Author Archives: Asia Grant

Genetic Hybridization and Chronic Disease

globalization-hands-picOver the Thanksgiving break, I was able to see a lot of my extended family that I really only get to see around the holiday season. I have a pretty large family so my Thanksgiving dinner included four generations—which creates a pretty large age gap between the oldest and most recent one. I am from the third generation so I try to interact across the entire lineage as much as possible. Through this, I have found out that my family (the Filipino side) has a history of high blood pressure and potential heart disease in the older generations. I had written a blog in the last blogging period about the benefits of genetic hybridization and whether or not it makes people stronger when it comes to battle diseases (also referred to as hybrid vigor). Because of the apparent link in race and some diseases (like in my family), I wanted to look at ethnic groups that don’t stray from within their own gene pool and see how that has affected their genetic development as a people.


During my research, the most information I found about hybrid vigor as it relates to chronic and prevalent diseases was on people form the Middle East. According to the US National Library of Medicine, a survey was done on breast and ovarian cancer rates depending on race and it was found that within the Middle East, Pakistanis has significantly higher rates than neighboring countries. The abstract stated that the cancer rate discrepancies couldn’t be explained with discrepancies of their risk factors. They proposed that observed cancer excess in Pakistan is due to cancer development by negative heterosis. Heterosis occurs when a hybrid has a phenotypic characteristic significantly different from that in either parent (hybrid vigor). The distribution of the survey were not stated which was one of my concerns because maybe there was some sort of gradient pattern of where this was most prevalent. There is the possibility that people closer to the center of the country had a higher frequency of the diseases compared to those closer to the border.


In a population, conditions that favor development of cancer by heterosis are those that favor mating of a large number of different homozygotes because they produce a large number of different heterozygotes. Among a large number of heterozygotes, there is an increased chance that some of hybrids will develop cancer by heterosis. In Pakistan, conditions were favorable for cancer development by heterosis because it has a high number of different ethnic groups and brotherhoods all of which have a higher rate of homozygosity due to a high frequency of consanguineous marriages (marriages between closely related people), and marriages between members of different groups occurred because of intense population mixing. Result was birth of a large number of inter-ethnic/brotherhood hybrids (heterozygotes), some of which have developed cancer by heterosis.


I found this information compelling but I didn’t want something that just done through a survey because of potential bias and the fact that it isn’t watching a progression and actively measuring something. After digging, I found a 5-year prospective study of 4934 children of different ethnic groups (which were not specified). The results showed that there was a three-fold increase of post neonatal mortality (between a month and a year old) and childhood morbidity in the offspring of consanguineous Pakistani parents.  It is estimated that 60% of the mortality and severe morbidity of this group of children could be eliminated if inbreeding ceased. I found this information extremely striking because of the shear magnitude of the possibility to overcome this issue. Looking at these two studies strengthens my previous argument about how being mixed with multiple ethic groups can be beneficial for one’s health—however looking at this culture the question of whether or not it is possible for some groups to actually branch out and mingle with other ethnic groups. The Middle East is a place that prides itself on culture and religion based on country and doesn’t look fondly upon intermingling so it might be hard for this issue to stop because of a cultural barrier, not a scientific one. So what does that mean from a global perspective? Personally, I think this is great news—it shows that some horrible and fatal diseases and issues have a potentially pretty simple solution if people allow it to happen. Having a realistic outlook on a future, I believe that though many diseases can be tempered with the increase of hybridization, we may potentially see other variations come up that we are not used to because of the new genetic combinations that are forming. But for now, I believe the pros outshine the cons and that hybridization not only help us physically, but also culturally and emotionally as we grow as a species.

Postures Affect on Attitude


I know many people in the class are freshman so they most likely are not looking for internships right now, but as a word of advice through my experience with my own search, your attitude going into any type of meeting—whether it is with a teacher or potential employer—is the thing that will support you even when you don’t know everything that is asked of you. If people see that you are excited about getting work done and passionate about the subject then they are more likely to help you. Those things are shown through your attitude and the way you hold yourself. I am sensitive to the fact that some people aren’t as comfortable as other may be, but don’t let that discourage you if you feel that way. I strongly believe that the way we hold ourselves affects our general mood and outlook, so I decided to see if there was a scientific study that supported this idea (or even refuted it).

