Author Archives: Megan Elizabeth Lasko

Why was Sandy SO powerful?

sandy2.jpgI’m not one to blog about clich� topics, but an article on Reuters presented two interesting aspects to the Hurricane Sandy frenzy. It reported in detail some possible answers to the questions many Americans are curious about:

What caused Hurricane Sandy? And why was it a storm of so much power?

A COMBINATION OF TWO STORMS…

The article explains an interesting aspect of Sandy. It explains that scientists set it aside from previous storms not only because of its mass destruction and power, but a unique combination of tropical hurricane effects mixed in with various components of a winter storm. Professor of Atmospheric Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kerry Emanuel, is quoted in the article calling this a “hybrid storm”. He notes that tropical hurricanes and winter storms operate differently – thus why the joint forces of the two is a deadly mix.

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According to the article, the storm was originally fueled by abnormally warm temperatures for the season – as is the case with many hurricanes. However, as Sandy plummeted up the Caribbean, she met with Artic winter weather patterns that increased both her size and power phenomenally. Scientists believe the Artic weather patterns brewing near the east coast were to result in a pretty powerful winter storm, but Sandy and her tropical hurricane patterns met with the winter storm and gave it a bit of a “head start”.

Senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, Kevin Trenberth, is one of the firm believers that this storm evolved into such a powerful one because of the combination of the two intense weather patterns. He believes the timing was everything when it came to a storm of such dangerous power – coining it a “meteorological bomb”.

The reason that this “hybrid storm” theory is so interesting is because according to the article, it seems many scientists stand firm on the idea that gradual climate changes – specifically global warming – are the reason for destructive hurricanes of the past, and the reason Sandy was so brutal. Scientists like the aforementioned Kerry Emanuel and Kevin Trenberth, however, believe the warming climate is free of charge in the case of Sandy and it was fully caused by the combining of the two weather systems. The article indicates that both scientists firmly believe climate change is a main cause of tropical hurricanes, but Emanuel specifically expresses that climate change’s role in this storm would need further investigation.

OR SIMPLY THE INTESIFYING OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE?

As I said, however, other scientists stand firm on the belief that global warming is the sole cause of such destructive storms, including Sandy. The article tells of things like increased ocean water temperatures, increased sea levels, air-moisture containment, and possibly even greenhouse gases(live link) being the inciting factors of Hurricane Sandy.

As for increased sea levels, it is believed that melting ice and water expansion as a result of increased temperatures have led to an average sea level increase of 8 inches in the past 100 years (reuters). Higher sea levels are dangerous because they increase the intensity of storm surges – as shared by a professor of physics Stefan Rahmstorf.

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In the case of air-moisture containment: the higher the temperature, the more moisture the atmosphere can contain – resulting in more rain.

The article even suggests greenhouse gases as a possible relation to Sandy’s power. However, the research on this is weak – and studies on the matter have really only been used to explain weather phenomena such as previously occurring heat waves.

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There are clearly two sides to the “What caused Hurricane Sandy (and her intensity)?”‘s story. In my opinion the answer seems simple – the climate warming effects are what triggered Sandy as a tropical hurricane, and her meeting with the Artic storm is what resulted in her intensity.

What do you think about the cause? Was it an unfortunate fate of timing for the two storms meeting that made it so powerful? Or was the power simply due to ever-increasing climate change (via global warming)? Is it just that global warming (that is to say if it even exists) effects are intensifying yearly – producing more deadly storms?

 

The less disciplining…the better?

operantconditioning.jpgOne of the most effective ways a teaching a child proper behavior is through a technique known as operant conditioning. The term, created and analyzed by well-known 20th century psychologist B.F. Skinner, explains the practice by which behavior is modified through the use of either reinforcement or punishment. There are positive or negative aspects of each. Before I get into my argument (which will include the problems that are associated with this type of discipline and children’s moral development), it is first important to understand the four main aspects of operant conditioning:

Reinforcement refers to the measures taken to increase a behavior:

1. Positive reinforcement is when a behavior is rewarded with positive stimulus, thus increasing the learner’s frequency of that behavior.

2. Negative reinforcement is when a negative stimulus is removed after good behavior, thus increasing the learner’s frequency of that behavior.

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Punishment refers to the measures taken to decrease a behavior’s frequency:

3. Positive punishment is when a negative stimulus is added after a “bad” behavior, thus decreasing the learner’s frequency of that behavior.

