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 begin with the latest installment in our Medical Myths series, which this week looks at 11 misconceptions that people have about diabetes. It’s a more complex and common condition than many people think. We also look at the long history of bloodletting and how its legacy lives on in modern medicine.

Next, we report on a new concern that vegan diets may be deficient in a vital nutrient — and it’s probably not the one you think it is. We also look at how the Mediterranean diet may build resilience against stress (it worked for a group of middle-aged monkeys), and why the prospects for premature babies born today are so much better than they were 50 years ago.

Along the way, we feature stories about how a powerful psychedelic drug may heal the brain, the dangers of misleadingly attractive food, and which natural sleep remedies actually work.

Below are 10 recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.

1. Medical myths: All about diabetes

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Does eating sugar cause diabetes? Does diabetes only affect people with obesity? Is it possible to “catch” diabetes from another person?

These are just a few of the questions tackled in the latest installment of our Medical Myths series. Diabetes affects 1 in 10 people in the United States and more than 422 million people across the globe, so it’s important to put aside the myths and understand the true nature of this complex disease.

Learn more here.

2. Bloodletting: Why doctors used to bleed their patients for health

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Image credit: National Library of Medicine

This week also saw the latest feature in our Curiosities of Medical History series. Recent installments have looked at the Stendhal syndrome, the controversy of female hysteria, and the strange story of medical cannibalism throughout the ages.

Maria Cohut, Ph.D., guides us through the long history of drawing blood to prevent and treat illness, a practice that goes back at least 3,000 years. Though bloodletting is no longer widely used as a treatment, blood donation and transfusion remain a lifesaving aspect of modern medicine.

Learn more here.

3. Vegan diets raise concerns for iodine deficiency

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The Recovery Room recently featured an article debunking myths about vegetarian and vegan diets, one of which is the claim that a person cannot get enough vitamin B12 from these ways of eating.

This week, we reported on a new study that found no vitamin B12 deficiency in people eating a vegan diet. This may result from a wider awareness of the importance of supplementation.

However, iodine deficiency was common among vegans, with only 8% achieving adequate levels, compared with 25% of omnivores. This finding indicates that people eating vegan should prioritize iodine supplementation as well.

Learn more here.

4. Large study finds clear association between fitness and mental health

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There is a clear link between a person’s level of fitness and their mental health. That was the conclusion of a large study reported in MNT this week.

The study included 152,978 participants aged 40–69 years from England, Wales, and Scotland. The researchers assessed the participants’ fitness and strength and asked them to complete two standard clinical questionnaires to give an overview of their mental health.

When the participants underwent the testing again after 7 years, the results were striking. Participants with low combined fitness and muscle strength had 98% higher odds of experiencing depression and were 60% likelier to experience anxiety.

Is this link between fitness and mental health one of causation or merely correlation? Our article digs deeper into the findings.

Learn more here.

5. Psychedelic drug triggers growth of new brain cells in mice

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Last week’s Recovery Room featured news about how the psychedelic compound psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, is effective for treating depression. This week, MNT reported on a new discovery concerning an even more powerful psychedelic: N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

Researchers found that DMT can initiate the creation of new nerve cells in mice and improve their spatial learning and memory. If DMT’s potential to rebuild neural circuity in the brain can be replicated in humans, it could have therapeutic potential for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Learn more here.

6. Do we assume pretty food is more healthful?

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If food is good to look at, people automatically assume that it is good to eat. That’s the finding of a recent marketing study covered by MNT this week.

But, as the study’s author points out, this is worrying, as a large part of the food styled to look more attractive in adverts and on menus is far from healthful.

Learn more here.

7. Premature babies: ‘Most will do very well,’ says expert

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MNT‘s interview with Dr. Mark Mercurio saw the most social media engagement of any new article this week.

Dr. Mercurio, a professor of neonatology at the Yale School of Medicine, told MNT that care of premature babies has improved immensely in the last 50 years and that most premature babies have good long-term outcomes.

The interview covers the latest research, ethics, and what he would most like the parents of a premature baby to know.

Learn more here.

8. Eating a Mediterranean diet may reduce the effects of stress

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Some of the middle-aged primates in this study enjoyed a Mediterranean diet, while others received a diet high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat that is characteristic of a standard Western diet.

After 9 months, the macaques fed the Western diet were eating more than those on the Mediterranean diet. They had also accumulated more body fat and displayed greater insulin resistance, and their gut microbiomes had changed.

None of those findings are surprising, but the researchers went on to test how each group responded to stress. They found evidence that the Mediterranean diet stimulated the parasympathetic nervous system, which helped reduce stress.

In contrast, the Western diet stimulated the sympathetic nervous system, keeping stress levels elevated over a longer period. While confirming these findings in humans will require more research, the team suggest that the Mediterranean diet may help people become resilient to stress without the need for medication.

Learn more here.

9. What are natural sleeping pills?

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This new article looks at a range of natural sleep remedies and assesses the evidence for each. Valerian root, melatonin, lavender, magnesium, and glycine supplements were put to the test.

Some are backed by strong evidence, while others probably do not work for most people. For example, there is conflicting research about the benefits of melatonin.

The article also explores when to contact a doctor before taking a supplement and how to improve sleep if supplements are not working.

Learn more here.

10. ‘Warm’ mindfulness may be best for breaking unhealthful habits

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Mindfulness-based interventions can improve a person’s ability to change their behavior by boosting their capacity for focused attention and emotional regulation. This may be useful when a person is trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or have a more active lifestyle.

New research reported in MNT this week recommends adding a key element to mindfulness that may guarantee a greater chance of success when it comes to changing behavior: self-compassion.

Our article explains the difference between “cold” and “warm” mindfulness, and why the self-compassion of the latter may be more effective for some people.

Learn more here.

We hope that this article 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 news stories and features every month. Here are some upcoming articles that may pique our readers’ interest:

  • Thanksgiving 2020: How to protect mental health
  • Cynical hostility might lead to cardiovascular disease
  • Short bursts of exercise may be best for metabolic health