A Life Without Pain: A Look Into Congenial Insensitivity to Pain

For most people, pain is a large part of their lives. While many people try to avoid it at all costs, its experience is almost inevitable. In many ways, pain controls the way we live, driving us to be more cautious and take better care of our bodies. Yet, to some individuals, the sensation of pain is a completely alien concept, one which they have never experienced and likely will never experience. These people are afflicted with a genetic disorder, known as congenial insensitivity to pain. Said disorder prevents the individual from experiencing any physical pain, even when experiencing severe injuries. While a life without pain may sound like a blessing, those who actually experience it tell a different story.

Typically, humans will experience two distinct types of pain: nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Nociceptive pain occurs due to the activation of “nerve fibers” located throughout the body. This type of pain is typically brought about through injury of a body part, and normally goes away if the injury is healed. There are two types of nerve fibers which control nociceptive pain: “fast” nerve fibers which deliver a sudden, sharp pain, and “slow” nerve fibers which deliver a gradual, burning pain. The “fast” fibers serve mainly to alert the body to the presence of pain, while the “slow” fibers serve to determine the intensity of the pain. Neuropathic pain, on the other hand, stems from alterations made to the nervous system which induce a sense of pain. This frequently results in chronic sensations of pain which are generated/sustained by the nervous system itself, rather than any outside stimuli triggering the nervous system.

So, what is congenial insensitivity to pain and how is it caused? Congenial insensitivity to pain is primarily caused by a mutation in the SCN9A gene. This gene is responsible for the production of a substance used in nociceptors to transmit pain to the brain. Without this substance, the nociceptors are unable to function properly, and thus, unable to generate the sensation of pain. This mutation can be inherited, although the trait is recessive. Regardless, the end result of this mutation is the inability to feel physical pain. It should be noted that individuals with this condition are still able to feel touch, as well as sense changes in temperature. For instance, if a person with congenial insensitivity to pain were to spill hot coffee on themselves, they would feel the heat of the beverage. However, they wouldn’t feel the burning sensation often associated with this heat. 

Congenial insensitivity to pain frequently leads to the accumulation of injuries in the body. This is because wounds, bruises, and even broken limbs can easily go unnoticed due to the patient’s inability to sense the pain associated with them. While more severe injuries can be easily identified, even without pain, many minor injuries can go completely unnoticed without the sensation of pain. This impairs the body’s ability to heal that injury (for instance, if you twisted your leg, you wouldn’t know to stop putting pressure on it without pain), and leads to the accumulation of injuries in the body. This accumulation of injuries often results in a significantly shorter life expectancy for affected individuals, due to the numerous health issues associated with said injuries. These injuries may be especially dangerous to afflicted children, who often accumulate bite wounds on their mouth and fingers due to unchecked self-biting (this behavior is usually discouraged by pain). As children, especially infants, are unable to assess any injuries they receive, this can make the identification and treatment of various injuries especially difficult.

Thankfully, congenial insensitivity to pain is a very rare disorder. Only 20 cases have been reported in scientific literature. Still, the negative effects of such a disease demonstrate the important role pain plays in keeping our body healthy. While many of us hate the sensation of pain, that sensation helps us detect and locate any injuries in our body, which helps ensure the body can properly recover from those injuries. As terrible as it may feel, pain is a vital sensation to our body, arguably as important as touch or hearing. Without it, the body is blind to its own injuries, and any harm that is done to that body loses the opportunity to properly heal.

References:

Reeves, Alexander G, and Rand S Swenson. “DISORDERS OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM A Primer- Chapter 19 - Pain.” Dartmouth.edu, Dartmouth Medical School, 2008, www.dartmouth.edu/~dons/part_2/chapter_19.html.

“SCN9A Gene - Genetics Home Reference.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/SCN9A

“Congenital Insensitivity to Pain - Genetics Home Reference.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/congenital-insensitivity-to-pain#resources

“Congenital Insensitivity to Pain.” Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/12267/congenital-insensitivity-to-pain#ref_10482.

George Galanis
The Epigenetic Clock

Have you ever wondered, or at least once thought about when your last day to live is? To know the exact date when you will perhaps die? Although it may seem like a morbid thought, your time of death can now be roughly estimated. That sounds absolutely absurd, like something straight out of the film Back to the Future. How is that possible you may ask? The scientific world has been excelling in a field called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of changes in the environment of an organism that modifies gene expression and the change in a gene function altering physical characteristics. However, the DNA sequence itself is not changed.

Epigenetics transforms the way we think about genomes. Your time of death can now be estimated using the epigenetic clock, also known as the “Horvath’s Clock,” named after biostatician and geneticist Steve Horvath. The clock is a process where DNA goes through chemical changes similar to the rusting of objects like the Statue of Liberty. Gene expression related to epigenetics can be altered through reactions known as methylation and acetylation on the DNA or histones, a protein used to coil and compact DNA. Methylation ultimately tightens DNA around histones to lessen the expression of a gene while acetylation loosens the coils around the histones to upregulate or increase expression. Methylation, the addition of a methyl group, on the DNA base Cytosine over time is what is used to measure aging. The faster the methylation, the faster the aging.  

So far, the clock shows that although different tissues are methylated at different rates, a majority of our body organs have similar rates except for the female breasts, which methylates, faster and the cerebellum, the back part of the brain, which has a slower rate. Aging can potentially be reversed and this is the focus of another section of biology called stem cell biology where adult stem cells can be converted into pluripotent cells, cells that can produce any tissue.

Horvath’s clock may be the most accurate molecular biomarker of aging to date. The effects of epigenetics on our bodies is huge as it plays a role in the fate of our cells and its relation to figuring our causation of a disease and potentially finding a cure. However, as many more years pass and science begins to advance, who knows what better technology and knowledge will humanity obtain.

References:

Elysium Health. (2018, June 28). Is Horvath's Clock the Smoking Gun of Biological Aging? Retrieved from https://endpoints.elysiumhealth.com/is-horvaths-clock-the-smoking-gun-of-biological-aging-7a6d3a94d2e4 


Walida Ali
Social Media: A Potential Relief for Chronic Pain

More often than not, pain is subjective. According to NursingWorld.com, the definition of pain is, “whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever the experiencing person says it does”. However, this subjectivity is often disregarded. Patients are asked to rate their pain from zero to ten, disregarding the fact that one person’s 4 may be another person’s 8. Pain is not just a number; it does not only hurt, but also has the power to hurt a patient’s relationship with those around her/him. 

In a paper published in 2016, social anthropologist and professor at the University of London Elena Gonzalez-Polledo explored the dynamics of pain communication through social media platforms. Besides being accessible to a global audience, Gonzalez-Polledo found that social media websites were ideal devices for health communication for a very important reason: social media forms work against mainstream biomedical frameworks. Gonzalez-Polledo found that patients could describe their pain through photos, selfies, gifs and emojis rather than just numbers. In other words, social media offers relief in the form of expression and explanation.

A simple search of a chronic illness on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on can result in a plethora of images attempting to give a physical representation to pain, from cartoons to photos of pills and hospital selfies. While some take to social media platforms to give their pain a physical depiction, others use it to tell their stories to a widespread audience and form a community. One such blogger, Christine Miserandino, took to her website butyoudontlooksick.com to write a piece entitled The Spoon Theory. In her piece, Miserandino talks with a friend over dinner and struggles to explain her chronic pain. Exasperated, she grabs all the spoons of the table and asks her friend to list everything she does in a typical day. With each chore and social interaction, Miserandino drops a spoon to symbolize the stores of energy she has to exert on a daily basis. Since her post, Miserandino has gained a substantial number of followers called “spoonies” who can relate to her story.

Other social media movements have also been dedicated to helping those with chronic pain relate to others. The hash tag, #BuildALadder, created by youtubers Simon and Martina, aims to allow those suffering from pain and depression to talk about what small first steps they take in order to cope. In their video entitled “How I Deal with Chronic Pain”, Martina explains that she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. On days when her pain is especially unbearable, Martina breaks down her day into small steps, the first being to get out of bed and the second to get down the stairs. 