4. Negative punishment is when a positive stimulus is removed after a “bad” behavior, thus decreasing the learner’s frequency of that behavior.

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Operant condition is part of series of teaching techniques that I learned about in psychology last year, so when I stumbled across an article on the subject titled “Why Discipline is Overrated,” I was interested to see the problems psychologists believe exist with this form of learning – seeing as it is a highly popular and natural type of disciplining children in their early behavioral development.

In the particular article in I linked to above, one of the main arguments they make against operant conditioning is that while it may result in improvement in a child’s behavior, it is not healthy for their moral development and understanding why it is important to behave well and be a “good person”. If the child is consistently being rewarded for good actions and punished for bad, the individual will continue to act only out of expectance of a reward or punishment, not out of a desire for good character or the benefit of others around them.

This theory presents the issue of what will happen when the authoritative figure is not around in the child’s life to reward/punish him or her. Do you think it is likely that the child will immediately recognize the absence of the reward or punishment and realize they can “get away” with a bad behavior? Will there be a lag in moral development that resulted from constant operant conditioning as a young child – one in which the child knows that just because he/she will not be rewarded or punished…it is okay to go on with the bad behavior? Will there be no concern of personal character and conduct? These are the questions psychologists seem to be asking on the subject.

This lag in moral development can be better explained through the use of Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Preconventional is what is expected of young children – an egocentric stage in which the child’s prime concern is about themselves. They choose their actions strictly based on how the action will be rewarded or punished – an attitude based on the egocentric question “what’s in it for me?”

With operant conditioning, the child may never be able to develop into the next stages (conventional and postconventional) which shift away from egocentric motives and begin focus on how their actions will affect overall personal character, what is considered morally correct in society, and how they will affect those who surround them.

Do you think children who are over disciplined by operant conditioning will become teenagers, or even adults, who choose their actions based solely on what’s “in it for them”?

If too much operant conditioning in early childhood is a problem, a very significant and difficult question is: what form of discipline will result in healthy transition of moral development stages for an early learner?

The article explains education critic Alfie Kohn’s belief that parents/guardians should limit the use of operant conditioning and instead let the children use strategic problem solving to make decisions for themselves without receiving reward or punishment.

While I guess Kohn’s idea would be beneficial in a child not expecting a reward for being good, I don’t foresee good results coming from a child not being punished. Perhaps the natural reaction and influence of a social environment would teach kids “the hard way” what is and isn’t acceptable in society.

The concept is very hard – and there seems no clear-cut solution. While too much operant conditioning does seem (according to the article) to stunt moral development, will too much lack of operant conditioning have children at a behavioral setback by the time they begin preschool?

This subject is very interesting to me because it can go so many different ways. That’s why I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you think operant conditioning, the most common way to discipline small children, is the most effective in creating a “good person”? Or do you think this tactic over-disciplines the child to the point where there is no comprehension of why they’re acting the way they’re acting aside from how it can benefit them?

If you believe it is over-disciplining, what solution can you propose for early childhood moral development?

 

Healthy Children at HIGHER Risk of Fatal Flu?

flu1rere.jpgI could not resist clicking on one of the featured stories on my home website earlier (dell.msn.com) today after reading the title: “Teen’s death shows how flu can kill in a flash“. With all the talking we’ve been doing lately about the flu shot and vaccines in general, I wanted to see if this article had anything to contribute relating to our classroom debate on whether or not the flu vaccination is worth getting. I think Andrew will be happy to know that the article stresses the importance of getting the flu shot as it tells the story of Austin Booth (pictured below) – a perfectly healthy seventeen year old boy who was playing in a basketball game just seven days before influenza killed him.

 

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The article’s main purpose, however, is not to debate the importance of getting a flu shot, but instead to report on a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggests perfectly healthy kids (such as Austin Booth) infected by the flu die at a faster rate (3-4 days on average) than those infected who have high risk conditions in combination with the flu, such as asthma or cerebral palsy, who die an average of 7 days after infection. Interstingly enough, the study also found that almost half (43%) of all children who fell fatal to the flu were previously in perfect health.

But why?

Although no set explanation is available, the article presents two theories.

