Author Archives: Colleen Byrne

What’s the deal with food allergies?

While I’m allergic to a lot of things, like cat hair, pollen, and some medicine, I am fortunate enough to not to have allergies to any foods. But food allergies are very common, especially in the United States, and yet I found myself knowing basically nothing about them, except that if my roommate ever came in contact with tree nuts or sesame, I had to give her Benadryl and let her pass out in our dorm room, so I decided to do some research.

As defined by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, “Food allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by the body’s immune system”. It goes onto explain that you develop a food allergy after a second exposure/contact with the food because, after coming in contact with a food the first time, your body thinks that that food is harmful and produces an anti-body to combat the harm, which is why you get hives or your throat swells, so you don’t eat said food anymore. The food itself isn’t actually harmful to you, your body and your immune system just thinks that it is, and therefore tries to protect you against it.

The most severe form of an allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis, and can lead to death if not treated. The symptoms go far beyond just hives and swelling that occur in most other allergic reactions, including difficulty breath and loss of blood circulation. And besides food allergies, there’s also food intolerance, similar and often confused with food allergies but has to do with the digestive system rather than the immune system, and oral allergy syndrome, which typically occurs when adults with a severe allergy to pollen eats various raw fruits or vegetables that have similar proteins to pollen.

After learning the basics of food allergies, I decided to dig deeper and find out how common they are and if there’s any research or studies being done to try and find a cure.

In 2012, studies found that nearly 1 in 20 children under the age of five and 1 in 25 adults have at least one food allergy, and in 2007 the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of children in the US with food allergies had gone up 18% since 1997. But why have food allergy rates gone up, and why does it only seem to be in Western Countries?

One theory is that children who grow up in Western societies don’t grow up with enough exposure to bacterias- that is, Western households are “too clean”. A study done in Florence, Italy compared bacteria found in the guts of 15 children from Florence, and 14 children from a rural African Village, and found staggering differences, relating to the children’s diets. While children born in Westernized nations are better protected from infectious diseases, children in places like African villages don’t suffer from food allergies. However, moving to an African village isn’t exactly a cure from food allergies and would probably end up causing more harm than good. So is there anything you can do to prevent your child from suffering from food allergies?

According to a recent study done in England, immunotherapy could help. Immunotherapy involves shots similar to those given to people with pollen allergies, beginning with a small exposure that gradually increases to create resistance. The study was a random controlled crossover trial, and they tested kids ages 7-16. They found that 91% of the kids, who couldn’t even be near peanuts before the therapy, could safely ingest five peanuts a day. However, the study concluded with a warning to not try this on your own; they didn’t know how long the immunotherapy lasted, and further treatment and studies needed to be done before it was used.

Another study found that children whose mothers consumed the highest amount of peanuts and/or tree nuts had the lowest rate of developing food allergies. It was a prospective cohort study, that looked at 8,205 children, 308 with food allergies of any kind and 140 with peanut/tree nut allergies.

There’s still no cure or significant therapy or treatment available for the seemingly always growing food allergy population, and no exact explanation for why it’s always growing, but there are many resources available to those who have a food allergy or intolerance so they’re always safe and protected.


Can cute animals make you more productive?

It’s known that dogs have been used to help relieve stress in college students during finals week. But is it possible that simply looking at a picture of a cute dog could help to relieve stress and make you more productive as well?

study done at the University of Hiroshima tested how looking at cute pictures before doing tasks involving focus effected people’s focus. They conducted 3 different tests with university students. In the first test, they had the students “perform a fine motor dexterity task” before and after looking at a picture of an animal. Some of the students looked at pictures of puppies and kittens, while others looked at pictures of cats and dogs. They found that the scores of the students who looked at the pictures of the puppies and kittens improved more than the scores of the students who looked at pictures of the adult animals. The second test was the exact same set up, except that the task was “a non motor visual search task”. The results were the same- the students who saw the cute image improved more than those who didn’t. The final test  was a “global-local letter task”, and found that looking at cute images reduced the “global precedence effect” that is typical with global and local tasks.

This was the only study I could find that tested wether looking at “cute” pictures made you more productive, and the study was relatively small, so there’s definitely more research that can be done. But next time you find yourself scrolling down a instagram dedicated to puppies, as I find myself doing multiple times a day, just remember that it’s not procrastinating, it’s getting yourself focused.

