Cake and cookies may increase Alzheimer’s risk: Here are five Frontiers articles you won’t want to miss

Fast food, like many other highly processed foods, may be linked to a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Image:

At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, it’s impossible to cover all of them. Here are just five amazing papers you may have missed.

Eating ultra-processed foods may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease

As the world’s population ages, diseases such as dementia are expected to rise, reaching 135 million cases worldwide by 2050. There is, however, evidence that cognitive decline could be prevented by avoiding the consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) – for example frozen meals, soft drinks, cake mixes, and fast food – which contain added sugars or fats as well as artificial colors and flavors.

Now, writing in Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers in Brazil reviewed studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants to investigate the association of the consumption of UPF and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that most of the reviewed studies found evidence that UPF consumption was linked to a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found a risk association only with the development of dementia. However, these findings should be interpreted with caution because the topic has not been studied extensively, the authors cautioned.

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How exposure to microplastics can impact human fertility, pregnancy, and child health

Microscopic plastic particles can be found in cosmetics, clothing, and food packaging. This increasing microplastic (MP) pollution is becoming dangerous to individual’s and the general public’s health. MPs in humans have been detected in blood, urine, breast milk, and, recently, the placenta, leading to a direct exposure of the fetus.

Researchers in Canada summarized the latest knowledge on the accumulation of MPs in the human placenta and how their presence may impact pregnancy and child health. They published their results in a review article in Frontiers in Endocrinology.

While the presence of MP particles in womb tissue is well-established, the effects that this may have on fertility, fetal development, and offspring health is less clear, the scientists wrote. Gaining better understanding of long-term outcomes of MP exposure is essential since the rate at which humans are exposed to MPs is growing rapidly.

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Distinctive speech, not real-time recognition, helps us remember words

Hearing somebody speak does not automatically mean we will be able to remember it later. Speed, the repeated use of certain phrases or words, and the number of similar words can influence how well people remember what others say.

In a new Frontiers in Psychology article, researchers in the US used American English words to examine how speech style (clear or casual), the number of times words are used (high or low frequency), and how many similar words a given word has (high or low neighborhood density) influence recognition memory for spoken words.

They found that clear speech was better remembered than casually spoken words; that words that are used less often are better remembered than frequently used ones; and that low-density words were remembered better high-density words. Accordingly, characteristics which allow for clear differentiation between words, rather than our capacity for real time recognition, enable better memory recall.

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How well can we predict climate migration?

An impact of the climate crisis which is already visible today is human displacement and population movement due to natural disasters or climate-induced changes of economic, social, and political conditions of a place.

Preparing for these sometimes sudden movements is a challenge development planners and policy makers face alike. In a new article published in Frontiers in Climate, researchers reviewed the state of climate-related migration forecasting models.

They found that these models, which for example may work by overlaying climate-related hazards on a population distribution map to identify at-risk populations, are useful tools to understand possible outcomes of climate migration. Currently, however, no forecasting model is able to provide reliable predictions about how many people may be displaced for climate-related reasons. This highlights the need for improved migration data collection and scenario-based planning, the scientists wrote.

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School kids now draw more female scientists than 10 years ago

Looking at children’s artwork may provide insights into their feelings and thoughts about the world and how it works. The ‘draw-a-scientist test’, developed in 1983, aims to learn at what age stereotypical images of a scientist first appear in children. Since then, thousands of children’s drawings showing scientists have been analyzed.

Writing in Frontiers in Education, researchers in Italy compared two sets of drawings – one from 2011 and one from 2021 – done by primary school children to find out how children’s perceptions of science and scientists have evolved over time.

While children – boys more so than girls – still draw predominantly male scientists, the researchers found a significant increase of female depictions. In 2021, 36.5% of drawings depicted female scientists, up from 29.2% in 2011. This may signal an increased sense of belonging and potential for girls to pursue careers in science, the researchers wrote.

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