One theory is that the parents of children with longstanding health problems have an automatic response to seek medical care at the very slightest sign of the flu, as the world of medical aid is very familiar to them. Thus, these unhealthy children are more likely to be treated shortly after the disease has infected them.

Does this theory answer the question presented though? Does being treated at a faster rate relate to prolonged life by only a few days?

Another theory suggests that in healthy children, the formerly unfocused immune system goes into “overdrive” when presented with the flu virus.

I am not totally sure what this means as the article doesn’t elaborate and I couldn’t find further information on the theory, but I’d assume it means the previously unfocused immune system of a healthy child is overworked when presented with horrors of the influenza virus, having a reverse effect on its healing power. This reverse effect prevents any calming of flu symptoms, causing the healthier children to die at a faster rate. Is this to say that the previously unhealthy children, whose immune systems are already at work with other illnesses, die at a slower rate because their immune system takes a slightly less forceful approach to the flu virus? Is that more subtle approach what keeps these children alive for several more days?

The second theory is very much up in the air for me. I’d love to know what you guys theorize about the healthy kids’ immune systems “going into overdrive”.

To end this blog, I’m going to stray a bit from the topic to please Andrew. This article also strongly emphasizes the importance of getting your flu shot! And soon!

Both the article and the study have an obvious underlying message that the flu is a disease that can kill quickly. Dr. Karen Wong of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the mentioned study, is quoted in the article:

“Because the study did find a lot of otherwise healthy kids who did have influenza-associated deaths and because we know deaths can happen fast, prevention is best, and the best prevention is the vaccine.”

An even more powerful quote on the subject comes from Regina Booth, mother of the aforementioned seventeen-year-old Austin Booth. After talking about how she watched her son go from perfectly healthy to watching his organs shut down from the flu in just one week’s time, she expresses her everlasting regret of not taking Austin to get the shot. Booth states:

“If I would have taken him to the doctor sooner they would have said he has the flu and sent him home. Nothing would have changed. The only thing I look back at now — I wish we would have gotten the flu shot that year.”

 

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Still not convinced getting the flu shot is worth it? What are your thoughts?

And what are your thoughts on the study? Why do you think healthier children die at a faster rate than those with longstanding health problems? Do you agree with the theories? What do you think of the second theory and the immune system “going into overdrive?”

The Science Behind Fashion!

Teaching Assistant Rachel had some great blog-idea suggestions in class a while back, and I could not resist the urge to research her mention of the psychology of fashion. Not to be completely clich�, but as an eighteen-year-old girl, I presumably love to shop and maintain the latest trends in my wardrobe. After doing moderate research based on Rachel’s suggestion, I was completely fascinated to learn of the complex psychological processes that my brain is undergoing during a typical trip to the mall. So much science is involved in shopping and trendsetting! Ladies – and you fashion forward boys – pay attention to this intriguing information!

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Something all fashion lovers have in common is a love for trends: specific styles being promoted during a certain period of time According to Jennifer Baumbgartner in her article “The Psychology of Fashion, the short life span of trends are what makes them so desirable to us. It actually has to do with the grey matter in our brain!

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Baumbgartner reports that the grey matter (the regions of the brain consisting mainly of cell bodies) reacts fondly to new things. Simply put: our brain undergoes a process that makes us feel rewarded when we see a new thing for the first time, including new trends on the runway. A study mentioned in her article done by Drs. Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Duzel more complexly explain this, reporting that the region of our brain associated with reward circuitry, the negra/ventral tegmental area, is activated when we discover and see new things. It is to say that we undergo a form of neural relief and enjoyment when we first lay eyes on the most current thing considered “in style”.

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As is the case with almost all psychological findings, Baumbgartner also reported that our tendency to fall into the “trend trap” may actually be an evolutionary adaptation. Naturally, when humans and living species alike are presented with an unknown stimulus in their environments, they intuitively assess whether the new stimulus is harmful or beneficial. Baumgartner did not expand on this finding, but I would assume that in the case of unfamiliar fashions as unfamiliar stimuli, our brains instinctively give attention to the new trend as we try to decipher whether we like or dislike it for ourselves (i.e. will it be beneficial to our wardrobe?)

The article also delineates that our desire for new fashion gives us a pleasing sense of self-reinvention. While not a drastic form of self-reinvention, wearing a new style can still give us the benefits any type of reinvention is associated with. In my opinion, it is satisfying to make a positive change in our lives as it gives us a sense of personal evolvement and accomplishment.

