Meningitis -immunize or die.

October 31, 2008

You may remember being immunized against meningitis before you came to collage. But what do you really know about it? Meningitis is a disease caused by either bacteria or a virus, typically spread through breath or kissing (that’s why they immunize collage students). Viral meningitis tends to be less severe than bacterial meningitis, which can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities. (1)

This disease is extremely deadly, and thus most of the younger generations are immunized against this. When the infecting bacteria enter some of the protective layers of the brain (called meninges), the body produces an inflammatory immune response. When your body does this, it recruits a lot of white blood cells and other immune cells to fight the infection, and this causes severe swelling. The swelling causes pressure to build up within the skull, compressing and damaging the brain.

Thus, most common symptoms of meningitis are a very sudden fever, headache and a stiff neck. If you or anyone you know seems to display these symptoms it is vital that they seek medical attention. Meningitis symptoms often become evident within ours of infection, and can kill someone in 48hrs.

Fortunately, if caught early, meningitis can be treated with antibiotics and the risk of dying from meningitis can be reduced to below 15% . (1)

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial/faqs.htm
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Herpes: You have it. Seriously.

October 24, 2008

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it… and so has everyone around you.”

A while ago, I read an article written in my college newspaper that explained how many people were contracting oral herpes via smoking hookah. This is entirely possible if disposable tips are used and not shared by smokers. A question was brought up about whether or not the herpes virus that causes cold sores could also give you genital herpes.

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it and so has everyone around you. Now, that’s not to say that everyone has genital ulcers. Herpes has a variety of different forms. The form which most commonly causes cold sores is HSV-1. The most common form which causes genital herpes is HSV-2. Yet, here’s the answer to the previous question: HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. So a person with cold sores can give another person genital herpes (most likely through oral sex). Another myth is that a person only is contagious if they are having an outbreak of sores at the time. In fact, herpes is always being shed, whether you are having an outbreak or not. The difference is typically in the amount of virus, though it varies per person and per simplex.

Herpes Simplex Virus-1 causes cold sores

And have you ever heard of “mono?” Known as the “kissing disease,” infectious mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is another type of herpes. This disease infects your white blood cells and is spread through contact with infected saliva. It can cause severe sore throat, exhaustion, spleen swelling… and yet it can also have no symptoms. Then, for the rest of your life, you retain the virus and shed it, thus passing it on to other people.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of chicken pox. Did you know it is also a form of herpes? It is shed in droplets from an infected persons nose or throat, or from direct contact with the skin lesions. After contracting it once, most people will develop lifelong immunity to the virus, though the virus remains latently in the body. On rare occasions, it reoccurs in the form of shingles.

You may have thought herpes had nothing to do with you, but herpes can… surprise you.


Are you being poisoned by aluminum… daily?

October 17, 2008

The Earth’s crust is extremely rich in aluminum, and it’s chemical and physical properties allow it to be used in a variety of forms. It is considered to be a toxic metal ion. (1) You may exposed to aluminum daily in minor amounts via food, through leaching with aluminum cookware, and through antiperspirant (whose active ingredient is aluminum).

Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease characterized by deteriorating memory loss and dementia. It is the most common cognitive degenerative disease world wide and as many as 4.5 million Americans may suffer from this lethal illness. (2)

The causative factors of Alzheimer’s disease are not well understood. Research seems to indicate that a variety of risk factors may contribute to the onset of the disease, including advanced age (>65), genetic factors, and potential environmental factors. (2)

In the past, a link was proposed between consumption of aluminum and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists found traces of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, yet after many years and studies, no conclusive causative link has been verified between aluminum and this disease. (3)

Many people are hesitant to use aluminum cookware for fear that it will leach the metal into their food, and consumption of this will be detrimental to their long term health. According to one study, aluminum does in fact leach into food, typically when they are acidic. (1) Considered to be a potential neurotoxin, aluminum negatively affects metabolic reactions. (4)

According to the National Institute on Aging, “several risk factor genes may interact with each other and with non-genetic factors to cause the disease,” (2) and it is certainly inconclusive whether aluminum directly causes Alzheimer’s. However, it may be that someone with a family history of the disease who also exposes his or herself to aluminum in cookware and antiperspirants may be increasing the risk factors for the disease.

More studies need to be performed for any conclusive evidence on this subject, but as someone who has a family history of Alzheimer’s (all of whom consumed large amounts of aluminum via their environment for all their lives), I feel that caution is not unreasonable when it comes to limiting my aluminum exposure by using non-aluminum cookware and non-aluminum containing antiperspirants.

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6THH-4K18VPJ-C&_user=1493582&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1493582&md5=6f9eb36c3013a22dfcfdc71a33ea508d#secx
  2. http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/adfact.htm
  3. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/controversial-claims-risk-factors
  4. http://grande.nal.usda.gov/ibids/index.php?mode2=detail&origin=ibids_references&therow=210430

Hookah: Worse for you than cigarettes?

October 10, 2008

“The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.”
-World Health Organization Advisory

Hookah. It’s a pastime. You can sit down; relax with a group of friends for an hour or so and smoke some sweetly flavored steam…. Right?

