Author Archives: Lauren Ann Heess

What can our eyes tell us?


Most people say that the first thing they notice about an individual is their eyes.  However, besides just looks, can eyes tell us anything important about a person? Actually, your eyes can tell you more about yourself than you may have previously thought. It has been proven that an individual’s eyes can give insight on their health or the way in which their body functions. The color of a person’s irises and sclera can often alert a person if they have certain health issues.

There are many different health related associations with blue or light colored eyes. The first is that people with blue eyes tend to be more light-sensitive. It likely due to the fact that light-colored eyes have less light-absorbing eye pigment. Darker eyes aren’t as light sensitive because they have more pigment, meaning less light gets through the iris. Another association is that blue or light- colored eyes may be more at risk for cancer. Due to the fact that “lighter eyes have less pigment to protect them from harmful ultraviolet rays, it’s true that light-eyed people have a greater lifetime risk for melanoma of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, than their dark-eyed peers” (Vann). Although this form of cancer is extremely rare, it is still possible due to the eye color. The last important association is an autoimmune disease that causes blotchy skin color, called Vitiligo, is less common is lighter eyes. In one large study, nearly half the patients with this disease had brown eyes. Researcher realized that “two particular genes, TYR and OCA2, which play a role in blue eye color, also decrease risk for vitiligo” (Klein). Which could be why individuals with blue or light eyes are less likely to get this disease.

Brown eyes also have a health association. Individuals with brown eyes are at a greater risk of getting cataracts. A study done by the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 2000 found “dark-eyed people had a 1.5 to 2.5 times greater risk of cataracts.” (Klein). Some researchers believe this may be due to dark eyes being more light-absorbent which increases the temperature of the lens.

There are also health associations with what the white a person’s eye, called the Sclera, looks like. The first is that if it begins to turn red, it may mean the person is suffering from an infection, allergies, or dryness. Yellowing of the eyes may mean the person has a problem with their liver. Lastly a white or grey ring forming around the iris, a condition called Arcus Senilis, is a result of cholesterol deposits. This shows the person may have high cholesterol, meaning they are at a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Overall, it is clear our eyes have more purpose than just sight alone. An individual’s eyes can tell more about them than most would imagine. Studies have proven and scientists strongly support the claim that individual’s eyes can give insight on their health or the way in which their body functions.


Why is sleep so important?


In February of this year the National Sleep Foundation issued a new summary for the amount of sleep recommended for different age groups. According to their expertise they recommend no one should get less than 7 hours of sleep, however the younger the an individual is, the more sleep they should get. According to Charles Czeisler, Chairman of the board of the NSF, “This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety” (NSF). So why is the amount of sleep we get important enough to have guidelines set to advise us and potentially change our routines?

The reason behind us needing to be aware of it is because sleep or lack of it can seriously impact a person’s health and wellbeing. Sleep is extremely beneficial when an individual gets the right amount. This may be due to the fact that “Major restorative functions in the body such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis occur almost exclusively during sleep” (Rogers). Sleep helps maintain these vital functions that allow the body to recover properly from aspects of everyday life. It has many benefits that help an individual, some of the most important being reduced risk of health problems, healthier weight, sharper attention and much more.

One of the most important benefits of getting the right amount of sleep is that it reduces the risk of certain diseases and illnesses. When an individual gets less than the recommended amount of sleep they are shown to have higher levels of inflammatory proteins than individuals who get the correct amount. Inflammation is commonly associated with heart disease, arthritis, stroke, diabetes, and other serious health issues. So getting the right amount of sleep can curb inflammation and reduce the risk of these diseases linked to it. On the other hand, sleep deprivation can actually have negative effects. One study in 2010 “found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night” (Sparacino). While another study “simulated the effects of the disturbed sleep patterns of shift workers on 10 young healthy adults. After a mere four days, three of them had blood glucose levels that qualified as pre-diabetic” (Griffin). These both show that sleep gives the body time to heal and lack of that after years can have a serious impact on health. That is why most people with the condition “Insomnia” usually have another health issue.