At the end of her article Baumbgartner presented a completely different but equally engaging aspect of psychology in fashion. She got more specific by listing why our brains like the specific look of current trends (granted this article was written in February of last year during Fashion Week, some of the trends remain current). There were actually scientific suggestions (by personal stylist Jill Marinelli) behind why women fell in love with last spring’s trends of femininity and bold colors. I compiled a list of these examples:

1.       Femininity: The peplum skirt/dress trend is one we see all over stores today (pictured below). Marinelli suggests that this design portrays the ideal hip-to-waist ratio for women that the brain is naturally attracted to. The ratio represents “fertility and health” in the human brain.

peplumreal.jpg                                    Picture above is the “peplum” styled skirt.

2.       Bold Colors: The explanation for the popularity of these strong hues may actually have to do with daily internal struggles. Between going through economic crisis and the increasingly colder, shorter winter days approaching. Marinelli suggests that warm colors psychologically bring us feelings of warmth and comfort.

Another article on Vogue.com titled “Confidence Dressing: How Clothing Affects the  Mind” reported on another fashion psychology study that was published on the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology’s website. Contrary to the previous findings I reported on, this study focused on something called enclothed cognition. Enclothed cognition refers to the “strong cultural association[s]” we have with certain clothing garments. The theory behind enclothed cognition is that these associations we make with garments are likely to affect the attitude we take on while wearing them.

The Vogue.com article gives the example from the study of test-takers wearing white doctor coats producing better test results than those who wore regular clothes. From these results, the study is suggesting that wearing the white coats may have made the test-takers feel smarter and more confident.

I’d say that the results of this study seem accurate. I’d assume most would agree that we feel more confident when we take time to put on a “nice” outfit, or more flirtatious when we feel what we’re wearing is sexy. To me, it seems like a no-brainer. But do you agree? Does what you clothe yourself in in the morning affect not only how you act, but how you think for the entire day?

And as for the previous study I mentioned on trends: do you believe our fondness and obsession with trends can actually be linked to an evolutionary adaptation?

 

Truth Behind Aphrodisiacs

aphro1real.jpgWhile researching my last blog on chocolate, I repetitively saw mention of it being an “aphrodisiac”. I’m sure everyone is familiar with this term but if not, it is a term pertaining to something (usually a food) that has a stimulating effect on one’s sexual desire. I decided to research other foods that are considered “aphrodisiacs” – I was curious to know what exactly about these foods makes them able to affect one’s sexual desires.

One article explained that aphrodisiacs are considered to work in one of two ways: they either have an effect on the mind or on the body. The substances considered to have an effect on the mind typically deal with lowering inhibitions and creating a more relaxed, casual mood – which can increase feelings of sexual desire. The substances considered to have an effect on the body pertain to those that physiologically affect the body (i.e. alter hormone levels). I decided to research three popular foods considered aphrodisiacs and decipher which of the two mechanisms (body or mind) its power is propelled by, and how exactly each works.

1.       Chocolate: Most would agree that chocolate is a popular gift choice onaphro2real.jpg Valentine’s Day because it not only symbolizes love, but has been rumored to rev up one’s sex drive. Chocolate contains phenylethalamine (PAE), a chemical that doctors Donald F. Klein and Michael R. Liebowitz previously determined to be released in the brain when one feels “in love.” After this correlation, chocolate was considered an aphrodisiac that had an effect on the body. However, scientists soon found this physiological evidence was invalid because an enzyme called monoamine oxidase booted chocolate-produced PAE from our bloodstream too quickly for it to have such an effect. (source)

What do you think it is about chocolate that turns people on? Is it simply just its association with love and being made out to feel special by receiving it? This would make it an aphrodisiac that has an effect on the mind.  Or do you think there really is science behind it?

2.       Seafood: Our fish friends have also been rumored to be an aphrodisiac food. When a couple goes out on a date to a seafood restaurant, it’s instantly considered a classy, romantic date. After researching seafood’s aphrodisiac effects, I discovered that seafood’s aphrodisiac qualities can be attributed to having an effect on the mind. For example, this write up describes that there is obviously something about hand serving shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce to your significant other that will stir erotic emotions. Perhaps this all has to do with visual stimulation?

