Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gentlemen, Nuke Your Sponges!!

In a recent MedHelp release about the 15 Places Germs Hide in Your Home, they suggest putting a damp kitchen sponge on a plate/bowl and microwaving it for 1 minute on high to disinfect. This struck me as a genius solution for a potentially sickening or expensive dilemma. It has also inspired me to post about sanitization and germ management.

To start off with I feel it is important to define the different levels of disinfection; you may not realize that to sanitize and to sterilize are not quite the same.

Microbe control can be divided into 3 categories:

Most people regularly clean their bathrooms more fastidiously than other areas of their house; meanwhile, they may be unknowingly leaving havens for germs untouched by their army of cleaning products.
As pointed out by the MedHelp article your dish sponge is one of the most bacteria rich places in your entire home; the soles of your shoes, the bottom of your purse, and infrequently washed kitchen areas are also high in bacteria.
However they failed to mention door knobs and handles, light switches, telephones, remote controls, and computer mice/keyboards; perhaps these represent numbers 16-20. Wrist watches, glasses, and belt buckles can also harbor our nasty little nemeses’.

They recommend microwaving things such as kitchen sponges in order to sanitize them; microwaves work by mobilizing water molecules to vibrate at very high rates to produce heat to cook food. This is a very clever use for that technology as far as I am concerned, but there are other ways, things like dish sponges can also be run through a cycle in the dishwasher to accomplish the same goal. The dishwasher is also a great tool for sanitizing cutting boards, coffee pot carafes and filter baskets, and just about anything that is made of hard plastic or metal and can withstand exposure to hot water.

Hard surfaces not intended for food preparation can be disinfected with wipes (made by Clorox or Lysol). These super-handy things can clean your tables (provided they are not a porous wood), doorknobs, light switches, phones, remotes, keyboards, faucets, soap dispensers, tile/laminate floors, glass mirrors/tabletops/screens and monitors, plastic cords and cables, stove knobs, fridge door handle, buttons of the microwave/television/alarm clock/other electronics, and much more.

For those items that may be harmed from exposure to excess moisture, or if you intend to do a more thorough cleaning of electronics, I recommend rubbing alcohol. A tissue held to the opening of a bottle of isopropyl alcohol while inverted or a q-tip dipped in a small cup of it can be a very useful tool for cell phones and deep cleaning your keyboard. Rubbing alcohol is convenient because it evaporates quickly and leaves no residue, but be careful because it can take the finish off of wood or remove certain coatings.

The CDC has also provided a document on sanitary practices for everyday disease prevention.

I hope this helps you kick your cleaning routine up a notch and has led you to be a bit more mindful of all the germ covered things we come in contact with everyday without even realizing it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whats in my food? #1: Flour

Sorry for the infrequent posting, but the life of a graduate student is an unpredictable one, and you just never know when you will have a chance to write.

In my last post I introduced the new topic “What’s in my food” and in this post we will be taking our first bite into the ingredients list on the back of your food package.

Why not start at the beginning? Water, we all know what that is, we all love it, and its pretty hard to consume enough of it to so any harm; though it is possible to die from water intoxication (check out this story about a woman who died from overdosing on water)

What’s next on the list? Flour for a lot of foods, again nothing to scary, we are all pretty familiar with this fluffy white powder, and many of us have a bag full sitting in the cabinet right now.
Flour is a starch made from grain and is typically used either as the main base for baked goods and the like, or used as a thickening agent (food glue). Sometimes multiple kinds of flours are used together.
However, food is not always made with the simple all purpose flour we all know, sometimes a substitute is used. Here’s a list of some other names that may be used for flour, or other ingredients that may be used in place of it (please note this is not a comprehensive list, but it is meant to give you an idea of how one thing can have many names):

Flour and its alternate names:
-          Flour
-          Enriched Flour
-          Bleached Flour
-          Wheat Flour
-          Barley Flour
-          Rice Flour
-          Corn Flour

Flour substitutes/things that are like flour:
-          whole wheat
-          whole grain wheat
-          wheat bran
-          wheat germ
-          whey
-          corn starch
-          modified corn starch
-          whey corn starch
-          corn meal
-          milled corn

As always if there are any questions, please leave me a comment; if you have an item to add to the list, you can leave a comment as well.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's in my food? (Intro)

Okay, after a short summer break, I finally have time to write some more; time for another new topic (don't worry, I have not forgotten about the others, I just want to mix it up a bit).