Not only does it help with serious illnesses, but also helps with something as simple as a cold. Getting enough sleep has been shown to strengthen an individual’s immunity. According to WebMD “Researchers tracked over 150 people and monitored their sleep habits for two weeks. Then they exposed them to a cold virus. People who got seven hours of sleep a night or less were almost three times as likely to get sick as the people who got at least eight hours of sleep a night” (WebMD). This is because if the body does not have the time to heal overnight, it weakens the immune system which makes it more likely for someone to catch a virus if they are exposed to it.

Another benefit of sleep is that it helps maintain a healthier weight. According to Dr. Rapoport “Sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain. When you are sleepy, certain hormones go up in your blood, and those same hormones drive appetite” (Sparacino) The levels of a hormone called leptin, which is what makes an individual feel full, is what drops. That is why when people don’t get enough sleep it stimulates hunger, mostly for high-fat, high-carb foods and lack self-control is a result of being overtired. The claim that people that sleep less have a higher risk of being obese has been proven through multiple studies such as “one study that followed 500 people for 13 years found that people who regularly slept less than seven hours a night were 7.5 times more likely to be overweight — even after controlling for physical activity, family history, and demographic factors.” (Loria) So this shows that whether you’re on a diet or are just trying to be healthy, getting the recommended amount of sleep is an important aspect of not gaining weight.

The last important benefit is that it sharpens an individual’s attention. Without that sharp attention due to lack of sleep people are more prone to making mistakes, which can sometimes be dangerous. Research has found “Drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths every year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Almost 20% of serious injuries in crashes happen when there’s a sleepy driver involved” (Loria). Some studies similar to this have even shown that driving sleep deprived is almost as harmful as drinking drunk. Not only is sleep loss an hazard on the roads, but it can also be a danger in certain workplaces. Many accidents and injuries occur on jobs when there sleep deprivation is a factor. In fact some of the biggest disasters in history such as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown or the Exxon Valdez oil spill were a result of this problem. Due to issues like this many companies have put in place regulations on how many hours workers can work to allow them to get more sleep.

So overall, what is the importance of sleep? Well, according to many studies getting a healthy amount of sleep or having a lack of sleep overtime can actually have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing. It can effect important aspects of life such as risk of health problems, weight, and sharpness of attention. However, there are many more positives of getting the correct amount of sleep. If the benefits alone don’t change your mind, maybe the consequences of not getting the correct amount of sleep will encourage you to get those important extra hours in. Sleep is such an easy way to improve many aspects of a person’s life, so if you have the opportunity, making sure you get the recommended amount of sleep is one of the best things you can do.

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Have humans stopped evolving?


Thousands years ago, natural selection played a huge role in nature. Evolution was based on survival of the fittest, meaning only the animals who adapted best to their environment survived and those advantageous genes were passed down to the next generation. However, we now live in a society where there are much less natural selection pressures. The amount of hazards we face has reduced dramatically due to better food, shelter, and hygiene that is provided to us. So has evolution stopped because of our improved living conditions? Well studies have shown that some evolution has occurred over the last couple hundred years and more changes are still happening.

The first example of evolution in humans is the ability to digest lactose sugar in milk. In most parts of the world people are unable to drink milk, because they symptoms such as bloating, cramps, nausea, vomiting, etc. This is a result of a lactose intolerant person’s body shutting off the production of lactase, which is the enzyme they need to digest the lactose sugar.  However, “A 2006 study suggests this tolerance for lactose was still developing as early as 3,000 years ago in East Africa. That genetic mutation for digesting milk is now carried by more than 95 percent of Northern European descendants” (Hullinger). The reason that most Europeans carry a mutation containing the gene where lactase production is switched on when milk is consumed, is due to the change happening when milk-producing animals were domesticated thousands of years ago. During that time, milk was one of the safest drinks a person could have. So, if they were lactose intolerant it was likely they wouldn’t survive. The advantageous gene of being lactose tolerant was passed down to the next generations and now that variant is extremely common in Europeans.