According to Scientific American, Dana Carney and Andy Yap from Columbia University and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University conducted a study that recorded one’s feeling of power and appetite for risk relative to the body positioning they were asked to enact: open, expansive postures—widespread limbs and enlargement of occupied space by spreading out one’s body—or closed, constructed postures—limbs touching the torso and collapsing the body. To measure the appetite for risk, these researchers gave participants $2 and told them they could keep this money or roll a die and risk losing the $2 for a payout of $4 (a risky but rational bet since the odds of winning were 50/50). The participants who had been placed in the expansive posture reported feeling significantly more “powerful” and “in charge”; they were also 45% more likely to roll the die. This study was published in Psychological Science, which acts as some form of credibility.

However, I am iffy about the execution of this experiment because a lot of details have been left out (I am not able to see the full experiment details because I need a subscription to Psychological Science). I can assume by the nature of the study that it was experimental and the independent variable was body positioning and the depended variable was expressed feeling of power and risk appetite. But they only tested two types of body postures on two opposite extremes. I think if they also took into account a group with neutral posture, they would have more telling results since it would show a progression of data since they already give a “relative risk” of what would happen if one takes an open posture. Also, I think it is important to state whom the experiment was conducted on—mostly age and gender—so see if there is a strong correlation in one group than other. I would guess that asking men to take a more dominant stance would have a money stronger effect on their feeling of power and risk appetite, but then again I could be wrong. Lastly, I would have liked there to be a progression of risk taking measures. Rolling a dice for a couple of dollars can only feel so risky, so maybe if they increased the dollar amount each time that they could win and lose by rolling the dice they could measure how much more risky someone was willing to be.

I remember that we talked about this in class one day in regards to psyching yourself up right before an interview to get yourself in the right frame of mind. When I looked around the lecture hall, I saw a bunch of people slumping over in the seats and not very engaged in the lecture. I even catch myself sometimes slouching in my chair in classes I don’t particularly enjoy, which makes me feel tired and disinterested. I know its anecdotal, but once I became conscious of what I was doing, I made an effort to sit up straight and be more attentive, and with that the class time passed with more ease and I was able to retain information better.

So looking at this experiment, I would say it is a toss up on whether or not someone should try out this technique of self-improvement. The lack of information isn’t very motivating since it is so vague. However, there is very little effort to just sit up a little straighter or have better posture overall, so giving it a try would hurt and you may actually benefit from it. As for me, it helps me stay awake and retain information better so I am going to keep doing it.

Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat?

To continue with my blog trend topic of food and health, I decided that I wanted to tackle something that is most likely on everyone’s mind with Thanksgiving being right around the corner—weight gain. But what foods actually make you gain weight, and why? Is eating two plates of mashed potatoes and corn just as bad as eating two plates of turkey and ham? Should I just avoid everything at the table because it is too “fattening?” Personally, I don’t want to be stressed this holiday season, especially when it comes to something so enjoyable like food, so I want to explore what foods that have been actually tested have a significant effect on both weight gain and weight loss.

 According to an article on NPR released this past September, a study has been published that adds evidence to the argument that cutting back on carbs, not fat can lead to more weight loss. Researchers from Tulane University conducted a randomized experimental study that tracked two groups of dieters for one year. The 148 participants consisted of men and women, ages ranging from their early 20s to mid-70s, and included a mix of African-Americans and Caucasians. I understood the intention of the testers of trying to get a broad perspective of how these different diets many vary from one another, but I feel as if there could have been more blocking involved in order to gain better clarity of the effects of the diet on different characteristics. For example, testers could have blocked participants by age because as we grow older, our body systems begin to slow including our metabolisms. Also, I thought it was mildly confusing because each group was meant to be the other group’s control (those who decreased their carb intake kept their fat intake the same and vice versa).