Topic number 3: What's in my food?

Most pre-packaged foods have a laundry list of ingredients, often starting with water, flour, and some form of sugar or a sugar substitute (something I will address in a future post) before they begin listing the ingredients you expected to find based on the front of the package. But what about all that stuff at the end? Is that stuff really necessary, it is just filler? What am I really putting into my body?

Well, many foods will show you in the Nutrition Facts how much they have of certain vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, C, D, and Calcium, Iron, etc. Typically, this is very helpful and informative; plus, these figures have to be somewhat accurate as required by the FDA. But, in the ingredients list they simply list in order of most to least, i.e. the things first on the list make up more of the food item than the things last on the list. This is helpful, yet ambiguous and many of the items on the list are things you may not recognize. I will be breaking it down for you and hopefully helping you become a more informed and healthier consumer.

We will start by looking at certain vitamins that are often included in your foods ingredient list that you may not recognize. We will look at what acids are used in foods, different preservatives, and anything else I can think of. And of course, if there is something specific you would like me to investigate please leave a comment and I will do my best!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lactose Intolerance

Milk and other dairy products are not only delicious but they are an important part of a healthy diet, providing youir body with necessary nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. 
You or someone you know may have been told that they are lactose intolerant, and thus avoid drinking milk and eating dairy products.

This is a common easy solution to reduce the symptoms associated with the inability to digest dairy. But it is not the only option; many people can actually reverse their lactose intolerance. Let’s break it down….

Lactose is a sugar that is mainly found in milk, and is broken down by an enzyme called lactase or beta-galactosidase. 

~Sidenote: Terms that end with “–ase” are almost always enzymes - that is, a protein with catalytic activity to link two molecules together, break a molecule apart, or both. ~ Similarly, terms that end with “-ose” are almost always sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose – but be careful because sucralose is not a sugar but an artificial sweetener) ~

There are three main causes for issues associated with milk consumption. The first and most severe is an allergy to cow milk. Milk Allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance, as this is an immune mediated response where the body mounts an allergic reaction to the proteins in milk. This can be caused by cow, goat, or even soy milk. 
The second is a genetic mutation causing Lactase Deficency. This means that your cells cannot produce enough lactase to breakdown the lactose from your diet. 
Third, the topic of this post, is a diet induced reduction in lactase production. In individuals with the genetic ability to form lactase, the enzyme levels may drop when they have not been consuming dairy on a regular basis. 
Simply put, the more lactose you consume – the more lactase you produce. If you eat milk products on a regular basis you will produce more lactase. (Here is a fun video that explains why:

When your body isn’t producing enough lactase to breakdown the amount of lactose you consume, you may exhibit symptoms characteristic of ‘lactose intolerance’. These symptoms often include indigestion, stomach upset, and gas, among other gastro-intestinal (GI) issues. As these can all be very uncomfortable and disruptive most people experiencing this will go to the doctor and are told they are lactose intolerant. They then restrict their lactose intake to prevent the symptoms. This is a good fix for someone who does not care for dairy, but those who still enjoy cheese, ice cream or other milk products might find the change difficult or upsetting.

There is hope however; since most healthy individuals have the capacity to change their lactase production. Many people who become lactose intolerant are those who have not eaten much dairy for a period of time and later, when they have some, they develop symptoms.
Therefore if you become lactose intolerant, you can reverse it! 
However, if you are allergic to milk or have a genetic deficency this method will be of no help and could be dangerous; this is for those who have the machinery to produce lactase, but have lowered their production by lowering their lactose ingestion.

It likely won’t be pleasant, and it will likely take a few weeks, but it can be done. The longer it has been since cutting back on dairy products the harder this will be.
It is truly simple too, just drink some milk, or eat some cheese/yogurt/ice cream, etc.
Make sure you start very slow with a half a glass or less a day. When a small amount of dairy no longer bothers you try increasing it a bit. Continue in this fashion until you stop experiencing the symptoms and body can produce enough lactase to breakdown the lactose you consume. 
One study provides evidence for including yogurt as a way to improve symptoms, since the bacteria in yogurt will help you break lactose down.
You may not be able to eat a grilled cheese sandwich a bowl of ice cream and a tall glass of milk all in one sitting, but you should be able to get to a point where you don’t need to worry about how much lactose you are consuming.