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Does Vitamin C help relieve pain?

One of my close friends from high school got a really, really big hip surgery at the end of August, and today she told me that high doses of Vitamin C  can replace ibuprofen painkillers, like Advil and Tylenol, to reduce pain, which would especially good for someone who’s constantly in pain like she is. So, I decided to see if there were studies to back up her claim.

This article has two studies about Vitamin C and pain, one that accepts the null hypothesis and the other that rejects it. The first was a Dutch study with more than 400 participants with wrist fractures that found that a daily, high dosage of Vitamin C relieved pain. The second, conducted in England, found that treatment with a Vitamin C and other antioxidants did not provide any pain relief. However, the participants were people who had developed chronic pancreatitis from alcoholism. Another thing to keep in my mind is that I could not find any sources for the studies on the article, so I’m not sure how reliable the information is or how the studies were conducted.

The National Cancer Institute reports that Vitamin C has been been found as a pain treatment for cancer patients since the 1970s, through lab and animal studies. But, as with the everydayhealth article, they report that “Some laboratory and animal studies studies have shown that combining Vitamin C with anticancer therapies may be helpful, while other studies have shown that certain forms of Vitamin C may make chemotherapy less effective” (NIH). Again, there’s no links or sources to the studies so I don’t know how reliable they are, as I have no idea how they were conducted.

I was unsuccessful in finding an actual study of Vitamin C as a pain reliever online, so I can’t say that my friend was right, even though I wish I could. But it can’t hurt to incorporate a little extra Vitamin C into your daily routine, as it does help grow and repair your body’s

Does the HPV shot increase promiscuity?

After our discussion in class today about Gardasil, it bothered me a lot that some people are against the vaccine simply because they believe it promotes “promiscuity”. So, as Andrew suggested, I decided to look up studies done to find out if protecting yourself from a virus that can cause numerous types of cancers and genital warts also causes people to be more risky with sex as well.

And, to no surprise of mine, getting the HPV vaccination does not increase promiscuity. In one of the studies, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers “examined wether the HPV vaccination was associated in an increase of STIs among females who were vaccinated compared with those who were not”. They looked at 1398 girls ages 12 to 18, keeping age and previous contraceptive use in mind. They found that HPV was not related to an increase in STIs versus non-vaccinated females. This study, conducted with girls ages 11 through 12 who received the vaccine, looked at pregnancy, STDs or STIs, and contraceptive counseling as “markers of sexual activity” for up to 3 years after the girls received the vaccination. They found that none of the markers were not significantly higher in the vaccinated girls vs. the non vaccinated, the study rules out increased sexual activity as a side effect of the vaccine.

Obviously, as with any vaccination, there are risk factors to take into account. If you haven’t gotten the shot and are thinking about it, definitely talk to your doctor before. And if you’re still not convinced, you can always scroll through this gallery of penile cancer as a motivator. Be safe kids!!


Do bras make your breasts saggier?

Since October is breast cancer awareness month, I began thinking about all of the ridiculous myths you hear about bras and their effects on women’s health. For example, you always hear that bras give you breast cancer, but (spoiler alert), they don’t. A study done in 1990 found that while the women who wore bras were more at risk for developing breast cancer, this had more to do with why the women were wearing the bras (because their breasts were bigger and need more support) rather than the actual bras themselves.

But there’s another rumored downside to bras that I always hear about, and it’s way more believable than bras giving you cancer- do bras make you breasts saggy?

According to a french sports doctor, yes. In a radio interview, the doctor said that he found, in a preliminary study, that “wearing a bra weakened the natural muscles that hold up breasts” (Rouillon). One of the volunteers also told the station, “You breathe better better, you stand up straighter, you have less back pain” (in regards to no longer wearing bras).

However, there are many things to consider before ditching your bras all together. First of all, the study is unpublished, which means that the data is not necessarily reliable. Also, we don’t know enough about the participants of the study, which Mary Jane Mickin, a clinical ob-gyn professor at Yale spoke to Women’s Health about, “It’s not clear if the researcher looked at women who only had smaller breasts, which don’t sag much over time, or if he included women of all breast sizes”. The randomization of the participants greatly effects how reliable the results are, so that;s definitely something to take into count when deciding wether or not to change your undergarment habits.