However, certain types of seafood are actually known to have a very strong and significant physical effect on the body. Oysters are actually considered nearly equivalent to Viagra, the male sexual performanceaphro3 real.jpg enhancement drug! While this is just a rumor and very little scientific evidence exists to back it up, the high level of zinc is what’s responsible for this suggestion. According to an article on FoxNews.com, zinc is associated with “male fertility, potency, sex drive, and is essential for sperm production.” Considering one oyster contains the daily zinc requirement (information I also obtained from the Fox News article), it is crazy to imagine what a full oyster meal would do to a male.

Other seafood aphrodisiac effects have been animal-tested. A study with clams and mussels in which rats consumed the two shellfish was conducted. The rats who consumed the food were noted to have higher sexual activity than the rats that did not.

Again, we approach a similar question we reached after debating chocolate’s aphrodisiac effects: is seafood just a turn on because it’s expensive and considered “classy” or “romantic” dining? Or does it contain certain elements that physically “turn us on”?

3.       Red Wine: Red wine’s effects on the body and effects on the mind both seem easy to pinpoint. As for affecting the mind, it’s common knowledge that wine often alludes to romance, especially red wine – as red is the symbolic color of passion and love. As for affecting the body, it’s common knowledge that any type of alcohol lowers inhibitions and relaxes us – putting one in a more sexual  mood.

However, this article explains other ways in which wine may act as an aphrodisiac with effects on the body. The article states that for women, the smells of certain red wines are relative to the scent of male pheromones.  Pheromones are chemicals that a species excretes thataphro4real.jpg promote a social response of members of the same species. In this case, the social response from the female species would be an increased sexual libido.

Does smell really have an effect on the way wine works to increase our sex drive? Or is it just the alcohol being alcohol? OR is it the color and symbols we associate with red wine that act as the turn on?

                All three of these claimed “aphrodisiacs” obviously have suggested effects on the mind or on the body. Which do you think plays the bigger role? Do you even believe in the idea of aphrodisiacs at all…or do you think they’re just a myth that’s exaggerated by platforms such as advertising, television and movies?

We love chocolate and chocolate loves us back

cacao tree.jpgAside from the guilt I feel as I sit here downing my king-sized Snickers bar, I am of course thoroughly enjoying my snack and experiencing a moment of true bliss.  All of you chocolate lovers (or just chocolate likers) out there know the feeling I’m talking about – chocolate really does seem to be mood changing…and science proves (for the most part) that it is!

Chocolate, which is derived from beans located on the inside of bright yellow and orange pods that grow along the trunk of the cacao tree, has a complex chemical make-up.  According to this website, the chocolate we eat contains over 600 chemicals.  Don’t be alarmed by the sound of this – many of these chemicals are responsible for what enhances our mood when we eat it!

The chemicals present in chocolate trigger the release of certain neurotransmitters  in our brain.  For those of you who don’t know, a neurotransmitter is a chemical that lets signals travel from one neuron to another.  Chocolate has proven to stimulate the release of many “happy” neurotransmitters – the ones that make us “feel good”.  Because chocolate can increase the number of these “happy” neurotransmitters, and the amount of neurotransmitters present in the brain at a given time can strongly affect one’s mood, chocolate can give a person an overall feeling of well-being. 

I wanted to learn more about each of these happy little signal messengers in our brain, and found extensive information about each one stimulated by chocolate in an online report.

I comprised a list for the intentions of this blog of the neurotransmitters that chocolate’s chemicals stimulate:

Endorphins: Most of you are probably familiar with endorphins.  When these are released in the brain, pain and stress levels decrease.  Their release also results in a feeling of extreme happiness, or euphoria.

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Serotonin: One of chocolate’s chemicals, tryptophan, triggers the release of serotonin.  You may have heard about serotonin being linked to depression. Serotonin is an antidepressant; it is the feel good chemical that a person considered “depressed” lacks in his or her brain.

There are also some less common, but much more interesting neurotransmitters that are stimulated by chocolate.  When I say “more interesting”, I am alluding to the fact that these ones have “feel good” effects that are scarily similar to some “feel good” drugs!

Phenylethylamine: Another brain component stimulated by chocolate!  Actually a neuromodulator, something very similar to a neurotransmitter, phenylethylamine changes blood sugar levels and blood sugar in a way that results in increased alertness and excitement.  It is very similar to the psychostimulant drug amphetamine as it also functions in decreasing stress and depression. 