The results showed that the low-carb group, which reduced their carb consumption to about 28% of their daily calories, lost almost three times as much weight as the low-fat dieters, who received about 40 to 45% of their calories from carbs. For lunch and dinner, the low-carb dieters ate lots of vegetables, salads and protein, including fish, chicken and some red meat. They had generous portions of healthy fats such as olive oils, canola and other plant-based oils. The low-carb group lost an average of 12 pounds even thought they were taking in the same amount of calories as the low-fat diet. This doesn’t prove that having a diet with a lower carb intake will reduce one’s weight, but it suggest that there is a strong correlation between the two. I found this very insightful because I have heard many arguments claiming that the most important part was the amount of calories that are taken in rather than the ratio of foods that make up one’s caloric intake. This experiment also rules out the possibility of reverse causation since they did not pick up the diet because they lost the weight. There is the possibility that chanced played a part in this experiment, but I highly doubt it due to the nature of the testing.

There is a common misconception that foods that are high in fat will make you fat, which is easy enough to understand. However, according to WebMD, there are two different types of fats that had different effects on the body: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats, like the ones found in vegetable oils, have been found to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats do the exact opposite: raise cholesterol, clog arteries, and increase the risk for heart disease. Both of these mentioned risks are relative since there isn’t established beforehand how likely it is for someone to contract heart disease, since it is also different for everyone due to lifestyle and genetic disposition. Carbs are believed to make us fat because it over stimulates the release of insulin, which directs more calories into storage in fat cells, and provides little nutritional value, making us feel unsatisfied after we are done consuming.

All together, I believe this was a well-done experiment that provided some light to an area that was previously misunderstood. So is it sensible for the common person to change to a low-carb diet? Not necessarily. Each person has a unique metabolism that is affected differently by different foods. People need to consider their own health and lifestyle before taking on a diet change. If you have suffered from chronic health issues regarding weight, this may be something to consider, but if you don’t have any apparent problems with your health or weight this change might not be worth the time and energy necessary.

Working Out the Body for the Mind

Trail Running Stock

In high school, I led an extremely active lifestyle. I ran cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, and had two training sessions daily, Monday through Friday. However, when I came to college, I wasn’t able to maintain as rigorous of a workout routine as I had before because of the increase of workload and scheduling differences. But now I feel as if the decrease in exercise in my life has affected other aspects such as mood, energy, and even school performance. In high school, I would wake up everyday at 6 am to go to school and have practice ranging anywhere from 2-4 hours, go to sleep at 11 or 12 and still get enough sleep and maintain a competitive GPA. Now I work out about 3 to 4 time a week for an hour or so, but I feel sluggish and tired throughout the day and it takes me a bit more effort to understand and comprehend my work. My eating and sleeping habits have only changed marginally since I came to college so I am really interested to find the answer to my question, “Does exercise have a positive affect on my academic performance?”

After I did some digging, I found an article on the New York Times back from 2012. Researchers in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dartmouth College conducted an experimental study on 54 adults, ages 18 to 36, who were healthy but generally sedentary (meaning none of them exercise regularly). I believed that this was a good range for what I was personally looking for, but the only hesitation I had was that these participants were volunteers, which could lead to voluntary response bias. I know we did not go over this specific bias in class, but the idea is pretty much straight forward—those who volunteer to take part of something usually have prior believes or relations to the experiment, however, it mostly comes up in surveys and observational, so I did not worry myself too much about it.

The participants filled out a series of questionnaires about their health and mood, including how anxious they were both at that moment and in general. Previous studies have shown that exercise can increase levels of a protein called “brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which is thought to play a role in the positive effects of exercise on thinking. However, some people produce less BDNF by natural after exercise because of a variation in the gene that controls the production, so blood was draw from the participants for genetic testing to account for this.

The group also submitted a memory test that consisted of pictures of objects flashing across a computer screen in order to involve a different part of the brain that is normally focused on in studies of exercise and memories. This exercise involved the perirhinal cortex, a portion of the brain essential to remembering particular things and whether they happen to be new in your experience, rather than the hippocampus, the brain’s primary memory center. I really liked this distinction because I believe that is the part of the brain that is most used when learning new material in a classroom.

