Posts filed under ‘Health and Beauty’

Chocolate Can Improve Blood Flow and Brain Function

By Chad Upton

The Kuna Indians of the Panama Islands consume large quantities of cocoa, even when compared to those living on mainland Panama.

cocoavia

A study by Norman K Hollenberg, MD and PhD of Harvard Medical School, found that the islanders have astonishingly low occurrences of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. In fact, death from heart disease is a 1280% higher risk for mainlanders. What is in the chocolate the islanders are consuming? (more…)

May 24, 2013 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Kosher Coke Contains Real Sugar

By Chad Upton | Editor

In many countries, Coca-Cola and most other soft drinks, are sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This is not real sugar from cane or beets, it is a processed sweetener made from corn that is almost identical to natural sugar.

There have been some debates and studies about whether or not HFCS is bad for us. Without getting into it, I will say that some people don’t have a problem eating HFCS and other people do.

The reasons for avoiding HFCS vary widely and one of them has led to Kosher Coke. Because high fructose corn syrup is made from corn (a grain) it cannot be consumed by (Orthodox) Ashkenazi Jews who refrain from eating grains during passover.

You can spot Kosher Coke by the yellow cap on the bottle (white in Chicago). It typically has a Kosher certification symbol and sometimes Hebrew characters. If you live near Cleveland  the local bottler never switched to HFCS, so check the ingredients — your Coke might be perma-Kosher. (more…)

March 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm 14 comments

Yellow Bruises are Localized Jaundice

By Chad Upton | Editor

We normally associate jaundice with newborn babies, but many of us have minor cases throughout our lives.

Jaundice is distinguished by a yellow coloring of the skin which is caused by an elevated level of bilirubin in the blood. You have bilirubin in your system at all times — it’s a by product of the normal breakdown of red blood cells. In fact, it’s also the reason your urine is yellow.

When your skin receives trauma from a hit or other pressure, the capillaries break under your skin, allowing blood to escape into the extracellular space. That blood causes the initial dark color. As the hemoglobin breaks down from biliverdin to bilirubin and then to hemosiderin, these chemicals are responsible for the green, yellow and golden-brown colors respectively.

Bilirubin is not typically a concern for healthy people, but it can be in newborns who may have trouble excreting and breaking down bilirubin before their intestinal bacterias are present and functional.

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Photo: timlewisnm (cc)

Sources: wikipedia (jaundice, bruise, hemoglobin, bilirubin)

June 14, 2012 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Sleeping Your Best is All About Timing

By Chad Upton | Editor

Sleep can make you more happy, alert, motivated, and productive. If you’re healthy, it’s fairly straightforward to get these benefits from sleep if you know a little bit about your sleep cycles.

First, imagine if washing machines didn’t have timers and you had to guess when they finished their last cycle. If you stopped it too soon, your clothes would still be soapy; if you stopped it too late then it would start all over again. That would be a disaster; nobody would put up with that. Yet, that’s exactly what most people do with their sleep cycles.

You sleep in cycles. Each cycle usually lasts 90 – 110 minutes. It’s called a cycle because your brain and body go through a number of different stages and then it starts all over again. The stages can be divided in different ways, but two of the most common divisions are REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM.

The non-REM “deep sleep” phase is longer during the cycles earlier in the night and tend to get shorter during the later cycles. The REM phase is the opposite. Vivid dreams generally occur during REM sleep, so you tend to dream more as you get closer to your wakeup time.

Most of us get up at about the same time every day. Sometimes, you feel well rested; other times you feel like you barely slept at all. This wide variance can be caused by waking up in the middle of your sleep cycle rather than close to the end. (more…)

January 25, 2012 at 2:00 am 9 comments

It’s Normal For Half Your Nose to Always Feel Blocked

By Chad Upton | Editor

You probably don’t think about it much, but if you did, you’d notice that it often feels like one nostril or the other is always plugged. That’s completely normal for about 70% of adults.

Assuming you’re healthy, your “plugged” nostril actually allows a tiny amount of air through and your other nostril handles the rest. After an average of 2.5 hours, the cycle will shift and use the alternate nostril as the primary source of air. The following scan shows one nasal passage mostly blocked and the other mostly open.

For a long time, Eastern medicine has had theories about the purpose of this cycle and a number of exercises that involve moving air through a specific nostril. On the other hand, Western scientists didn’t come up with a physiological purpose for this phenomena until more recently.