Lipid Anandamide: This neurotransmitter found in chocolate activates the receptor in the brain that triggers dopamine release in a manner very similar to the way tetrahydrocannabinol (more commonly known as THC) found in marijuana does.  Dopamine release creates in our bodies the feelings we relate to being “high”.  Anandamide is actually naturally present in the brain, but usually breaks down very rapidly after release.  Chocolate actually contains two other chemicals the slow anandamide’s breakdown – thus extending the feelings of elation. 

                -To clear things up, the levels of THC in marijuana are much greater and react with a  much larger range of neurotransmitter receptors than is the case with anadamide in chocolate.  Chocolate obviously would not get one as high as if they smoked marijuana, and this is why.

It is not a neurotransmitter, but theobromine is another one of chocolate’s 600 chemicals that can have mood-changing effects.  Theobromine directly affects the nervous system in a way that results in both mental and physical relaxation.

In my research, this website explained that despite all of these wonderful claimedchocbar.jpg mood-enhancers present in chocolate confections, there is very little proof that it actually enhances our mood.  I think most of us would agree that despite this lack of evidence, a piece of chocolate a day can provide any of us a minor pick me up!  However, do YOU think the mood enhancement is really a result of chocolate’s ability to trigger “happy” neurotransmitter levels in our brain, or do you think it is simply our taste buds that are happy?

I don’t believe tiny taste buds could possibly create the feelings of bodily euphoria that that Snickers bar just gave me!  I like to believe chocolate creates this neurotransmitter frenzy in our brain.

 

Why Does Alcohol Make Us Hungry?

drunkblog1re.jpgAfter reading what our fellow classmate Hayley Geller had to say in her blog about the dreaded freshman 15 that results primarily from drinking paired with munchie eating, I became curious as to why drinking triggers an appetite.  More importantly, why does drinking trigger such an unhealthy appetite? I don’t see any drunk college students searching for an apple or some carrots to snack on in the wee hours of the morning.

In one article I read, the explanation involved alcohols attachment to the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brains: GABA.  When alcohol is consumed and attached to this neurotransmitter, it slows things down and reduces stress and anxiety levels.  Because it lessens our sense of inhibition, we feel much less guilty than we normally would about wolfing down a greasy slice of pizza or some fries.  This reasoning simply suggests that the health-conscious part of our brain turns off when alcohol is consumed.

Sure this initial explanation helped, but I found it to be too obvious.  I decided to do more research about what it is exactly that makes our stomachs feel empty and truly hungry when we drink.

The second online article I read, I found more of the physiological explanation I was looking for.  This reading explained that alcohol stimulates the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates things such as body temperature, circadian rhythms, and most importantly for this case: HUNGER.  This triggering of the hypothalamus causes us to feel hungry at a time when we may not normally feel hungry – and in particular, for unhealthy foods!

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Another article suggested that the reason for the dreaded drunk munchies has to do with alcohol’s effect on our blood sugar (glucose).  Because our bodydrunkblog3re.jpg recognizes alcohol as a poison, many bodily mechanisms are triggered to excrete it.  The effort our body is making ceases its ability to maintain healthy glucose levels.  The article states that this drop in blood pressure may result in a sudden and strong carb craving – which would explain why we not only get hungry when we drink, but why we crave those unhealthy, carb-abundant foods.

These three explanations for the “drunk munchies” most likely collaborate to explain this unfortunate phenomenon.  Between our inhibitory factor being turned off, our hypothalamus being triggered, and a drop in blood sugar – alcohol seems to be a dead-set diet destroyer (not to mention the empty calories that alcohol itself).

If you can’t completely avoid the drunk munchies, try your best (and I KNOW it’s hard) to make healthier choices than an R U Hungry Fat sandwich or a slice of Canyon Pizza.  In my searching, I came across this blog that makes some great suggestions for munchie snacks that will satisfy your late night cravings for under 250 calories!  I noticed that many of the blogger’s suggestions still contain a sufficient amount of carbs to satisfy that dreaded carb craving, but are much healthier than the greasy alternatives one would usually choose.

All of my researched explanations for “drunk munchie” cravings seem legitimate, but what do you believe to be the true explanation for our bad late-night habits?