After all of the testing, the volunteers were randomly assigned to exercise or not over the time period of four weeks. Half began a supervised program of walking or jogging four times a week for at least 30 minutes, while the other half remained sedentary. The randomization at this point cleared up most of the doubts I was having before about the potential volunteer response bias.

At the end of the month, the participants were brought back for final mood and memory testing, but before hand, half of each group (those who exercised for the month and those who did not) walked or jogged.

As expected, many of the volunteers who’d been exercising for the past month significantly improved their scores on the memory and mood tests. But not all of them did. In general, those volunteers who had exercised for the past month and who worked out on the day of retesting performed the best on the memory exam. They also tended to report less anxiety than other volunteers. Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.

I found these results very motivating. It showed me that not just working out periodically, but consistent exercise correlates to both memory retention and anxiety regulation. Since there is a time factor of this experiment, reverse causation isn’t a viable problem that the results may face. This experiment in my opinion was conducted extremely well, and very thorough in its research. From these results, I feel like it is a sensible idea for other people should strongly consider implementing some sort of consistent exercise in their schedule because it has the positive outcomes seem to out weight any of the hassles of getting it done. I appreciate that there are some people who just don’t enjoy the process of exercise, so my advice to them would maybe just to try to be more aware of how active you are throughout the day. Rather than taking the bus, leave a couple of minutes earlier to walk to class.

Deadly Nighttime Snacking?


I have never been good at timing when I eat. I may wake up some mornings at 8am and not eat until noon, which ends up pushing all of my eating times back. I have heard the theory that you shouldn’t eat 3 hours before you go to bed because it can result in health issues, but sometimes I eat at 10:30pm, which pushes my bedtime to past 1 am, and then the vicious cycle continues. Also none the health issues never seem to be specific, with weight gain being the only prevalent result. This did not really make a convincing argument that sleeping soon after eating was a health hazard, but since the notion does exist, I thought it was worth exploring.

My first finding was a study posted on WebMD, regarding an increased the risk of having a stroke. The subheading stated that, “people who wait an hour or more after eating before going to bed have a 66% lower stroke risk, researchers say.” I couldn’t gather much from that statement since it was positioned as a relative risk and I wasn’t sure what the normal risk of having a stroke is—which could potentially be low already.

Researcher Cristina-Maria Kastorini, a nutritionist at the University of Ioannina Medical School in Greece, conduced an survey on 500 currently “healthy” people: 250 people who had had a stroke and 250 with acute coronary syndrome—a common type of heart disease where there is a reduced blood flow to the heart because of clogged arteries, which can lead to tightness in the chest and sometimes heart-attacks. The participants were asked to complete detailed questionnaires asking about their sleep habits as well as when and what they ate.

The results stated that compared with the people who went to bed within and hour of dinner, those who waited 60 to 70 minutes were 66% less likely to have had a stroke. It also went on to say that those who waited 70 minutes to two hours had a 76% lower likelihood of having a stroke, but after two hours the reduction of risk began to taper off. I am not sure of how confident I feel in this data because the explanation is very vague and left me with a lot of questions. How did they calculate those percentages from the surveys? What factors were taking into consideration in determining the participants were healthy? Did those who waited longer end up healthier than when they began? Would the risk be the same for someone without heart-related health issues? Too many pieces went unanswered for me to buy into the concept.

What I did appreciate from this study was that the analysis took into a variety of heart disease and stroke risk factors:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Physical activity
  • Weight
  • Smoking
  • Diet
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes

This thorough observation really limits the possibility of third variables playing a substantial part in the study.

The reason why waiting longer might lower the risk wasn’t really discussed other than the fact that eating too close to bedtime increase the risk of reflux disease, which leads to sleep apnea—which is associated with strokes. Overall, after reading this study I feel like I am just as unsure whether or not I should eat around bed-time as I was when I found it. No substantial evidence was made to compel me to definitively stop eating closer to the time I go to sleep, so I guess I won’t concern myself with it as much. I will probably stop doing it anyways because I feel bloated in the morning and it throws off my internal hunger clock, but this study just told me that I am probably fine either way since I don’t have heart related health issues.

