Author Archives: tzm5326

Hair Dye Cause Cancer?

As a girl who dyes my hair every two or three months, I’ve always known that the dye is slightly damaging to my hair but I never thought it was too harmful. Yet recently I’ve heard that hair dye could cause cancer, which would seem plausible considering the harsh chemicals in the product, but is it true?


A question like this though is very broad but the American Cancer Society explains the possible link between cancer and hair dye. The main hair dye that would be a concern would be permanent dye because it causes lasting chemical changes in the hair shaft. This is the most popular of the hair dyes since it lasts the longest. You can be exposed to hair dyes if you dye your hair but the ones with the most exposure are hairdressers. Some studies have fed lab animals large amounts of the dyes over a long period time. These studies fond that the chemicals in the hair dyes, specifically certain aromatic amines, caused cancer in the animals. Yet they did not find a link between the dyes application to skin and cancer. When studying people, multiple observational studies focus on the risk of bladder cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia. The majority of studies who focused on hairdressers or other people exposed to dyes at work, reported a fairly consistent higher risk of bladder cancer. Yet they found no increase risk for those who only are exposed if they dye their hair.

Although the studies so far have not found a very strong relationship between hair dye and cancer, more research needs to be done to determine if hair dye might increase your risk for cancer after long term use. As of right now though there does not seem to be enough evidence to alter your hair dye usage.


Is Raw Cookie Dough That Dangerous?

I can easily admit that anytime my mom decided to make her famous chocolate chip cookies when I was a kid, it wasn’t the cookies that were my favorite part. I would always be more than willing to help her bake just so I was able to steal a spoonful of cookie dough whenever she wasn’t looking. Whenever she caught me I would always simply ignore her warning, which I’m pretty sure every kid has heard, that if I eat too much raw cookie dough I will become extremely sick. Well after years of hearing this warning, I can’t help but wonder if it’s true?


According to a CBS news article from 2011, some researchers are agreeing with the possibility that our parents were right to warn us. The fear of raw cookie dough came from the concern that raw eggs might contain salmonella or other types of bacteria, which could be harmful to the body. Scientists investigated a food-borne illness outbreak that occurred in 2009 where 77 patients were affected across 30 states, including 35 having to go to the hospital. Trying to find the source of this illness, researchers were focusing on the bacteria known as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, also known as STEC and found three strains of STEC in one brand of cookie dough; yet it was not the exact strain that caused the outbreak. This study was led by Dr. Karen Neil at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where they conducted a matched case-control study. They reported that 33 of 35 case patients, who had the illness, had consumed raw cookie dough compared to 4 of 36 control patients who did not have the illness. These findings led to a recall of 3.6 million packages of cookie dough. The ingredient in the cookie dough that they believe caused the illness, was the flour. All the other ingredients in cookie dough had gone through a “kill step” which was meant to eliminate pathogens; yet flour did not go through this step. Yet the study never specifically implicated flour.

This report does give good reason for avoiding consuming raw cookie dough, even though the strain that caused the 2009 outbreak was not the same ones found in the specific brand of cookie dough in the investigation. The link between the cookie dough and the illness is only supported by the statistics stated above, which was a small group of people. Yet the difference between the two groups (33 out of 35 and 4 out of 36) is quite large. Even though the chance of actually getting sick seems unlikely, I will think twice before stealing a spoonful of raw cookie dough while baking.


The Truth About Coffee

Being college students, especially with finals coming up, typically means consuming a large amount of coffee. I’m actually drinking a cup of coffee right now as I’m writing this, but growing up I have always heard a variety of things about one of my favorite drinks. As a kid I was told if I drank coffee too early it could stunt my growth, or that coffee was bad for my health, or even that it was good for me.


According to Dr. Rob van Dam, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, coffee may not be as unhealthy as we feared. The Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study investigated the relationship between the amount of coffee consumed and overall mortality. These studies included about 130,000 healthy men and women who were in their mid 40s and 50s. The researchers followed them for 18 to 24 years, tracking their habits, diet, and their coffee intake. The findings concluded that there was no relationship linking coffee consumption and increased risk of death. Whether death by cancer or any other cause, they found no increased risk. Researchers even reported that the people who drank up to 6 cups of coffee a day, were still fine. It seems the reports were well conducted since it was two studies that followed a large amount of people for a long period of time.

