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 26 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

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