Do you think our lowered inhibitions and carefree attitudes under the influence of alcohol are what allows us to think it’s okay to pig out? Or do you think it’s more physiological, and that our body needs the food, due to things like lowered blood sugar?

Make Time Every Day to…Worry?

I feel it would be a safe assumption to say that this past Saturday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the majority of you were decked out in blue and white gear participating in “WE ARE” chants while preparing for our beloved football team to take on Navy.  This past Saturday at 3 o’clock, I was lying in my bed back home in Northeastern Pennsylvania desperately trying to catch up on my schoolwork.  After a series of mild anxiety attacks last week, I threw up my white flag and told myself I needed a weekend off from the State College excitement.  Anxiety has been getting the best of me since the start of classes three weeks ago. 

I have never been away from home for more than a week before coming to Penn State, and I have definitely NEVER been so busy.  I realize that every college student has a schedule as hectic as mine, and back at home I realized I needed to accept my busy new lifestyle and find a way to deal with the anxiety.

 

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I took to the internet to look for suggestions on how to overcome my stress-prone habits.  Initially, a lot of well-known results popped up: working out, doing something you enjoy for an hour each day, etc.  However, one article caught my attention.  It suggests the method of simply setting aside an allotted time slot in your day that is designated for worrying.  At first I thought this sounded like the opposite of being helpful, but decided to continue reading about the method.

Although the initial idea for the study began in the Netherlands, it was more recently observed by American researchers starting in the early 1980s.  It began with a group of 62 patients who were under some type of high level stress.  The study focused on a technique called “stimulus control,” which involves setting aside a specific amount of time each day for the patients to sort out all of their worries and hypothesize about possible solutions to each worry.  When the designated time for this ends, the patients were ordered not to think about their worries or possible solutions for the remainder of the day.

Penn State’s very own Tom Borkovec (Department of Psychology) was quoted in the article explaining the potential success of this method.  Borkovec stated “When we’re engaged in worry, it doesn’t really help us for someone to tell us to stop worrying.  If you tell someone to postpone it for a while, we are able to actually do that.”

The results of the study showed that this “stimulus control” method actually works.  The patients who practiced the technique of compartmentalizing time to worry (through a four-step process) before beginning anxiety therapy regimens showed a significant lesser amount of anxiety and depressive symptoms than those who did not practice the compartmentalization method.

The article also explains that simply attempting this method can result in reduced anxiety.  Borkovec explains that the patient’s expectance of results may have a “placebo effect” and make the patient more relaxed without even realizing it.

Personally, I feel this method would be a smart strategy for me.  Instead of worrying all day long, I would be able to rid of all my worries in less than an hour.  This way, I could spend the rest of the day being productive and refusing to feel anxious or focus on my problems.

I’m sure this method will have its doubters, though.  Do you think it’s a good way to rid of stress?  Or do you think setting aside time specifically to worry sounds absurd, and will just result in an overflow of worry from the allotted time?  If anyone knows other interesting methods of reducing stress, feel free to comment with your suggestions!

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White Bread vs. Wheat Bread…Is one the healthier option?

whitewheat2.jpgWith so many “made-to-order” sandwich stations located in dining halls throughout campus, I am presented almost daily with the question: “white bread or wheat bread?”  Not really having a preference for either taste, I always select the “wheat” option because it’s a generally-known fact that it’s the healthier choice.  But after three weeks of repeatedly pressing the “wheat” button, I’m starting question: what exactly makes this option the healthier one?  And what advantages does it have for my body?

 

wheatberry.jpgI started with some online research to learn the answer to my first question.  The science behind what makes wheat options healthier actually appears quite simple.  All flour for bread is made with wheat berries that have three components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  When whole wheat products are processed, all three components of the wheat berry are kept intact for the final product.  When white bread is processed, the wheat berry is stripped of the bran and the germ and left only with the endosperm.  All three portions are filled with numerous minerals and nutritional components, so the removal of the bran and germ from the white bread leaves it with much less nutritional value than its wheat competitor.  To be specific, “whole wheat” breads and products will be higher in:

-Vitamin B6: good for your peripheral nerves, mucous membranes, skin, and circulatory system

-Vitamin E: works as an antioxidant that protects against body tissue damage

-Magnesium: mineral necessary for healthy bones and teeth, detoxification, energy production, body temperature regulation, and the transmission of nerve impulses

-Zinc: proper immune system functioning, the healing of acne and wounds, monitoring stress levels, diabetes control, energy and metabolism care, weight loss regulation, etc.!

