Cancer Today: How Close Are We To a Cure?

A relatively common disease, cancer involves abnormal growth, division, or death of cells in the human body. Many cell abnormalities can be benign: confined to one area and relatively easier to treat. The problem occurs when they become malignant and spread to different parts of the body, effectively becoming a serious disease. Malignant tumors spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system and cause life-threatening conditions, as they attack cells in the body that are in charge of carrying out a body’s necessary functions. If these cells are attacked, they can no longer carry out such critical functions.

Around 36% of people, men and women, will develop a certain type of cancer in their life. Because it’s so common, cancer research has become a large part of our modern society. As technology develops, we have been able to focus many areas of study into the potentially life-threatening condition. The most common type of cancer treatment is chemotherapy, which attacks cancer cells to prevent cell division. It affects the whole body and is effective in cancers that have spread, potentially prolonging the life of someone with advanced cancer. Hormone therapy is especially useful in treating breast and prostate cancer because it targets hormones, reducing how much hormone levels are within a cell that can inhibit them from further growth. Surgery is used to remove tumors concentrated in one area. Radiotherapy is used to target specific areas, damaging cancer cells so that they don’t multiply, and has less overall bodily side effects than chemotherapy.

The 260 cancer organizations in the world have a combined budget of $2.2 billion dollars (per year). To compare, the cancer death rate has decreased “by approximately one percent a year” – since 1990. The most funded cancer research is breast cancer, with a survival rate of 86.7%. Lung cancer is the second most funded cancer (research funds are half of breast cancers’) but has a survival rate of 18.1%.

Now, we know that cancer research has not been necessarily as successful as we expect it to be – considering the amount of money funding cancer research – but why is this? Cancer, like mentioned before, is a disease of the cell, and there are different groups of cells that carry out different functions. Because of this specialization, each cancer attacks a different function that must be fixed in a certain way. Cancer is therefore a “class of diseases,” and there can be no single cure for it. We can compare this to the flu, a viral infection that is always evolving. We have to get flu shots every year because one single flu shot will not cure all other possible flus. Therefore, we cannot expect to make one single lifetime cure for the flu.

Nevertheless, the billions of dollars going into cancer research have still been useful in confronting the disease. Research within specific cancers is shedding light into how “different molecular signature” should be confronted in particular ways. With this, we have insight on learning how to stop the cancer and preventing it from happening. Further research, however, requires more time and excruciating processes.

It may be hard to imagine a future where one simple medicine or shot will protect one from cancer. Cancer increases with age, and cancer survivors are very likely to develop more types of cancer. However, there are so many factors that scientists are researching that might actually significantly raise the chances of a person getting cancer, helping develop a more preventative approach to the disease. For people with skin or breast cancer history in their family, it is crucial to continuously keep tabs and go to regular doctor check-ups for effective diagnosis and prevention. There are many factors within our control that can help better our health in the long-run, but we have to be able to put our own effort. Although there’s been a lot of progress in cancer research, it is difficult to say when it will finally be a completely curable disease, but research still continues in a positive direction and we can at least do our part in prevention.

References:

Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institute, 22 Mar. 2017, www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics 

Victoria, Cancer Council, et al. “What is cancer?” Cancer Council Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria, 1 Jan. 1970, www.cancervic.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer.

Contributor, Quora. “Where Do the Millions of Cancer Research Dollars Go Every Year?” Slate Magazine, 7 Feb. 2013, www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/02/07/where_do_the_millions_of_cancer_research_dollars_go_every_year.html.
Treating Advanced Cancer.” American Cancer Society, 16 Dec. 2016, www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/advanced-cancer/treatment.html.

Naile Ruiz
Your Brain and Your Pain on Yoga

It is no surprise that yoga is good for you. Whether it’s in a medical journal or on the Today show, yoga has become a popular exercise made accessible by a variety of media outlets. As humans, we strive to feel good––it’s in our nature. But just what is it about stretching and putting ourselves into pretzel-shapes that makes us feel better? And how might people experiencing chronic pain find peace and healing with this practice?

The answer might be more biological than you think. Much like how the body changes throughout postures and poses, the brain also changes as an effect of yoga. According to Dr. Catherine Bushnell, scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, yoga may have longer-term benefits than simply feeling better. Dr. Bushnell and her colleagues have found that practicing yoga helps offset the effects of age-related decreases in gray matter volume in the brain. This means that cognitive attention as well as memory can be strengthened. More importantly, decreases in gray matter volume also relate to increases in white matter tracts. As a result, increased connectivity in white matter may help develop the insular cortex, causing a higher pain tolerance. For patients experiencing chronic pain conditions, there might be hope in strengthening the mind and body through yoga. 

But it’s not just pain that can be managed; yoga might impact other areas of the brain and body which facilitate movement and cause relaxation. Studies have found that knee osteoporosis, for example, may be helped with the powerful effects of yoga. Other studies have shown benefits of yoga on cancer pain treatment. According to a 2016 study in Australia on elderly patients with knee pain, yoga helped in not only reducing pain but also by increasing range of motion. By expanding the areas of the body which often feel tense and tight, yoga allows the body to open up. Therefore, patients struggling with chronic pain might be able to both alleviate pain and experience more alertness and physical fitness which can serve as preventative measures of controlling future pain. 

Take a pose such as child’s pose, where the body rests along the floor with the forehead on the mat and the hips resting on the heels. This pose, considered to be restorative, is accessible for most bodies and can place the mind in a state of relaxation. From the state of relaxation, it’s possible to relax the ligaments and joints between the hips as well as to support the spine like a shelf. For patients with lower back pain, gentle poses like child’s pose (balasana in Sanskrit) can heal tender areas of the body. It is important to remember that yoga is not about being a contortionist or a gymnast––for some it is as simple as breathing in and out of the mouth and taking time to notice how the body is feeling.

Still not convinced that yoga is for you? There may be alternative exercises that you can try out even if you don’t like stretching. A 2015 study which looked at the benefits of alternative pain management practices found that physical activity in general can help. This study looked at the effects of walking and stretching for heart failure patients with chronic pain. Those who implemented alternative pain management strategies such as stretching experienced lower levels of chronic non-cardiac pain. It is therefore useful for doctors to know that yoga can be used as an additive medicine which strengthens, rather than replaces. The term “alternative” medicine therefore may be a misnomer; many patients taking medication should not be advised to stop taking their medicine and start doing yoga. Rather, the mental and physical benefits of physical practice might help the process of recovery and healing. Doctors and patients who consider implementing the practice of yoga should also consider the importance of mindfulness. Pushing the body into difficult and constricting poses may cause pain rather than prevent it and it is important to always listen to what your body is telling you.

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201505/how-does-yoga-relieve-chronic-pain

 Field, T. "Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2016: Knee osteoarthritis pain in the elderly can be reduced by massage therapy, yoga and tai chi: A review." Journal of the  Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, vol. 22, no. 1, 2016, p. 44. Academic OneFile.

Syrjala, K. L., Jensen, M. P., Mendoza, M. E., Yi, J. C., Fisher, H. M., & Keefe, F. J. (2014). Psychological and behavioral approaches to cancer pain management. Journal of clinical oncology, 32(16), 1703-1711.

 McDonald, D. D., Soutar, C., Chan, M. A., & Afriyie, A. (2015). A closer look: alternative pain management practices by heart failure patients with chronic pain. Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care, 44(5), 395-399.

Caitlin Monahan
Invisible Illnesses

Imagine going into school with your mind feeling foggy and being unable to concentrate due to an overwhelming depression floating like a somber cloud above your head. Instead of being able to take a day off for your mental health, you are accused of feigning illness and criticized for not being able to work. Imagine feeling extreme pain due to fibromyalgia and being unable to take the stairs, and having to use the elevator. Instead of being able to comfortably ride the elevator to the second floor, you are forced to shrink underneath the judgmental stares and exasperated sighs that follow you as you exit. These are only some of the situations that people who are afflicted with an invisible illness may face day to day. 