Is Touch a Key Point of Human Social Development?

I am an extremely touchy person—my friends actually scold me from time to time because I don’t acknowledge the concept of “personal space”. I enjoy being in close contact to people and expressing my emotions through lots of physical movement, but that’s because I grew up in an environment that encouraged me to do so. Throughout my lifetime, I have come in contact with people who do not like being touched or in close contact with other people, and overall they seem to be more reserved in their expression and overall introverts. Despite my overwhelming nature, I have been able to befriend some of these people and they have told me that they never received much physical touch when they were growing up. So what I wanted to know was if there was a relationship between he amount of touch we received when we were younger and our overall social development.

According to Psychology Today, researchers in the United Kingdom released a study in October 2013 that confirms the importance of human touch to healthy brain development. They found that “a loving touch, characterized by a slow caress or gentle stroking increases the brain’s ability to construct a sense of body ownership and plays a big part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self.” However, the parameters of the study were not made available on the website, so I cannot be completely sure of the findings. The study conducted would most likely be either observational study or a survey and done over a time period of several months to a few years because nature of the data they are gathering. If it was an observational study that was conducted, the control group would have to be children that were born and then immediately given over to an adoption agency or foster home, an environment where there is little to no intimate human contact. Also, I would be interested to know what was the age range of children observed because there is probably a critical window of development where touch provides the most change.

So there is some evidence that touch helps brain development, but I wanted to find a randomized experiment that actually tested the relationship between levels of physical stimulation during early developmental stages and social disposition. One of the earliest studies on the benefits of touch was conducted in the 1920s by researcher Fredrick Hammett on rats. He reported that rats that were infrequently handled were more timid, apprehensive and high strung than the rats that had been “pet gently.” For the developing rat pup, mothers and litter-mates are the major sources of sensory input. A useful approach to evaluating the importance of this input is to remove it completely and observe what happens. Another experiment was conducted by comparing the adult behavior of maternally reared rats with those isolated in plastic cups, from postnatal days 4 to 20. Despite receiving comparable nutritional input, the pups raised in cups weighed less at weaning. Although this difference did not persist into adulthood, early deprivation did affect adult maternal and emotional behavior. Compared with maternally reared controls, isolate-reared rats were less attentive to their own offspring, performing fewer pup retrievals and spending less time licking and crouching over pups and spending more time digging, biting the cage, hanging from the top of the cage, eating and tail chasing. These behaviors suggest that the lack of early stimulation can potentially affect behavioral patterns regarding social interactions. Of course, correlation does not mean causation and reverse causality could be a potential option as well (the rats were socially mean which caused them to receive less touch), but the experiment seemed to be done well so I highly doubt it.

But then is there any hope for those who didn’t receive much contact as they were growing up? There was a second part to the study that took the rats that were the pups in cups were stroked with a warm wet paintbrush to simulate maternal licking. The minimally stimulated pups received 45 seconds of stroking twice a day to promote urination and defecation. The maximally stimulated pups received 2 min of full-body stroking five times per day. When the pups were studied as adults and the way they mothered their own offspring was examined, it was found that full-body stroking partially rescued the behavioral deficits of isolation, with the maximally stimulated pups exhibiting maternal behaviors of durations intermediate to those of the maternally reared and minimally stimulated pups. Thus, tactile stimulation can ameliorate some of the deficits resulting from isolate rearing in rats.

So there is some home for my introverted friends after all. They probably won’t see much benefit in it since they have survived this long, but that won’t restrain me from smothering them with love from now on.


Can the Cold Give You a Cold?

With the winter months closely approaching and the annual Penn State plague finally coming to a close, people are currently hyper aware of avoiding any activity that can possibly lead them to getting sick. There have been many beliefs instilled in us as a society that tell us what we should and shouldn’t do in regards to spreading sickness that has solid scientific backing—coughing into your elbow rather than your hand, not sharing food or drink with someone infected, and keeping the area inhabited by the ill clean as to not increase the sickness duration. But there are other so-called “facts” that many people believe in. Growing up, I would hear parents tell their kids that they needed to put on their winter jackets, hats, and gloves because they would get a cold if they went out into the winter weather, and I want to know if that’s an accurate statement.