If your intolerance has persisted for a long time or is severe, only try this under physician supervision, and go very slowly, but eventually you should be able to eat your favorite dairy products again! If at any time you feel your symptoms are worsening or you no longer feel comfortable going this route, lower your dairy intake and call your doctor.

I want to stress the fact that those born without the ability to produce lactase, by genetic deficiency, cannot induce lactase production by consuming more lactose, for these individuals it would be a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous thing to attempt. It is also important to note that a cow milk allergy also cannot be altered this way, and consumption of dairy in these individuals is a very bad idea.

To reiterate one more time, increasing your dairy intake in the hopes of reversing lactose intolerance should only be attempted by those who have recently developed symptoms and who wish to be able to eat dairy on a regular basis.

For those of you who have not experienced lactose intolerance, you may be thinking, is there a way to prevent developing it? And simply, yes there is, unless you are genetically predisposed to lactase deficiency, or are allergic to milk, by maintaining some level of dairy intake you will continue to stimulate lactase production and prevent drops in enzyme levels.

I hope this is helpful, and I will answer any questions you may have on this topic.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fat #2: What is it used for in my body?

Your body requires fat to function, without any fat you would not be able to survive.
All mammal cells are surrounded by a membrane, known ads the phospho lipid bi-layer, it is 2 layers of phosphates with fatty acids attached. These membranes also contain cholesterol, proteins, and carbohydrates. Every single cell in your body needs fat in order to survive.

~Hydro-what now?? Hydrophobic and hydrophilic are used to describe how atoms and molecules behave in water. Hydro- is the prefix for water, -phillic means something likes water or is easy to mix in water, -phobic means something does not like water (is afraid) and is not easy to mix in water. Examples of hydrophilic things: vinegar, alcohols, fruit juices. Examples of hydrophobic things: oil, fats. Some things can be mixed with both oils and waters depending on their charge and the pH of the solution.~

This membrane structure is important because it is ‘selectively permeable’ to different ions, molecules, and compounds. Things your cells need, like water and ions can freely cross because of their charge and how they interact with the hydrophobic fats. Similarly large molecules such as peptides cannot cross because they do not behave in a manner that allows them to co-exist with both hydrophobic and hydrophilic environments.

When the amount of energy you intake (in the form of sugars, carbohydrates, or fats) exceeds the amount of energy you expend (by doing daily activities, exercising, excreting) your body stores the energy for later use. Your liver converts these energy molecules to free fatty acids and binds 3 of them together with a glycerol molecule and that body cans store. This is called a triglyceride, as mentioned in the last post, and is primarily found in fat cells. These cells have the same membrane as other cells in your body but lack some other organelles, they are basically just a droplet of fat surrounded by a membrane.

Next time we will discuss where in your body you should have fat, how much is healthy and how much is too much.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fat: What is it really?

In this post I will introduce my second theme: FAT! [**dramatic music**]
We will talk about what it really is, what your body does with it, what different types there are, which kinds you should eat and which kinds you should avoid. If at any time you have more questions, please ask and I’ll do my best to answer them. And I will attempt to explain all this without requiring you to have a thorough understanding of biology and chemistry (but maybe a basic one).

What is fat?
On a molecular level, fat is made up of fatty acids which are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogens accompanying each but the last which is whats called a ‘carboxylloc acid’ with a double bond to an oxygen and a hydroxide (or oxygen and hydrogen)
These chains vary in length from several carbons to over 20 long. They also vary in the number and position of double bonds between carbons; as we will see in another post, this can make a big difference to how the fatty acid behaves and what it does in your body.

Fat can be in the form of free fatty acids or as triglycerides. When you eat food most of the fat is in the free form, your body links groups of 3 free fatty acids together with a glycerol for storage as triglycerides.(image courtesy of:

That's all for now, next time we will discuss how important fat is for the regular function of your body; if you would like me to address anything specific, let me know in a comment.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Four Loko - the popular alcoholic energy drink!

Where to start with this one, oh boy!

