The Recovery Room: News beyond the pandemic — October 16

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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 reported on evidence of a link between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as how using a smartphone or watching television for hour after hour could be worse for our health than other types of screen time.

We also considered why older men may not drink enough water after exercise, and we took a very close look at the phenomenon of “female hysteria” — why did this notion persist for centuries, and when did it finally fall out of fashion?

Stories about the chance discovery of a possible new way to treat diabetes, the insidious dangers of air pollution, how tinkering with an old antibiotic lead to the discovery of 10 new ones, and how battlefield acupuncture might help fight opioid addiction make up the rest of this week’s selection.

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

1. Identical signs of brain damage in sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s

This week’s most popular news story was our report on a study confirming links between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have long suspected a connection between the two, but they have now found the first evidence of amyloid plaques in people with sleep apnea.

The plaques appear in the same locations and spread in the same way in the brains of people with sleep apnea as they do in people with Alzheimer’s. There is also a correlation between the extent of these plaques and the severity of the condition.

The discovery of this link may lead to novel therapies for Alzheimer’s disease. It also highlights the important role of sleep in flushing toxic forms of beta-amyloid from the brain.

Learn more here.

2. ‘Poor health’ and screen time on different devices: What is the link?

Some types of screen time are worse for our health and mental well-being than others. That is the finding of a new study that MNT covered this week.

People who spent extended periods of time watching TV or using a smartphone reported worse dietary patterns and health characteristics than those who spent a similar amount of time in front of computers or tablets.

Scientists do not yet know whether or not the relationship between different types of screen time and health is causal, but the way that screens have come to dominate waking life makes this an important topic for further study.

Learn more here.

3. Older men need to hydrate even when they are not thirsty

Do older men become less able to detect when they need to drink water to avoid becoming dehydrated? That was the subject of another recent study that MNT covered this week, and it now appears that it is the case.

After a bout of exercise, researchers found that an increase in blood salinity did not trigger a response to dehydration in older men as efficiently as it did in younger men.

The men in this study did not have any known chronic health conditions. The researchers now plan to investigate whether or not they can replicate, or enhance, this finding in older men with age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Learn more here.

4. Mice with diabetes successfully treated with electromagnetic fields

A chance discovery about the effect of electromagnetic radiation on mice was the subject of another popular article this week.

The co-author of the study borrowed mice that had had exposure to electromagnetic fields from another researcher who was investigating the effect on their brains. Even though these mice had either been genetically engineered or fed a special diet to induce diabetes, all the exposed animals showed normal blood sugar levels.

If researchers can safely replicate the effect in humans, the use of electromagnetic fields may offer a new way for people to manage diabetes.

Learn more here.

5. The controversy of ‘female hysteria’

In MNT’s latest “Curiosities of Medical History” feature, we looked at the history of “female hysteria.” Once commonly diagnosed, with a vast range of supposed symptoms and causes, it finally fell out of fashion half a century ago.

But was female hysteria ever anything more than a way to pathologize “everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women”? Maria Cohut, Ph.D., investigates.

Learn more here.

6. How disassociation occurs in the brain

Have you ever felt as though you are outside of your body, looking in? If so, you are not alone; around 2–10% of people have experienced this. But how does it happen?

This week, we reported on a new study that may have identified the brain mechanism that causes people to experience disassociation. Researchers found that nerve cells in the brain’s posteromedial cortex fire synchronously at a rate of three times per second during such episodes.

These nerve cells could be the target of new therapies for disassociation and a number of conditions associated with it.

Learn more here.

7. Air pollution linked to markers of neurodegenerative disease

Neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and motor neuron disease affect millions of people around the world, but the factors that cause them are not well understood. This week, MNT covered new research that looked at one environmental factor that affects billions of people: air pollution.

Researchers examined the brain stems of deceased young people, aged 11 months to 40 years, from Mexico City. They found particles associated with air pollution alongside markers for neurodegenerative conditions.

In contrast, brain stems from a control group of age-matched deceased people who lived in low pollution areas did not show these markers of neurodegenerative disease. Dirty air could trigger an epidemic of such diseases as populations living in the most polluted areas age.

Learn more here.

8. Drinking coffee may protect some people against Parkinson’s

A review of previous research found that the more caffeine people regularly consumed, the lower their risk of developing Parkinson’s. Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have studied the gene LRRK2, a mutation of which may be responsible for this tendency.

There are two promising implications of this gene-mediated relationship between caffeine and Parkinson’s disease: the prospect of developing caffeine-related therapies and a new way to assess which people with the gene mutation are more likely to develop the condition based on caffeine levels in their blood.

Learn more here.

9. New approach may give new life to old antibiotic

Gramicidin A is one of the world’s oldest antibiotics. It became the very first antibiotic to have commercial use following its discovery in 1939. However, it is not well tolerated inside the human body, and it is now used exclusively in ointments and eye drops, rather than for internal use.

This week, MNT reported on the development of 10 new artificial forms of this venerable antibiotic, each of which may be less harmful to human cells and more suitable in a wider variety of clinical applications than gramicidin A.

Learn more here.

10. Acupuncture before surgery may reduce pain, opioid use

Finally, we reported on a new study that looked at the effect that two different types of acupuncture have on controlling pain (versus a placebo).

Both battlefield and traditional acupuncture resulted in the participants requiring less of the opioid morphine after surgery and reporting less pain and anxiety, compared with those who received the placebo.

Opioid dependency following surgery is a major problem in the United States, so the researchers hope that larger-scale trials support the findings of this pilot study.

Learn more here.

We hope these have 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:

  • How watching TV nature shows can boost your well-being
  • Medical myths: Vitamins and supplements
  • Study suggests morning exercise may reduce cancer risk

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