When asked to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, patients may give a higher rating in an attempt to express their anguish. It’s not that their pain became worse, but that it never fully went away. For some patients, online platforms such as blogs, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter may offer a better, more welcoming space to express their situations. As Miserandino would put it, social media allows individuals to connect with their other fellow “spoonies”.  

References:

Bernhofer, E., (October 25, 2011) "Ethics and Pain Management in Hospitalized Patients" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 17 No. 1.

Gonzalez-Polledo, Elena. “Chronic Media Worlds: Social Media and the Problem of Pain Communication on Tumblr.” Social Media Society, vol. 2, no. 1, 2016, p. 205630511662888., doi:10.1177/2056305116628887.

Miserandino, Christine. “The Spoon Theory Written by Christine Miserandino.” But You Dont Look Sick? Support for Those with Invisible Illness or Chronic Illness, 26 Apr. 2013, www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

Ana Burris
Understanding Cardiovascular Disease and Ways to Prevent it

Many people are afraid of fatal car crashes, of deadly plane landings, or of roller coasters flying off their rails. However, as intimidating as the fear of mortality is, such causes of deaths do not compare to a certain category of disease. Many may know while others may be surprised, but the leading cause of death in the United States isn't caused by a random, unfortunate accident. Rather, it stems from a rising health epidemic that is taking over our country: cardiovascular disease.

As cardiovascular disease (also commonly known as heart disease) is the leading cause of death in America, it is important to understand what it is and what can be done to prevent it. Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that describes all the diseases that can affect your heart or your cardiovascular system such as disease of the blood vessels, blood clots, arrhythmias, and heart defects. The anatomy of the heart is composed of four chambers, valves (or muscular flaps) that control the blood flow in between these chambers, and an electrical system that keeps the heart working as a pump that collects blood that is deprived of oxygen from the body, taking the blood to the lungs, and then supplying oxygenated blood to your entire body. The blood in your body travels to and from the heart in muscular vessels shaped like tubes called veins and arteries. When your cardiovascular system is healthy, your blood is easily able to flow through these “tubes”, be delivered to the heart, and follow this electrical impulse and continue to complete the cycle of blood delivery. 

However, just as if the pipes in your home were clogged, your arteries can begin to develop build up of fatty plaque which causes complications in the delivery of fresh blood to the rest of your body. This form of cardiovascular disease is called atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks (caused by blood clots in the heart), strokes (caused by lack of proper blood flow to the brain due to clogged arteries), and heart failure (caused by the heart’s inability to pump sufficient blood to the body). Just like an orchestra would fall apart without the rhythmic direction of the conductor, the activity of our depends greatly on the steady release of an electrical impulse. A complication of the electrical activity of our heart is another form of cardiovascular disease called an arrhythmia, or having an abnormal heartbeat. 

Other forms of cardiovascular disease include valvular heart disease which is caused by the dysfunction of the heart’s valves (which would be similar to the hinge of a door being broken in your home, there would be a failure to control what and how much goes in and out), heart infections caused by bacteria and viruses, and cardiomyopathy (caused by the enlargement and thickening of the blood vessels).  

While this disease may be a rising epidemic that is taking the lives of many, it is important to understand that the development of cardiovascular disease can be prevented by living a healthy and active lifestyle. Introducing a nutritious diet with a healthy serving of protein, fruits, and vegetables and reducing the intake of high sodium and fat could greatly reduce the risk factors of developing heart disease. Other ways to prevent cardiovascular disease would be to quit smoking and usage of other drugs, reducing stress and practicing positive mental health exercises such as meditation and deep breathing, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. 

In order to end the outbreak of this deadly disease, we need to understand why it happens and all the steps we can take to prevent it. With the current, modern lifestyle, it is easy to forget to get in your daily exercises and it is easy to pick up unhealthy foods right from the corner of your street. In the end, to ensure a healthier and stronger future for not only ourselves, but our nation, we need to be able to eat and exercise better. 


References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118

Megha Nayyar
The Science of Happiness and How It Can Alleviate Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a condition which receives far less awareness than it should. This type of pain is known to affect more Americans than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, combined. It is the leading cause of disability, taking up a large part of the national health care funds, and it is the largest found reason that people access health care. 76.2 million Americans, or ¼ of the American population, have experienced sustained pain for a period longer than 24 hours, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (2006). There is a wide diversity in the types of pain, which also requires a large variety in treatment and research options.

One such treatment option which may be seen as comparatively unorthodox is behavioral interventions. Behavioral interventions seem to be a promising way to alleviate pain, both in conjunction or in lieu with medical treatments. Individualized pain management programs, for example, have been known to help cancer patients handle pain. Part of the effectiveness of this treatment method may be contributed to the power of happiness. According to a research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, holding a positive attitude helps patients with rheumatoid arthritis with pain, as they reportedly experienced less pain and fewer symptoms. On the other hand, patients with a negative attitude reported more pain. Researchers believe that this is because mood can affect people’s perception of pain and related symptoms.

The effects of happiness go beyond patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Many studies indicate that often, living with an optimistic outlook on life has many benefits, both in physical and mental health. According to a research done by Barbara Santay, the therapist for Franciscan Alliance’s Employee Assistance Program, ⅔ of women who are breast cancer survivors attending support groups self-reported that their lives were “altered for the better after developing the disease.” Further studies indicate that women who have strong, healthy social interactions live 18 months longer than those who do not interact with many people.

Michael Mirochna, M.D., a family medical physician with Lake Porter Primary Care and Porter Physician Group of Porter Regional Group, believes that mood is highly correlated with a patient’s experience with chronic pain. “When a patient’s mood is good, they’ll be in less pain. If they start to feel worse and you dig into their psychosocial history, you find that something happened…There’s a close correlation with mood and pain in that regard.” This seems to suggest that happiness does improve a patient’s physical health. Experts believe that being in a continual state of happiness comes from a person’s outlook in life, not from temporary events or material possessions. This type of outlook in life can be exercised, which would be very helpful for one’s emotional and physical health.

There are a few key points helpful in being happy and positive towards the future. The first is to be physically active. Physical exercise seems to be very effective at improving mood, and Santay even believes that aerobic exercise is as effective as depression medications in improving mood. Another key point is focusing -- avoiding overthinking, but rather, experiencing more “flow experiences,” which are engaging, relaxing activities that cause you to lose track of time. Laughing is another large aspect in maintaining mood. Laughter is known to prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system, as well as many other benefits. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, having strong social interactions and support groups can be very effective in improving mood. As Santay’s research suggests, social interactions have a large role in elongating life and improving general well-being.

Pain is a condition that is very difficult to heal, due to its multifaceted nature. Pain can be related to many other conditions, from diseases to mental health problems, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of the symptom and finding the optimum treatment option. However, there are some treatments that can be done that are very effective, regardless of the cause. It has been proven that being happy is beneficial to health, both physically and mentally. Therefore, it is important to try to maintain a positive outlook in life due to the many benefits happiness brings. Still, it is important to know that everyone is different, so while increasing happiness can work for some, it may not be as effective for others.

References:

https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=57

http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx

https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/pain-relieving-happiness/

Mary Yoshikawa
The Molecular Nature of Pain

The human body, like any other higher-order biological system, is less of a single entity and more like a symphony composed of a huge number of moving parts. Each one of us is made up of trillions of cells, and each cell, in turn, is made up of trillions of molecules. Accordingly, everything our bodies do on a daily basis from circulating blood to absorbing nutrients boils down to some molecular mechanism of action in the end. Whether we know what these molecules are or how they are acting, of course, is another matter, but recent scientific advances have brought us a long way in these efforts. So what do we understand about the molecular nature of pain? Is there a single “pain molecule” responsible for every painful sensation we feel? It turns out that the process is slightly more complicated than that, but we still understand a great deal about the basics. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at pain and pain medication on the molecular level.

The technological term for pain detection is nociception, a process carried out by pain receptors called nociceptors. Nociceptors are a type of nerve fiber that detect intense stimuli of three types – mechanical (such as a tear), thermal (burning or freezing), and chemical (acids or bases) – and transmit a signal to the brain by way of the spinal cord. These nociceptors are further divided into classes based on the types of pain they conduct and at which speed: thresholds for heat or mechanical stress vary by class, as do the rate at which they transmit the signal to your brain. How localized the pain is to one area also affects the type of nociception. In other words, the signal that makes you draw your hand back from a red-hot burner is different from the one that tells you that you have a cut on your hand. Similarly, the signal that tells you that your chest is covered in sunburn from a day at the beach is different (and slower) than if a fleck of boiling grease hits you.