Invisible illnesses are diseases and ailments that live up to their name: they are illnesses that do not have visible symptoms, leaving the people that they inflict with a lifetime of frustration from being misunderstood. The stigma in society, which stems from others not being able to understand what they cannot see or things that they do not have immediate evidence for, are what set invisible illnesses apart from other disabilities. People who suffer from invisible illnesses may be misunderstood, called lazy, accused of making up their illness, or constantly have to prove or explain their ailments. While a person that is seen in a wheelchair, wearing glasses or a hearing aid, or walking on crutches may get proper accommodations for their disabilities, a person facing an invisible illness may not, because there are no physical indicators of their condition. It is reported that millions of Americans may be dealing with invisible illnesses, but we are unable to get an exact number due to people facing social or physiological boundaries that get in the way of them being able to receive proper help. It is important to be compassionate and supportive towards people that may suffer from an invisible illness, just as one would be understanding and accommodating towards someone that has a physically apparent disability.

In order to end the negative connotation or cultural misunderstanding against those facing these illnesses, we have to be willing to put in the effort to understand that sometimes what we pick up from a person’s outward appearance may not define their entire story. If you see a person suffering from an invisible disability, avoid saying things like “You look fine!”, “It’s all in your head,” “You can fix it with a positive attitude!”, “You don’t look sick!”, or “Aren’t you better yet?”.  Instead, use more supportive phrases such as “I hope you are feeling better soon,” “How are you doing today?” , “I’m sorry that you are having to deal with this.”, “Is there anything I can do to make things easier?”, or “I am here for you.” Approaching others with patience, kindness, an open mind, and willingness to spread awareness is the first step to calling those that face invisible illnesses in to the conversation, and helping them get the proper help and accommodations they need and deserve. Here are 10 common invisible illnesses:

  1. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. 

  2. Chronic fatigue or sleep disorders

  3. Migraines, chronic headaches, or head injuries 

  4. ADD or ADHD 

  5. Asthma 

  6. Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, Crohn's disease, etc. 

  7. Arthritis

  8. Diabetes

  9. Fibromyalgia

  10. Thyroid or reproductive syndromes such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, hyperthyroidism, etc. 

References:

https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/invisible/

https://www.npr.org/2015/03/08/391517412/people-with-invisible-disabilities-fight-for-understanding

http://www.mollysfund.org/invisible-illness-but-you-look-so-good/

Megha Nayyar
What Are the Dietary Guidelines?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by different nutrition facts, and are wondering what you should actually be eating? If you remember the food pyramid, you also probably remember that it was stated to be a validated guideline of how to eat. Unfortunately, the food pyramid has become outdated, and inaccurate in determining the healthiest dietary guidelines for an average American. Fortunately, public health and nutritional research has come far since then, constructing concrete, comprehensive guidelines on what to eat.  

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture creates a report containing nutritional and dietary guidelines for the general public. In order to encourage healthy eating among the general populace, there are five overarching emphases : 1) healthy eating patterns across one’s lifespan, 2) a focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount, 3) limit calories from added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, 4) shift to healthier food and beverage choices, and 5) support a healthy eating plan for all. This healthy eating pattern encourages a variety of vegetables from all subgroups: whole fruits, grains, fat-free, low dairy, and protein foods. Unique to other diet plans, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines emphasize a social aspect of eating as well as an economic understanding, as it considers the socioeconomic status of the majority of Americans. It also places caloric limits on unhealthy foods, such as added sugars, to help the diet be achieved. The USDA has a healthy eating index in order to assess how foods align with the guidelines.

Another type of guidelines, the Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid, was created by Harvard Public Health. This diet addresses deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dairy is eliminated and healthy oils, such as olive oil and canola oil, are added. Fruits make up 1/8th and a variety of vegetables make up 3/8th ‘s. An emphasis is placed on diet quality- the type of vegetable rather than the amount. The Healthy Eating Plate also does not define a certain number of calories or servings per food group, which works better for some people. Additionally, an alternative healthy eating index was created with eleven components so that users can have a reference.

The Tufts MyPlate dietary guidelines were built for older adults and varies from the previous guidelines. It involves your diet being half fruits, vegetables, oils, herbs, and spices (to counteract salt intake). Like the USDA and Healthy Eating Plate, Tufts MyPlate has 1/4th grains included. There is a very small amount of dairy (1/16th) and the remainder is protein. If you are an older adult, it is recommended that you follow these guidelines. 

The Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid is unique to all other diets because it acknowledges vegetarian diets. A variety of plant foods is suggested because of the large micronutrient content. Iron is available in spinach, kidney beans, lentils, and whole-wheat bread- the guidelines also suggest foods high in vitamin C to increase iron absorption. Calcium is found in leafy green vegetables, broccoli, almonds, and carrots. A vitamin lacking in this diet is B12, which is only found in animal products. However, the Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid accounts for this by advising B12 supplements. The guidelines place an emphasis on unrefined foods and a healthy range of fat intake. Like all the other guidelines, Loma Linda encourages adequate water and fluids and discourages sugary drinks. The diet also emphasizes physical activity. The benefits of plant-based diets are great, however people struggle in knowing what to eat. This caused the creation of the vegetarian food pyramid. The Loma Linda Vegetarian food pyramid can work for you if you are a vegetarian, or trying to be one!

All four of the diets provided excellent guidelines for American food consumption. The USDA accounted for the general public, and Harvard Public Health’s was quite similar with small changes, such as the elimination of dairy and an emphasis on good oils. Tuft’s MyPlate was also similar to the USDA’s with seemingly less dairy as well. The Loma Linda Vegetarian diet was quite unlike the others because of its lack of dairy and meat as a source of protein. However, with its suggestions for vitamins, the guidelines allowed a high nutrient intake. Whatever guidelines you decide to choose, you will be getting all the nutrients you need to have a healthy, low-risk life!

References:

www.cnpp.usda.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-americans

www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

http://hnrca.tufts.edu/my-plate-for-older-adults/

http://www.vegetariannutrition.org/6icvn/food-pyramid.pdf

Abigail Jawahar
Rabies: Preventable but Persistent

About 60,000 people die from contracting rabies from animals every year but only one in three die from rabies in the United States. One would think with the invention of rabies vaccines, it would be a lot harder to contract rabies. However, there are many communities that are not able to obtain these vaccines, especially in Asia and Africa. Most domesticated pets are required to receive rabies vaccines in developed countries but stray dogs continue to be a problem and a method for spreading the disease. The animals that usually have rabies are wild, and some examples include bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, etc. 

Rabies is a disease that is caused by a virus that is primarily contracted by animals. It spreads to humans by the saliva or a bite of an infected animals. The virus is transmitted through the saliva of the animal into the nerve tissue to the brain and then back to the salivary glands. There are many symptoms of rabies that must be discussed such as having a fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, hydrophobia (fear of water), hallucinations, insomnia, and partial paralysis. Once the virus travels to the brain, an infection can occur that can cause a coma and/or death. 

Rabies is preventable if the vaccine is administered right after a bite from an animal but before the symptoms mentioned above occur. The vaccine can also be administered before as a protective measure. In case one is bit by a rabies-infected animal, there are several steps to take. The first step is to wash the bite area (with soap and water preferably) and to cover the wound with a bandage. The next step is to call the doctor or emergency room to inform them of what happened, and to notify them whether or not you have been vaccinated to see what the next steps will be. The third step is to call animal control center to report the stray dog or obtain the contact information of the animal’s owners. There are several risk factors that increase one’s risk for contracting rabies such as traveling to or living in developing countries, risky activities like exploration of undeveloped areas/nature, working in labs with the virus, and/or wounds to the body. There are also many ways to prevent contracting rabies such as vaccinating domestic pets, keeping domesticated pets within supervision, protecting small pets from potential wild animals, reporting stray animals to animal control, not approaching wild animals, checking for bats in one’s home, and taking a rabies vaccine if one is to travel to a developing country. 

Because rabies as a public health problem has mostly been dealt with, it is not a priority for healthcare systems and the government. But rabies seems to be reappear as an epidemic once in a while due to the inattention it receives by developing countries and the lack of help these countries receive. The World Health Organization (WHO) have conducted many studies of rabies endemic countries. Some preliminary results from the studies conducted in the countries of Cambodia, Kenya, and Vietnam described that children under 15 have a higher risk of exposure to rabies from dog bites. This could be preventable if a system of rules concerning stray dogs and animal control could be put in place. 

Rabies could be eradicated if there were provisions implemented into society like having an adequate process for providing animal vaccinations, education for children about prevention of the disease as well as education for adults about responding to a rabies situation, and providing good health care to those who are inflicted. Deaths by rabies can be prevented very easily but the lack of support to eradicate rabies is what causes rabies to be a disease that will survive many more years. The best possible way to help the eradication of rabies is to donate to the World Rabies Day campaign so that more research can be conducted and more materials can be sent to developing countries. Rabies is a persistent disease but can be an extinct disease. 