Next is the change in the Caspase-12 gene. A study conducted by Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute suggested “The caspase-12 gene was gradually inactivated in the human population because the active gene can result in a poorer response to bacterial infection.” (YG) This adaption occurred because although the Caspase-12 gene responded to bacterial infections within our immune systems, individuals who had a functional version of this gene had a higher risk of death if bacteria entered the bloodstream than individuals with the inactive gene. So, the adaption is that the Caspase-12 gene is now inactive in everyone.

Another change is that we’re losing our wisdom teeth. “One estimate says 35 percent of the population is born without wisdom teeth, and some say they will disappear altogether” (YG). Centuries ago, the jaws of our ancestors were much larger than ours. Wisdom teeth were essentially an extra set of molars that made it easier for them to chew tough meat, roots, and nuts. In today’s society we do not need to tear apart food with our teeth. Since we have utensils, food is much easier to eat. For this reason, our jaws have become smaller and wisdom teeth are unnecessary.

Genetic studies have demonstrated that humans are still evolving even today. Researchers at the University of Sheffield in Finland found that within the population the percentage of children born in the late 1800’s who survived to adulthood had risen significantly by the mid 1900’s. However, Dr Bolund and others “found that between 4 and 18 per cent of the variations between individuals in lifespan, family size and ages of first and last childbirth were influenced by genes” (Connor). So this is just another example that in recent years, humans could still be responding to natural selection pressures, and therefore still be evolving.

A more recent study by the University of Chicago found genes evolving in two specific groups of people as a result of climate, diet, and habits. In the first study, “researchers found positive selection in four pigment genes important for lighter skin in Europeans that were not known before.” (Than) The color of their skin may be an adaption to less sunlight. The second study on East Asians “found strong evidence of positive selection in genes involved in the production of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), a protein necessary for breaking down alcohol” (Than). This is different because they have been previously known to carry a mutation preventing them from producing ADH. These changes suggest evolution.

Overall, according to Dr Bolund, “As long as there is variation in the population in terms of reproduction, there will be a difference in reproductive success, which means there’s something for natural selection to work on” (Connor). We are always adapting to our environment around us, therefore, the advantageous genes are still are being passed down to the next generation and making them better off. Since it is clear that we still are and will continue evolving, maybe someday we will have resistant to terrible illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, etc. Future evolution could potentially allow us to live longer and better quality lives.

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Is organic food worth the cost?


When we go to the supermarket, there is a decision we have to make between purchasing regular or organic fruits, vegetables, meats, and other produce. Although some people are unclear about what the difference between the two options are, the sales for organic produce has been increasing in recent years as people learn more about it. According to the executive director of Organic Trade Association, Katherine DiMatteo, “We’ve had a strong 20%-a-year growth rate since 1990” (WebMD). So why are people becoming more enticed to buy organic? Well, before there was a difference between regular and organic, the consumer couldn’t be sure about the quality of the product. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture set national regulations for the way in which organic food is grown, handled, and processed. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture “To meet the set standards, organic crops must be produced without conventional pesticides (including herbicides), synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics.” (WebMD) Due to the strict regulations it is believed by many people that organic foods taste better, are more nutritional, are safer to consume, and are better for the environment.

Advocates of organic food tend to believe that organic food tastes better. Although this claim may just be a matter of opinion, organic food is typically sold locally and is usually fresher than produce at stores that have been transported far distances. As a result, the organic produce may have more flavor. Another claim is that organic produce has more nutritional value in the levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One study shows that organic foods may contain at least higher levels of antioxidants. Research conducted by Newcastle University found that  “concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics that were 18- to 69-percent higher in organic food. Eating organic fruit, vegetables and cereals provide consumers 20- to 40-percent more antioxidants, which would be equivalent to eating between one to two extra servings of fruit and vegetables a day”(Zuraw). In fact, multiple studies have been done on specific organic foods such as milk and tomatoes, which have both been proven to have more antioxidants, vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients. This makes these two products healthier when bought in the organic form. “This may be due to the fact that foreign chemicals are not negatively interacting with the different vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds that are so essential for the positive impact of fruits and vegetables” (Oranic Facts). So purchasing organic produce can be more nutritional in some cases.

