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 has not stopped us from publishing hundreds of fascinating stories on a myriad of other topics.

Share on Pinterest
Design by Diego Sabogal

We have a varied selection of articles this week, beginning with news of the latest findings from the world’s largest ongoing study into nutrition. We also look back at phrenology, the once-popular, now discredited study of how the shape of the skull determines personality and behavior.

Next, we share our instantly popular new article on the best time to take fish oil, and delve deep into the brain with news of a discovery that links the mind and gut in a new and unexpected way.

We also look at how giving mice tiny doses of LSD improves their sociability, why it is that exercising your muscles has the power to reduce chronic inflammation, and evidence for the benefits of afternoon napping from a new study in China.

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

1. What have we learned from the world’s largest nutrition study?

Share on Pinterest
Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

This week, MNT reported on the latest findings from a decade-long nutritional study with 171,000 participants. NutriNet-Santé was the first internet-based study of its kind and is now the largest ongoing nutrition study in the world.

In this article, we look at what NutriNet-Santé says about the role of ultra-processed food in chronic diseases, the benefits of eating organic food, and how food scoring system emerged from the research. Most recently, researchers have tracked how dietary habits have changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more here.

2. Phrenology: The pseudoscience of skull shapes

phrenological chartShare on Pinterest
THEPALMER/Getty Images

The latest article in MNT‘s Curiosities of Medical History series looks back at phrenology, the long-discredited pseudoscience that related the shape of a person’s skull to the inner workings of their mind.

Author Maria Cohut, Ph.D., considers the origins of phrenology in the 18th century together with its racist and sexist implications. However, one of the core ideas of phrenology — that different areas of the brain support different mental functions — has survived as a key tenet of modern neuroscience. Click below to read this fascinating article.

Learn more here.

3. When to take fish oil for better health

Share on Pinterest
Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images

We prepare the Recovery Room by looking back at popular articles from the past week and often find that some articles are immediately popular, attracting tens of thousands of visits in a matter of hours. Our new guide to when and how to consume fish oil is a great example of this, with close to 67,000 sessions since Tuesday.

Our editors explain that it is not so much a matter of when you take fish oil but what you consume with it. Timing fish oil consumption to coincide with a meal that contains dietary fat is the best approach.

This popular article looks at why that might be, the recommended daily dosages, the many potential health benefits, and the possible side effects.

Learn more here.

4. Gut bacteria instruct brain cells to fight inflammation

Share on Pinterest
Jose Luis Calvo/Shutterstock

There was news this week of the discovery of both a new type of nerve cell and a new channel of communication it supports between gut bacteria and the brain.

The new study identified a previously unknown “astrocyte” — a star-shaped type of neuron — in mice that actively protects against inflammation. Not only that, but the level of protection increases in response to a molecular signal from bacteria in the gut.

Previously, it was thought that astrocytes all behaved in the same way. However, new techniques pioneered by the researchers for the study have enabled identification of different types with distinct roles in the brain.

This article looks in more detail at the technique and its implications. For example, blocking the signals that promote astrocyte activity may eventually offer a treatment for certain brain tumors.

Learn more here.

5. Mouse study reveals a mechanism of LSD on prosocial behavior

Share on Pinterest
microgen/Getty Images

We reported on another equally fascinating and cutting-edge example of research in mice this week. Scientists used optogenetics to track microscopic changes in neurons to shed light on why small doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) boost social interaction behaviors in mice.

Some people believe microdosing with LSD can improve their mental well-being, intellectual performance, and emotional state without significant alteration of consciousness.

This new research reveals a possible mechanism for this by discovering the involvement of the 5-HT2 receptor in the brain. This discovery could lead to new treatments for mental health issues that affect a person’s social behavior.

Learn more here.

6. Preventing obesity earlier in life may reduce Alzheimer’s damage

Share on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Maintaining a moderate weight could help preserve brain structure in people who are already experiencing mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia. This was one of the key findings in new research MNT reported this week, on the links between obesity and Alzheimer’s.

However, the researchers also found that having obesity early in life may lead to negative consequences by worsening the cognitive decline that can occur in later years.

This insight could help clinicians catch the symptoms of mild cognitive impairment earlier and allow earlier, more effective intervention.

Learn more here.

7. How do binge eating and drinking impact the liver?

Share on Pinterest
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Researchers threw a simulated tailgate party in the name of medical science, and MNT covered the results. The study aimed to investigate the impact of binge eating and drinking on the body.

This was a small study with 18 male participants, all with overweight or obesity. The researchers found a range of responses to overconsumption, with one potential explanation being the amount of carbohydrates individuals ate. High carbohydrate consumption may have a greater impact on liver fat than alcohol in some people.

For a full account of the study, its findings, and its limitations, click below.

Learn more here.

8. Mental well-being linked to better cardiovascular and overall health

Share on Pinterest
M_a_y_a/Getty Images

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released their latest scientific statement, with a focus on the importance of mental health to heart health and overall well-being.

The statement evaluated 128 studies relating to the association between psychological wellness and cardiovascular health. The authors conclude that, to ensure the best outcomes, healthcare professionals need to address the mental wellness of the patient in tandem with the physical conditions affecting the body.

MNT‘s coverage of the statement looks at consequences of poor psychological health, treatments and interventions that can improve it, and the difficulty of establishing firm links between mind, body, and heart using the available data.

Learn more here.

9. Exercise your muscles to combat chronic inflammation

Share on Pinterest
Tempura/Getty Images

Long-lasting, or chronic, inflammation is known to increase the risk of many diseases that affect older people. This week, MNT reported on new research that found that chronic inflammation can be naturally reduced by exercising the muscles and that it is the muscles themselves that cause this effect.

The researchers used lab-grown muscle doused with interferon-gamma, an immune signaling molecule that promotes inflammation. Exercising the muscle tissue specimens with tiny electrical currents encouraged muscle growth and reduced the wasting and weakening effects of interferon-gamma.

This discovery points the way to new treatments for chronic inflammation and also indicates that lab-grown muscle could be a useful platform to investigate other disease mechanisms and treatments.

Learn more here.

10. Short afternoon naps may aid cognitive function as we age

Share on Pinterest
Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

Finally this week, there’s good news for people who like to “rest their eyes” in the latter part of the day. Researchers in China have found a clear association between brief afternoon naps and stronger cognitive function.

As well as looking at psychological measures, the researchers also tested each participant’s blood for levels of cholesterol and triglyceride fatty acids. These levels were found to be higher in “nappers,” although not at a level that is thought to impair cognitive function.

On the contrary, the researchers claim that short afternoon naps lead to an 84% decrease in the chances of developing Alzheimer’s. To learn more about the study, perhaps before testing the results of the research for yourself, click below.

Learn more here.

We hope this article offers 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:

  • Can the microbiome predict Parkinson’s?
  • Study finds those who gain weight gradually tend to live longer
  • What is the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and nutrition?