As these pain sensations are transmitted through nerves, slowing or otherwise reducing that transmission is an obvious target for pain medications. This is where opioids such as morphine or oxycodone come in. There are three well-known opioid receptors (DOP, MOP, and KOP, for Delta/Mu/Kappa OPioid) that are distributed throughout the nervous system, specifically residing in the cell membranes of neurons as transmembrane proteins. When opioid molecules bind to these receptors, they initiate a cascade of biological signals within the cell that ultimately reduce the transmission of nociceptive signals to the brain. Unfortunately, since these receptors are also in other parts of the body such as the digestive system and heart, they may have off-target effects such as nausea, slower heart rate, or respiratory depression.

What about other means of reducing pain? Inflammation is a common side effect of tissue injuries and source of pain when inflamed tissue affects nerve endings, but involves completely distinct pathways and molecules than simple nociception. For this reason, targeting inflammatory processes independently of nociception is a similarly worthy undertaking for pain research – and it has already been done in the form of NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as Ibuprofen/Motrin. When tissue is damaged, the molecules in the cell membranes surrounding the damage may be scattered or leak into the bloodstream. One of these molecules, arachidonic acid, is metabolized by enzymes into a variety of signaling molecules known as prostaglandins. These prostaglandins go on to initiate the key events of inflammation that we recognize: redness, heat, swelling, and pain. By inhibiting the enzymes responsible for producing prostaglandins, we are able to significantly reduce tissue inflammation.

This has only been a brief safari into the jungle of molecular biology, but as with all things, knowledge is power – and having an idea of the molecular nature of common physiological processes can be quite helpful when determining new courses of treatment or research. Talking to your doctor or other similar professionals may also help determine the best plan of action. In the end, whether it is simply because you want to know more about your body or because you are experiencing certain symptoms, it never hurts to look into the science behind it.

References:

Basbaum, Allan I. et al. “Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms of Pain.” Cell 139.2 (2009): 267–284. PMC. Web. 11 July 2018.

Pathan, Hasan, and John Williams. “Basic Opioid Pharmacology: An Update.” British Journal of Pain 6.1 (2012): 11–16. PMC. Web. 11 July 2018.

Ricciotti, Emanuela, and Garret A. FitzGerald. “Prostaglandins and Inflammation.” Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology 31.5 (2011): 986–1000. PMC. Web. 11 July 2018.

Jonathan Arthur
Can Alcohol Be Healthy For You?

Are you an individual who drinks? For the longest time, alcohol has been thought to be harmful for the body. It’s hard to eliminate that image of an overly intoxicated individual unsteady on his or her feet, face flushed red, vomiting, and potentially even in the hospital getting his or her stomach pumped. Beyond these physically damaging health effects, people are also at further risk for drunk driving and mental instability due to making poor life choices. Yet even so, there is a saying that certain alcohols can actually be beneficial for one’s health if drunk in moderate amounts. Is this true? What are the exact rumors circulating around and what are the current facts surrounding them?

One should first understand the bodily processes occurring when alcohol is consumed. Once ingested, alcohol diffuses directly through the cell membranes in the stomach and move into the bloodstream. As a result, alcohol can reach and affect almost every organ in our bodies. However, most of the alcohol is absorbed through the small intestine, and from there, it travels through a large blood vessel to the liver. The liver then secretes enzymes to degrade the alcohol and convert the substance into energy usable by the body. In the heart, alcohol causes the heart muscles to contract with less force, leading to reduced heart rates and blood pressure. This is considered a more relaxed state compared to an individual’s usual bodily functioning.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause heart problems such as cardiomyopathy, which is the stretching or drooping of heart muscles, arrhythmia – an irregular heartbeat, or even stroke. Meanwhile, the liver can suffer a variety of inflammation problems ranging from steatosis – excess retention of fats in liver cells - to cirrhosis – permanent liver damage caused by tissue scarring. Since alcohol can affect almost every organ in the body, damage isn’t limited to only the heart or the liver. Other organs such as the brain or pancreas can also be greatly impacted, with consequences as severe as cancer.

So what are the opposing opinions to this scientific findings? According to an article written by Spoon University and various other sources, alcohols such as red wine are believed to contain health benefits through the active compounds they contain. Red wine specifically contains polyphenols, resveratrol and quercetin, which have been shown to improve overall heart health. Furthermore, a study of the  University of Massachusetts Amherst has also shown that red wine helps slow down the process of glucose entering the bloodstream, preventing high insulin spikes. Other alcohols such as whiskey contain antioxidants and ellagic acid, which are known to prevent cancer by absorbing rogue cells. The list of “healthy” alcohol goes on, ranging from tequila to champagne – each said to have unique health benefits.

However, a global study published in The Lancet also points out that no amount of alcohol is good for one’s overall health. Why? Because although a said glass of wine may lower one’s risk of contracting heart disease, these benefits are offset by the increased chance of developing cancer and other diseases. In other words, the risks brought about by drinking are much worse than its potential benefits. But does that mean we should stop drinking altogether? Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor from the University of Wisconsin says no. She points out that there is likely a level of drinking that is fine, and that the idea isn’t to promote and propagate complete abstinence. It is simply that less alcohol is better from a cancer prevention perspective.

The next time you decide to have a drink, perhaps you should consider all of the aforementioned points. Sure, there are possible health benefits associated with drinking, but these benefits may also be greatly offset by the downsides. Although there may be a safe level for drinking alcohol, the exact amount is yet unknown. As per usual, remember to drink responsibly!

References:

https://www.dummies.com/health/nutrition/how-your-body-processes-alcohol/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body

https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/6-healthiest-alcohols

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/24/641618937/no-amount-of-alcohol-is-good-for-your-health-global-study-claims

Sherry Chow
You Are What You Eat

The common saying goes, “You are what you eat.” However, there may be more to that saying than you think. Other than the food that we digest, there are also at least 1000 different species of bacteria living in our gut. On top of that, there’s a growing group of evidence that suggests that there is an intricate connection between the bacteria in our gut and our brain activity.

The gut microbiome is used to describe the diverse population of microorganisms living inside our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and many other tiny creatures, if you could call them that. We commonly have the conception that such microorganisms are detrimental to our health, but quite to the contrary, having a diverse community of these gut microorganisms is essential for a person’s wellbeing. In a healthy person’s GI tract, it is estimated that there are 50 different phyla of bacteria, 1000 different bacterial species, and 10^14 viable bacteria per gram of lamina, which is the tissue that lines our GI tract. These numbers don’t include all the other microorganisms, like fungi and bacteriophages, living in our gut! Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to see that we have a diverse community of microorganisms living inside our bodies. We call the diversity of the microbiome in our bodies the microbial fingerprint.

Diet plays a large factor in the diversity of the gut microbiome. For example, changing your diet for a short term period into one of entirely animal or plant products can drastically and quickly change the kinds of microorganisms living in your GI tract. On the other hand, having a diverse diet is associated with a diverse gut microbiome, which in turn leads to better health for an individual.

The importance of the gut microbiome even extends to mental health. Over the years, research has continued to indicate that the gut microbiome affects many aspects of brain activity, such as emotional behavior. It may even affect the pathophysiology of mental illness. The communication between the microbes in the GI tract and the brain is called the gut-brain axis. The gut microbiome affects the nervous system by secreting vitamins, neurotransmitters, and metabolites. It is thought that gut microorganisms can also send signals up to the brain through neuroimmune and neuroendocrine pathways. In turn, the central nervous system affects the GI microbiome through the nerves by regulating secretory functions and the mobility of the GI tract.

Several health conditions are associated with faulty gut-brain communication, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease. Many studies concerning the gut microbiome have been conducted on germ-free animals, which don’t have a gut microbiome. Germ-free mice mimic health problems associated with altered gut-brain axis, not only gut problems but also mental problems, showing abnormal development. One way that the gut microbiome affects the brain is by influencing neuroinflammation in the brain by modulating microglial activity, the brain’s defense mechanism. This in turn affects myelination of axons and neurogenesis, which mean, respectively, the speed of neural activity and the formation of new neurons. Many recent studies show how germ-free mice have learning deficits, anxiety-like behavior, and reduced sociability.