This observational studies’ conclusion was negative since they found nothing was going on, but is that good news? I’m curious if the researchers could have also included younger patients such as in their late teens and early twenties to see if there was a difference between the two age groups. The other part of the study that should be noted is that the research is based on coffee that is typically black with a little sugar or cream. This does not include the sugary, high-calorie coffees, such as Frappachinos, that have become incredibly popular over the years especially with younger people. These sugary drinks seem like a possible variable that could lead to increase weight gain overtime. Although this study does not rule out if coffee causes any other health issues, which is a possibility and Dr. Rob van Dam even mentions investigating the possible link between coffee and diabetes. But it does show that coffee does not seem to risk your overall health or increase your risk of death in the long run.



Do Mosquitos Prefer Certain People?

Whether you are camping, hiking, or even enjoying an evening in your backyard, we have all experienced the dreaded swarm of mosquitos. I remember as a kid, my brother and I would always compare mosquito bites after a day of hiking with the family. He would always get annoyed that he tended to end the day with a large amount of mosquito bites while I escaped with just a few, even though our parents put the same amount of bug repellent on both of us. To be honest back then I did not really care why it happened, I was just happy to have less bites than him, but now I am curious if it’s true that mosquitos prefer some people over others?


In Are You a Mosquito Magnet on WebMd, Elizabeth Heubeck explains why she thinks this is true. Professor Jerry Butler at the University of Florida reports, “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitos” (WebMd). Researchers have not been able to exactly locate what specifically is the primary type of human that mosquitos target but they do have some research on certain things that could possibly be attractive to mosquitos. One of the known factors is that genetics account for, “85% of our susceptibility to mosquito bites” (WebMd). Butler also states that those with higher concentrations of cholesterol on the surface of their skin, attract more mosquitos. John Edman from the Entomological Society of America reports that research has shown mosquitos are drawn to people whose bodies produce an excess amount of certain acids, including uric acid. The scents of these acids attract the mosquitos.

There are 400 different compounds that people exude and scientists have to examine all of those to determine if certain ones are attractive to mosquitos. The evidence offered in the paragraph above suggests that it is likely mosquitos are attracted to some people over others, but with the large amount of compound still left to examine and the always present option of chance, it is not certain that this is true.



Writer’s Block

We have all been there. Trying to write a paper yet feeling as if you hit a wall because you have absolutely no idea what to write about. I can’t even count the amount of times I have stared at a blank Word document for what seemed like an endless amount of time, then leaving the computer frustrated that I could not come up with a single topic. So is writer’s block real or is it just a myth?


Bruce Holland Rogers tackles this question on Writers Store. People have a variety of opinions on the subject and Rogers points out the main two groups, which are those who think writers block does not exist and those who very strongly believe it does. He believes that both could be right. Those who say that it does not exist, reason that if you just actually try hard enough it will go away and Rogers offers that even the idea of just starting something is difficult to overcome. Like when you procrastinate a project or homework and then the deadline keeps getting closer and closer but the amount of work seems so overwhelming you don’t even want to start. Then you end up staying up all night finishing it. For those who do believe it is real, it is possible that if you possibly start a paper without much of an idea of where you want to go with the story, it is easy to not have much confidence in your story. Then you end up sitting there trying to force yourself to come up with an idea, which just causes anxiety and almost worsens the situation.

Another hypothesis by others is that writer’s block is very much real and is neurological. Robert T. Knights and Marcia Graboweeky wrote a chapter called, “Prefrontal Cortex, Time, and Consciousness,” for The New Cognitive Neurosciences. They suggest about our frontal lobes control our ability to think about the future, or the past, shifting between the two with ease which is required in writing a story. They believe that writer’s block occurs when these processes are interrupted which is called, “Executive Dysfunction.”

It is difficult to prove any of these hypotheses because of the lack of scientific evidence. Topics similar to writer’s block are difficult to test therefore the majority of opinions out there are based on individual writers experiences. Whether it is real or not, if you ever find yourself looking blankly at a paper for an extended period of time without being able to come up with any ideas, it is suggested you step back and take a break to refresh your mind and divert your thoughts elsewhere for awhile.



Is Too Much Stretching Bad For You?