Another benefit of organic produce is that people believe it is healthier to consume because of the way it is grown, handled, and processed. In the case of fruits and vegetables, conventional farmers use harsh pesticides in order to protect the crops from the environment. Organic farmers instead make sure the environment is safe by using insect traps or careful crop selection, so they don’t have to use many chemicals on their produce. According to the USDA,  “A large-scale study done by the Consumers Union. Researchers looked at data from more than 94,000 food samples and 20 different crops. They found that organically grown crops consistently had about one-third as many pesticide residues as the conventionally grown versions” (WebMD). Many people like the fact that organic has so little pesticide residue, because studies have shown that pesticides can have potentially harmful effects. A study by scientists at Harvard University found ”Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards, ranging from short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic impacts like cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption” (TAC). This is because pesticides are composed of unnatural chemicals that don’t interact well with the human body, so when a person consumes or is exposed to them often it is not surprising that it could cause health issues.

When it comes to organic produce such as meats and dairy, “regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate”           (Mayo Clinic). With non-organic produce, the consumer doesn’t always know what is put into their food. According to a study “Organic meats like chicken and pork are less likely to harbor “superbugs”—that is, bacteria that are immune to several types of antibiotics, making it more difficult treat infections in both animals and people” (Radcliffe). This is why people might be more drawn to organic, since it seems to be a cleaner and more natural version of produce.

Lastly, organic produce also benefits the health of the environment. Since conventional farmers use harsh chemicals such as fertilizer or pesticide on their crops, it accumulates in the soil, air, and water systems. “Pesticide use can damage agricultural land by harming beneficial insect species, soil microorganisms, and worms which naturally limit pest populations and maintain soil health; Weakening plant root systems and immune systems; reducing concentrations of essential plant nutrients in the soil such nitrogen and phosphorouss” (TAC). These issues can have long term negative impacts on the environment and society. Since organic famers do not use the harsh chemicals on their produce, they are not contributing to the pollution that some non-organic farmers do.

Although one of the biggest concerns with buying organic produce is the high costs, it seems that there are a lot of benefits to buying it. It is a matter of opinion whether organic is worth paying more for, but the fact that organic food has been shown to be better tasting, more nutritious, safer to consumer, and better for the environment seems like it is worth the cost. So, next time you are in a dilemma whether or not to buy organic, remember that it is typically the safest, cleanest form of food you can get and maybe that will help you choose.

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Tanning: Is real better than artificial?


Most people prefer having a healthy, sun kissed color rather than looking pale for big occasions such as vacations, proms, and other important events. During the summer many people lay outside to get tan, whether it be next to the beach or in their backyard, but this method isn’t always available. Some people don’t live in areas where it’s sunny all year round and many people don’t have the time to waste hours laying out, so they turn to tanning beds. However, in recent years a lot of attention has been drawn to the fact that too much sun exposure and tanning bed’s UV rays can be a cause of health problems. According to the American Cancer Society, “Over 3.5 million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States each year. This doesn’t include the 70,000 diagnosed cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer” (Stoddard). Skin cancer is a serious issue that is most often a result of excessive exposure to UV Rays from either natural or artificial light. Although most people are aware of this problem, they still choose to expose themselves on a regular basis; but is one method of tanning better than the other?

The first method of getting a tan is by outdoor tanning where an individual is exposed to natural sun light. UVA and UVB are two forms of rays produced by the sun. UVB rays are produced year round, while UVA rays are typically present only during the summer. According to some researchers “UVA rays are regarded as “safer” and they cause the skin to age, while UVB rays cause the skin to burn.” (Brown) However, when exposed to them in large quantities, both UVA and UVB rays can be harmful. The more relevant problem with outdoor tanning is that the sun is stronger at certain hours of the day. If an individual goes out during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4p.m. or decides to not wear sunscreen, the effects of natural sunlight can be very dangerous, because they are at high risk for sunburn.