References

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/22/science/rabies-dogs-takeaways.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rabies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351821

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/rabies.html


Radhika-Alicia Patel
California Clears Medical School Debt

As of 2019, the average medical school tuition is $34,592 per year for in-state students attending public schools. For out-of-state students and students attending private schools, the average tuition per year may be $50,000 or even more. With the cost of medical school tuition increasing every year, it is no surprise that many graduates are facing the heavy and demanding burden of paying off their loans and debts. Additionally, some may have loans from undergraduate degrees or other financial situations, producing an extremely high price to pay off. For the Class of 2018, medical students graduated with an average debt of $196,520, a significant increase from the Class of 2017, whose average debt was $190,694. 

However, there is some hope for a number of students, stemming from new policies in California. Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, providing assistance for low-income individuals and families since 1965. As of January 2018, about a third of California’s population, 13.3 million people, were enrolled in this program. For physicians committed to serving Medi-Cal patients, California is paying off $58.6 million of their loans through the CalHealthCares Program. This program is open to healthcare providers (physicians or dentists), dental students, medical or dental residents, and fellows. It is funded by a $220 million allocation in California’s state budget allocation and a $120 million funding from Proposition 56, a $2 increase in tobacco taxes that was approved by voters in November 2016. CalHealthCares is run by the California Department of Health Care Services and a nonprofit organization, Physicians for Healthy California. 

In exchange for this generous financial award, recipients are expected to keep a patient caseload of at least 30% Medi-Cal patients for a five-year period. Of course, this means that the physician will have to practice in the state of California. This program has caused a win-win situation for both physicians and patients. Many Medi-Cal patients have been facing difficulties finding physicians to treat and care for them due to their payments not covering the cost of care. The shortage of primary care physicians for these patients will hopefully be relieved through this program. In addition to primary care physicians receiving this award, it has also been granted to a variety of specialists and covers physicians in 39 counties across California. 

The CalHealthCares Program began in 2018 and is expected to help both Californian physicians and patients. From the April 2019 application cycle, 127 physicians and 20 dentists were awarded after careful consideration of their applications and qualifications. The award is distributed depending on many factors, one of which is the verified loan balance at the time of application submission. Individuals that qualify and would appreciate the financial assistance are encouraged to apply, with the next application cycle coming up in January 2020. More information for those interested can be found at https://www.phcdocs.org/Programs/CalHealthCares

References:

https://www.kcra.com/article/california-to-wipe-out-dollar586m-in-student-debt-for-doctors/28305399

https://www.thoughtco.com/how-much-does-medical-school-cost-1686309

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/average-medical-school-debt/

https://www.coveredca.com/medi-cal/

Stephanie Chan
How LASIK Eye Surgery Works

Laser-assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, otherwise known as LASIK, is a form of eye surgery that can be used to treat myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. The goal of this procedure is to allow patients to have improved eyesight, usually no longer requiring glasses or contact lenses to see properly. However, a caveat is that it may not restore everyone to 20/20 vision, requiring some to perhaps still wear glasses, but with just a lower prescription than before. With the procedure taking roughly fifteen minutes in total for both eyes, it is considered to be relatively quick. 

While LASIK sounds tempting, not everyone with poor vision is suitable for it. One factor is age-- those under the age of 20 are suggested to not undergo it yet, as their vision may still be changing, and those over the age of 40 are also suggested to not undergo LASIK, as presbyopia (loss of eyes’ ability to focus) is a natural part of aging. In addition, those with existing eye disorders and conditions, or immune disorders may face complications during the procedure. Lastly, those with above average levels of myopia or hyperopia are suggested to not undergo LASIK as well. Above average levels of myopia are considered to be above -8 diopters, although this will vary depending on each person, such as if there are other pre-existing health conditions. Therefore, the listed above should not be used as strict guidelines for whether one should get LASIK or not, but rather as a general overview to one’s suitability. 

However, if one is determined as suitable for LASIK, there are still pre-procedure activities that have to be undergone. For example, to reduce the risk of developing dry eyes afterwards, there may be a precautionary treatment before. A corneal topographer is used to measure the curvature of the eye and create a ‘map’ of the cornea. Next, one may be subject to wavefront analysis, which sends light waves through the eye to produce a more precise map. In addition, it is recommended that those who wear contact lens should refrain from doing so two weeks before, as it may alter the natural shape of one’s eyes. 

At the start of the procedure, anesthetic drops are inserted into the patient’s eyes, and then a thin flap is made in the cornea, the transparent layer that covers the eye and allows light to enter. The cornea also plays an important role in focusing the images that we are receiving. Since myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism are usually caused by abnormalities in the cornea, it is the proper target for correcting vision. This flap can be made with either a microkeratome or a femtosecond laser, both of which are lasers. The flap is then folded back to allow for more access to the cornea. Next, a portion of corneal tissue is removed using an excimer laser, which has an ultraviolet light beam. By removing corneal tissue, the cornea can be reshaped, correcting one’s vision on a case by case basis. For those with myopia, a flattened cornea is the result, while for those with hyperopia, a steeper cornea is the result. For those with astigmatism, the irregularly shaped cornea is shaped into its standard shape. Following this, the flap that was folded back is put back in place, covering the area where corneal tissue was removed. The cornea is allowed to heal naturally, so bandages and stitches are not required post-procedure. 

Following the procedure, there can be blurry vision and haziness, but vision clarity should be increasing by day. For most, vision improves almost immediately, but in a rare case, it may take several weeks. It is also recommended to avoid partaking in strenuous exercise immediately after, as it may affect the healing process and the eye. Another tip is to avoid rubbing the eyes, as it may affect the flap that was made during the procedure. While there may be side effects, they are commonly only temporary and not permanent. LASIK is an example of the developing technology and science in our modern world. Developed only in the 1970s and modified in the 1980s, it has become a commonly used procedure today. 

References:

https://www.lasikvisioninstitute.com/what-is-lasik/

https://www.allaboutvision.com/visionsurgery/lasik.htm

https://www.google.com/search?q=who+does+not+qualify+for+lasik+surgery&oq=who+does+not+qualify+for+lasik&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0.2307j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Stephanie Chan
What is the PQRST Pain Assessment Method?

Before the physician can properly diagnose or treat you, it is helpful to formulate into words an explanation of what you believe the problem is. This allows the physician to better understand the situation you are in. Unsurprisingly, this also applies to individuals who are dealing with pain. However, there are several instances where patients have a hard time being able to detail what exactly the problem is, especially considering how different pain is for each person. This is where the PQRST Pain Assessment Method comes into play. The PQRST pain assessment method is, as the name implies, a way for patients to be able to describe and assess the amount of pain they are experiencing. PQRST is an acronym, with each letter asking various questions related to the patient’s pain. Each letter will be explained in further detail in the following paragraphs.

The “P” in PQRST stands for “Provocation or Palliation.” This letter is aimed toward finding the origin and cause of the pain. Questions that can be asked are, “What actions were you performing that might have triggered the pain?” or “What actions cause the pain to become worse?” Stretching, sitting down, or bending over can be some activities that cause the pain to worsen. In addition, it can also focus on actions that might actually help relieve the pain. The next letter,  “Q”, stands for “Quality or Quantity.” This letter helps to better describe the pain. A specific question that can be asked is “What are you feeling?” There are various types of pain that can be felt, including but not limited to a burning, throbbing, or stabbing sensation. It is best to try to be as specific as possible. The “R” stands for “Region or Radiation.” This letter tackles the region in which the patient is feeling the pain. Pain can also often radiate, or travel, through various other regions. For example, it is not uncommon to feel a pain on the shoulder that then travels through the arm and fingers. It is also good to specify whether or not the pain originally started in one location but then over time began to go to other parts of the body. 

The second to last letter, “S”, stands for “Severity Scale.” Physicians may ask, on a scale of one to ten, with zero being virtually no pain and ten being the worst, how would the patient rate their pain? It is also helpful to know how much does the pain hinder the patient’s day to day activities. This also helps the physician decide on how quickly treatment must be given, especially if the patient is in horrible pain that halts them from doing even basic actions.  Although pain is subjective, this rating can still provide some insight. Finally, The “T” stands for “Timing.” Some common questions associated with this letter are, “At what time of day does the pain usually begin?”, “How long does the pain last for?” or “Does it affect your sleep schedule?” Sometimes, there is another letter at the end of the acronym, making it “PQRST-U.” The “U” represents the question of, “What do you (the patient) think the issue is?” This can be essential as it is the patient who is the one who knows their pain the best.

