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.

This week, we launched a comprehensive collection of resources about the science of sleep, reported on worrying levels of microplastic pollution in our seafood, and revealed that placebos may work even when a patient knows exactly what they’re getting.

We also reported on a new way to fight superbugs using electricity and why Black patients may experience less pain when receiving care from Black doctors.

Finally, we look at the effects of sleeping too little on a person’s mood and ability to enjoy pleasurable feelings, and we explore the intense euphoria you might feel if you exercise enough to experience a runner’s high.

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

1. The science of sleep

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Our new resource gathers information about dreams, sleep disorders, sleep-boosting strategies, and more.

Last weekend saw the launch of our major new resource on the science of sleep, where you can learn about common misconceptions, dreams and lucid dreaming, sleep disorders, and even products that will help promote a better night’s rest.

We’ve gathered dozens of articles in one place, so if you’re interested in the activity that takes up around a third of our lives, MNT have you covered.

Learn more here.

2. Study found plastic in every seafood sample it analyzed

A biologist looks at microplastics found in sea species at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research near Athens, on November 26, 2019. Image credit: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty ImagesShare on Pinterest
New research indicates that the prevalence of microplastics in seafood is greater than initially thought. Image credit: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

It’s worse than many of us might have thought: In a recent study assessing the microplastic content of seafood, the researchers were surprised to find plastic in every sample they tested. This means that every meal that contains fish or shellfish is likely to include a side helping of plastic.

“Considering an average serving, a seafood eater could be exposed to approximately 0.7 milligrams (mg) of plastic when ingesting an average serving of oysters or squid, and up to 30 mg of plastic when eating sardines,” says the lead author of the study.

Learn more here.

3. Study finds link between low fungi diversity in lungs and severity of ARDS

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New research has found a link between a low diversity of fungi in the lungs and the risk of developing severe ARDS. Image credit: Samir, 2007.

MNT have reported on the microbiome in depth, and this week we covered a new study that reveals how it affects every part of the body. Most microbiome research focuses on the gut, but the lungs are also home to a population of microorganisms.

It now appears that the more diverse this lung microbiome is, the better — researchers have found a link between the diversity of fungi in the lungs of people with acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, and the severity of the condition.

Learn more here.

4. Gut health experts define ‘synbiotic’ supplements

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Supplements containing probiotics and prebiotics may help restore balance to the gut microbiota.

Still on the subject of the microbiome, a clear definition of “synbiotics” has been published for the first time, MNT reported this week.

This new definition means that more thorough formulation and testing of complementary synbiotics, in which probiotics and prebiotics work separately, and synergistic synbiotics, in which they work together, is required before manufacturers can claim that their product is synbiotic. In either case, there must be an overall health benefit.

Learn more here.

5. Placebos may have benefits, even when people know they are taking them

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A new study suggests that placebos may have beneficial effects, even if the person is aware of what they have taken.

What happens if people are informed that they have been given a placebo? New research reported by MNT this week suggests that a placebo can still have a physiological effect.

Our report explains how the placebo was administered and how the researchers informed the participants that what they would receive contained no active ingredients. The researchers think the use of such “nondeceptive” placebos may be useful in relieving COVID-19-related stress.

Learn more here.

6. Weak electric currents could help combat superbugs

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New research into electric currents that can kill bacteria may have long-term implications for the fight against superbugs.

MNT often report on the latest research in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs. In a new article published this week, we reported on how researchers have used electric currents — that are too weak to harm humans but powerful enough to disrupt bacterial membranes — to sterilize surfaces.

This has the potential to be a highly practical and effective method that could sterilize objects that people frequently touch, such as doorknobs and buttons in elevators.

Learn more here.

7. Rare individuals can ‘block and lock’ HIV in their chromosomes

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New research looks into why HIV does not replicate in certain people with the infection.

Researchers have long known that around 0.5% of people with HIV have undetectable levels of the virus, even without taking targeted treatment.

New research suggests that this rare group of people — known as elite controllers — are able to confine the intact viral genetic sequences within inactive regions of their own DNA. This means that HIV is not able to create new copies of itself.

In one elite controller who participated, there was apparently no trace of the HIV genome left in their cells at all.

Learn more here.

8. Black patients experience less pain with Black doctors

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New research suggests that Black people experience less pain when they receive care from Black doctors.

This week, we reported on a recent study indicating that Black patients report lower levels of pain when they receive medical attention from Black doctors.

The researchers arranged a simulated visit to a doctor’s office and paired Black patients with Black, white, or Hispanic doctors. They found that “Black patients paired with Black doctors reported experiencing less pain across several types of measures than Black patients paired with Hispanic or white doctors.”

Learn more here.

9. What to know about runner’s high

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Runner’s high is a pleasurable sensation that occurs during extended periods of aerobic exercise.

If you’ve ever experienced an intense boost to your mood after a lengthy period of exercise, you’ve probably enjoyed a runner’s high. Cycling, swimming, rowing, and other high-impact aerobic exercises can produce a similar effect.

In this article, we look at the causes, the wider benefits, and how to exercise safely.

Learn more here.

10. Not getting enough sleep stifles positive emotions

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A lack of sleep may affect a person’s emotional well-being.

Finally this week, an article on the importance of sleep has emerged as one that our readers have spent the most time with — an average of over 15 minutes each.

Researchers asked the 52 participants in their study to go bed 2 hours later than usual for 3 out of 10 nights and found that they had become more prone to mistakes and impulsive behavior after having less sleep. They also experienced pleasurable feelings less intensely.

With around one-third of adults in the United States reporting less than 6 hours of sleep each night, the implications of this study could be far-reaching.

Learn more here.

We hope that this has provided a taste of the range of 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 articles every month. Here are some upcoming articles that may pique our readers’ interests:

  • Honeybee venom kills aggressive breast cancer cells
  • How ultra-processed food may accelerate aging
  • Why a ketogenic diet might reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease