News from the World of Medicine: How junk food affects your brain, Why Fibre is not always a friend, More Long COVID symptoms and more

The latest in medical research and health news you need to know 

By Samantha Rideout Updated: May 22, 2023 15:52:05 IST
News from the World of Medicine: How junk food affects your brain, Why Fibre is not always a friend, More Long COVID symptoms and more Pixabay

Coffee Can Lead to Impulse Buys

When you’re shopping, it’s best to be careful of what you sip on. Scientists recently gave away beverages outside stores in France and Spain. They offered regular coffee to 150 shoppers and decaf coffee or water to 150 more. On average, the shoppers who drank caffeine spent 50 per cent more money. They bought a comparable number of utilitarian products (utensils, say) but splurged more on fun items, like scented candles. Caffeine often creates a state of ‘energetic arousal’ that enhances the appeal of non-essential goods, the researchers explained. Something to keep in mind if exceeding your budget causes you stress.

How to Prevent Recurring Kidney Stones

If you’ve had a kidney stone, your chances of reliving that excruciating experience within five years are around 30 per cent. However, the right foods could reduce that risk, says new research from the Mayo Clinic. By asking first-time kidney-stone patients about their dietary habits and monitoring which of them went on to form more stones, the co-authors concluded that consuming 1,200 milligrams per day of calcium—found in foods such as dairy products and leafy greens—could be helpful for prevention. They also recommended getting more potassium, which is in many fruits and veggies, including bananas, oranges and mushrooms. Meanwhile, people who haven’t had a stone and want to avoid getting one should drink plenty of fluids.

More Long-Covid Symptoms Revealed

For roughly 10 per cent of sufferers, COVID-19 causes symptoms that linger after 12 weeks. To provide the best care for these patients, it would be useful to know which ailments might be due to something other than long COVID. To help unravel this puzzle, British researchers looked at the medical records of about 4,86,000 people who’d had COVID-19 three months prior and compared them to control subjects who had similar demographic characteristics, lifestyles, and medical histories, except they’d never contracted the virus. Issues among the people who had been infected included some that had already been associated with long COVID, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and an altered sense of smell. However, the study also revealed lesser-known symptoms, including hair loss, reduced libido and limb swelling. Even though most subjects suffered from only a few of these issues, the study validates the patients who claim that long COVID has a range of possible effects that cannot be entirely explained away by lifestyle habits or other medical conditions. The investigators also identified risk factors for long COVID, which included obesity and being female.

Your Brain on Junk Food

Food that has been significantly transformed from its original state is known as ‘ultra-processed’. Examples include chicken nuggets, instant soup and ice cream. In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, Australian researchers found that seniors with a habit of eating ultra-processed products performed more poorly on a test of language and executive function.

The Underestimated Value of ‘Just Thinking’

Imagine being alone with your thoughts, without distractions. Sound boring? You might like it more than you expect. Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan asked participants to sit and let their mind wander for 20 minutes. Beforehand, the study subjects rated how they thought they would feel about the task. Afterward, they reported how they had actually felt. On average, the activity was more enjoyable and engaging than they’d anticipated. Previous studies suggest this kind of activity can help people enhance their creativity, solve problems and even allow them to find more meaning in life.

Dementia Need Not Ruin Friendships

Dementia doesn’t diminish a person’s need for connection, but people living with this diagnosis sometimes see their friends distance themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way, emphasizes a recent study published in the Canadian Journal on Aging. The researchers interviewed people with dementia and their loved ones to find out how they were remaining close. Strategies included being open about the condition, accepting changes in behaviour and the relationship and focusing on what remains accessible (like a love of music and shared memories). Other tips included providing practical support (such as giving reminders about a shared outing) and checking in with each other. 


Daytime Dining Is Best if You Have Type 2 Diabetes

It’s not unusual to spread a day’s food intake over at least 14 hours—say from breakfast at seven a.m. until dinner at nine p.m. Narrowing that window down to 10 hours could benefit people with Type 2 diabetes, according to a Dutch study by researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center. Doing so would allow the patients’ bodies to reach a fasting state during the night and lower their overall blood-sugar levels. The study’s findings line up with previous research where even shorter time windows—such as eight hours—led to increased fat burning and improved insulin sensitivity in people with obesity. 

Autoimmune Disorders Increase Cardiac Risk

It is estimated that nearly 4 per cent of the world’s population is affected by one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In all cases, the immune system attacks healthy organs and tissues, often causing inflammation. New research out of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium has shown that people with an autoimmune disorder were at least 1.4 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, the risk more than doubled among subjects with two autoimmune disorders. The researchers hope their work will encourage these patients and their doctors to discuss prevention strategies for cardiovascular problems—just as general practitioners already do for people living with other conditions that are known to raise the risk substantially.

Type-A Blood Linked to Early Stroke

Most strokes happen to seniors, but they’re on the rise among people under 60. According to a large international review published in Neurology, people with type-A blood have a 16 per cent higher risk of early stroke compared to other blood types. (By contrast, the risk for those with type O is 12 per cent lower.) Type-A blood might be more prone to clotting, the researchers surmised. That said, your blood type is only one part of your risk profile. The factors that are within your control include avoiding smoking, limiting saturated fat and managing your blood pressure.

When Fibre Is Not a Friend

Fibre is a key component of a healthy diet because, among other benefits, it helps with digestion. Yet some people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) say that fibre actually aggravates their symptoms. Why? A Canadian study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that it’s difficult for the large intestine to process the subset of fibres called β-fructans if certain gut microbes are missing or malfunctioning—as is often the case with IBD patients. Up to 40 per cent of people affected could reduce their flare-ups if they avoid β-fructan-rich foods, such as artichokes, garlic, asparagus and bananas. The study’s researchers are now developing a stool test so doctors can pinpoint the patients who could feel better by adjusting their diet in this way.


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