Although these questions seem like something that a patient dealing with pain would think about, it is still helpful to have it as a collective form of questions, as it can help the patient be more specific in the pain they are experiencing. The use of the PQRST Pain Assessment Method can help physicians better identify the issue and thus, help potentially find the best treatment for the patient. Even after potential treatment that the physician has prescribed, these questions may still be asked until the pain has gone away or has gone down to manageable levels. 

References:

http://www.crozerkeystone.org/healthcare-professionals/nursing/pqrst-pain-assessment-method/ 

https://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/pqrst-u-assessment-acronym/deck/5342079 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031188/ 

Cherry Lam
Ways To Boost Your Immune System

It is no secret that our immune system is important. It is key for protecting our bodies from infections and diseases. Germs and bacteria, both safe and harmful, lie around every corner. It is our immune system that shields our health whenever we may scrape our knee or accidentally get sick. However, there are certain actions that you can do that can help boost your immune system to better safeguard your body, especially during times when your physical health may not be in the best shape or when your immune system is crippled. 

Eating healthily is one of the most well-known and obvious ways to boost your immune system. Being able to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables provides your body with the sufficient amount of nutrients to better the functioning of your immune system. One study conducted in older adults showed that a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables enhanced the adult’s antibody response to the Pneumovax vaccine, which is able to prevent Streptococcus pneumonia. There are also additional health benefits that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can increase that does not have to do with the immune system. On the topic of diet, drinking less alcohol is also important. Although occasional drinking of alcohol can be tolerated, consuming large amounts can hinder the drinker’s immune system, making the person more likely to develop lung infections.

Stress is another factor that can limit your immune system. In today’s world, it is common to be stressed. Stress increases a hormone called cortisol and having high levels of cortisol for long periods of time suppresses immune function. Although it is easier said than done, being able to better manage your stress can help your immune system be in top shape. Everyone is different and their sources of stress can vary, but the internet can offer a plethora of suggestions to lift the weight off your shoulders, including being able to better manage your sleeping schedule and pursuing a hobby you enjoy. 

There are also lesser known ways to boost your immune system. This includes increasing the amount of time you spend outside. More specifically, being able to take in more sunlight can increase the skin’s production of vitamin D. This does not have to take up a lot of time. On average, a ten to fifteen minute exposure during the summer time is enough. However, there are certain areas, such as above forty two degrees latitude, which include regions like Boston, that have weak sunlight from November to February. A lower amount of vitamin D means a higher likelihood of developing a respiratory infection. In 2010, a study revealed that kids who took in 1200 IU a day of supplemental vitamin D were less likely to obtain influenza A. Another surprising way to improve your immune system is by including garlic in your diet. Garlic is known to be an immune system booster and a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent. However, cooking garlic actually prevents a key active ingredient from doing its job. Therefore, it is advised to simply add it to foods after the cooking is completed.

As always, everyone is different. The suggestions offered in this article are those that can be applied to the average person, but not everyone may be able to implement them. For example, although it may be better for individuals, people may find it too difficult to manage their sleep schedule. It is better to consult your physician for which plan works best for you. The internet also provides more suggestions and information to widen your knowledge on the subject. Although it generally never hurts to try some of the actions listed, it is up to you to figure out whether or not you want to pursue the actions as you know yourself the best.

References:

http://www.painreliefteam.com/the-importance-of-immune-system/

https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/10-amazing-facts-about-your-immune-system/ 

https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/white-seeber-grogan-the-remedy-chicks/ten-simple-natural-ways-to-boost-immune-system/ 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

Cherry Lam
The Gluten Free Diet and Celiac Disease

Nowadays, it is very common to notice labels such as ‘gluten free’ on food products. Gluten refers to the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, and it helps maintain the shape of certain foods. This means that gluten is usually found in bread, pasta, baked goods, cereals and more. While being gluten free is seen as a health-conscious effort endorsed by more and more people, avoiding gluten is not always a choice, especially for those with Celiac Disease. Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disease in which the consumption and ingestion of gluten leads to damage of the lining of the small intestine. This prevents the absorption of nutrients, and can lead to fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, bloating, anemia, and other severe complications. Estimated to affect 1 out of 100 people worldwide, Celiac Disease is a genuine health concern. 

A less severe but still serious condition is gluten intolerance, which causes many of the similar symptoms of Celiac Disease, although to a lesser degree. To determine whether one has gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, a blood test can be performed to look for elevated levels of certain and known antibodies. If it tests positive, a biopsy of the small intestine can determine if it is indeed Celiac Disease. Although Celiac Disease is generally not fatal, it can increase the risk of intestinal lymphoma if it is left undiagnosed or untreated. Whichever condition one affected by gluten has, it is still advised to avoid foods and products containing gluten. 

The two main genes involved in Celiac Disease are HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8, with about 96% of those diagnosed having at least one of these genes. It is also possible that there may be other genes involved that have not been identified yet. HLA-DQ2 is common in those with European heritage, while HLA-DQ8 is common in those with Central or South American heritage. Carrying both copies of these genes, which would occur if both parents are affected, increases the risk one has for developing Celiac Disease. To test if one is genetically affected, a swab test will do the job.

However, genetics are not the only factor in determining whether one is affected by gluten or not, although it does play the strongest role. There are other factors, for instance, exposure to gluten in one’s diet has been found to affect the development of gluten intolerance. In more Western-style diets, gluten is more commonly found, increasing one’s exposure to gluten. This in fact makes it difficult for those affected to avoid the consumption of gluten. There is currently speculation on other lifestyle and environmental factors that could cause one to be affected by gluten, such as when gluten was first introduced into the diet. For some, their symptoms gradually develop as they grow older, while for others, the symptoms are very strong and present from a young age. There is also interest into whether pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding can affect one’s reaction to gluten, as some women have reported symptoms after being pregnant and giving birth. Because the symptoms can develop from any moment in one’s life, this not only makes it difficult to diagnose but also difficult to adjust to. If one is used to consuming products with gluten and then suddenly forced to stop, this can be a drastic change to one’s diet.

Although eating gluten free is now more well-known, it is still important to remember that it is not always a choice. It is interesting to consider how gluten is so commonly found in foods and products in America, yet so many people are affected by it. As for now, there is no cure or medication for Celiac Disease. The best method is staying on a strict diet and taking dietary supplements and vitamins if necessary. With the spread and advancement of technology, there are now many apps that can be downloaded onto one’s smartphone to look for gluten-free restaurants and recipes. 

References:

https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/what-is-gluten/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/signs-you-are-gluten-intolerant

https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-causes-celiac-disease-563182

Stephanie Chan
The Case of Phantom Limb Pain

The cover story of The Atlantic Monthly in 1866 was “The Case of George Dedlow,” a story about one of the many individuals who suffered great loss after the Civil War. In the story, Dedlow loses all four limbs through battle and infection, and he is sent to the Philadelphia South Street Hospital, nicknamed the “Stump Hospital” due to the large number of patients with amputations. The story describes how, after his double thigh amputation, he wakes up with a great cramp in both his legs. Although George Dedlow may not have been real, phantom limb pain is a very real, difficult condition faced by many who have undergone amputation surgeries. Many Civil War soldiers experienced very similar conditions. The publishing of this story was monumental in shining light on the phenomenon of phantom limb pain and in improving medical attention provided for patients suffering from it. 

Phantom limb pain refers to pain that feels as though it is coming from a part of the body that is no longer there. This pain is fairly common among patients who have unfortunately lost a limb, especially in the legs and arms, with some experiencing it in other regions of the body, such as the breast, eye, and tongue. In fact, most patients who undergo amputations will feel some sort of connection with their missing body part during the first 6 months of recovery. Meanwhile, phantom limb sensation is the sensation some individuals with amputations experience when they have lost a limb feel as though it is still there. Sensations may vary, from feelings of coldness and warmness to itchiness and tangling. Rarely, there are also cases of individuals born without limbs who experience phantom pain as well. An important distinction to make is that phantom limb sensations are different from phantom pain, as phantom pain is, by definition, a pain from a body part that no longer exists. 