However, these mice can be somewhat rescued, through a process called a fecal transplant. Fecal matter of non-germ-free mice, which contain healthy gut microorganisms, are transplanted into germ-free mice. These mice then have less severe health problems, both physical and mental, due to the introduction of a healthy gut microbiome. These studies reinforce the idea that the gut microbiome is essential in physical and mental health.

So what can we do with this information? We know that what we eat affects our gut microbiome, and our gut microbiome can affect both our physical and mental health. These findings emphasize the importance of a diet diverse in many vitamins, proteins, and nutrients, so that we can have a healthy gut microbiome and a healthy life. So, be mindful of what you eat!


References:

https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article/76/7/481/4985887

https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/can-the-bacteria-in-your-gut-send-messages-to-your-brain/

Mary Yoshikawa
Fun in the Sun

As we brave out of the harsh and chilling ice age of winter and jump through puddles left behind by May showers, summer is finally upon us. While summer does not technically start until June 21, the warmer weather certainly makes it feel like it is already here. Long, sunny days filled with ocean waves, ice cold drinks, and sun kissed skin bring joy along with the much craved warmth and light. Tan skin, glowing faces, and tiny freckles mark the sun’s arrival, but the sunshine brings along a gift that nourishes more than just our bright smiles: Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is created from the cholesterol in skin, the synthesis for it beginning when the sun’s UV rays hit skin cells. This vitamin has an impact on all the systems in the body, especially in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in order to create strong bones. It also plays an important role in the immune, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. Although this is one of the most important vitamins in the body, there are very few foods that are rich in this nutrient, making it optimal to get proper sun exposure to ensure its production.

While the main source of this vitamin is quite accessible, especially in the summer months, about 50% of the people in the world suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, otherwise known as Hypovitaminosis D. This deficiency is caused by lifestyles that require many to stay indoors, pollution in the Earth’s hemisphere, and the overuse of sunscreen. Hypovitaminosis D can cause the body to lose its defense system against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and depression. It can also trigger bones in the body to grow weaker leading to fractures and further injuries.

Knowledge of proper and safe exposure to the sun is key in helping the body to produce  Vitamin D while also avoiding the risks of skin burns and skin cancer from the sun’s UV rays. It is recommended to get 10 to 30 minutes of midday sun exposure, without sunscreen about three times a week, longer for those with darker skin tone as they produce more melanin (pigment in the skin that naturally protects the body from UV rays) and for those that live further from the equator. After about 10 to 30 minutes of exposure, it is important to apply sunscreen if one plans to remain in the sun for longer in order to prevent sun damage. Along with sun exposure, supplements can aid the body in producing the Vitamin D it needs, including fish oil, a diet that includes fatty fish, and vitamins. With the sun and supplements, one can reach the recommended 800 to 1,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D needed in a day.

With the bright sun high in the sky and the warmth of the sunlight embracing the atmosphere late into the day, it is easy to forget the importance of the right amount of sun exposure. Since everyone is certainly different, it may be helpful to research various ways to ensure that your body is getting the Vitamin D it needs. So, enjoy your summer and produce Vitamin D while you’re at it!

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3356951/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun#time-of-day

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/time-for-more-vitamin-d

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/heart/articles/2008/06/23/time-in-the-sun-how-much-is-needed-for-vitamin-d

Megha Nayyar
Concerns about Hair Dye

The origins of hair dye may date back further than we may have anticipated, as even the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were interested in changing the colors of their hair! Ancient Egyptians would mix lead oxide with calcium hydroxide and water to form a paste that they would rub on their hair. This originated from the idea that dark-colored hair was beautiful and therefore widely desired. On the other hand, ancient Greeks valued light-colored hair and so mixed wood ash with vinegar or lye soap. The ancient Romans showed the results of being on the two extremes-- they would use gold dust to obtain gold hair and leeches for black hair. Fast forward centuries later into the medieval times when light-colored hair was also idealized, and it has been found that a mixture of honey, wine, herbs and roots was used.

Fast forward a few more centuries, and now it is rather common, especially in the U.S., to see hair dyed all sorts of colors. While hair dye can give us the colors we dream of, exactly how safe is hair dye? The dangers of hair dye actually stem from consumer demand-- the majority of those using hair dye to cover up grey or white hairs want full coverage, and so manufacturers push forward with the chemicals used. Common ingredients used in hair dye are ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, resorcinol, diaminobenzene, p-phenylenediamine and more, all of which are dangerous to one’s health. Ammonia breaks down the outer cuticle of the hair shaft and allows other chemicals to enter the hair and cause the changes in hair color. Hydrogen peroxide bleaches out the natural hair color and releases oxygen to allow chemical reactions to occur. Side effects of these chemicals include eye, skin and lung infections, immunotoxicity, chemical burns, blistering of the scalp, hair breakage and hair loss. In addition to the ingredients used to produce all shades and tones of colors, there are additional chemicals used to cover up any odors. These are usually artificial fragrances that carry their own set of safety hazards.

There has been concern over whether hair dye is a potential cause for cancer. However, it is definitely not a causal relationship. There has been some cases in which increased use of hair dye has led to cancer prevalence, but there are also cases in which there is no relationship to cancer. This concern is therefore for now not supported with scientific evidence and would require further research. Additionally, just because hair dye usage and cancer are not causally related does not mean that the chemicals used are not toxic-- they are still dangerous to one’s health. For example, resorcinol is suspected to be an endocrine-disrupting chemical.

In addition to the chemical effects of hair dye, there are also physical effects that can be seen. For example, mistakes or slips made when dying hair can cause the skin around the hairline to discolor. Although this is usually not a severe and major concern because the skin should naturally heal itself within a few weeks, it is still better to avoid getting hair dye on adjacent skin. Hair quality is also affected with the use of hair dye, especially if it is a stronger and more permanent type. Hair loss is therefore a common consequence, as well as the hair becoming dry, brittle and dull in color. Allergic reactions are also something to be aware of, with the colorant PPD causing allergic reactions in 1.5% of those who use hair dye. As a safety precaution, a patch test should be performed before applying the hair dye.

Of course, these chemical and physical drawbacks to hair dye has not stopped us from changing hair colors, which seems to have grown in popularity. Trends and fads for hairstyles now include various hair colors or dying only certain parts of one’s hair. While hair dye may seem fun and all, it may be worthwhile to spend some time looking into potential health hazards and how it may impact your health in the future.

References:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/92302-5-ancient-hair-dye-techniques-that-are-utterly-disgusting-reminding-us-to-be-thankful-for-boxed

https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/beauty-and-personal-care/hair-care-and-removal/articles/chemicals-in-hair-dye

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/hair-dye-a-history/383934/

http://livingsafe.com.au/avoiding-toxic-chemicals-in-hair-dyes-learn-how-to-colour-your-hair-safely/

https://www.curejoy.com/content/side-effects-of-hair-dye/

Stephanie Chan
Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart Failure is a condition where the heart doesn’t pump blood adequately to provide for the body, specifically meaning that the rate of the heart’s pumps is much slower than normal. Because it is slower, the body is then not able to acquire as much oxygen and nutrients as it needs, and as a result, the body suffers. In an effort to compensate for the lack of blood pumping through, the kidneys tell the body to retain fluid rich with water and nutrients. This can then build up in other parts of the body, leading it to become “congested” (MedicineNet). Heart failure can be diastolic, where the heart can’t fill up with blood due to thickening of the chambers, or systolic, where the heart can’t pump because the chambers of the heart are stretched out and thin. Throughout the USA, heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans and is the leading cause of hospitalizations among people older than 65 years old. (Mayo Clinic).

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, edema, and understandably, lower exercise capacity (WebMD). Shortness of breath is caused by fluid backing up in the lungs causing congested lungs. Increased fluid retention might also cause swelling in the legs and abdomen, which then can be interpreted as weight gain and bloating. Because of less blood and oxygen reaching the body, fatigue is a common symptom, often accompanied by dizziness. All these cause lower exercise capacity because a lack of oxygen and inadequate breathing won’t allow for tougher exercises. It is important to mention, however, that the symptoms and their degrees vary from person to person.