Well, no. That’s the pretty side of the issue. Here’s the dirty end:

Hookah is purported to have been invented by an Indian physician, Hakim Abul Fath, around the 1600’s as an alternative and safer method for smoking tobacco. He believed that the smoke, once passed through water, would be rendered harmless. (1)

Subsequently, this belief has spread and is often used to support hookah use over cigarette or other forms of tobacco use.

From a World Health Organization advisory on the health effects of water pipe smoking:

“A waterpipe smoking session may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period of time than occurs when smoking a cigarette. Typically, a cigarette smoker will take 8-12, 40-75ml puffs over about 5-7 minutes and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke.

In contrast, waterpipe smoking sessions typically last 20-80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50-200 puffs which range from about 0.15 to 1 liter each. The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.” (1)

Water does absorb a small amount of the nicotine, yet, as the WHO advisory states, “it is likely that the reduced concentration of nicotine in the waterpipe smoke may result in smokers inhaling higher amounts of smoke and thus exposing themselves to higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals and hazardous gases.” (1)

Due to the nicotine, heavy metals and carbon monoxide (and various other toxic chemicals) that are in hookah smoke even after it passes through the water, hookah smokers are at a heightened risk of developing cancer, hearth disease, respiratory disease and problems with pregnancy. (1)

Some studies show that hookah smoke contains 802mg of tar, compared to 22.3mg for cigarettes. Hookah smoke also contains 145mg of carbon monoxide compared to 17.3mg for cigarettes. That means, regardless of the nicotine intake, there is about 36 times the tar and 8 times the carbon monoxide in hookah than in cigarettes. (2)

Studies on hookah’s health effects are lacking, and more need to be performed. Current science shows that hookah is just as dangerous for a person’s health as cigarettes.

Personally, I feel that outlawing psychoactive drugs is an uphill battle, at best. It’s extremely hard to impose and expensive to fund the law enforcement.

Hookah is considered to be a fairly healthy alternative to cigarettes, and most people who would not ever consider smoking a cigarette smoke hookah regularly. This misconception has contributed to more hookah users who are unaware of the toxicity involved in this smoking pattern.

Moral of the story: More people need to be educated on the severe dangers of hookah and the misconceptions about it and more research needs to be done to support this educational initiative.

1. http://www.who.int/tobacco/global_interaction/tobreg/Waterpipe%20recommendation_Final.pdf

2. Alan Shihadeh and Rawad Saleh, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Carbon Monoxide, “Tar”, and Nicotine in the Mainstream Smoke Aerosal of the Narghile Water Pipe, American University of Beirut, 2005, 7.


Educating in Science: The Need for Change

October 2, 2008

 

 

A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom in the pupils.
~Ever Garrison

After the vice-presidential debates, I find myself looking to the main political issues I have always been passionate about. One of the biggest problems in the United States today is inadequate education. Public school teachers work extremely hard, for extremely long hours and get paid very little –certainly far less than what they are worth to our nation and our future!

Education ought to be a major focus for our nation’s new president, as well as creating a focused initiative for a nationalized renewable energy plan. Though there are numerous important issues (and certainly we all have pet issues we care more about than others), I suspect that we can all agree on the significance of education.

The United States’ students are falling behind dozens of nations around the world, and this must change in order to secure our economy and the future of ‘our children’ (I put this in quotes because I am one of these children whose future is in jeopardy).

What needs to be done? I could write a book on the needs of the current education system, and indeed, many books have already been written by those more qualified than I, yet I would like to focus on one small facet of the subject.

Science. Finding a way to create new ways of interesting and captivating students with the wonders of the human body, of the physics of the world and thus fueling their pursuit towards careers in medicine, engineering, research, etc. Teaching has been underfunded and has not caught up with the tools of the time. Technology is a vital tool that teachers can use to create 3D environments to explain that which previously could only explained in 2D. Imagine being back in your first high school biology class, and instead of learning about the structures of a cell from this picture in your text book…

…instead you learn from a cinematic-like fascinating 3D animation of the cell:

Hi Res:
http://aimediaserver4.com/studiodaily/videoplayer/?src=ai4/harvard/harvard.swf&width=640&height=520

Lo Res:
http://aimediaserver.com/studiodaily/videoplayer/?src=harvard/harvard_low.swf&width=640&height=520

Every one of those cellular activities is occurring in your body right now. Stunning, isn’t it? Not like you remember that awful biology class to be like, eh?

This animation was created by a cooperative effort between leading animation experts and several of Harvard University’s medically experienced faculty. It is a fantastic example of the use of modern technology to create a more accessible understanding of science.

More research needs to be done on how best to teach students, especially with the U.S.’s failing scores in science and math. Then, schools and teachers need to be equipped with the tools (and funding) to implement these innovative teaching methods. Thus, we can bring education into the modern day and out of the comparative dark ages.

The above video is enthralling and beautiful, so I hope you’ve taken a moment to watch (and listen) to it. There is an educational version which explains the actual biological events occurring, which can be seen here:

http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife.html