Phantom pain is reported by many patients as shooting, squeezing, throbbing, or burning. Sometimes, people feel as though their phantom region is being placed in an uncomfortable position, which they are unable to resolve. Phantom pain has its onset in the first few days after operation, can come and go or be continuous, and is often linked to emotional stress. The exact cause of phantom pain is not well defined. MRI and PET scanning reveal certain portions of the brain associated with the nerves of the amputated limb are active as an individual suffers phantom pain, indicating that there is a neural basis to this condition. In the 1990s, there was a vast advancement made in the science of phantom pain, as neuroscientists realized that phantom pain gave great insight into how the motor system works, especially in the field of neural plasticity. 

Sam Kean explains this very elegantly in his book, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons. The brain has somatotopic maps of the regions of the body, and regions of the body that do not require complex motions, for example the legs, cover relatively small cortical area on the brain in comparison to the area of the region on the physical body. When, for example, a hand is amputated, a large part of the somatotopic map in the brain goes dark. However, because of neural plasticity, this spot gets taken over by other neural areas to fully utilize cortical area. Usually, in the case of an amputated hand, the region of the map formerly corresponding to the hand gets taken over by neurons responsible for mapping the face. However, this remapping could cause problems as the new face neural circuits and the old hand neural circuits overlap and intermingle, firing at the same time. This could result in the phenomenon of phantom pain. Touching the face may cause sensation in missing hands for patients who suffer from a hand amputation. Any sensation on the face would cause firing in both the face and hand circuits, bringing up phantom sensations of the hand that no longer exists. 

Treatment for phantom pain is very difficult, and no medications specifically for phantom pain exists, though some medication intended for nerve pain prove effective in ameliorating pain. Common medications for treatment include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, narcotics, and NMDA. There are also several noninvasive therapy approaches for phantom pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and the mirror box are the most common noninvasive treatments. TENS involves sending a weak electrical current to the area of pain through patches, potentially preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. The mirror box is a less scientific, but nonetheless effective approach. It involves a box with a mirror dividing its interior in two. The box has two openings: one for the intact limb and the other for the stump. The patient would practice performing symmetrical exercises, and from the mirror it would look as though both of his or her arms are intact and moving in sync. There is something about actually perceiving the lost limb in motion that seems to relinquish the phantom from patients’ minds, perhaps due to the brainpower we dedicate to vision compared to our other sensations. 

Phantom pain has given neuroscience great insight into the circuitry of the brain’s motor system and into the intricacies of neural plasticity. This knowledge in turn allows for doctors to provide better treatment for individuals who suffer from phantom pain. As more years pass, we may understand the condition even better.


References:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/phantom-limb-pain#1

https://www.history.com/news/the-civil-war-doctor-who-proved-phantom-limb-pain-was-real

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/phantom-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20376272

Mary Yoshikawa
Arthritis: Is There a Cure?

Arthritis is a very common condition that almost everyone has heard of. Those of us who are familiar with the condition would classify it as a disorder that causes stiff and painful movements, which often hinders the performance of daily tasks. Still, despite arthritis being a common term that almost everyone can at least cursorily identify, it is easily misunderstood. Firstly, there are more than a hundred variations of the disorder. The term on its own is, to put it simply, a casual way to categorize joint pain or joint disease. In addition, while the disorder mostly affects the elderly, it is also found in people of all ages and sexes, which helps explain how it is one of the leading causes of disability. Everyone’s experience with arthritis is different, with symptoms varying from mild to severe and progression varying from slow to fast. Common symptoms that may disappear and reappear, according to the Arthritis Foundation, are swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with arthritis, the journey may be tough. This article is targeted to help explain the few treatments and a possible cure for the disorder. 

As previously mentioned, there are many types of arthritis. Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no cure for most of them. Rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, MD, elaborates on the situation, explaining that, “… when someone speaks about a 'cure' for arthritis, you must take into account the type of arthritis. For example, there are several types of arthritis caused by infection, including Lyme disease and bacterial arthritis. Both can be cured by antibiotics. An arthritis due to a virus, such as parvovirus, is a self-limited condition (i.e., runs its course without treatment)... while symptoms may never return, this is not a true cure because if the patient goes off their diet or stops taking medication, the arthritis can indeed return" (https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-there-an-arthritis-cure-189277). So, knowing this, what can be done? The CDC also states that “early diagnosis and appropriate management” are two important steps in potentially helping to reduce symptoms and joint damage. This is especially true for the inflammatory types of arthritis. One example is by implementing the use of disease-modifying drugs, typically biological drugs, early on with variations of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily, there are currently many types of treatments which range from medications to physical therapy that can help reduce pain and also increase the patient’s quality of life.   

Research on arthritis continues and new treatments are being discovered constantly. For example, currently there is a new treatment that has been approved in South Korea which inserts genes into the affected joints. The website thesun.co.uk claims that it could help millions of people and that the treatment should come to the United States. The two types of arthritis that this treatment has been targeting are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and according to the website, those who have tried it have been displaying “dramatic clinical improvement.” Another upside is that those who undergo the gene treatment can possibly avoid having to use drugs, which is important for individuals who cannot use certain types of medication. As the years continue, many more treatments continue to be discovered and hopefully, several new cures for other types of arthritis also appear.

In the end, everyone’s experience with the various kinds of arthritis is different. The best type of treatment depends on the patient as well as a knowledgeable physician. If you suspect that you may be developing arthritis, consulting your doctor may be a critical step in preparing to deal with the disorder, as early diagnosis is crucial. As for the question of “Is there a cure for arthritis?”, the answer is that there is a cure for some types, but not for most. Not yet, at least. However, there are many types of treatments available that are able to cover a wide range of patients. 

References:

https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis.php 

https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-there-an-arthritis-cure-189277

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/ 

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5411519/new-arthritis-jab-goes-directly-to-affected-area-could-help-millions/

Cherry Lam
The Basics on Organ Transplants

Do you remember the first time you filled out your forms at the DMV for a license and there was always that small question at the end asking, “Would you like to be an organ donor?” It seems like an easy question to answer with not much thinking involved but by answering that question, a life could be saved. Organ donation is one of the most underrated topics of discussion when learning science growing up due to the nuances of receiving a transplant and the idea that it is quite rare to know somebody who required an organ transplant.

When compared to the actual surgery itself, the organ donation process is fairly uncomplicated because the need to save lives is of great importance. Anyone over the age of 18 can register to be an organ, eye or tissue donor and you can change your status at any time. Anyone under the age 18 will need a guardian to make the decision in case an occasion arises. With this said, no one is too old or too young to donate. Even with certain health conditions, donation is possible and can be deemed viable. Living donations can occur for a few organs such as the kidney, part of a lung, pancreas, or intestines. But the major organs that are usually donated after death are the heart, kidney, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, hands, face, cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, connective tissue, bone marrow, stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells. 

Meanwhile, the organ transplantation surgery is a very serious and complicated surgery. It only occurs if a vital organ has failed, and it is used as a treatment option. Transplants are an operation that provide a functioning organ to someone who has an organ that has been failing or is not viable. Donations can be from live voluntary donors who can donate part of their functioning organs or from a recently deceased donor. There are many factors that help match a donor to an organ receiver. Some factors are blood and tissue type, the medical necessity, time on the transplant list and geographical location. There are currently many waiting lists for transplants, almost 113,000 individuals. In addition, every 10 minutes, another person is added.

Specifically, the matching process works by following 5 steps. The first step being that the actual organ is donated. The OPO (Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network) sends the information (size, condition, and genetic information) of the donor to the UNOS serving hospitals. The second step is that the UNOS generates a list of recipients from the transplant list that are medical and biologically fit for the donation. The third step is that the transplant center is notified of the available organ. The fourth step is that the transplant team in the center verifies one more time that the organ is a good match for the patient considered. The fifth step is that the organ is accepted or declined so that the surgery can occur or the organ is passed to another patient in need. 

In order to be considered for the physical transplant list as a candidate, one must be evaluated and be up to the standards of a transplant team. There are many different programs to get evaluated by transplants teams. Once you are deemed a good candidate, you are put on a national waiting list for the organ needed. It may take days to years to get matched for an organ, but never give up hope. Although, organ transplantation is a complex process, that doesn’t change the fact that it is critically important. It really is a fascinating process that needs light to be shed on. 