Heart Failure arises from different causes, some of which include coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, heart blood pressure, thyroid disease, and any other condition that might lead to an overworked heart. Heart failure is diagnosed based on symptoms and medical history. The doctor interprets the meaning of the questions he/she asks, such as if one has had any prior conditions that might lead to heart disease (as mentioned above), or what type of substance and medicine the patient uses. Chest x-rays can help the doctor see the size of the heart and compare it to others, while an echocardiogram will allow them to see the heart’s movement and structure. Because it is a disease that becomes more common later in life, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and notify your doctor of any symptoms as soon as they occur.

There are 4 stages of heart failure: Stage A consists of people at high danger of developing heart failure due to lifestyle or ancestry of heart disease, which can be treated through better lifestyle choices such as alcohol and smoking habits, and medical treatments to fix heart/artery disease (WebMD). Stage B consists of patients that haven’t had any of those signs beforehand, and occurs with “systolic left ventricular dysfunction.” This can be treated with the same methods as Stage A, with an addition of treatment fixed towards heart-attack, as this condition commonly occurs after a heart attack. Stage C consists of patients with systolic heart failure. Finally, Stage D is the most serious, consisting of patients with systolic heart failure that has been treated but still persists (WebMD).

Often times the treatment requires changes in lifestyle choices, addressing potentially reversible factors, heart transplant, medicines, and mechanical therapies. In order to keep heart failure from progressing, it is important to keep low blood pressure, maintain fluid balance (by determining the amount that you are eating and the number of times you go to the bathroom), limit sodium intake, monitor weight, and monitor symptoms. Surgery can also be used to treat heart failure.

References:

“Heart failure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142.

Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI, and Benjamin Wedro MD FACEP FAAEM. “Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms, Stages, Treatment & Life Expectancy.” MedicineNet, www.medicinenet.com/congestive_heart_failure_chf_overview/article.htm#congestive_heart_failure_facts.

“Congestive Heart Failure and Heart Disease.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide-heart-failure#1.

Naile Ruiz
Simple Ways To Keep Your Blood Sugar In Check!

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common health problems that America faces today, and it occurs when your body can no longer properly use insulin. An estimated 29.1 million people in America have diabetes; however, around 8.1 million people may be undiagnosed or unaware of their condition. When it comes to tackling diabetes or even trying to avoid being diagnosed with it, one must prolong a constant effort in trying to maintain their blood sugar level. This is not the easiest task in the world, but with dedication and guidance it can be done! Here are a few simple ways in which you can better control your blood sugar levels and help maintain or prevent the risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes.

One way is by maintaining a healthy diet. This is often the hardest and often one of the more confusing parts. Drastically changing one’s diet from rich carbohydrates to only salad can sometimes be harmful to one’s health as your body is not ready for such a sudden change. Instead, the goal is to achieve a healthy balance: which includes a combination of healthy carbohydrates (sugars from fruits or whole grains), fiber-rich foods (vegetables and legumes) and healthy fats (monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats that come from avocados and most nuts). There is no need to completely cut out sugar from your life, but moderation is key. While it may be okay to have a slice of cake at your friend’s birthday party, it is better to avoid eating all the cream roses which are highly concentrated in fat and sugar! It is best to work with your doctor or a nutritionist to work out a diet plan that you think will work best for you.

Similar to your diet is maintaining consistent eating habits. You might think eating less will help control your sugar level, but that is not always correct. Skipping meals, especially important ones like breakfast, actually contributes to raising your blood sugar levels and even worse, it could contribute to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). When one doesn’t eat meals for several hours, the body uses glucose produced from the liver. Since the liver of a diabetic patient cannot sense the amount of sugar concentration in the blood, it continues to produce more until there is an excess of sugar in the blood. Only eating some amount of carbohydrate usually signals the liver to stop producing the massive amounts of glucose.

Another way is by having an active lifestyle. Maintaining an active lifestyle and regularly working out definitely helps control your blood sugar level. Doctors recommend exercising for about 30 minutes at least three times a week. Not only does it help regulate blood sugar levels and help the insulin in your body to work better, but it also helps boost cardiovascular health and maintains blood pressure. Exercise does not always mean going to the gym and working out on various machines. In fact, it is better to take part in various fun activities like either swimming or dancing, which are also considered as exercise. Keeping active definitely helps control blood sugar levels in addition to providing numerous other benefits.

Finally, know the ABC’s of diabetes. Knowing your ABC’s about diabetes is very important in order to maintain a proper lifestyle, especially if you are struggling with diabetes. Patients must coordinate with their health provider team and learn about the various components that must be kept in check in order to maintain blood sugar levels. The first component is the A1C test, which is a test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. This is important because it is necessary to know your sugar levels over time and the rate by how much it is growing. The second component is blood pressure. It is essential to have normal blood pressure (below 140/90) in order to avoid further complications in addition to diabetes. The final component is cholesterol. It is important to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in order to avoid other common complications like heart attacks or strokes. Thus, it is important to be informed about your body statistics in order to prevent diabetes, as well as other diseases.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-diet/art-20044295

https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/statistics#3

https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/five-ways-to-control-type-2-diabetes#2

Milaskha Mukhia
Eyesight: What Factors Affect Your Eyesight and How Can You Improve It?

The human eye works much like a camera does: it takes in light from the environment and uses that light to form an image. When light reaches the human eye, it first passes through a crystalline lens, which focuses the light towards the interior of the eye. This lens is controlled by the ciliary muscles, a pair of muscles which adjust the lens to allow us to see at different distances. The light is then focused onto the retina, a layer of tissue which contains light-sensitive cells which react to incoming light. This allows the retina to “capture” the image produced by the surrounding environment and send that data to the brain to be processed as visual data.

As people grow older, many parts of their body begin to weaken, and the eyes are no exception. As humans age, it often becomes more difficult for them to focus their vision and distinguish different colors. They also often need more light to properly see, and more time to adjust to sudden changes in brightness (such as when leaving a dark room and entering a bright one). Such conditions are considered a normal part of aging, and is often treated with prescription lenses or contact lenses. Actual visual loss, on the other hand, is not considered a natural part of aging and occurs due to multiple medical disorders. Such disorders include cataracts, where the lens of the eyes become clouded, diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the retina bleed and cause blurred vision, glaucoma, a group of diseases which damage the optic nerve and can cause sudden loss of eyesight, and Age-related Macular Degradation (AMD), where the center of the retina, the macula, deteriorates and causes a loss of vision.

This begs the question, “How can I maintain my eyesight?” There are multiple ways to safeguard your eyesight and minimize your risk of eye-related diseases. One way is to avoid smoking. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of multiple eye-related disorders, such as AMD. Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet has also been shown to significantly decrease one’s risk of eyesight loss. Another way to preserve your eyesight is to frequently wear sunglasses or sunhats when outside. This prevents damage caused by excessive exposure to sunlight. Contrary to popular belief, staring at a computer screen does not damage one’s eyes.

The eyes, like any other part of the body, can become strained from overexertion. This strain, by itself, won’t necessarily damage the eyes, but it will tire them out and, as a result, tire the rest of the body out as well. There are many common causes of eyestrain, many of which are fairly easy to avoid. For instance, staring at a computer screen for a long, uninterrupted period of time, will cause eyestrain. A good way to prevent eyestrain is to take 5-minute breaks when using the computer for long periods of time, or simply dim the computer screen by adjusting its brightness setting. One myth about eyestrain is that wearing contacts or glasses causes it. Wearing glasses or contacts does not negatively impact your vision, and attempting to read without them only causes excessive eyestrain. Another common source of eyestrain is reading in dim light. Always make sure to have an adequate source of light when reading for an extended period of time

There are some myths regarding how one can improve their eyesight. A common myth is that eating carrots helps improve eyesight. This myth has some truth to it. Carrots contain vitamin A, which is beneficial to the eyes. However, there are many other fruits and vegetables with contain vitamin A and other beneficial vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are better at preventing eye disorders. Furthermore, while eating such foods will help preserve eyesight, doing so will not correct basic vision problems or improve eyesight. Another myth is that one can “exercise” their eyes in order to prevent vision degradation or improve vision. This stems from the role the ciliary muscles play in allowing humans to see at varying differences, and the belief that by “exercising” these muscles, one can thus correct or prevent problems such as nearsightedness. However, vision depends on many other factors, such as the shape of the lens or the health of one’s eye tissues. Such factors cannot be significantly altered through eye exercises, and thus, eye exercises are not a reliable way to correct vision problems.