Research indicates that the high/low flow approach in the two nostrils optimizes your sense of smell. As you’ve probably discovered first hand, or shall we say finger, the inside of your nose is lined with mucus. This mucus continues deep inside your nasal passage and is very important; it acts as a barrier and helps protect your brain from infection. But, it also means that something you smell has to be absorbed by the mucus before you can smell it. (more…)

January 5, 2012 at 2:00 am 25 comments

“Raisin Fingers” May Be an Evolutionary Advantage

By Kyle Kurpinski

If you have ever gone swimming for several hours or taken a really long bath, then you are probably familiar with the phenomenon referred to as “pruney fingers” or “raisin fingers.” A common explanation for this wrinkling of the hands (and feet) is that the skin absorbs excess water when submerged, which causes it to expand. This expansion increases the surface area of the skin, thereby resulting in wrinkles. So while these pruney fingertips may have the appearance of being shrunken or shriveled, they are actually larger than they were when dry. It has been suggested that fingers and toes are more susceptible to this effect than other areas of the body due at least in part to a lack of hair follicles, which produce sebum – an oily secreted substance that may act as a temporary protective barrier against water absorption.

But water uptake is only part of the story. As early as the 1930s, scientists noted that patients with palsy-related nerve damage in their hands showed no signs of water-induced wrinkling in the areas specifically affected by the impaired nerves. This insight suggested that the nervous system is actively involved in the wrinkling process, and additional research has shown that vasoconstriction – narrowing of the blood vessels – plays a role as well. A modern view of raisin fingers goes something like this: prolonged immersion leads to excess water uptake by the skin; the resulting electrolyte imbalance causes neurons to fire more rapidly, which causes blood vessels to constrict, thereby reducing blood flow underneath the skin and leading to a decrease in skin tension, thus causing wrinkling. This process is clearly more complicated than simple water-induced swelling, which is probably why most people have never heard about it. The complete physiological mechanism of action is likely a combination of water-induced swelling and vasoconstriction.

But none of this explains why fingers that look like little dried fruits should be a part of our biology in the first place. A new theory (put forth in a recent article in the journal Brain, Behavior and Evolution) proposes that wrinkles on the fingers and toes may actually act as miniature drainage channels to displace water and increase grip in wet conditions, similar to the rain treads on the tires of a car. In other words, when your fingers and toes get really wet, they wrinkle up to counteract the slickness of the water. Additional work still needs to be done for the theory to become more widely accepted, but it appears that the raisiny morphology may be an evolutionary adaptation for life in slippery environments.

As a professional bioengineer I feel inclined to run my own experiments, but I’m still waiting for my hot tub/climbing wall grant to go through.

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Sources: Amazing Health Trivia, WonderQuest, Wikipedia, Nature, 1Mark Changizi, et al

Image: Brian Zambrano (cc)

December 28, 2011 at 2:00 am 11 comments

A Third Type of Cell In Your Retina Regulates Circadian Rhythm

By Chad Upton | Editor

You probably learned about rods and cones in high school biology class. These retinal cells allow our brains to process light so we can see. But, there is a third type of cell that most people don’t know about: photosensitive ganglion cells.

They don’t have a cool name like Rods and Cones, but what they lack in name they make up for in swagger. Much like rods and cones, they send light information to the brain. Instead of using this information to “see”, the brain uses it to synchronize your body’s circadian rhythm to the 24-hour light/dark cycle of this planet. These “lion” cells are the original atomic clock.

They’re also used to control the pupillary light reflex. When you doctor, or local police officer, shines a bright light in your eyes, these cells are used to close your irises to limit the bright light hitting your retinas. Additionally, they help regulate melatonin — the hormone that controls several biological functions, including sleep.

Most research indicates that the ganglion cells are sensitive to light in the spectrum between 460 and 484 nm, or “blue” light which is prevalent in the visible spectrum of sunlight. Basically, this is why you get sleepy when it gets dark and why you start to “wake up” when it gets light outside.

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Photo: bigbluemeanie (cc)

Sources: nature.com, wikipedia (pupillary light reflex, photoreceptor cell, photosensitive ganglion cells, melatonin)

December 2, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Barefoot Running is Better for Joints Than Running in Shoes

By Chad Upton | Editor

Some people think these shoes look weird:

But, they just look like feet. So, maybe it’s our shoe stressed feet that look weird. If you look at your toes, they’re not spread out like your fingers. Most people’s toes are squished together in the shape of a shoe, even when they’re not in shoes.

That’s weird.

I never really thought about it much, until I saw a pair of these shoes. They’re called “Five Fingers” and they’re made by a company called Vibram. They’re a bit pricey, so you may also want to look at Fila’s similar and slightly cheaper version called “Skele-toes.” This style of footwear are to shoes what winter gloves are to mittens.

These shoes and the growing category of “minimalist running shoes” are a hot trend in running circles right now. There are many reasons why, but the ten most convincing reasons are on the floor in front of you.

We’ve been cramming our feet into unnatural shoes since childhood, but what would our feet look like if we had never worn shoes? Probably something like this:

These feet actually look weird too; we’re used to seeing feet that are shaped like shoes.

The difference is glaring. Look at the straight black line in the first photo, it stretches from the big toe, across the ball of the foot to the heel. You can’t draw a straight line on the second photo that aligns these three important parts of your feet.