The alcoholic energy drink produced by Phusion Projects became very popular and the subject of many debates this past year. This drink is called Four Loko and contains 6 or 12 % alcohol by volume in each in 23.5 oz. can. There is another product called Four MaXed that contains 10% alcohol in a 16 oz.can. An average beer has about 4-5% alcohol by volume in 12 oz. After you do a bit of math, 24 oz. of 12% alcohol is about the same amount of alcohol as 5-6 beers.

The primary concern about this drink is its high capacity to incite dangerous situations. We heard numerous stories about young people dying or needing to go to the hospital after drinking Four Loko. The reason it is so dangerous is because of the caffeine. While caffeine alone is a normal part of many Americans' morning pick-me-up, it can be deadly when mixed with alcohol.
I have been unable to find out just how much caffeine is in a can of Four Loko according to the manufacturer, but some quote them as claiming it is as much as a cup of coffee. Some say that it is equivalent to a couple cups of coffee, and a few websites had the number 135 milligrams (mg). However it is unclear whether these figures are referring to the entire can or just 1 serving, I have been unable to find how many servings are in each can, but i assume it is more than 1 since they are nearly 24 oz.
A typical 16 oz. coffee drink from Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks contains approximately 150 mg of caffeine. 16 oz. is equal to 2 cups, so a typical cup of coffee has about 75mg of caffeine. If the number 135 is correct, then there is indeed about 2 cups of coffee worth of caffeine.

Alone neither the amount of alcohol nor caffeine is enough to cause any health problems when consumed over a long enough time period. What gets people into trouble is consuming both at one time, and drinking the entire thing in a short period of time. 
Alcohol at low levels acts an a stimulant and at high levels acts as a depressant; caffeine, on the other hand, acts as a stimulant. Both have significant and opposing neurological and cardiovascular effects. When combined someone will loose their coordination, judgment, and reaction time due to the alcohol; meanwhile the caffeine will make them feel more awake and alert thereby masking the degree of 'drunkenness' often leading to the consumption of more alcohol and/or the illusion that they are capable of driving a vehicle. As you might think, this can get dangerous quite easily. With both alcohol and caffeine on board, someones heart will be told to speed up as well as to slow down, this can become life threatening when consuming even moderate amounts of each as heart failure can occur.
The liver of a healthy adult has the ability to metabolize 1 drink/hour; a drink is defined as 12oz. of beer, 5 0z. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of liquor. When someone drinks more than their liver can handle they begin to feel drunk, and if they drink too much too quickly they can easily become very sick. Alcohol at higher doses can cause alcohol poisoning, coma and death. One entry on Wikipedia states that "drinking a caffeinated alcoholic energy drink is indistinguishable from drinking a couple of glasses of wine followed by a couple of cups of coffee, a typical dinner behavior." However, when someone consumes the volume of a Four Loko they are not likely to do so over 5-6 hours, but closer to 1; they are also not likely to stop at 1 can, or even 2. So imagine drinking 15 beers and 5 cups of coffee in a 2-3 hours, does that sounds like a good idea? I didn't think so, but that is what many people are doing when they drink Four Loko and that is the main cause of the news stories we have been haring about.
The public has become so aware of the negative effects Four Loko can have that some call it a 'Can of Cocaine' and satirical videos have been made. Though these exaggerate and make light of the risks associated with the drink, please do not take the danger lightly.

The drink by itself would not cause illness if only 1 were consumed over a minimum 5 hours. I do not want to say that the product is inherently dangerous or that the company is selling an unsafe product. But when the drink is full of fruity flavor that doesn't taste much like an alcoholic beverage, is sold at low prices so large numbers can be afforded by poor college students, and when someone consumes too many in a short time they put themselves in situations where bad things can happen, and as we have seen, they do. Phusion Projects does have responsible drinking information and resources on their website for those who wish to read it.

Many states have already banned drinks like Four Loko from being sold, if yours has not, please carefully reconsider if you are thinking of buying some. I also understand that Phusion Products may be dropping the caffeine out of the recipe of Four Loko. Until they do, I cannot recommend this product, and if they do, I would still urge consumers to do so carefully. No one under the age of 21 should purchase or drink alcohol, and never drink and drive regardless of what your drink of choice may be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Something I saw on "The Doctors"

There is a popular TV show you may have heard of, and I have referred to previously in posts, it is called The Doctors and in many areas it airs on CBS.