The other method of getting a tan is indoor tanning beds where an individual is exposed to artificial light. The bulbs in the tanning beds still emit both UVA and UVB rays, however there is much less UVB radiation compared tanning outside. However, according to Harvard Health Publications ”The UVA radiation is up to three times more intense than the UVA in natural sunlight” (Robb-Nicholson). It depends on the model and brand of the tanning bed, but in most cases the lamps expose people to stronger, very concentrated, and therefore more harmful amounts of UV radiation. In fact, a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute “Found that use of an indoor tanning device was associated with a 50% increase in the risk of basal cell carcinoma and a more than 100% increase in the risk of squamous cell carcinoma” (Robb-Nicholson). While another study by the International Journal of Cancer “reviewed 19 published studies on the association of tanning beds and skin cancers. They found use of the tanning beds before age 35 boosted the risk of melanoma by 75%” (Doheny). Proving that indoor tanning can be very dangerous.

The truth of the matter is that neither is safer than the other, because the most recent scientific evidence shows there is no healthy method of tanning since both have harmful consequences. UV rays, which are produced from both methods of tanning, cause an individual’s skin to darken, which is the body’s way of protecting itself. However, the darkening of the skin also means the DNA in a person’s skin cells is being damaged, which causes the skin to grow abnormally and can eventually lead to skin cancer. Also, exposing skin to UV rays for too long causes elastic fibers and collagen in an individual’s skin to break down as well, which leads to premature aging of the skin or wrinkles.

Overall, countless studies have shown that tanning, whether it be indoor or outdoor, often results in health issues such as skin cancer, wrinkles, and eye damage. So, neither method is better than the other, because they ultimately have the same consequences. The best thing a person can do is limit the amount of UV Rays they expose themselves to by taking preventative measures, because it will reduces the risk of getting skin damage.

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What are the consequences of fad diets?


We’ve all been there. After a holiday when we’ve eaten too much food, we swear we’re won’t eat any junk food for awhile in order to shed those pounds. This is the reason fad diets are so popular, because they claim fast and easy results. In reality, most of us only make it about a week if we’re lucky with these kind of diets. Going from indulging in hundreds of calories during a holiday party to barely any calories during the following days are a cycle many people get stuck in. But what is the impact on our body from this? Fad diets actually affect our body negatively in many ways.

One of the ways these fad diets effect our body is that they alter our metabolism. This is due to the fact that when an individual follows a diet consisting of food restrictions, it goes against the natural pattern of their body telling them when to eat and stop eating. According to ­­­­Nutriformance “When dieting consists of a drastic decrease in caloric intake, your body will compensate for this “starvation mode”, which will slow the rate of your metabolism.” (Giller) This is the opposite of what a person trying to lose weight wants, because a fast metabolism is what makes weight loss easier.

Another effect is that most people end up gaining the weight back. Fad diets usually help people lose a couple pounds in a short period of time. However, most of that lost weight is simply water weight.  Once an individual goes back to their normal eating habits, they will gain the weight right back. Often times, people deprive themselves of food for so long that they end up binge eating, which results in gaining more weight than they began with. Constantly trying fad diets also makes it harder to lose weight in the future. “After a quick-fix diet, you have lost mostly water weight and muscle, so when you do gain weight back, it is not muscle, it is fat.” (Giller) This a problem because that fat makes it harder for the individual to gain the muscle mass back, and muscle is what helps a person burn more calories.

The last problem with fad diets is that they cause nutritional deficiencies in people. Since these diets restrict people from eating certain types of foods, our body is being deprived of certain important nutrients. Many fad diets prohibit the consumption of carbs or fats. However, these nutrients are an essential source of energy for us. By not consuming them it can cause your body to function improperly, which could be harmful to your health. Some health issues could be hair and muscle loss. “Since your diet is very low in calories, your body will look for other ways to get energy. One of these ways is by digesting your muscles.” (Fit Day) People can even get diseases from lack of nutrients due to fad diets.

