The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines and our daily lives for more than a 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, we reconsidered the link between eating carbohydrates and gaining weight. The carbohydrate-insulin model may not represent the true complexity of the body’s response to bread, fries, and pasta after all.

Also on the topic of weight loss, we reported on a study that found insufficient evidence that herbal and dietary supplements are effective if a person wants to lose weight.

The latest in our Curiosities of Medical History series also appeared this week, this time looking at the long and sometimes brutal history of therapeutic hypothermia.

We also reported on the possible roles of gut bacteria in dementia and oral bacteria in rheumatoid arthritis, warned against drinking sugar-sweetened beverages at any age, and delved into the latest research on how a powerful hallucinogenic compound could help treat serious addiction and neuropsychiatric conditions.

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

1. Scientists propose a rethink of the role of carbs in obesity

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Our most popular article this week, with over 240,000 page views, was our report on new research suggesting that the explanatory carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity may be too simplistic.

The model says that a spike in insulin levels after eating a meal rich in carbohydrates signals the body to store excess energy as fat and increases a person’s appetite for more food. The new research suggested that insulin has effects on multiple organs even between mealtimes and that this is also worthy of consideration.

However, proponents of the carbohydrate-insulin model have questioned the validity of this study, and we gave voice to these views in our article as well.

Learn more here.

2. ‘Insufficient evidence’ that weight loss supplements work

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This weight loss article has also proven popular, with over 70,000 page views since its publication on Tuesday. The focus here was on weight loss supplements, with researchers finding no evidence to support their use.

A major global study of 121 clinical trials with 10,000 participants investigated the value of herbal and dietary weight loss supplements. Despite demand for such supplements supporting a market worth $140 billion in the United States alone, the study found no evidence to justify their continued use.

Also of concern to the researchers was the lack of regulation controlling the safety or effectiveness of these products.

Learn more here.

3. Curiosities of Medical History: The controversy of using cold as a treatment

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Next, we have the latest in our Curiosities of Medical History series by Maria Cohut, Ph.D. This feature explored the long and strange history of therapeutic hypothermia.

The practice of cooling all or parts of the body dates back to Ancient Egypt but also features in Greek, Roman, and early modern medicine — though not always with the patient’s health and well-being in mind.

This article explored the story of cooling the body to cure it and how variations on the technique remain in use in the 21st century.

Learn more here.

4. What is the difference between vitamin D2 and D3?

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Vitamin D has featured in many MNT articles over the past year, such as in relation to COVID-19, gut bacteria, the treatment of acne and of frailty in old age, and the symptoms of deficiency. This week, our editors took a closer look at two different forms of the vitamin: D2 and D3.

As well as the differences between vitamins D2 and D3, the article looked at their benefits and the few foods that contain high levels of each. It also included guidance on the recommended daily allowances according to a person’s age and the important role of sunlight in vitamin D production.

The article has attracted over 28,000 page views so far and is likely to prove popular long into the future.

Learn more here.

5. Excessive animal farming created ‘perfect storm’ for pandemics, scientist says

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Emerging infectious diseases pose an “existential threat” to the human species, according to a professor of evolutionary genetics.

In an editorial that MNT covered this week, Prof. Cock Van Oosterhout argued that centuries of intensive breeding, habitat destruction, and illegal wildlife trading have combined to create a “perfect storm” for the development of pandemics.

This article explored the nature of this threat and the professor’s proposals for fighting it.

Learn more here.

6. Dementia, Parkinson’s: Do gut bacteria trigger protein clumping?

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This week, we also reported on new evidence that supports the theory that a history of exposure to antibiotics may play a role in the development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers discovered “bad” bacteria in the guts of microscopic worms that promote the misfolding of proteins, causing toxic clumps in the brain.

Worms that hosted colonies of these bacteria lost some of their mobility, but the researchers found that different bacteria produced butyrate, which suppressed this harmful protein clumping.

This article explored how these findings may lead to butyrate treatments in humans and the limitations of applying lessons from worm models to more complex organisms.

Learn more here.

7. Do bacteria in the mouth affect arthritis risk?

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Bacteria may also play a role in the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to new research that we covered this week.

Scientists found that people with rheumatoid arthritis or early rheumatoid arthritis had higher levels of Prevotella and Veillonella bacteria in their saliva than those who did not.

The study highlighted the links between periodontal disease, changes in the oral and intestinal microbiome, and rheumatoid arthritis. The presence of these bacteria in the mouth may trigger an immune response throughout the body that influences the development of rheumatoid arthritis in the joints.

Learn more here.

8. Sugary drinks may double bowel cancer risk in women under 50

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The case against drinking sugary beverages grows with news of their link to early onset colorectal cancer (EO-CRC) in women. Drinking two or more sugary drinks per day is linked with double the risk of developing this condition, according to new research that we covered this week.

Using data from 95,464 participants, the research team found that each daily sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) serving may be associated with a 16% higher risk of developing EO-CRC among adult women.

This risk doubles again for each additional SSB serving per day among those aged 13–18 years, highlighting the benefits of consuming healthier beverages such as water.

Learn more here.

9. What to know about ibogaine treatment for addiction

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Ibogaine is a fascinating compound extracted from a shrub that is native to western Central Africa. People who follow the Bwiti religion use it for healing and ritual purposes, but it is also gaining popularity because it produces vivid hallucinations and a profoundly psychedelic state.

Importantly, there are many anecdotal reports of its success in helping treat serious drug dependency, depression, and some neuropsychiatric conditions.

Our new article examined the evidence for and risks associated with using ibogaine in this way. Up to 30 people have died due to ibogaine ingestion, so new applications of this ancient treatment need caution.

Learn more here.

10. Can drinking coffee treat a hangover?

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Finally, we looked at the science behind drinking coffee to ease the effects of a hangover. The article defined what a hangover is and what symptoms a person experiencing one can expect.

However, when looking at the evidence for coffee’s positive role in hangovers, our editors found more support for the idea that consuming it may make matters worse.

Also, mixing alcohol and caffeine may result in additional problems, such as overconsumption and an increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. There is some research to support the use of other natural substances — including asparagus, ginger, and Korean pear — to ease hangover symptoms, but coffee is not among them.

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:

  • Could breathing through intestines offer new treatment for respiratory failure?
  • Genetically modified foods: Myths vs. facts
  • Pink drinks can boost athletic performance