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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Design by Diego Sabogal

In this final edition of the Recovery Room, we begin with the third edition in our series of articles that seeks to find out what’s exciting cancer researchers. Together, these articles provide an essential insight into emerging treatments and diagnostic techniques. You’ll find links to all three below.

We also look at food addiction, one of the most controversial topics in nutrition. Some people claim to be “addicted” to coffee, but, as another of our recent articles shows, this may not be a bad thing, as drinking any type of coffee reduces the risk of a range of liver diseases.

This week’s selected articles also include news of the discovery of an ancient strain of the bacteria that went on to cause the Black Death in medieval Europe, evidence of the physiological damage that homophobia causes, and MNT‘s evidence-backed guide to the healthiest herbs and spices.

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

1. Cancer research: What’s exciting the experts? Part 3

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We begin with the second part of MNT‘s report from the front lines of cancer research. In part one and part two, we spoke with scientists working on immunotherapies, magnetically responsive bacteria, personalized medicine, and more.

This week, we learn about the latest advances in chimeric antigen receptor technology T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, how artificial intelligence may make cancer surgery more precise, and how swimming microrobots may revolutionize targeted drug delivery.

The final article in the series is every bit as fascinating as parts one and two. If you enjoyed them, you might also find our recent feature on what’s exciting dementia researchers interesting.

Learn more about the latest cancer research.

2. Is food addiction real?

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Illustration by Diego Sabogal

This week, Honest Nutrition tackled one of the most controversial topics in nutrition: Is it really possible to become addicted to food?

In it, we first look at the definition of food addiction and how it compares with addiction to other substances, such as illicit drugs. Then, we take a deep dive into the science of compulsive overeating, including its roots in the brain’s reward system, the foods most likely to stimulate it, and its underlying psychology.

Whether compulsive eating qualifies as a true addiction, which foods cause it, and whether it is a cause or symptom of obesity are all hotly debated, as you will see.

We also offer advice on how to give up unwanted eating behaviors, including where to seek help, and explain why small adjustments to behavior may be more effective than drastic changes.

Learn more about food addiction.

3. New drugs could treat cancers with mutated BRCA genes

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Scientists have discovered a new class of drugs that prevents the repair of damaged DNA. POLQ inhibitors can kill cancerous cells that have a BRCA mutation, but, crucially, they appear to leave healthy cells unharmed. The researchers are, therefore, hopeful that POLQ inhibitors will cause fewer side effects than their predecessors.

However, researchers have only demonstrated this in laboratory-based experiments using animals and miniature organs called organoids. Clinical trials are now necessary to determine whether the potential benefits of the new drugs still apply in humans.

Learn more about the new POLQ inhibitor drugs.

4. Drinking any coffee reduces the risk of liver disease, study finds

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A new study involving nearly 500,000 participants has shown that drinking any kind of coffee — including decaffeinated coffee — reduces a person’s risk of developing liver problems.

Drinking 3–4 cups per day provided the greatest protection against chronic liver disease, fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and death from chronic liver disease. The greatest reduction in risk occurred with coffee made from ground beans. However, this study does not examine the mechanisms behind how coffee benefits the liver, so researchers need to carry out more trials to find which molecules are responsible.

This article was one of our most popular this week, having had more than 68,000 page views so far.

Learn more about coffee and liver disease.

5. Review finds no ‘high quality’ evidence that weight loss supplements work

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Do weight loss supplements actually work? According to a new systematic review of randomized controlled trials, there is no high quality evidence that they do. However, despite the study finding that none of the tested products were effective, the worldwide annual sales of weight loss supplements total $30 billion.

To learn more about how the researchers conducted the study, which weight loss supplements they reviewed, and the difference between statistical and clinical significance, click below.

Learn more about the effectiveness of weight loss supplements.

6. The best ways to reduce cholesterol, and how long it takes

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What are the best ways to reduce a person’s cholesterol levels, and how long does it take? This was the topic of another popular article this week, which also looks at what cholesterol is, normal and high cholesterol levels, and how this substance affects health.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs can reduce the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol in 6–8 weeks, though it may sometimes take longer. Our editorial team also looks at which changes to a person’s habits may gradually and consistently lower their LDL levels over time, including eating a balanced diet and becoming more active.

Learn more about ways to reduce cholesterol.

7. What is the difference between brand-name and generic drugs?

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Are branded drugs better than cheaper generic drugs? MNT looked at the differences and weighed the evidence this week.

One analysis of reports found that generic drugs may not have the same clinical effect for cardiovascular conditions and associated them with a higher risk of hospital visits. However, this was only a correlation rather than proof that generic drugs played a role in the increased hospital visits. It may be that some of the people taking the generic drug in larger quantities were already predisposed to worse health outcomes.

Although more research is necessary to determine whether branded drugs are better than generic versions for certain conditions, the American College of Physicians says that doctors should prescribe the generic when it is available.

Learn more about the difference between generic and branded drugs.

8. Oldest strain of Black Death bacteria found in 5,000-year-old human remains

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Dominik Göldner, BGAEU, Berlin

The bacteria that caused the Black Death, Yersinia pestis, appeared in humans 2,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new research that MNT reported on this week.

The remains of a 5,000-year-old hunter-gather found in present-day Latvia yielded the oldest strain of Y. pestis that scientists have yet discovered. The circumstances of his burial indicate that this strain was less contagious and deadly than the strain that afflicted Europe in the Middle Ages.

Researchers now hope that studying the genetic differences between this ancient strain of Y. pestis and the strains responsible for more recent outbreaks may help reveal how zoonotic diseases adapt to their hosts over time.

Learn more here.

9. Study captures the physiological stress caused by homophobia

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What is the effect of homophobia on the physical health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people who experience it? According to a new study involving LGB people, the effects include elevated heart rate and heart rate variability, increased systolic blood pressure, and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. These effects may explain why LGB individuals suffer disproportionately from a variety of health problems.

The researchers simulated homophobia using an experimental scenario in which a prerecorded, unseen questioner interviewed 134 LGB volunteers. They led one group of the participants — all of whom thought that they were watching the interviews live — to believe that the interviewer held homophobic attitudes, while the other group believed that the interviewer held positive attitudes toward LGB people and LGB rights.

The first group experienced a more significant and long lasting increase in heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and salivary cortisol levels.

Learn more about the effect of homophobia on physiological health.

10. 10 of the healthiest herbs and spices and their health benefits

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Finally, this week, we published a new article looking at the herbs and spices that evidence shows may have health benefits for some people. The evidence that any of these herbs and spices can cure diseases is lacking, but it appears that they may help improve certain symptoms and contribute to a person’s overall long-term health.

In the article, MNT weighs the evidence for the benefits of turmeric, ginger, cumin, peppermint, echinacea, cinnamon, chili powder, parsley, oregano, and cardamom. As well as being beneficial for health, these seasonings often make delicious additions to a wide range of recipes. To discover which herbs and spices may deliver which specific benefits, click below.

Learn more about the health benefits of these herbs and spices.

This is the final edition of the Recovery Room for now. We hope we have succeeded in providing a taste of the variety of topics that MNT covered over the past year.