References: 

https://www.organdonor.gov/about/donors.html

https://www.organdonor.gov/about/facts-terms/donation-faqs.html

https://unos.org/transplant/frequently-asked-questions/

https://transplantliving.org/before-the-transplant/about-organ-allocation/getting-on-the-list/

Radhika-Alicia Patel
Dairy and How it Impacts Your Body

“If you want to grow up big and strong, you better drink your milk.” This phrase is a common classic from many childhoods across America. Dairy products were a staple substance and belonged in a food group that our parents greatly pushed onto us. It was such an essential staple to so many families that some believed that it was one of the healthiest products to have. This was also perpetuated by developing dairy factories and producers that wanted to sell more of their products as well as scientists at the time praising dairy for having various nutrients needed to sustain a healthy life. Times have since rapidly changed and now more developments about dairy and the complex reaction that it has when humans consume it are starting to appear. 

For years, dairy was seen as an essential substance to anyone’s diet if they wanted to be considered healthy. The outdated food pyramid that so many people were shown when they were younger seems to have shown that having dairy was almost as important as fruits and vegetables. In the 90s and early 2000s, the American government pushed the idea of needing dairy and the importance of milk, and this was most notably seen through the campaign featured slogans like the infamous ‘Got Milk?” posters that were ingrained into families’ minds at the time. 

Recent studies have now shown that a large portion of people are lactose intolerant to some degree, with some estimating that as high as 1 in 4 people are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance means that someone doesn’t create the proper enzymes needed to consume products that have lactose in them, which includes products like dairy. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, inflammation, stomach cramps, constipation, and other digestive issues. Scientists have now started to publish important findings that say dairy causes some forms of inflammation in most people, and this inflammation can lead to varying degrees of discomfort and pain. Although various studies have concluded many different findings, other studies have come to the previous conclusion that dairy causes inflammation. These developments pushed health agencies in America to change the amount of dairy that was said to be needed by people. The food pyramid was thus deemed outdated and now we have The Healthy Eating Plate, where dairy is much less essential in this diagram. 

More and more scientists have started to push the idea that dairy is completely unnecessary in an adult human. Although dairy has calcium and protein which is needed to have a healthy life, too much dairy can lead to a host of ailments later on in life. Dairy may have these essential components needed but many healthier alternatives can also have them. A dairy rich diet has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, digestive issues, and many more ailments that can have negative impacts on the human body. These health and medical developments also come at a time when animal and environmental rights are on the rise. As dairy is slowly pushed away from its once ‘healthy standard’, animal and environmental activist begin to point out the unhealthiness that comes with dairy as a main talking point when bringing up the negative impacts that dairy and dairy farming has on the environment as a whole as well as the atrocities that come with factory farming which is the main method of dairy farming in America and around the world. 

For decades scientists have looked back on previous data only to come to new developments and realize that something we once thought was healthy and acceptable for people has now been found to have negative and chronic impacts on people and their lives. This scary development allows for introspection on the way we conduct research, how we listen to experts and their findings, and how we develop laws and actions regarding these findings. As people become more and more knowledgeable and technologies continue to advance, we will hopefully be able to further create a world that is the safest for the people living on it.

References:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-pyramid/

https://www.vox.com/2016/5/2/11565698/big-government-helps-big-dairy-sell-milk
https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/healthy-eating/dairy-and-inflammation.php

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dairy-health-food-or-health-risk-2019012515849

https://www.farmsanctuary.org/learn/factory-farming/dairy/

Carlos Martinez-Mejia
The Science Behind Sleep Paralysis

Imagine waking up to a pressure on your chest, and seeing something or someone sitting on you. You desperately try to get up, but you are unable to move. You try wiggling your fingers, but to no avail. You start panicking, and you find it difficult to breathe. You try calling for someone, but no voice comes out. This is what it is like to experience sleep paralysis, and for some, this happens quite often.

According to a paper published by Esther Olunu et al, sleep paralysis (SP) is “a state associated with the inability to move that occurs when an individual is about sleeping or just waking.” It is believed that around 7.6% of the general population experiences an episode of SP at least once in their lifetime, according to a 2011 study (Sharpless, Barber), with higher rates among students and psychiatric patients, especially those with PTSD or panic disorder. 

Hundreds of years ago, SP was thought to be a visit by a paranormal, evil entity attempting to squeeze the life out of its victim, possibly because people who experience SP often claim they feel paralyzed, unable to speak, and overwhelmed by fear. Often times people describe seeing someone lying in bed with them but not being able to see them. A study published in the Sleep Medicine journal reports that 58% of 185 patients diagnosed with SP sensed some kind of presence in their room, usually a non-human entity. According to the American Sleep Association, sleep paralysis can cause people to feel a pressure on their chest, as if someone is sitting on their lungs, or to feel as if their body is moving against their intention. Although some people describe their experience as pleasant, describing a sensation of weightlessness, most patients with SP have a negative experience.  

Now, there is a scientific rationale for sleep paralysis. There are two types of sleep: (rapid eye movement) REM sleep and (non-rapid eye movement) NREM sleep. During REM sleep, our eyes move rapidly, even though our eyelids stay shut. We dream mostly during REM sleep, and because dreams often are an emotional experience for us, the brain makes us temporarily paralyzed. This paralysis, called postural atonia, is a result of suppression of skeletal muscle tone by two major regions in the brain: the pons and the ventromedial medulla. During SP, people wake up mentally while still in that REM paralysis state, which is why people with the condition describe symptoms of not being able to move or speak upon waking. The hallucinations involved with SP are due to activation of the amygdala during REM dreams. The amygdala is known to be related to decision making and reactions, particularly fear response, which is why many people may see an intruder or nonhuman entity during their episodes. 

There are several known risk factors for sleep paralysis. These include sleep deprivation or insomnia, irregular sleeping patterns, narcolepsy, a family history of sleep paralysis, and sleeping on your back. Other risk factors include substance abuse, a history of trauma, and poor physical health. Frequency and severity of episodes are linked to anxiety-like symptoms, as well as lack of sleep. 

There is no set treatment for sleep paralysis, though some patients with extremely debilitating symptoms may receive antidepressants. Sleep paralysis can be largely improved by getting regular exercise, avoiding big meals and avoiding alcohol consumption before bed, having a regular sleep cycle, and getting enough hours of sleep. So, for those of you with SP, hopefully you will be able to sleep a little better, knowing that there is no real night terror out to get you. 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082011/#ref5

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156892/

https://www.livescience.com/50876-sleep-paralysis.html

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sleep-paralysis/

https://www.mayo.edu/research/departments-divisions/department-neurology/programs/sleep-disorder-program

https://www.livescience.com/50876-sleep-paralysis.html

Mary Yoshikawa
GMOs in Food and Agriculture: Risks, Concerns, and Advantages

There were many mixed attitudes towards President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that facilitates the approval of genetically modified crops and other agricultural bio-technologies in the farming industry. However, the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is nothing new in that realm of science. Genetic engineering has actually been used for decades across multifarious fields and many of its applications meet no resistance today. Genetically modified (GM) insulin, for example, is currently a widely accepted medical application that uses GMOs to treat diabetic patients. Despite being prevalent in modern medicine, GMOs are still criticized when contextualized in the food and agriculture industry.

When we think of GMOs, we tend to involve it with recombinant DNA technology and other modern techniques. However, the essence behind genetic engineering is simply the modification of an organism’s traits through the manipulation of its genetic material to suit our needs. That said, technically speaking, we have actually been “genetically engineering” organisms for centuries. When our ancestors were cultivating crops for harvest, only crops with the best traits (large, tasty, low maintenance, etc.) were bred so that the next generation would have an increased likelihood of expressing those desirable traits. The same practice was done in breeding and domesticating animals. The traits that our ancestors found desirable represent the expression of regions of DNA (genes). With every new generation, these genes became more pronounced. Eventually, after thousands of years of this selective breeding, these plants became tremendously different compared to its pre-domesticated ancestors. One of the issues with selective breeding is that a level of probability and statistics is involved in order to acquire the desired results. Modern genetic engineering eliminates this aspect by allowing us to choose the traits (genes) we want to be expressed without having to wait thousands of years of selective breeding to receive the exact same result.

Although GMOs, which are primarily designed to make crops larger and more resilient to pests, may at first seem unproblematic, there are multiple objections to their use. A common objection to the practice of GMOs in the agricultural industry is gene flow. Gene flow is when GM crops mix with traditional crops to introduce undesirable traits in the crops. One of the popular solutions to this issue, which is actually a large anti-GMO argument on its own, is the use of terminator seeds. Terminator seeds produce sterile seeds which would require farmers to purchase new seeds every year. Being that there was strong opposition by the public and farmers, the proposal was quickly discarded.