And most importantly:

FIBER.

                The amount of fiber in wheat bread trumps the amount of white bread.  In fact, you would need to consume EIGHT PIECES of white bread to get the amount of fiber just ONE PIECE of wheat bread contains.  Fiber is an important component in our diets for so many reasons.  It aids in digestive health, reduces risk of heart disease by 20%, (University of Washington reported in the April 2, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association), and reduces the overall risk of heart attacks and strokes!  Fiber also aids in weight management because it keeps your stomach feeling fuller for a long amount of time.

Although both of the questions I presented in the first paragraph were answered after my research, I came across two bread red flags while reading up on this topic.

1. “Enriched” white bread: White bread claiming to be “enriched” does not make it anywhere near as healthful as the whole wheat option. Refining wheat to make white bread strips it of nearly thirty vitamins and minerals – and by “enriching” the bread, only about FIVE of these vitamins and minerals are being added back.

2. The darker, brown color we associate with whole wheat products does not indicate that the product is truly whole wheat. In some cases, a caramel coloring is added to darken the bread’s appearance. In fact, Subway’s wheat bread option is guilty of this! To avoid these faux-wheat products, look to the ingredient list. If whole wheat or whole grain is listed as the first ingredient (indicating it is the most abundant), the option is safe.

I have been making a smarter decision than I could have ever imagined by selecting the “wheat” option on those MTO screens! As for you, my fellow classmates, does this information have any effect on your choice of bread? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you think these reports on the health benefits of whole wheat options are even valid – or do you believe it be a bunch of unproven hype?

I think making the simple switch from white to wheat is a smart one. As we talked about in class after reading the article on lighting during sleep potentially playing a part in depression development, is the sacrifice worth the potential benefits? In this case, I would say yes. It’s a small diet change and I don’t detect much of a taste difference between the two options.

Choose wheat!

 

Death of the Lab Rat…Birth of the Lab Canine?

An interesting article I found on the New York Times website today suggests that the physiological and biological similarities between humans and certain animals (dogs, horses, sheep, and pigs) are becoming increasingly advantageous to both veterinary colleges and human medical institutions in finding cures.  It explains that both human medical researchers and veterinarians are collaborating to expand on a philosophical movement called “one health” or “one medicine”.  The movement promotes the use of the aforementioned animals as opposed to the stereotypical “lab rat,” whose inconsistent rodent to human results have researchers frustrated.  “One health” also focuses on the fact the 60% of diseases transfer across species – furthering the reason for these collaborations.

 

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The article goes on to list some of these partnerships that have occurred just in the past month.  For example, the St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan teamed up with the Animal Medical Center to observe anomalies between arteries and veins that are very rare in humans, but common and easily-observable in dogs.  Meanwhile the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research at North Carolina State University’s veterinary college and the Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Cente(live link) signed an agreement to research ways to regenerate organs in both humans and pets.

These researchers becoming programmatic with one another advances the speed at which discovered cures can be made useful in both species simultaneously.  Perhaps what made this human-animal research alliance come about is something mentioned called the “canine genome map.” The article reports this map, which came about in 2005, provided scientists with a blueprint of the canine genome that allowed them to clearly recognize similarities in the genetic make-up of dogs and humans.

I decided to search further into this project, and discovered it is properly titled The Canine Genome Sequencing Project.  The Project began by comparing a female boxer named Tasha to other dog breeds using a high-quality draft sequence. Scientists were able to use the variations in draft sequence of these breeds for disease mapping, ultimately aiding scientists in being able to create a powerful gene mapping experiments for humans.

                            

Pictured above is Tasha, the boxer used for the project!

 

I think it’s incredible that this interlocking of human and animal researchers exists and is able to provide so many benefits to each side of the equation.  Not only are these partnerships and studies helping to find cures that work for both humans and animals, it is producing them at a much faster rate than can be done with the typical lab rodent.

 Is this the death of the lab rodent?  Although this coexistence of animal and human disease research has been occurring for roughly 5-7 years, I believe it is a partnership that can continue advancing and improving the medical world.  I believe the death of the lab rodent is in the near future.  The way dogs, horses, pigs, and sheep can be used to simultaneously obtain cures for both species at a faster rate is just too much competition for a rat.