightless exercise, click below.

Learn more here.

5. Cocoa may protect males’ hearts from the effects of mental stress

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Good news for all those who overindulged in chocolate over the past week — cocoa may protect blood vessels against the harmful effects of stress.

New research has found that high levels of flavonols in cocoa and many other plant-based foods can improve blood flow and support the functioning of the lining of blood vessels.

The study involved only male participants, so the researchers plan to focus on females in future studies. They also note that scientists should investigate nitric oxide, the molecule responsible for some of the benefits found in the beetroot juice study.

Learn more here.

6. Selenium supplementation provides healthspan benefits in mice

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Unlike magnesium, iron, and even zinc, people often overlook the health benefits of selenium. However, a study that MNT covered this week supplies new evidence for the role of selenium in lifelong health.

Selenium supplementation reduced the effect of the signaling hormone IGF-1 in mice. These mice did not gain weight to the same extent as mice that did not receive extra selenium. The researchers also tried supplementing yeast with selenium and saw a significant increase in both healthspan and the number of generations of yeast they were able to grow.

This may be evidence that selenium supplementation could help humans live healthier lives for a longer time and with a reduced tendency to develop obesity.

Learn more here.

7. Obesity and depression: Investigating the link

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We also covered another study in mice this week. This study focused on obesity and mental health with the discovery of a new neural circuit that affects both mood and appetite. This discovery could help elucidate the two-way relationship between obesity and conditions such as depression and anxiety.

The researchers showed that eating a high fat diet disrupted the neural circuit in mice, reducing its ability to regulate appetite and emotions. However, restoring the circuit eliminated the adverse mental effects of the mices’ high fat diet and reduced their weight.

Learn more here.

8. Short-term increase in fiber alters gut microbiome

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Eating more fiber for as little as 2 weeks can significantly alter a person’s gut microbiome, according to a new study that MNT reported on this week.

Researchers found that the number of bacterial species that can break down fiber in the gut increased. However, the quantity of short-chain fatty acids typically produced during the breakdown of fiber did not significantly change.

The article looks closely at how the researchers carried out the study and the implications that increasing fiber in all our diets may have for public health.

Learn more here.

9. My son’s diagnosis led to creating a school for autistic students

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April is National Autism Awareness Month, and this week we shared the experience of a parent who established a school following the diagnosis of her son’s autism.

In the article, Kimberley Drake recalls the challenge of the diagnostic process and the dawning realization that her son has autism. She then recounts their journey through the educational system, including the discovery of a school that was perfect for her son. However, it was a 5-hour drive away in another state, Minnesota.

Click below to discover how a determined effort over several years led to the foundation of the first charter school of its kind to focus on autism in Wisconsin.

Learn more here.

10. Is it happiness or fear? Why some screams may confuse us

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Finally, this week, we reported on research that found most people are very good at interpreting the meaning of most screams. However, sometimes, people misinterpret screams of happiness as screams of fear if context is lacking.

The article looks at why people and animals scream, the differences between human and animal screams, all the different emotions a scream can represent, and how the diversity of screams may have evolved. The researchers noted that they found it difficult to include an “ample number of screams from happy emotional contexts” for males.

Learn more here.

We hope that this week’s Recovery Room has provided a taste of the stories that we cover at MNT. We will 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’ interest:

  • How and why does diet influence immune function?
  • AI identifies 3 new multiple sclerosis subtypes
  • Taking drugs as advised: What are the barriers?