Overall, fad diets are usually too good to be true and can  even have negative effects on our body. Countless health experts are firm on the belief that the only effective method of losing weight is making it a lifestyle change of eating healthy, well-balanced meals, and staying active. So, people should stay away from fad diets for their own good.


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Does an apple a day actually keep the doctor away?


I’m sure most people have heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But is there any truth to that claim? Apples happen to be one of my favorite fruits, so I usually eat at least one a day. This being said, I wondered if eating them was actually keeping me healthier.

Research on this claim shows that there may not be an association between eating apples every day and staying away from the doctor, but apples do have many other health benefits. There is substantial evidence showing that apples are helpful in fighting off illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many others.

Studies around the world have found a link between apple consumption and reduced risk of cancer, especially lung cancer. “In the Nurses Health Study, involving more than 77,000 women in the United States, those who consumed at least one serving per day of apples and/or pears had a reduced risk of lung cancer.” (Killoran) Another study showed that apples may also reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. “The Women’s Health Study, which surveyed nearly 40,000 women, found that women eating an apple a day had a 13 to 22% decrease in cardiovascular disease risk.” (Killoran) Eating something as simple as an apple is an easy precautionary measure to take, so you never have to face these illnesses.

Not only does eating apples help prevent disease but “daily apple eaters were also more likely to successfully avoid prescription medication use (47.7% versus 41.8%).” (MacGill) Although the claim “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” did not have enough substantial evidence, the association between eating apples and visiting the pharmacist for perscriptions less frequently was supported by statistical analysis.

So, why do apples give us these great health benefits? The reason is because apples are packed full of antioxidants and nutrients. “Recently published research from Cornell University found that rat brain cells exposed to quercetin, an antioxidant in apples, resisted damage much better than cells not treated with quercetin.” (KilloranThe antioxidants help fight off illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, because those illnesses are caused by oxidative stress.

There is also good data showing “that the soluble fiber in apples can help prevent cholesterol from building up on artery walls. Apples contain a good amount of potassium, which can be beneficial for those who are watching their blood pressure.” (Pendick) Due to these benefits, researchers and professors from prestigious colleges advise people to eat apples, over any other fruit or vegetable, in order to protect yourself against these common health problems.

Apples may not keep us away from the doctor, but they are a good snack that has been proven to benefit people’s health and well being. These benefits should be enough to convince people that it might be time to start eating apples every day or at least once in a while.

Can talking to plants help them grow?


I remember hearing in my high school science class that talking to plants could potentially help their growth. Since I enjoy planting flowers, I’ve always been curious, yet skeptical about this claim. However, research has shown that some element of talking, or just sound in general, may truly be helping plants grow faster and healthier.

There are a few theories as to why scientists believe talking may help plants grow. One theory is that the carbon dioxide we breath on the plants while talking to them helps growth, but there is very little supporting evidence for that. Another theory is that talking causes vibrations and scientists “have found evidence that plants do react to a number of environmental stimuli in which they rely on for survival, this includes vibrations.” (ProFlowers) Since vibrations have been found to stimulate plants, it would make sense that vibrations from speaking can have a positive impact on the growth of plants.

Multiple studies have been conducted to test the sound and vibration theory, one of which was done on a show called Myth Busters. They did an experiment where they had greenhouses set up with either no music, looped recordings, or various genres of music playing. The results showed that the plants had the best growth rate in the greenhouses that had music playing. The plants in the greenhouses that played recordings still grew faster than the control plants.

Another reason researchers believe sound may improve plant growth is because “a 2007 paper from scientists at South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology proposed that two genes involved in a plant’s response to light—known as rbcS and Ald—are turned on by music played at 70 decibels.” (Stevenson) That amount of decibels is about the same level as someone speaking, so both talking or music can potentially help activate these genes in plants.

In fact, there is a new social experiment taking place at the moment called “Talk to a Plant”. It’s a study where people send tweets to an account and then the tweets are read to the plants. The individuals then get to see how the plants react to what they said. It’s a unique and interactive way to test a theory, and so far the results seem to be supporting the claim that sounds help plants grow faster and healthier.