I’ve been dancing for the past fourteen years and ever since I first started class at four years old, every single dance teacher I have ever worked with has engrained the importance of stretching into my head. I was told I should stretch every morning before school, beginning of each dance class, on breaks between class, and a cool down stretch at the end. In dance especially, stretching is incredibly important, yet in recent years studies have shown how stretching too much could possibly be harmful.


Jennifer Gamboa, president of Body Dynamics, Inc., shared her concern with how dances stretched and the impact that has on their bodies. There are two types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is assuming a position and holding it with some other part of your body or slowly moving muscles until they start to hurt and staying in that stretch. Gamboa states that, “Static stretching before classes decreases strength, speed, agility, and useful range of motion” (Dance Magazine). The muscle fibers are not as strong and decreases the ability to produce speed which could easily lead to a dancer landing incorrectly or possibly causing an injury. Dynamic stretching, according to Gamboa, involves movement of only low intensity with a broad range of motions. Supposedly the larger moments, such as leg brushes, arm circles, or even walking/biking; are recommended to get the blood moving before class. Gamboa states that static stretching is bad because of how often the dancers do it in between center and barre work, or in between breaks.

Now from the perspective of stretching in general with other exercise, Alexandra Sifferlin wrote an article for Time Magazine about how stretching may not help before exercise. This article includes the findings of two recent studies which support the idea of limiting stretching before physical activity. One of these studies published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “concluded that if you stretch before you lift weights, you may find yourself weaker and wobblier than you expect during your workout” (NCBI). Researchers at the University of Zagreb looked over 104 studies of individuals who practiced static stretching as their only warm up. They found that this stretching reduced muscle strength by 5.5%. They also looked at men who lifted barbells while completing basic squats and compared those who stretched before and those who did not and found that the men that stretched lifted 8.3% less weight than those who didn’t (Time). Too much stretching can cause muscles to lose flexibility when they are overworked.

The need for stretching is very different in dancers and those in other physical activities. Dancers need more stretching beforehand than individuals in other physical activities, where physical trainers recommend more of a light warm up. Yet it seems as though dancers should be particular about how often they complete static stretching, even though Gamboa does not produce scientific evidence for her opinion on how often they should do this. Yet along with the studies found in Time Magazine, it does seem as if dance teachers and trainers need to look into adjusting the stretching and the amount of stretching they recommend to dancers.


Art Therapy and Alzheimer’s

My family has been involved with an organization called Memories in the Making for years. This program is a part of the Alzheimer’s Association and runs art classes for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, to give them the opportunity to express themselves through painting. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and causes memory loss and eventually the loss of abilities to hold even a conversation or respond to their environment. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and has no cure. Since a couple of my relatives passed away because of this disease and some recently were diagnosed, I was very involved with the program all throughout high school. I wanted to look more closely into how painting or an artistic activity is beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s, because I have always focused mainly on just the patients not the details of what exactly it was supposed to be helping.



Jennifer Wegerer wrote an article about the benefits for the brain that come with using art therapy. Wegerer uses the research published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, to back up her hypothesis that art therapy is an excellent tool for treating Alzheimer’s disease. These studies focused on two women with different types of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Both of them were artists and creating their work led to boosting cognitive function in areas of the brain. As the disease worsens, patients lose the ability to hold a conversation and communicate with those around them. After talking with the researchers who studied one of the women in the studies, sculptor Mary Hecht, the Medical Daily reported, “how art allows Alzheimer’s patients to bypass language. Essentially, it helps the brain navigate a new communication path” (A Place for Mom). Overall the art comes from a part of the brain that language doesn’t, which allows the patients to communicate.

The women in these studies were originally artists, but I remember when working with the Memories in the Making program, the majority of the patients we worked with were not artists before. Most had never picked up a paintbrush. They were accessing a part of their brain that they really had not used most of their lives. Art therapy is not going to cure Alzheimer’s, but it gives these patients an opportunity to communicate and express themselves when they lose the ability to do so with their words.


Do Cell Phones in Bras Cause Cancer?

These days everyone always seems to be on their phones, especially teenagers and young adults. I personally am guilty of this constant need to have my phone on me, even if I’m not using it. Also like the majority of girls I know, I’m also guilty of putting my phone in my bra if my hands are full or I don’t have a pocket. I remember my mom constantly scolding me for this habit in high school, saying the phone was going to give me breast cancer if I keep doing it. So naturally I’m curious if there is any evidence of this rumor.