Eyesight is a very important sense for humans to have, one that many take for granted until they lose it. Many believe vision loss is just a natural part of growing old. However, with proper eye care, one can maintain good eyesight even late in life.

References:

“Vision Changes as We Age: What's Normal, What's Not?” University of Utah Health, www.healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2016/09/vision.changes.php.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Safeguarding Your Sight.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/safeguarding-your-sight.

Kazilek. “How Do We See?” Kazilek, 1 July 2015, www.askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/how-do-we-see.  

George Galanis
DNA for Data Storage: Storing all the World’s Information

When you want to store away physical objects for the future, the attic tends to be the go-to place for this. However, at some point, it becomes cramped, crowded and unorganized. What can be even messier than your attic is your computer and all other electrical devices with a storage component. A one page paper is small and easy to manage, but imagine all those files, documents, pictures, videos, and applications that pile up until your computer’s memory is full. Then, the computer starts running slow and you need a USB, external memory disk, or an online storage unit like cloud to back-up and save everything. But with approximately 7.7 million people currently on earth, and almost 2 centuries since the first built computer, how are we supposed to manage ALL of it?

Scientists have proclaimed DNA as being a potential source of storage for long periods of time. Its dense, easy to replicate and stable property makes it a highly desired candidate for an easier method of storage and retrieval. Current storage uses magnetic tape to store zettabytes of data but with the extensive amount of data production made every day, the current infrastructure is expected to consume all the world’s microchip-grade silicon by the year 2040 and therefore does not seem like an efficient method. Researchers can use the DNA base pairs Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine (C) and Guanine (G) to make a script to encode information. Attaching non-binary numbers, 0s and 1s, to transcribe the nucleotides into a coding sequence can allow the ability to simplify the computational language in the writing and reading process.

Encoding data in DNA initially started as a joke in 2011, but it was soon seen as a potential idea for long time archiving. Shakespeare's Sonnet, snippets of Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a Dream” and even parts of Beethoven have been successfully encoded into a strand of DNA. Unfortunately, the biggest worry is that DNA tends to make 1 mistake in the nucleotide sequence for every 100 bases. While reading the transcript, the desired file may not be able to be retrieved properly without being damaged. DNA uses one of the five types of DNA polymerases for proofreading and repairing for DNA sequences, so a mathematical computation needs to be made that performs the same function. The economics of writing DNA still remains problematic since DNA-synthesis companies charge 0.07-0.09 dollars per base. This means that a minute of stereo can be stored for $100,000. For such high expenses, an alternative source of processing needs to be found that is more cost effective.

Based on bacterial genetics, digital DNA can maybe one day rival or exceed storage technology. The read-write speed of a hard disk is between 3,000 to 5,000 microseconds per bit with a retention span of just over 10 years, using 0.04 watts per gigabytes. In contrast, Bacterial DNA’s reading-writing speed is less than 100 microseconds per bit, with over 100 years retention period and uses less than 1*10^11 watts per gigabyte. To conclude, this means that even though the translation of memory is slower in DNA, DNA storage still stores for 10 times longer than a regular hard disk, and uses an exponential amount of less energy with 1*10^6 times more data storage density. This means that we need only 1 kg of DNA storage to store the world’s information. Once the design is successful and the economics of its production resolved, we will be able to put all the internet’s information, books, and more with terabytes of information in something as small as a strand of hair.

 

References:

https://www.wired.com/story/the-rise-of-dna-data-storage/

https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/attachment/2f2b4893-90fc-42a5-8306-d4a486689b93/Assignments/e3667c95-30ca-4973-addc-c2180a81b26e/DNA-Datastorage.pdf

Walida Ali
Emotions Effect on Wellness from a Holistic Perspective

Imagine you are sitting at home one day, going about your business, when suddenly you start experiencing heartburn. What would be your first response? The majority of people would think to take an antacid and move on. However, although one may experience relief for a few hours, the calcium carbonate in the antacid did nothing to address the underlying issue behind the heartburn. As a result, the condition may worsen into something more serious such as gastritis or a hiatal hernia. This problem serves as an exemplar to some of the shortcomings behind traditional medicine. Traditional medicine treats symptoms and problems from a specific area of the body by prescribing drugs or recommending surgery. This specialization is often effective in treating a specific condition, but concentrating on only one area can fall short in judging the general wellness of that individual.

Alternative medicine, on the other hand, addresses the larger picture by focusing on the underlying cause behind the issue as well as methods to prevent the issue from ever occurring. Alternative medicine, also known as holistic medicine, pays closer attention to the overall health of the patient by recommending natural but sometimes unorthodox treatments. From a holistic perspective, if a person demonstrates a health issue, then an energy imbalance must be present in the body. The imbalance can be physical, emotional, and even spiritual. To restore balance, the holistic practitioner considers all of the potential determinants such as other health issues, diet, lifestyle, personal problems, and spiritual practices.

An aspect that makes alternative medicine especially unique is its concentration in emotional energy.  The influence that emotional states have over the body’s physiological wellness is often trivialized in traditional medicine. However, from a holistic outlook, the general emotional state of the person can often be the root cause behind the issues they may be experiencing. To make analyzing one's emotional state easier, scales of emotional consciousness were created by assigning a frequency (from 0 to 1000) to an emotion along a spectrum logarithmically. The emotions are ranked from negative to positive in ascending order of frequencies. According to many spiritual healing literatures, negative emotions (0 to 150) can disrupt the meridians and chakras in the body. In our body, there are paths that energy can flow through that make up our autonomic nervous system. There are also seven energy centers located along our spine that transmit and receive this energy. These paths are commonly referred to as meridians and the energy centers are known as chakras. If one of our chakras becomes disrupted or damaged, then the energy cannot flow and an imbalance is forged. This would in turn, cause specific physiological consequences depending on which chakra is impaired.

It might seem far fetched to assume that emotions can have an effect on our health to such an extent. If this were all true, then patients would just have to vibrate at a higher emotional frequency to treat themselves instead of using “real” medicine. However, the placebo effect illustrates that thinking can sometimes be just as good as “real” medicine. The mind-body connection was demonstrated when 30% of patients were able to have a positive response when given a sugar pill instead of a prescription drug. All placebos possess neurological underpinnings that have actual effects on the mind and body. There are also many types of placebo responses attributable to different mechanisms – especially those in immune, hormonal, and respiratory processes. However, Analgesia is a placebo response initiated and maintained by changes in emotion.

Positive thinking is of course limited in treating illnesses. In a study by Dr. Bernie Siegel, writer of Love, Medicine, and Miracles, cancer patients were placed in a positive thinking ECaP program. Siegel then measured the cure rates of the patients in the program to those not in the program. Surprisingly, at the end of the study, his research team found that the patients in the program had no statistically different results in cure rates than those not in the camp. Despite this, the idea that positive emotional energy can have healing properties is still not refuted. According Dr. Deepak Chopra, a popular figure in the New Age movement, Siegel’s study doesn’t consider how positive thinking can prevent the disease or treat early stages of that illness. As mentioned before, the prominent goal of alternative medicine is not to rescue dying patients as much as it is to maintain their wellness. Therefore, cure rates is not a strong indicator in measuring the effects of positive emotional energy as much as healing rates – although quantifying healing rate is a difficult task in itself.

There are many cases where traditional medicine may be more preferable than alternative medicine, just as there are cases where alternative medicine may be better than traditional medicine. Usually, holistic medicine is used as a failsafe when all else fails, but, ideally, both perspectives should be considered in one’s life in order to maintain wellness and treat certain conditions. The advancement of modern medicine led people to pay less attention to certain factors of wellness such as emotional energy. According to Dr. David Hawkins, a clinical psychologist who is a strong proponent in holistic methods, he once had a patient who was having a difficult time letting people into her life because of certain childhood traumas. After making breakthroughs with her by utilizing the emotional scale of consciousness, she started to feel better and even ended up going into a long-term relationship. The patient also had a history of heartburn and acid reflux, but she stated that after going into the relationship and having more positive emotions in her life, she no longer felt the symptoms. So, next time you are experiencing heartburn, although it is probably a good idea to take an antacid and see a doctor, it might also be worthwhile to suspect an underlying cause from a holistic perspective.