The best advice for people who want healthy plants is to provide them with water, light, and mineral nutrition. However, I think there is enough evidence to convince people that it may not hurt to start talking to your plants, or at least play some music for them.


Does music improve athletic performance?


For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of enhanced exercise or athletic performance is brought up is the use of supplements or substances. But what if something besides chemical supplements could improve athletic performance? New research shows that there is indeed another method that can give a competitive edge to athletes or people who work out, and that would be music. I’m sure this is nothing new for people involved in sports because most athletes know the ritual of listening to music during warmups and getting pumped up from it. However, research is showing that music actually helps improve performance a lot more than people would expect. Music is typically associated with distracting people from the pain of running that extra mile or other demanding physical activity, but recent studies show that the music isn’t just distracting us, it seems to actually improve the focus and abilities of individuals.

Two factors, volume and tempo, most affect how music enhances our athletic performance. When I go on runs, I have to make a playlist of fast tempo songs, because I know I won’t be as motivated if a slow song was to come on. A study done by Judy Edworthy and Hannah Waring at the University of Plymouth studied the effects of these variables. It tested “30 “physically active” participants in five conditions (loud/fast, loud/slow, quiet/fast, quiet/slow, and no music) at a self-selected pace for 10min on a treadmill” (Davis). The result of the study demonstrated that different variables did in fact have in impact on the individual’s heart rates and speeds. The high volumes and fast tempos allowed the people to run faster on the treadmill.

A similar study looked at music’s effects on subjects during a 10-kilometer cycling time trial. “When music was played, cyclists completed the time trial in an average of 1,030 seconds; when music wasn’t being played average time was 1,052 seconds, a statistically and practically significant difference.” (Hoffman) The heart rate and times of the 16 individuals who were listening to music were clearly enhanced.

So why does listening to music improve athletic performance? There is actually scientific reasoning behind it. According to neurologist, Dr. Marie Pasinski, “Music’s impact is that multiple areas of the brain are involved in listening to music. In addition to the auditory cortex, the part of the brain involved in hearing, the motor cortex (involved in movement) and the cerebellum (involved in coordination) also light up when you hear music. Pasinski says tunes of about 130 beats per minute are typically considered ideal exercise accompaniment” (Greene). These studies have shown that listening to fast tempo, loud, or enjoyable music causes the parts of the brain that control movement and coordination to light up, tricking our body into moving faster. Music boosts confidence, motivates, and causes positive thoughts, all of which allow a person to train or workout harder.

How much do our dogs remember?


Ever wonder if your dog has any memories? I’m sure most of us would like to believe that our dog remembers the fun times we’ve had together whether it was going on a walk, playing fetch, etc. However, studies show they don’t have much of a memory at all.

There have been multiple studies done by research groups where “captive animals performed a short-term memory test. In the first part of the test, an animal is briefly exposed to some visual stimulus — a red dot, for example. After a brief delay, the animal is shown the same stimulus a second time, along with one or more additional stimuli — a black square, for instance. If the animal is able to identify the original stimulus, it is rewarded with a treat.” (Cooper) Not many animals were successful at accomplishing the tasks in the tests, demonstrating that they don’t have very good short-term memories.

All animals have short term memories, but the time span of the memory varies from animal to animal. Dogs specifically will forget an experience in about two minutes. This is why dogs get so excited when you walk through the door, because even if you were just with them 10 minutes ago, they don’t remember.

A recent investigation done by National Geographic found “short-term memory suggests animals don’t remember specific events much at all—instead, they store away useful information about what could help them survive.” (Owen)  Dogs, as well as all other animals, have a specialized memory that allows them to remember important things like the sound of their offspring, where to find food, and other information needed for survival. This shows that when the information is important enough to be retained, animals have the ability to do it.