Since terminator seeds are not a viable option to be implemented, the issue of unintentional spreading of engineered DNA still remains. GMOs have been seen growing in areas where they weren’t planted and traces of modified genes were even found in foreign crops. Since GM plants aren’t able to spread amok on their own, that means, like any other crop, they would need to be pollinated by crops related to them. Although buffer zones are used to minimize any cross-contamination between GM crops and traditional crops, the ability of them to cross suggests that there isn’t a radical difference between them. Before being sent to stores to be purchased by consumers, there are a variety of agencies that examine the produce and check to ensure that it’s safe. After examining the quantitative data, the vast majority of scientists conclude that the risks involved in consuming a GM produce as opposed to traditional produce are exactly the same.

GMOs can actually serve as a solution to make agriculture more sustainable, treat malnutrition, and combat climate change. As an example, GMOs were able to improve the overall health of those residing in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, eggplants (a staple crop of the region) had a colossal pest problem that prompted farmers to use an exceeding amount of pesticides. Not only was this expensive, but it also made farmers sick. As a result, in 2013, a GM eggplant (specifically a BT crop) was introduced causing pesticide use to decrease by 80%. Ergo, farmers, who were now healthier and saving money from pesticide costs, were able to grow more crops and ultimately feed more people in the country. This is only one of many examples where GMOs can be advantageous for a region. 

GMOs can also improve our diets and prevent disease such as the purple tomato and golden rice that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins respectively. GMOs can also make plants resilient to climate change and even help combat it. There are even crops that can collect nitrogen from the air much like microbes. Being that nitrogen is a strong fertilizer that can pollute ground water and contribute to climate change, it would be more efficient and better for the environment if plants could absorb their own nitrogen. If GMOs were used to give all crops this ability, it would alleviate some of the issues of wealthier countries with excessive fertilizers in their soil and poorer countries with scant amounts of fertilizers in their soil.         

There are 11 million pounds of food eaten every day and the United Nations estimate that it will increase by 70% by 2050. With many of the unsustainable agriculture techniques practiced currently, this would mean clearing even more forests and accelerating climate change more so than ever before. However, if we concentrate on intensifying farming instead of expanding it, we wouldn’t have to. GMOs have the potential to cater the needs of our burgeoning population in a sustainable way. Given the auspicious uses of GMOs already, the future of farming and the environment are almost promising.

 

References

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/from-corgis-to-corn-a-brief-look-at-the-long-history-of-gmo-technology/

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/good-as-gold-can-golden-rice-and-other-biofortified-crops-prevent-malnutrition/

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/insecticidal-plants/

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/will-gmos-hurt-my-body/

http://www.ecomodernism.org/manifesto-english/

https://theconversation.com/new-genetically-engineered-american-chestnut-will-help-restore-the-decimated-iconic-tree-52191

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-11/trump-plans-to-sign-order-to-ease-approval-of-new-gmo-crops

https://www.ensa.ac.uk/

https://www.nap.edu/read/23395/chapter/1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791249/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17172756

https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/well/eat/are-gmo-foods-safe.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/gm-purple-tomatoes-look-ride-purple-food-craze-180949534/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TmcXYp8xu4

Kieran Bissessar
Superfoods and Brain Health

We are all quite familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat”, a statement that has been proven relevant in healthcare. This statement is obvious in regards with the correlation between eating healthy and being fit. However, this statement can also apply to the brain. The brain is the powerhouse of our thoughts and behavior, and it also regulates our body’s physiological functions. With the previous phrase in mind, it is nice to know that we all may have the ability to unleash our full potential by consuming foods that enhance our brain function.

Over the years, research has shown that healthy dietary patterns such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and the Mediterranean diet, have reduced the incidence of chronic diseases and have had numerous health benefits. These diets include a list of healthy options, in which a few have been singled out as “superfoods”: power-packed, nutrient dense foods which provide a reliable source of vitamins and minerals that improve brain health and even aid in dementia prevention in the long-term. There are 5 superfoods that this article will discuss. 

Leafy green vegetables are one of the most important superfoods that nourish the brain. In a study conducted on memory and aging amongst the older adult community in the United States, the consumption of spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce, had the strongest association with delayed cognitive decline due to the neuroprotective nutrients in the plants. One cup raw or half a cup cooked leafy vegetables a day can be consumed in wraps, smoothies, sauces, eggs, or sautes. Meanwhile, berries have flavonoid compounds, which give them powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A study that assessed cognitive ability in women showed that long-term intake of berries and flavonoides are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in women. According to this study, women aged 70 years or older who ate one or two half-cup servings of blueberries and strawberries per week were able to maintain brain function at a level two-and-a-half years younger than women who hardly ate any berries. You can incorporate berries into your diet by including them in your salads, blending them into fruit smoothies, or mashing them into a jelly for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

The next important superfood is fish. One meal per week of seafood is enough to protect against cognitive decline in semantic memory, which includes the ability to recall names of colors, sounds of letters, capitals of countries, and other basic facts learned throughout a lifetime. Fish are packed with omega-3s, which contain compounds that reduce plaque in the brain. A research study in 2016 conducted on more than 900 men and women in their 70s and 80s found that those who ate more fish have fewer declines in memory than those who rarely ate seafood. Tuna sandwiches, salmon, and fish tacos are delicious ways to incorporate seafood into your diet. 

Nuts and seeds can reduce inflammation, decrease insulin resistance, and regulate levels of fat in the blood, which can contribute to improved brain health. According to a research study done by Harvard University, women 70 years or older who regularly consumed nuts scored higher on cognitive tests than women who did not. Nuts can also help prevent complications and deaths associated with cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. Nuts can easily be added to oatmeals or salads, or can be eaten as snacks. Cocoa is another superfood that has a high source of flavonoid antioxidants and can accumulate in areas of the brain that are involved with learning and memory. Cocoa powder can be sprinkled on yogurt, smoothies, or can be eaten as dark chocolate for dessert (in moderation).

It is best to consume these superfoods, rather than taking supplements, which do not provide the same amount or diversity of nutrients. In fact, these supplements are not very often regulated for effectiveness by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before being granted permission to be sold, and have showed little to no association with improving cognitive function or health. In the end, it is important to consciously include these superfoods in our diet to help preserve brain function. As people age, the brain is exposed to more stress which may damage brain cells. Consuming superfoods can act as a protective barrier and shield our brain cells from much of the damage that can come with aging.  

 

References:

https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2019/top-foods-for-your-brain.html?intcmp=AE-HEA-BRH-BB-ART

https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2019/report-brain-supplements-ineffective.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5772164/

https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/leafy-greens-linked-slower-age-related-cognitive-decline

https://www.brainandlife.org/articles/leafy-greens-are-good-for-the-brain/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ana.23594

https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2019/top-foods-for-your-brain.html?intcmp=AE-HEA-BRH-BB-ART

https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/why-nutritionists-are-crazy-about-nuts

https://www.alzheimers.net/resources/alzheimers-statistics/

Shivani Mahabir
How Much Coffee is Too Much Coffee?

Most people talk about the stimulating effects of coffee, which is primarily thanks to the presence of caffeine. Caffeine affects the body through the stimulation of the central nervous system (increasing alertness of the individual), through the stimulation of the heart muscle, and through the improvement of cognitive functionality. There have been studies that have shown that in experimental models of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, caffeine would have a neuroprotective effect, while other in vitro studies have demonstrated caffeine's antioxidant activity - which would make it a potential protector against the deleterious effects caused on the cardiovascular system. However, with all things, there must be a limit to how much coffee one can drink. With the increasingly busy lifestyle of the everyday American, this begs the question, “How much coffee is too much coffee?”