To be blunt: the immediate answer is no, you cannot get sick from just cold weather. Winter has been dubbed “the cold season” because of how many more people appear to be sick during that time of year. According to a study done by the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, cold weather appears to stimulate the immune system. Researchers performed an observational study where they examined the immunological responses of subjects and found that acute cold exposure (like going outside without a jacket) actually appears to activate the immune system by increasing the levels of circulating norepinephrine, a hormone that works as a natural decongestant. I am skeptical of this experiment though because other than the conclusion, I can’t find more information regarding whom was being observed, the average duration of exposure time, or what they defined as “cold” in a measurable way. Without this information, it cannot be legitimately proved that the cold has these claimed affects on the immune system. Luckily in this situation, reverse causation isn’t a credible option (it is cold outside because people are producing more norepinephrine).

But this still begs the question of “If the cold doesn’t make us sick, then what does,” because from personal experience I definitely feel like I get sick much more often in the winter compared to any other time of the year. We shouldn’t completely dismiss the thought that cold weather leads to catching a cold since it is so commonplace to say—I believe that there are confounding variables that are being missed in the evaluations.

In a CNN article published this past February, Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens, explains that it is what we do during the winter months. When it is cold, people tend to pile indoors where air is constantly being recycled, as well everything that is being breathed into the air. These dry and cold conditions can be higher-risk situations for viruses because of dry mucosa—which coats the back of the throat and sinuses. Viruses invade the mucosa and grow, causing the cold (colds are actually a cocktail of different viruses, which is why there is no definitive way to cure a cold).

So weather isn’t a direct cause to the common cold, but it has the ability to be an indirect cause. I’m am not trying to sway anyone’s opinion because even with research some people still tightly hold on to their previous thinking, but we should all practice routines that limit the spread of germs. So if you’re spending lots of time in the library or commons, make a conscious effort to clean your hands with hand sanitizer and cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing so a sweeping virus doesn’t take over the school…again.

Is Being Mixed Better Than Not?

Our world is much different than it was just 50 years ago regarding dating and marriages. It has become more socially acceptable to date across races, which over time leads to a new generation littered with racially diverse children. This hits home for me because I am one of those children, my mother coming from the Philippines and my father from Jamaica, and my friends always thought it was so interesting that I was “exotic.” Personally, I did not think too much about it but I always wondered if my combination helped or hindered me in any health related way. It is believed that this trend of people with mixed races is going to only going to continue exponentially. National Geographic wrote an article describing the “Changing Faces” of America, and in the last 10 years the number of multiracial people has jumped by 32%, making it now one of the most popular categories(which was later reviewed by Time Magazine). So with all of this mixing going on, I had to ask myself—“Is being mixed better than not?” I read an overview of a documentary that aired on Channel 4—which is a British public-service television broadcaster—that tackled this question. You can watch the full documentary below.

All of the benefits from being mixed come first and foremost from the unique combinations within the genetic makeup. Everyone carries a handful of broken or malfunctioning genes that are only apparent when combined with another broken or malfunctioning gene. Similar broken genes can normally be found in areas where most of the people share the same racial profiles—so it is more likely than when two people with similar racial backgrounds come together that they will have a child with a weaker genetic makeup.

The term to describe an organism that has a higher growth rate and greater resistance to disease is “hybrid vigor”. Hybrid vigor can be divided into the components of outbreeding and heterozygote advantage. In essence, outbreeding leads to heterozygote advantage. As stated before, so-called “inbreeding”—or reproducing within your gene pool—can lead to serious physical deformities and health issues. Outbreeding pretty much scrambles the genes and make the chance that two malfunctioning genes will come together close to none.

So on the whole, mixed people seem genetically ‘better’. So, could mixed race children gain a noticeable genetic advantage and show degree of hybrid vigor? Some scientists think the answer is ‘yes’. However, as in other species, environmental conditions can mask the genetic effects, and in humans the environment can play an unusually big role. There are other cases of genetic hybrids outside of the human race—scientists had crossed animals and plants to analyze how they function as mixed entities. The differences between human populations are similar to if not greater than those seen between strains of plants and animals.