Cramping your foot’s style is not cool because that can lead to cramps and strains and lots of heel pains. If you’ve ever had foot pain or discomfort, you may think your shoes don’t have enough cushioning or that your arches have too much or too little support. While there are exceptions, these problems are generally myths perpetuated by the shoe industry that simply wants you to buy new shoes often.

Many of the best runners in the world, who consistently win marathons, run without any shoes at all. Do they have bad feet? No, they have really strong feet. They also have better knees and hips than runners who use thick padded running shoes. One medical study compared running in shoes to barefoot and fount that barefoot running demonstrated 38% lower knee torque and 54% less internal hip rotation torque. This means that running barefoot provides a much more natural motion for your joints. This notion is pretty surprising the first time you hear it, but there are a mountain of medical studies to support it.

Should you throw away your super spongy running shoes and go barefoot tomorrow? Probably not. Just like running in shoes, you need some education to do it the best way possible. Check your area for a local running club where you can learn, or look for some online videos on the subject. I’ve also got some great sources listed below which would make a good starting point.

Also, running on soft shoes might not be a good idea but research shows that running on soft surfaces is better than hard surfaces. Even though grass and dirt may have rocks and pits, these actually work to strengthen your ankles over time. That said, you may also want to consider the type of floors you have at home — you may even want to get something like soft rubber floors.

PS – Neil posted a funny story at 1000awesomethings.com about my first outdoor run earlier this year.

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Sources: PM&RShoe Myths, Nature.com, CMAJ.ca, bjsportmed.com

October 6, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

Some Fruit Seeds Contain Cyanide

By Chad Upton | Editor

Seeds from peaches, black cherries, apricots and apples contain a compound called amygdalin. Your body metabolizes amygdalin as hydrogen cyanide, which can make you very sick and even kill you (in large doses).

Hydrogen cyanide is lethal because it impedes blood from carrying oxygen, which is of course a critical function of blood.

The pits and seeds from cherries and apples aren’t a huge concern since it would take an unreasonably significant quantity of those to cause you harm. However, you should be more aware of the dangers of peach and apricot seeds if you like to eat them.

If you’re just consuming the fruit, there is nothing to worry about; however, some people buy bags of apricot seeds, or other forms of amygdalin, as a treatment or preventative treatment for cancer. It is marketed under the name Laetrile and “Vitamin B17″ although there are many studies that prove it is not effective at treating cancer, not to mention the increased chance of cyanide poisoning.

A fatal dose of cyanide can be as little as 1.5 mg/kg of body weight. Since an apricot kernel contains approximately 0.5 mg of cyanide, consuming 150 seeds in a short period of time could be lethal to a 50 kg (110 lb) person.

It’s not just fruit seeds, there are other foods that contain cyanide too. Cassava, also known as tapioca, contains two forms of cyanide and should not be eaten raw. It is rendered safe for consumption by the process of soaking, cooking or fermentation.

There are many people who consume these foods in small doses without issue; you can buy bags of apricot kernels from Amazon or health food stores. If you do buy some, heed the serving suggestion and warning on the package.

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Sources: wikipedia (amygdalin, cassava, cyanide poisoning, apricot kernel), Saint Louis University (PDF)

September 25, 2011 at 5:00 pm 5 comments

The “Asparagus Effect” is Not Universal

By Kyle Kurpinski

Have you ever noticed a peculiar odor from your urine after eating asparagus? If so, you’re not alone. The “asparagus effect” has been documented since at least the 1700’s and was scientifically analyzed as early as 1891 when a chemist named Marceli Nencki attributed the smell to the chemical “methanethiol.” Most people would probably be satisfied with this explanation and move on, but science leaves no stone unturned; we now know that the distinct aroma is actually due to an intricate combination of sulfur-containing compounds (including methanethiol) formed during the breakdown of asparagusic acid.

So, mystery solved, right? Not quite.

Ask around, and you will find that only a portion of the population actually experiences the asparagus effect. A few early studies in the 1980’s reported that not everyone could smell the asparagus-induced odor, but those who could smelled it in all available samples, suggesting that everyone produces the aroma after eating asparagus, but only a portion of the population has the ability to detect it; a characteristic that was subsequently linked to a specific mutation in a group of olfactory genes. However, a more recent study in 2010 reported that a small percentage of people may not produce the odor at all, likely due to differences in the way they metabolize asparagusic acid.

In short, if you don’t notice the odor in your pee after an asparagus-heavy meal, you either have a unique, asparagus-proof metabolism or you simply lack the smell receptors to perceive your own stinkiness. If you do experience the asparagus effect, keep in mind that the odor-inducing precursor compounds are more prevalent in younger plants, so the smell will be less pronounced if you eat asparagus that is a little more mature. The effect is also extremely rapid – producing smelly pee in as little as 15-30 min after ingesting – so plan ahead if you’re thinking about eating asparagus on a hot date.

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Source: Wikipedia, Monell Center, The Guardian, The Discovery Channel, British Medical Journal

Image: Jonathan Moreau (cc)

July 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm 5 comments

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