References:

https://bancswellness.com/conventional-medicine-vs-alternative-medicine/

https://reikirays.com/185/how-the-meridians-and-chakras-work-together/

https://upliftconnect.com/science-proves-meridians-exist/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16118-6

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1847521/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17550344

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/owning-pink/201112/can-positive-thinking-help-you-heal

https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/health_medicine/alternative_medicine/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2005290110600143

http://www.sexualhealthsite.info/david-r-hawkins-healing-recovery.php

Kieran Bissessar
The Future of Designer Babies

More and more attention has been drawn to designer babies, which are babies that are developed through a method that allows professionals to select the genetic makeup of an embryo so that the baby is born with specific traits. Likewise, professionals can also ensure that the baby is born without undesirable traits. This article is not about an episode of Black Mirror. Rather, this is an actual scientific and medical development that has started to charge in recent years.

Why would potential parents want a designer baby? Well, by allowing scientists to select embryos with certain traits, potential parents can make sure that their baby-to-be isn’t born with certain genetic markers that could make them susceptible to fatal or chronic diseases. This sounds like a great advancement and one that can thrust humanity into an age of minimized genetic illnesses. If both parents are carriers for a disease it may be the safest option for them to make sure their potential baby does not carry the genetic code for the disease. In the USA, there are no federal laws that regulate this procedure, unlike in various European countries which have very strict guidelines that need to be followed. These procedures can select for a multitude of variables that do not include genetic illnesses, like even the sex of their baby-to-be.

Although designer babies seem like a fantastic solution to potential genetic illnesses, it comes at a hefty cost. The procedure is an incredibly expensive one that the average American would not have the luxury to pay for. What could this mean? This has the potential to create a very clear class divide, if only Americans who have the money to get this procedure actually take advantage of it, which would leave a huge population of socioeconomically disadvantaged people that may potentially have children with genetic-related illness and no means or opportunity to change this outcome. Those who are wealthy enough to go through the procedure can begin to create children that they know will have certain hair colors, eye colors, height, and so on. This can potentially create a ‘super’ population of people in America who are gifted these attributes during conception.

These designer babies have been the center of many controversies and arguments. If people begin to make more and more strides in selecting traits for their potential children, these children could have a much greater advantage in life as a whole compared to those conceived by conventional methods. Is a risk of a ‘super’ population of the (predominantly) upper class something that shouldn't be ethical? Even if a ‘super’ population was created, another risk is having too many individuals with the same genetic makeup. Thus, through Darwinian concepts, if a tragedy were to happen, due to the similarity in genetics, such a tragedy may be able to wipe out entire populations. These scenarios begin to blur the line between what should be allowed to be selected and what shouldn’t be. Looking at the genetic code as whole, when people begin to manipulate their genetics, these are passed onto future offspring. With any little mistake, a fatal genome can be passed on without anybody knowing about it . Accidents can happen and these accidents come with the burden of impacting various people down the line.

As this is a highly debated topic, many people have their own opinions on the concept. This article is not meant to display any preference for or against designer babies, but rather, to simply state some of the discussed aspects of it. Various professionals and scientist have said that making an international guideline for all countries to follow may be the best way to ensure the morality of genetically engineering potential on human beings. The concept may seem rare but it is something that needs to be mentioned sooner rather than later to ensure the safety of all potential babies-to-be.

References:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603633/us-panel-endorses-designer-babies-to-avoid-serious-disease/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5612618/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/regulate-designer-babies/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0015028207012162?via%3Dihub

https://www.theweek.co.uk/95108/designer-babies-the-arguments-for-and-against

Nathalia Schettino
Is ASMR good for you?

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) has become an increasingly popular practice and experience since it first became popular. Even if you’re not an avid ASMR follower, you may have heard of or seen many of the popular ASMR YouTube videos on your homepage – each with views that easily range in the millions. People watch and feel drawn to these videos for a variety of reasons, whether this be to help them reduce stress, to go to sleep, to feel relaxed or even to feel amused. However, not everyone seems to gain the same sense of gratification from these videos. In fact, some people have stated that the sounds make them feel more irritated than calm. In the end, the question to ask is: does ASMR really help your brain and body?

Little do people know, ASMR has actually had little to no scientific basis behind it up until recently. The phenomenon, also known as autonomous sensory meridian response, sounds scientific, but the term was coined simply to bestow a name to the experience for people to discuss it. People have described the experience as tingling sensations in some parts of their bodies, usually in the head or neck areas. These feelings are then associated with relaxation, comfort, calmness and other general feelings of happiness. Three categories of triggers are responsible for inducing these bodily responses: tactile, visual, and auditory. The tactile stimuli category includes but isn’t limited to light touching, massages and grooming. The visual category then includes gazing, observing and more popularly, hand movements. Finally, auditory stimuli, the most popular one these days, includes a broad range of vocal and object sounds.

Recent research has begun to show that ASMR may be a viable method for treating psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other forms of paranoia. 2018 studies by Lochte et al. and Poerio et al. show how ASMR videos activate specific brain regions, decrease heart rate, and increase skin conductance. Furthermore, a study by Barrat et al. 2015 has even demonstrated how 42% of participants with chronic pain believed that ASMR had an effect on their symptoms. Emma Barrat points out that the ASMR phenomenon may be closely linked to conditions of flow state and synesthesia. People in a state of flow experience heightened focus during tasks. On the other hand, synesthesia is when people associate one form of sensory input, such as color, to another kind, like taste. Such conditions were found to be the case in about 5.9% of surveyed participants in the study.

Other theories such as those proposed by Ahuja (2013) suggest that ASMR is similar to the physical contact people experience through grooming and maternal care. The acts and motions in ASMR then produce feelings of intimacy in the viewer, inducing relaxation responses. From an evolutionary standpoint, viewers feel protected and are thus able to settle into a comfortable mind state, away from the stresses of danger. Psychiatrist, Michael Yasinski even states that ASMR goes as far as shutting down sections of the brain that are critical for stress and anxiety. However, ultimately the present research is limited in its inability to answer why people experience ASMR. Much of it relies heavily on self-reported data from ASMR enthusiasts and not enough has been proven in neurological/biological areas.

So, is ASMR good for you? That is still a difficult question to answer, but the innovative and rising research is suggesting a bright future for ASMR’s potential. While data may be self-reported, the vast number of people feeling more relaxed and getting sleep from the effects of ASMR can’t be just  ignored. ASMR seems to appear greatly psychological at this point, but it may just represent the psychological comfort you’re looking for if you’ve also felt stressed or have been losing sleep in the past days.

References:

https://asmruniversity.com/health-benefits-of-asmr/

https://asmruniversity.com/origin-theory-of-asmr/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2016/jan/08/asmr-and-head-orgasms-whats-the-science-behind-it

https://www.theasmr.com/the-science-behind-asmr/

Sherry Chow
Korean Skin Care Products

Hand cream in panda-shaped containers, face masks that transform your face into a rabbit, lip balms that look suspiciously like popsicles -- if you’ve ever walked through the cosmetics isle in any beauty shop or department store, you probably have noticed a colorful assortment of skin care products filling the shelves, with some of the most popular being Korean beauty products. The amount of Korean beauty products that can be found in the U.S. market has greatly increased and they can easily be spotted through the many celebrity endorsements. Korean beauty products have hit the nation in a wave!

The Korean beauty market, otherwise known as Kbeauty, is now valued at around $13 billion, with $7.2 billion coming from facial skin care. With all the cute designs and affordable rates, it’s no wonder that these cosmetics have caught the people’s eyes. Certainly, a large factor contributing to the success of Korean beauty products is the hallyu movement, otherwise known as the Korean wave. This wave is an increase in popularity in South Korean culture, particularly with the rise of the many internationally acclaimed Korean pop groups composed of numerous adorable heartthrobs. But surely, affordability, cute packaging, and the rise of Korean culture must not be the sole reason why Kbeauty is so popular. There must be some other reason why people keep purchasing Korean skin care products.  