Ted Gansler from the American Cancer Society explains his opinion on this matter in his article: Cell Phones, Bras, and Breast Cancer Risk. First off, when cell phones aren’t being used to make calls or text, they still emit low energy electromagnetic signals. This is only periodically and is how they stay in touch with the nearby cell towers. Overall Gansler points out that there are no scientific studies so far that link cell phones to be the cause of breast cancer. Since the average woman diagnosed with breast cancer is around the age of 60, when rare cases emerge of younger women being diagnosed, these situations tend to gain more attention in the media. When they found in a couple of individual cases that the young women all held their phones in their bras, it is easy to link the two together and it makes sense to at least question whether there is a link. When individual case reports are the main source of evidence, it is not very convincing because, “of the possibility that they represent a coincidence rather than cause and effect” (American Cancer Society).

David H. Gorski, who is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute speicializing in breast cancer surgery; wrote an article on this topic after watching a Dr. Oz segment where Dr. Oz claimed that phones in bras cause breast cancer. Gorski not only is very clear about his disapproval for Dr. Oz in general but also how he disagrees completely with the statement. Dr. Oz used an individual case, a 21 year old Tiffany Frantz who believed the phone in her bra caused her breast cancer, but offered no scientific evidence other than the cancer was on the same side as where she used to carry her phone. There is not much evidence supporting the idea of radio waves causing cancer in general, mainly because the power level of the radio wave energy used by cell phones is not ionizing. As far as doctors know, “ionizing radiation is what is required to cause or contribute to cancer” (Science Based Medicine). We cannot rule out that there maybe be a potential mechanism not yet discovered, but with the understandings of biology at the moment, it does not seem likely.


Are Sugar-Free Sodas Bad For You?

Over the years it seems that sugar-free or diet soda has grown a reputation for being actually extremely harmful to the body. I used to always drink Diet Coke and people would constantly tell me that the artificial sweetener in the soda was going to give me a cancer or a brain tumor. I was curious about this topic especially after we talked about the affects of sugary soda and weight gain during class. Everyone is critical of the artificial sweetener, or aspartame, used in the soda in place of the sugar. This fear of aspartame started after a research paper in 1996 hypothesized a link between the recent increase in brain tumors and aspartame (which had been approved for use in 1981). It does make sense to question the link but more recent studies seem to have lowered the chances of that link being true.


According to the CNN article, Sugar-Free Soda Is Safe, by Dr. Aaron Carter who researched the more recent findings, he disagreed with the likelihood of the link. He explained that, “using data from the National Cancer Institute showed that the increase in brain tumors really began in 1973” (CNN). As well as, “A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial showed that aspartame didn’t affect memory, behavior or mood” ( Dr. Aaron Carter also included that, “a study published in 2006 followed more than 285,000 men and almost 190,000 women and couldn’t detect any relationship between aspartame and brain or blood cancer” (NCBI). These studies support Dr. Carter’s argument about the unlikeliness of the link between aspartame and brain tumors/cancer.

Besides the causing brain tumors, another common thought is that if one drinks “diet soda” they will lose weight, which leads to some people disgruntled if they drink it but didn’t lose weight. This is because the majority of sugar-free or diet sodas are marketed to draw in consumers that they are making the healthier choice than if they chose regular soda. It may not be proven that the diet soda specifically increases weight loss but Dr. Carter brings up the point that a lot of people tend to overcompensate when they choose diet soda. If they get a diet soda, which has less calories than a regular soda, then they may reward themselves with more food for their “healthy choice.”

Dr. Carter simply states, “The bottom line is that artificially sweetened beverages are safe” (CNN). This does not mean one should now excessively drink a ton of it, but simply the misconceptions that diet soda causes brain tumors seem highly unlikely. It’s still soda, so it’s not a healthy beverage and if given a choice, water would be the more beneficial option.




First Blog Post

Hi I’m Taylor Mason-Little from Orange County, California and I’m a freshman at Penn State! I am not a science major because in high school, science and math were never my strongest classes. I’m a Communications major and really interested in pursuing Broadcast Journalism. I chose this class specifically because of all the science classes my advisor showed me, this one seemed the most interesting! So here is a picture of one of my favorite places that my friends and I would always go to, Laguna Beach.

laguna beach pic