So, do bras make your breasts saggy? So far, the answer seems to be no. In the same Women’s Health article, Minkin says that there’s “no solid proof” that bras make your breasts saggy, and Roulin, who conducted the study, told Reuters that the study “is in it’s early stages” and that “he’s hesitant about giving one-size-fits all advice”.

So, for now, your favorite Victoria’s Secret bra is safe to wear, but remember to always check yourself for signs of breast cancer.



Why does food make us feel better?

I have a very bad habit of eating when I’m very stressed or upset about something. But what it is about foods that make them so comforting?

A randomized, double-blind placebo trial that was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology studied the “effects of cocoa polyphenols on cognition and mood,” (Pase). A polyphenol is basically a nutrient in our diets that has been linked to helping prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases. The researchers gave out 3 dark chocolate drink mixes, the only difference in each being the amount of polyphenols in it- 500 mg, 250 mg, and 0 mg. The 72 participants, who were all considered to be healthy, middle-aged people, consumed the drink everyday for 30 days. After 30 days, the participants who received the highest dose reported feeling more calm and self content than the participants who received no polyphenols. The study also went on to say that the results made a case for exploring wether the same polyphenols could help with anxiety and depression. Since the study was so well done, I think it makes a really good case for eating chocolate to help you feel better. And there’s more research to back this up.

This article also talks about studies done that name coffee, fruits and vegetables, foods rich in probiotics (live bacterias and yeast that’s good for you), and a few others can improve your mood if you make them common staples in your diet.

study done by researchers in Belgium found that when patients were hooked up to fatty-acid solution and showed pictures designed to make them sad, they reported feeling less sad than patients who were just hooked up to saline solution.

So, next time you reach for the Ben and Jerry’s pint or jar of Nutella when you’re feeling down and your roommate gives you a weird look, you can tell them you have science to back up your stress-eating habit


Does weather affect productivity?

With the fall season now fully in swing, the weather here at Penn State ranges from beautiful, 65 degree sunny days, to rainy and freezing ones. This got me wondering wether or not the weather outside had any affect on my schoolwork and productivity.

This study by researchers at Harvard looked at just what I had been questioning. The study focused around a Japanese bank in the city of Tokyo. They looked at research, complied by the bank itself, on the productivity of employees for 2 and a half years. The researchers compared that data to the weather patterns in Tokyo over the same time period. They found that rain, along with low temperatures and visibility, correlated with a spike in worker’s productivity, while sunny days were met with lower productivity rates. However, the researchers took into account that correlation does not equal causation, and decided to further study the hypothesis through a controlled study in a research lab. It is not made clear what kind of controlled trial it is. The study involved 136 students at Harvard, and the participants were split into 4 different groups- 2 control groups, one rainy-day and one sunny-day, and 2 manipulated groups, one rainy-day and one sunny-day as well. The control groups went into the labs on days where the forecast was either rainy or sunny, depending on which group they were in and asked to describe their average. The manipulated groups went in on their assigned forecast days as well, but while they were in the lab they looked at photographs of outdoor activities and explain, in detail, which activity they liked to do best. They then had all of the groups fill out spreadsheets about written questionnaires. The study ultimately found that the rainy-day control group participants performed the best, which means that the lab data was consistent with the bank data- people tend to be more productive on rainy days.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind. The lab participants were aware that the amount of money they made from participating was based on how fast they completed the activity, so it’s possible that time is a cofounding variable. As well, the questionnaires were in Italian to make it more different for “english-speaking” participants, which makes me think that maybe the participants weren’t random, as it’s never specified in the article. As well, this study, published in the International Journal of Bio Meteorology, which also studied college students, found that while, “the weather appears to influence mood and productivity, but only to a small extent compared with the aggregate of other controlling factors”.

Overall, while there are definitely some things that must be taken into account concerning the study and it’s findings, from now on I’m gonna pay attention to the weather for more than just picking out what I’m wearing that day.

Four seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter. Art tree beautifu

Does saltwater actually cure all?

One of my very favorite quotes is “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweats, tears, or the sea”. As a child, whenever I was at the beach, my grandma reminded me to take off my bandaids before I went into the ocean because saltwater would help the cuts. I never knew if it was just an age old myth, but my cuts did seem to get better after a dip in the Atlantic. Does the ocean really heal, though?