One of the reasons why Korean skin care products may be so popular may be due to the components included in it. Korea is one of the few countries that have “functional cosmetics,” a label used by the Korean Food and Drug Administration to describe the properties some Korean skin care products have, from anti-wrinkle to pigment-fading. This has fueled many beauty companies to research more about creating better products. On the other end, this has also fueled the consumers to learn more about cosmetics. The Korean skin care companies have always been interested in natural ingredients, some of which can sound intimidating at first. The popular brand SkinFood takes this quite literally with their “food cosmetics.” They are taking the phrase “you are what you eat” to a whole new level by incorporating the things that we generally eat, like strawberries and black sugar, into their cosmetics.

There are numerous popular components found in many Korean skin care products. One example is snail mucin. This is known to have hydrating and regenerative powers which can help reduce hyperpigmentation and help moisturize and soothe acne. Snail mucin is produced naturally by snails to help them heal wounds. Another popular component is hyaluronic acid, which is a naturally occurring humectant in our skin tissues that is important in retaining skin moisture. As we age, we produce less of this, resulting in wrinkles and saggy skin. A third example is propolis, an antibacterial substance used in ancient medicine. It can help with cell renewal. Not only is it known for its anti-aging properties, but it is also helps relieve irritation and decrease blemishes. Propolis is a gummy substance used by bees to seal and sterilize their hives. A final component is centella asiatica extract. This extract is a medicinal herb used popularly in Asia, and in Korean folklore, tigers roll in it to help heal their wounds. Asides from healing wounds, it is recommended to treat various skin conditions like eczema and varicose ulcers. There are many more examples, from the common tea tree oil to the anti-aging properties of ginseng.

These are just a few of the interesting ingredients common in Korean skin care. Another great thing about Korean skin care is that you can understand many of its ingredients, making it more fun to research the best product for you. Hopefully this article will help you begin your journey in Korean skin care!

Resources:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/11/health/korean-makeup-beauty-health-benefits/index.html

https://medium.com/s/youthnow/how-k-beauty-conquered-the-west-f8bf81d28bf7

https://beautymnl.com/bloom/articles/k-beauty-101-your-cheat-sheet-to-9-popular-ingredients

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3116297/

https://stylecaster.com/beauty/k-beauty-popular-ingredients/#slide-4

https://blog.euromonitor.com/growth-k-beauty-us-market/

Mary Yoshikawa
The Seriousness of Being a Picky Eater: ARFID

Picky eaters-- we all had that one childhood friend who never ate certain foods, or perhaps we were that picky eater. The term ‘picky eater’ has been used so colloquially that the seriousness of its implications in adulthood are often overlooked. Even in childhood, this is normally dealt with lightly-- we tend to assume that the child will eventually eat when they are hungry, and that avoiding certain foods is just a phase. However, being a picky eater is sometimes not just a phase in a child’s life. It can be signs of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), which has been added to the DSM-V in 2013. Although we commonly think of bulimia or anorexia as common eating disorders, ARFID is also a mental disorder, but with trauma-based causes instead of those related to self-esteem and perception of one’s body image.

ARFID may stem from infancy, especially with premature babies who have spent time in the NICU with tubes in both their noses and mouths. A choking incident can be a trigger for ARFID, as it associates objects in the mouth with the choking. Other causes are also trauma-based, to the point where it convinces one that food is dangerous and potentially deadly. Those with ARFID truly believe that food, especially if in their mouths, will lead to death. This raises the significance of recognizing this disorder, because food is necessary for survival and health. Of course, those who were mere picky eaters in childhood can face an exacerbation of symptoms and develop ARFID. However, it is important to recognize that being a picky eater does not necessarily mean one has ARFID.

Social anxiety is a condition that may be present as well, especially with certain social events involving eating and dining. ARFID is therefore more than just picky eating-- it can be severe to the point of affecting one’s social life and skills. On a related note, those with autism spectrum conditions and ADHD are more likely to suffer from this type of eating disorder as well. Additionally, the diet is very limited for one with ARFID; there can be about 20 to 30 items that one would only eat, but the list gradually shortens as time goes by. There is unwillingness to try new foods, as the individuals have the genuine concern of food being harmful and dangerous. This leads to either severe malnourishment or to obesity, depending on which foods are only being consumed, as well as other physical symptoms.

While ARFID is treatable, it is important to remember that it can not be treated like other eating disorders. Food exposure, which may work with anorexia, does not apply to ARFID and can in fact exacerbate symptoms. It helps if one is motivated to overcome ARFID and is willing to change their lifestyle. This is especially true for teenagers, as social life can be heavily impacted by this disorder. Unlike other disorders, where medication can be prescribed, ARFID is treated better when interacting with therapists, nutritionists, and psychiatrists. Effective treatment includes cognitive behavioral treatment, perhaps in conjunction with anxiety treatment if applicable. Group therapy and having meals in groups has also been found to be helpful. While eating disorders are definitely of serious concern, they can also be treated and overcome if there is a proper diagnosis, motivation to accept change, and proper treatment.

References:

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/parents-may-mistake-picky-eating-for-a-more-serious-eating-disorder#3

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/arfid

https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/effective-treatments-adults-arfid

Stephanie Chan
Endometriosis: Myths and Facts

Endometriosis is a complicated disease that affects about 10% of individuals who have a uterus and are of childbearing age. It is one of those diseases that are often delayed in diagnosis and are often given ineffective treatments. This lack of information complicates the lives of those who have the condition.  The clinical picture of endometriosis is characterized by chronic pain in the pelvic region and infertility. There may also be changes in the digestive and urinary rhythm during the menstrual period.

Is endometriosis simply a strong menstrual cramp? Cramps are only one of the symptoms of endometriosis. Although some people do not experience any pain, many women with endometriosis have severe cramps before, during, and after menstruation. Endometriosis is a condition in which a tissue resembling the endometrium (lining layer inside the uterus) is found outside the uterus. This "shifted" tissue induces an inflammatory response that can result in severe pain and scarring. In addition to cramps, endometriosis can cause pain when urinating, chronic pelvic pain, as well as back, leg and shoulder pain. In some cases, the pain can be so intense that it prevents daily activities such as sitting and walking.

This disorder manifests itself in women who are in their reproductive period and it may first appear soon after the first menses, but the strongest symptoms are usually expressed between the ages of 25 and 35 years old. The disease has no definitive cure, but the treatments can allow for a better quality of life. Physical exercise and healthy eating help in the overall treatment as well.

There are genetic factors involved in the manifestation of endometriosis: women with relatives with endometriosis have an increased risk (of approximately 7%) of developing it. The disorder may also occur as a result of anatomical or biochemical changes. It is an example of endometriosis related to anatomical alterations. There are cases of young women with obstructions that hinder the menstrual flow, as such the remains of the endometrium are forced to travel the retrograde path, towards the uterine tubes, the ovary, and the abdominal cavity. Examples of biochemical alterations that have occurred are women who were exposed to high doses of estrogen administered by their mothers during their intrauterine life .

There are three main forms of the disorder: peritoneal (when implants settle on the inner surface of the pelvic cavity and ovaries), endometriomas (when complex ovarian cysts are coated with endometrioid tissue), and rectovaginal nodules (when endometrioid tissue forms solid nodes). The diagnosis is made from complaints, gynecological examination (which can reveal the existence of nodules as well as enlarged and painful ovaries), and through an ultrasound examination. Smaller implants placed in the abdominal cavity can also be visualized by laparoscopy.

Clinical treatment can be done by using the contraceptive pill (containing estrogen and progesterone or progesterone only), by inhibiting ovarian function, or by using drugs belonging to the aromatase inhibitor group, an important enzyme for estrogen formation. Surgical treatment is almost always done by laparoscopy, which allows the implants to be removed or vaporized by means of laser beams or the application of electric current. Conventional surgeries are indicated only in selected cases.

References:

https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/endometriosis-facts-and-figures

http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/factsheets/endo.htm

Nathalia Schettino