I think we need more time to watch how people develop as we continue to mix genes cross culturally. I agree with what National Geographic predicts, and I believe that we can potentially get to a point in time where there are more genetically diverse people than not (in short, no one will be “pure blood” any more).,8599,1880467,00.html


Is Food More Addictive than Crack?



“Oh my god…this [insert delicious food] is better than crack.” Everyone from professional food critics to starving college students has used the phrase time and time again. Whether they are talking about nutella, krispy kreme donuts, or canyon pizza, everyone has experience a time where they believed they loved a food so much, that its magnitude was comparable to that of an addiction to an illicit drug—but most people aren’t serious when they make this statement because of the simple fact that most of them have not tried any illicit drugs.  I will admit myself that I have experienced desserts that left me awake at night, rapt in thought of getting up in the morning to speed off to the grocery store to buy all of them off the shelf. And when I think about it more, I began to question whether or not I was addicted to food, or if it was even possible to be.


I found two articles on Time Magazine’s website that deconstructed the idea of food addiction and what it physically looked like on a person’s brain. In the first article, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, acknowledged that the idea is controversial since many people have rejected it, however, believes that food can be as addictive as drugs. She believes that understanding the similarities between food and drug addictions could offer insight into an array of compulsive behaviors. Volkow described a similarity found between the brains with food and drug addictions—similar dysfunctions in the areas that are connected to pleasure and self-control. The neurotransmitter involved is dopamine, which these brain areas rely on, and a reduction in the number of dopamine D2 receptors were found both in drug addiction and obesity. That is why when we eat food we tend to feel happy and more relaxed, because dopamine elicits those feelings.

The second article in Time references a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that suggests that there might not be a clear distinction between addictive and normal responses, adding to the evidence that all “addictions” act on the same motivational system. The study involved 48 health women ranging in weight from lean to overweight or obese. Their objective was to test the hypothesis that elevated “food addiction” scores are associated with similar patterns of neural activation as substance dependence. Their independent variable was whether or not the participate received a chocolate milkshake or tasteless substance—so the experiment was neither blind nor double-blind. The dependent variable was the neural response after beverage consumption. The study’s conclusion stated that there are similar patterns of neural activation in addictive-like eating habits and substance dependence, such as elevated activation in reward circuitry in response to food cues and reduced activation of inhibitory regions in response to food intake.

So currently, the evidence supports the hypothesis that one can actually become addicted to food. I feel like this study could go more in depth though, like whether or not some foods are more addict than others and if there are any negative side effects to food addiction similar to those of illicit drugs.

Juice Cleansing…Good or Bad?



Over the summer, I had noticed a health trend that was getting pretty popular in my age group, where you would commit to only taking in all natural pre-made juices—or sometimes you made the juices yourself—to cleanse your body of toxic build up and help you drop excess weight.  The cleanse could last for three or even up to ten days, and every meal you would only be allowed to drink your food. I found this growing trend extremely interesting because during my freshman year I tried an all liquid diet for one week, however I added ample amounts of protein into my drinks in order to maintain energy levels and not loose muscle mass. By the end of the week I felt refreshed and energized, but completely ready to go back to food. But when I was looking at some of the recipes put together for the juice cleanse programs promoted online, little to no protein was added to any drinks which made me wonder, “Could this juice cleanse fad potentially be bad for you?”




I was researching if there are different type of juice cleanses out there and found that there actually are; there are juice cleanses that involve blended fruits and vegetables and then there is the “Master Cleanse” which only allows the cleanser to drink a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water. According to, many people turn to juice cleansing because they feel like their body is off—they feel sluggish, heavy, or bloated. It is believed that only drinking these fiber-rich drinks will rid your body of the toxins that are preventing it from operating at maximum capacity, but this may not be the case. There are already organs within your body—such as your kidneys and liver—that remove all the toxins within our bodies, thus making the idea of a juice cleanse obsolete. According to the Huffington Post, the reason it seems like the juice-cleanse is actually a viable way to loose weight is because it increases the rate at which we lose water weight. Switching over to a liquid diet reduces calorie intake, causing the body to release the carbohydrate glycogen for extra energy for the body to function. Glycogen attaches to water so when it is lost, so is water—but normally the water is gained after the cleanse ends.