On the episode that aired on January 19th, 2011, they were talking about sleep which is a very important part of everyone's life, poor sleep begets poor health. Time when you are sleeping is time when your body and mind can be refreshed. It is important for everyone to get plenty restful sleep without many interruptions, I can do a whole post on sleep, let me know if you are interested.

The show presented a number of ways to improve your sleep, but one stood out to me:
"2. Bathroom Break: Stop drinking liquids two hours before sleep and urinate immediately before bed. Failing to empty your bladder entirely causes bacteria to multiply and increases your chance of developing a urinary tract infection."
Their rationale being that urine collects and sits in your bladder while you sleep which can make your bladder a "breeding ground" for bacteria. While you are more likely to sleep through the night if you urinate shortly before bed, thereby giving you more uninterrupted sleep, this advice is not sound.

First, in a healthy individual Human Urine is Sterile, and therefore should contain no bacteria at all.

Second, urine sitting in your bladder is not how a Urinary Tract Infection begins, it begins when bacteria attach to the opening of the urethra and begin growing; the NKUDIC has a very thorough description of UTI's and what causes them.

Most importantly, failing to properly hydrate your body during any part of the day can cause much worse health problems than Urinary Tract Infections. While someone who is specifically susceptible to bladder infections (a condition that is more severe than urinary tract infections) or someone who is currently battling a UTI may consider reducing their nighttime fluid intake, this is not a significant concern for most. For those of us with healthy bladders, holding a little extra liquid for a few extra hours, even on a nightly basis is not typically a problem, and people should not risk becoming dehydrated just because the doctors scared them into thinking they might get an infection. 
Dehydration can cause all sorts of health issues, throwing-off your Fluid and Electrolyte Balance can affect your kidneys primarily, however if severe enough it can effect the entire body. Lack of sufficient water causes your cells to shrink and decreases their function, this goes for skin cells, muscle cells, and all internal organs including your brain. Even slight dehydration can become problematic if it is persistent, say for 8 hours, the amount of time it is recommended that humans sleep. Dehydration can quickly begin to affect your immune system which may leave you more susceptible to all sorts of infections. On the other hand, Urinary Tract Infections can be easily prevented with a few glasses of cranberry juice, this simple fix can even treat mild infections.

You probably already experience some extent of dehydration while you sleep. When you wake up in the morning your urine is most likely darker and a bit brown as compared to during the day, this is because you are slightly dehydrated. Urine color is a very direct indicator of hydration level, the lighter and more yellow the more hydrated a person is, the darker and more brown the less hydrated the person is. When you see darker urine it is a good idea to have an extra glass of water.
I always drink a little extra before bed, and sleep with a full glass on my nightstand, I typically also drink a glass when I wake up regardless of the color of my urine. This may be something you could do, but keep in mind over-hydration can be just as serious as dehydration so don't overdo it. The Mayo Clinic recommends 1.5 litres (6.3 cups) each day, and this increases dramatically with exercise.

Take home message: YOU NEED WATER! do not intentionally dehydrate yourself with the belief that you are preventing urinary tract infections, since you are likely doing much more harm than good. Pee before bed, always have some water available, and if your urine is a bit dark, drink an extra glass.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Myths and Misconceptions #1: Daddy Long Legs

I thought is would be cool to theme some posts, theme number 1: Myths and Misconceptions.
The first in this series is a relatively simple one: daddy long legs.

So I bet you have heard the statement “The daddy long leg spider has the most poisonous venom in the world but it can’t bite through your skin because its fangs are too short” or some variation on that.

This is a common myth that is incorrect on several counts. While it is true that daddy long legs cannot hurt you is it not because they are incapable of injecting poisonous venom into your skin.

First, the North American “Daddy Long Leg” is actually the harvestmen which is not a spider at all, though it is an arachnid. It is important to note that there are 2 other animals that can also be referred to as the daddy long leg; the cellar spider and the crane fly, both of which are also harmless.

Second, the Harvestmen has no venom glands and is therefore not poisonous. The cellar spider and crane fly do have venom but are unable to deliver a dose large enough to affect humans.

Third, they have no fangs, so I guess the total lack of fangs would mean that they cannot penetrate human skin, since they don’t even exist.

I hope this was informative and I hope that you will send me any myths and misconceptions you are interested in learning more about.