While keeping in mind that caffeine is not only present in coffee, but also in other commonly consumed foods (such as tea and chocolate), it is worth noting that the excess of this chemical can pose a health risk.  In contrast to some of the benefits mentioned before, some studies also suggest that regular coffee consumption may be related to the risk of hypertension, but the mechanism is not well established. It is believed that caffeine in the cardiovascular system produces an acute increase in cardiac output and vasoconstriction of the arteries - which could lead to elevated blood pressure. In addition, caffeine would act on the receptors of the hormone adenosine, exerting inhibitory action on this hormone. Through inhibiting it, this acts as a blood pressure reducer. One of the main symptoms of excess caffeine are insomnia and mental agitation. Excess of caffeine can lead to increased diuresis (increased urine volume), nausea, headaches, stomach pains and decreased bone density. According to a www.medicalnewstoday.com article by Jasmin Collier, it was written that for individuals who consumed six or more cups of coffee per day on a constant basis, with a cup being approximately 75 milligrams of caffeine, their likelihood of obtaining a cardiovascular disease increased. In a  www.health.com article by Samantha Lauriello, she mentions that a 2017 review posted in Food and Chemical Toxicology discovered that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, or about four 8-ounce cups of coffee, is typically okay for an adult. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that everyone is different, and therefore, everyone’s limit is also varied.   

Research shows that moderate consumption of coffee by adults can be beneficial and has been associated with the prevention of chronic noncommunicable diseases. Several studies have shown positive effects of caffeine on reducing glucose tolerance and increasing insulin sensitivity due to increased expression of GLUT-4 (cell glucose uptake). The benefits that caffeine can offer with regard to the beauty of women are many, such as, for example, stimulation of cellular regeneration, blood circulation, rejuvenation and revitalization of the skin. It is worth noting, however, that the ideal way to take advantage of the benefits that caffeine can offer to beauty is to use products prescribed by a dermatologist. 

Now you know that although some studies point to the benefits of coffee (especially due to the presence of caffeine), its consumption should be moderate. Coffee has become an American stable, with coffee shops located around nearly every corner. Individuals who drink coffee seem to be becoming younger in age. Therefore, exercising caution and awareness on how much coffee is too much is important.

References:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271707.php

https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=e3fb9e25-fc1e-4390-a6a7-6114dd83ea55

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-buzz-about-caffeine-and-health 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325200.php

Nathalia Schettino
Tension Headaches

Headaches are so common, it is hard to encounter anyone who has never experienced one. Almost everyone knows that throbbing, aching, intense feeling. Headaches can have many different causes, and it can be a symptom for other, more serious ailments. Yet, there is one cause of headaches that is quite common: stress. If you are a student or if you have a mainly sedentary job, you may be subject to tension headaches, also known as stress headaches. Tension headaches are described to be mild to moderate pain that occurs around the head, scalp, and neck. They are the most common headaches for adults, especially women. In fact. 80% of the U.S. adult population has suffered from tension headaches, and women are twice as likely to report it.

The main cause of tension headaches is tenseness of the neck and scalp muscles. Muscle contractions in these regions can be a result of stress, anxiety, depression, and head injury, among other things. Additionally, activities that require your head to be fixed for long durations of time can also be causes for tension headaches. That includes activities such as typing on a computer, working at a desk, or using fine instruments like microscopes. Sleeping with your neck in an awkward position or in a cold room can also be causes for tension headaches. Other triggers include colds like the flu, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, overexertion, eye strain, and dental problems. The pain usually lasts around 30 minutes, but can last up to 7 days. Although tension headaches does not nausea or vision problems like migraines do, they can cause lack of focus, irritability, and a sense of fatigue.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for tension headaches. However, small adjustments in your lifestyle can go a long way in improving tension headaches. One way to do this is to improve your work environment. Sitting is so common in our everyday lives, and in fact, 86% of Americans work sedentary jobs. Yet, it is known that sitting is not very good for the body. One way to ameliorate this is to set up an alarm every hour to remind you to get up and stretch. Using a lumbar booster on your chair would also help prevent headaches.

Working in a building all day can also cause what the EPA calls “sick building syndrome.” The air inside buildings can be dirtier than you think, and you may be exposed to a variety of unhealthy gases and chemicals, such as bacteria, mold, and air conditioning pollutants, especially in old buildings that have not been taken well care of. Photocopies and even laser printers can also be possible triggers for tension headaches. If filters are not replaced in a timely manner, ozone can leak, which is very dangerous and can be a cause of chest pain and irritation. They are also associated with a strong odor, which are additional causes for tension headaches. A healthy tip is to get fresh air, perhaps opening a window or taking a walk once in a while.

Working over ten hours a day or working overnight can also trigger tension headaches, as well as a variety of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack. Additionally, people waking up later in the day (the typical night-owls) would experience an increase in cortisol, a hormone related to stress. Stress is the first thing to avoid if you are a constant sufferer of headaches. It is thus important to not overwork, and to ask for a daytime shift as much as possible. Staring at a computer screen can also be a trigger for headaches, if done for excessive durations. Eye strain and over-illumination of computer screens can be a large factor for tension headaches. It can also alter your internal clock, causing fatigue, high blood pressure, and increased risk of carcinomas.

Another important tip is to improve your diet. Eating breakfast is important -- not only does it alleviate blood pressure and heart problems, but it also can prevent headaches. Breakfasts don’t have to be full five-course meals. They can be oatmeal, cereal, or smoothies. Fast foods and takeout may also be factors for tension headaches. Unhealthy foods like these often have high amounts of calories, nitrates, and tyramine, and studies show a high correlation between packing some extra weight and headaches.

Tension headaches affect many people, particularly adults with sedentary jobs. This makes sense, as our everyday lives have dramatically changed, as more and more people sit more and have other negative lifestyle changes. Though there is no easy fix, some behavioral adjustments can be made to ameliorate your condition. Still, changing your lifestyle is no easy task, but if there is enough motivation, major change can be accomplished, one step at a time.

References:

https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/tension-headaches#3

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000797.htm

https://migraineagain.com/tension-headache-causes-work/

Mary Yoshikawa
The Effects of Barometric Pressure on Joints

Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is the force exerted by the atmosphere at a given point on Earth. Barometric pressure constantly changes and varies around the world, especially at higher elevation levels when the pressure is lower than at sea level. As the weather changes, so does barometric pressure-- this allows for the prediction of weather, and in particular, of impending storms. However, barometric pressure is not just related to predicting the weather, but in fact, also to one’s body. Many people with chronic pain can often feel pain before a weather change, such as a storm or heavy rainfall, which allows them to predict upcoming weather. Conversely, if their pain seems to decrease, they may predict that the weather will soon be favorable and improve. Although this seems rather unrealistic and hard to believe, they may be correct, as there may be scientific basis behind it! 

As barometric pressure drops right before the weather changes, this lower air pressure now pushes less against one’s body. This allows tissues to expand, which then places pressure on joints and causes pain to be perceived. This is particularly relevant for those with arthritis, a term broadly used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints, including joint inflammation. Another weather related factor is low temperature, which may occur at the same time as a drop in a barometric pressure. Lower temperatures increase the thickness of the fluid in our joints, making them more stiff and therefore increasing one’s pain sensitivity during movement.

However, this should all be taken with a grain of salt-- pain sensitivity and reports of pain are both subjective matters and have to do with one’s perception. In addition to the subjectivity that naturally occurs with pain, there are more reasons why barometric pressure is not the sole cause of joint pain. Although lower temperatures increase the thickness of joint fluids, it can be argued that many tend to stay cooped up at home or not move around as much when temperatures drop. Since physical activity is an important way to relieve pain from arthritis, lack of activity due to temperatures may lead to increased pain. 

Another argument that can be made has to do with one’s psychological state. If a warm, sunny day psychologically makes one feel better, there is a high chance that a warm, sunny day will also physically make one feel better, and perceive less pain than there actually is. This can be seen in the results of two studies regarding arthritis and the weather in 2015. One, published in Journal of Rheumatology, had a sample size of eight hundred and ten participants, all of which had osteoarthritis. There was a significant correlation found between temperature, humidity, and joint pain, as a colder and more humid day, such as a wet and cold winter day, intensified one’s pain. Correspondingly, the second study, published in Rheumatology International, looked at a hundred thirty three participants with rheumatoid arthritis. On a sunny and dry day, participants reported less pain in their joints, also a significant correlation between temperature, humidity, and joint pain. 

While the connections between weather and pain cannot be ignored, the mind-body connections we have regarding the weather cannot be ignored either. Although there is some scientific proof behind drops in barometric pressure affecting tissue expansion and joint sensitivity, there are also many other factors that play a role in pain levels on a day to day basis aside from just the weather. Still, it is quite amazing that there may be a correlation between weather and the levels of pain that some feel. 

References:

https://directorthocare.com/does-temperature-and-barometric-pressure-affect-joints/

http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/weather-arthritis-pain/

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/weather_and_pain#2

Stephanie Chan