The general consensus is that taking part in a juice cleanse isn’t a sustainable way to lose weight—it is still suggested to watch what you eat and exercise regularly.  However, there is nothing that shows doing a cleanse for a couple of days would do detrimental harm—so if you’re particularly interested in taking part it is generally safe. However, it would be unwise to partake for more than 10 days because there are not any commercial juice cleanses that go past that length.




Do Our Senses Make Sense?

We are already finished our second week of fall semester and I can already feel the physical, mental, and emotional drain from the stress and pressure of classes. I don’t want to be mistaken, I am super excited to be back and working, however, I cannot help but feel—like physically feel—how these external forces are affecting me. When I look at my schedule and see how many assignments are due within the next week, I can literally feel the weight of stress on my shoulders as if it was compressing me. Also, no matter what the weather is like—hot or cold—I feel much more relaxed and at peace when I have a hot cup of coffee in my hand.


So naturally I questioned, “Can my senses be affected by external forces—that I am either aware of or not—that can in turn change my perspective?” I was searching online if this was a possible explanation for my physically responses and found a book called Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence by Professor Thalma Lobel that explores how colors, tactile sensations, scents, tastes, and visual perspectives significantly influence us, without us even realizing. So, in short, the answer to my question was yes, but my curiosity was peaked and I wanted to see what other things were affecting my perspective and even my decision making process.


Personally, I think I am most in tune with my sense of touch and sight—I have always been told I was touchy and I thoroughly enjoy the visual stimulation of art and color—so I decided to look through those chapters.


Researchers set up an experiment with two groups of participants and asked them to rate a fictional person presented to them as skillful, intelligent, determined, practical, industrious, and cautious on several other characteristics. However, right before the participant answered, the researchers asked for them to hold their cup of coffee for a moment while the researcher made a quick note—half were handed a warm cup of coffee and the other half an iced coffee. They found that participants described the fictional person similar to the drink that they were asked to hold. So those holding the hot cup of coffee said that the personal also seemed caring and generous (an overall warm personality), while those holding the cold cup said the person seemed selfish and antisocial (a generally cold personality). The only manipulated variable was the temperature of the cup they were holding. That warm sensation of touch relaxes us and makes us feel at ease, so when we meet new people—or even old friends—we see them as friendlier and more pleasant to around. With that in mind, I now try to tackle any situation that I feel might present some sort of distaste with a warm cup of tea in my hand.


The portion regarding color perception was framed around sexual attraction and if certain colors made someone more attractive. I always believed that someone could look nicer if they were wearing a color that suited them based on their skin tone or hair color, but I was skeptical about whether or not just the color could enhance attraction. In their study, men were shown pictures of the exact same woman, but in different color blouses (red, green, blue, and grey).  Consistently, the men rated the picture of the woman in the red blouse as sexier and more attractive. They also reported that they would most likely spend more money on the woman wearing red if they went on a date. The key point to note though is that the woman wasn’t perceived to be more intelligent or kind, just more alluring. Taking mote of little things like that could be vital to quick yet highly selective interactions, such as dating or interviewing.


I did not want to dive deeply into the other senses mostly because I like the mystery of not knowing how things may or may not be influencing me—alsoI might look into them for a later blog. But for now, knowing what is directly influencing my senses will allow me to better manage my stress and workload…At least for the time being.


Winch, Guy. “How Mastering All 5 Sense Can Get You What You Want.” Psychology Today, 1 May 2014. Web. 3 September 2014. <>


Lobel, Thalma. The New Science of Physical Intelligence. Atria Books, 2014. Print

Initial Post

Water_lilyHi guys, My name is Asia Grant and I am a sophomore studying Finance. I am not planning on being a science major because I was never good at the foundational science classes like chemistry, so I probably wouldn’t be able to get into a major anyways, but I did like science in high school so that’s why I am taking this class.