Well, no. It’s well known that saline, a very pure form of salt water, can heal many cuts and aid in helping clear open wounds of foreign materials. While the water in the ocean contains saline, since it’s not pure like the saline solutions sold in stores and used in hospitals, it could actually end up making the wound worse rather than better. According to Professor Bart Currie, an infectious disease and tropical infection expert, there are many variables that you must take into account, including the state of the ocean and the state of the wound. As well, people with weak immune systems are more susceptible to contracting diseases and should definitely avoid going into the ocean with an open wound.

But, saltwater does have it’s perks. The Dead Sea is flocked to every year by millions for it’s healing powers- just floating in the water is known to help ease skin diseases like eczema. That same Daily Mail article also talks about all different treatments involving saltwater, like algae wraps and salt water baths, help exfoliate and purify your skin.

So while saltwater should not be your go-to method to heal your open wounds, taking a dip in the ocean once in a while without a bandaid off your paper cut definitely won’t hurt.

people floating in the dead sea in Israel

people floating in the dead sea in Israel

Watching the sunset can make you happier

I am a sucker for sunsets. Many times I have forced my friends, boyfriend, and parents to stop activities so I could take pictures of the sky on my phone. Unsurprisingly, many times I find myself sprinting to catch up with people or getting screamed at from car’s I got out of to stand in the middle of the street and take said pictures. But is there any benefit to watching the sunset, or am I simply just doing it for the insta?

Being “attuned” to the natural beauty of sunsets can improve a person’s emotional wellbeing, according to this study from the University of California at Berkley. Just being in the presence of something beautiful can make you feel better and more connected to yourself and your emotions. And not only will watching sunsets make you feel better emotionally, it’ll also help you be a better person to others. A similar study by the same researcher, Jia Wei Zhang, found that those same emotions that improve your personal wellbeing were also found to cause people to be more generous.

And if sunsets cause you to be in awe, watching them can help you slow down time and regain control of your day. Psychology Today also recommends listening to music, breaking out a sketchpad, or even meditating during the sunset to help improve your experience.

So everyone can make fun of me all they want, I will continue to shamelessly take sunsets pictures and get yelled at by everyone I hang out with.


taken by yours truly, standing on a roof 🙂

Is homesickness an actual illness?

Homesickness is something I know very well. When I got to campus almost 3 weeks ago, I was leaving the town I had lived in for 18 years, all my friends, and my parents for the first time in my entire life. The transition is definitely not easy, but as cliche as it is it does get easier everyday.

But what is homesickness, exactly? As defined by the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is the “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and object attachments such as parents”. Everyone experiences homesickness, up to 70% of college students, in different ways and at different times. However, according to a report done by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in 14 young people struggle with a form of homesickness the author of the report, Christopher Thurban, calls “intense homesickness”. Symptoms of intense homesickness include developing poor eating and sleep habits (Thuber). Which begs the question- can homesickness cause actual, physical or mental illness?

According to the University of Warwick counseling service, “nausea, headaches, dizziness”, “disrupted menstrual cycle” in girls, and “trembling, and feeling either too hot or too cold” are considered “typical symptoms” of homesickness. Those symptoms are eerily similar with those of an anxiety attack. So while homesickness might not cause someone to get the common cold, it can definitely lead to the development of serious mental illnesses.

However, John Kaplow, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Alabama, disagrees. He believes that homesickness is “an emotion that comes in waves” (Kaplow). As well, it’s not actually about your home or being sick, it’s about missing “what’s normal, what is routine” (Kaplow) because that’s truly what makes a place feel like home.

Wether or not you agree that homesickness is just that, a sickness, or a phase, it’s something that people of all different ages and all different circumstances deal with, and if you’re currently one of those people, remember you’re not alone.


Hii! I’m Colleen I’m from Bergen County, New Jersey which is about 4 hours away from Penn State. I’m currently undecided in the College of Communications, and I’m taking this class because it fulfills my science requirement and it was the most interesting one available when I made my schedule. I’m not planning on becoming a science major because science was never my strong point in high school and even though I think some aspects of it are interesting, I could never do it 9-5 for the rest of my life.

this is what heaven looks like probably

this is what heaven looks like probably

This is a link to my favorite song