Although no animals have episodic long term memory. Many animals have associative long term memories. Associative memories allow them to remember and associate certain things with danger and other feelings, but these associations do not stem from specific experiences. This type of memory is why stray cats keep returning to someone’s house once the individual offers it food, because they associate food with the house. Dogs also have declarative long term memory which allows them to remember certain facts and commands. According to a study “Dogs can learn, retain and later repeat actions humans teach them. The study trained dogs to watch activities performed by their human demonstrators. They were trained to wait briefly before showing the action previously demonstrated to them. Then, they were tested for memory of that action. They remembered the action after 10 minutes, even with distractions in between.” (Whitman)  There are even some cases of extremely intelligent dogs who can remember a lot of commands and information.

Based on the current research and generally speaking, dogs memories aren’t great. However,  scientists don’t think it is right to completely rule out the possibility that dogs can remember past experiences, it just needs to be researched further.

Can poppy seeds cause you to fail a drug test?

I always thought it was a myth that poppy seed bagels could cause someone to fail a drug test. Turns out, it’s actually true. Whether it’s bagels, muffins, or cake, it is wise to stay away from them if you know you are being drug tested for a job or athletic event, since poppy seeds have been proven to cause false positives on drug tests.

The reason why they can potentially cause a false positive is because poppy seeds, even though they don’t produce or contain it, can become contaminated with opium while in their seed pods. Opium is a liquid substance that contains drugs known to be abused in today’s society. Opium “is composed of roughly 12% morphine (a narcotic prohibited in-competition), codeine, and a number of other non-narcotic alkyloids.”(USADA) Most poppy seeds are at least partially contaminated with this substance. Even though they are cleaned, there is still a chance of leftover residue, which is enough to cause a false positive on a drug test.

In a study done by The Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, individuals were instructed to eat different amounts of poppy seed cake. “Their urine samples were tested 24 hours after the cake was eaten, and again at the 48-hour mark. For both tests, each participant tested positive for opium ranging as high as 10 microg/mL” (Upton) That amount of opium is extremely high considering the Olympic’s cut off for a drug test to be considered positive was 1 microg/mL. Not only were the levels high, but the opiates were also shown to stay in a person’s system for days.

Another study conducted by The Department of Health and Human Services “examined the results of 317,500 urine specimens that were tested for opiates and reviewed by three Medical Review Officer groups. The MRO’s reportedly reversed 87% of all the positive urinalysis test results due to false positives attributed to poppy seed ingestion, prescription medication, or other reasons.” (Snopes) Those numbers and percentages are too large for the claim “poppy seeds can cause a person to fail a drug test” not to be true.

Since the opiates from poppy seeds have the ability for someone to exceed the limits on a drug test, there have been countless situations in which people were fired from their job from eating foods containing them. This issue prompted the US federal government to raise “the threshold for what is considered a positive opiate test in workplace screening from 0.3 micrograms per milliliter to 2 micrograms per milliliter”(Upton) The new cutoff is supposed to protect people by allowing them to consume poppy seeds and still pass a drug test.

So, between all the studies and new regulations put in place, it is clear that it’ a good idea to just stay away from foods containing poppy seed, if you know you have a job interview or athletic event where you will be drug tested.


Initial Blog Post

Hi everyone!

My name is Lauren and I’m from Bethlehem, PA, which is about three hours away from State College! It’s home to The Sands Casino, The Artsquest Center and festivals such as Christkindlmarkt and Musikfest! Here at Penn State, I’m in the Smeal Business School. I’m currently undecided, but I’m leaning toward a finance or supply chain major.

I’m not a science major because I’ve always preferred math courses. I actually did enjoy my science classes in high school, with the exception of chemistry, but just not enough to pursue it over a business major at a university with such a great program for business.

I decided to take SC 200 because one of the advisors highly recommended it to me when I was debating which general science class to take. The course description seemed intriguing to me because the topics of discussion listed are controversial and require you to actually think about them on a deeper level, unlike some other subjects in science. I’m excited to take this class because I can already tell that it’s going to be interesting, and the fact that it’s being taught in a New Zealand accent only makes it better in my opinion!

Here’s a picture I took this summer of the Nueschweinstein Castle in Germany!

LH Iphone 1371 (2)