Author Archives: Michael Thomas

Processed Meat can cause Cancer

Look out tailgate fans, our favorite foods of hot dogs, sausage, bacon and salami cause cancer. Backed by numerous studies and years of research, the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed over 800 studies regarding processed meats and deemed them carcinogenic. WHO’s cancer research department classified processed meat or the “meat altered through salting, curing, fermenting or smoking” as a Group 1 Carcinogen. I have included a picture of the different groups of carcinogens but the Group 1 also contains smoking and asbestos. With this ranking, they have pretty conclusive evidence that processed meats are linked to cancer, mainly with colorectal cancer.

WHO used studies that were based on large groups of healthy people and they followed them over time recording their exposures (processed meat) as they go along. These studies were given the most weight. They also used studies that already looked at people that were sick with colon cancer and asked them about their eating habits before getting cancer.  The greatest link found between processed meats and cancer were colon cancer, the strongest, and stomach cancer, a weaker link.

With these claims, it would be important for us to change our diets and limit our intake of red and processed meat. If reducing our intake of meat and have healthier dietary options we could reduce our risk of colorectal cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund recommend eating no more than 500 grams of red meat per week. They also recommend eating little to no processed meats. And to put that into scale, a hot dog is 45 grams, so you could eat no more than ten hot dogs worth of meat a week.

They believe that the way meat is cured and smoked can produce cancer-causing mechanisms. When you cure or smoke the meat, nitroso compounds are created which can damage DNA. Also high amounts of iron, found in meats, also increase production of these compounds. Also the way the meat is cooked can increase cancer risks. By cooking meat with high temperatures, like grilling or broilings the meat, aromatic amines are created, which damage the cell. Also, aromatic amines are found in tobacco smoke, a known cancer causing substance.

Why the sudden reason to stop eating meat? It has ben a staple of the human diet for a long time.  Age is the biggest reason we haven’t had these problems until now. Our life expectancy is much higher now and we are eating much more meat, which allows us to have more time to develop these cancers.



Possible Cure for a Longer, Healthier Life

Throughout human history, humans have searched for a way to cheat death or live forever. Whether it was the search for the fountain of youth or traditional remedies, it is an age old question. Recently scientists at ETH Zuricha have found genes that are involved in physical aging. They found by influencing one of these genes, in laboratory animals, that the lifespan and health of the animals were increased.

First the researchers had to figure out which 40,000 genes influenced physical aging. They systematically researched the genomes of three different organisms and found genes present in all three that were associated with the aging process. With the same genes located in all three organisms suggests a common ancestor. These so called genes, named orthologous genes, are also present in humans.

They used the genes of nematode C. elegans, zebra fish and mice. By observing and experimenting on them, the scientists were able to discern which genes are regulated in an equal manner in all three organisms. They followed the aging sequences of each organism and took note of the manner of the genes along each stage. By comparing the amount of messenger RNA found in the cells of the animals, this allowed them to measure gene activity. Through this data they found that the three organisms have 30 genes in common, all which greatly impact the aging process.

Now knowing what genes impact the aging process, they designed an experiment that would block the mRNA to the corresponding gene. This effectively lowered the activity of the genes. Blocking most genes only increased the lifespan by 5%. But one gene, called bcat-1 gene, when blocked increased the lifespan by almost 25%. The researchers had a reason for how this gene works. They said the bcat-1 gene carries a code for the enzyme of the same name, which destroys branched-chain amino acids. When this gene is blocked, the amino acid chains accumulated in the tissue triggering longevity in the nematodes. The health and longevity of the nematodes improved when bcat-1 was blocked.

Although they didn’t study humans, for obvious reasons, they stated that they only looked at genes that are evident throughout organisms and specifically humans. Now I don’t know whether we can make the claim that it will have the same effects in humans because correlation does not equal causation. But it might be a possible way to live a longer and healthier life.


Junk Food and Depression

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has been able to link food with a higher glycemic index to making people depressed. James E. Gangwisch, an assistant professor at Columbia University in Psychiatry, wanted to find out whether foods with a higher glycemic index (GI) would come hand in hand with increased rate of depression. A glycemic index is a chart that ranks carbohydrates in foods by how much it raises blood sugar. Gangwisch says his curiosity for this question goes back to when he was a kid and a “candy junkie”. He states, “I noticed for myself, if I eat a lot of sugar, it makes me feel down the next day.”  So he decided to test whether a junk food diet could lead to people becoming depressed.

He decided to use data from food questionnaires and a scale that measures postmenopausal women depressive disorders. We have to keep in mind that he has designed an observational study that could suffer from chance and other variables. The data came from about 70,000 women, none suffering from depression at the start. They also had a follow up 3 years after the studies start.

They found that diets that were higher on the glycemic index were associated with increased risk of depression. This includes foods with refined grains and added sugar. On the otherhand, the researchers also found that certain food types can have protective qualties when it comes to developing depression. Foods containg things such as fiber, whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables and lactose all help protect the body from developing depression. All these types of foods normally have a very low glycemic index. Also they say sugars in it self isn’t bad, like total sugar or total carbohydrates, but added sugars are associated with depression.

Now what mechanisms are behind this assocation with depression? They could not pinpoint one but they think one possibility is that the overconsumption of these refinded sugars and starches can cause inflammation and cardiovascualar disease. They say both of these have been linked to the development of depression. They also noted that this high glycemic index diet could lead to insulin resistance, which has been linked to cognivitve deficits that have been found in people with major depression.

This study is far from being complete and only shows a correlation, which isn’t causation. More research is needed on this subject and they don’t know if the results would be the same for different groups of people such as men and younger adults. Gangwisch still believes having a low glycemic index diet is worth it. He states, “I think it’s important and I think it has a big effect on your mood and how you feel and your energy level.” So take this study with a grain of salt because not enough research is out on this subject,  but there is a possible link between junk food and depression and you might want to change your diet to a healthier one.

New Study Shows That Two Genes can ‘Shut Down’ HIV-1 Virus

Scientist’s have recently identified two genes that possibly could slow down and potentially stop HIV-1 ability to infect new cells. These genes could potentially lead to new strategies of battling the virus, HIV-1, that leads to AIDS.

HIV-1 virion. Image credit: US National Institute of Health.

In two studies, they discovered that the proteins, SERINC5 and SERINC3, which cover the cell membrane of host’s cells; can greatly disrupt the the HIV-1 ability to infect new cells and overtake the bodies autoimmune system.  By impeding this virulence, it can greatly reduce the number of cells taken over by the virus and thus delay AIDS from happening. HIV-1 infects cells by having a protein, called HIV-1 Nef, by inhibiting the host immunologic response to HIV inhibiting death of infected cells by apoptosis (cell suicide by bursting). It counteracts the SERINCs. This allows the HIV-1 virus to promote its own replication and slowly destroy the bodies auto-immune system.

Prof. Jeremy Luban. from U MA Medical School, comments “It’s amazing, the magnitude of the effect that these proteins have on infectivity. The SERINC proteins reduce the infectivity of HIV-1 virions by more than 100-fold,” New drugs that target this Nef protein could permit the bodies natural defenses, the SERINCs, to incapacitate the virus and possibly stop HIV-1 from spreading and transitioning to AIDS.

In two separate studies, both used different ways to show the relationship between the HIV-1 Nef and the SERINCs, both of which are apart of the immune system’s T cells. The researchers used parallel sequencing on 31 human cell lines. Each cell line differed in their reliance on Nef for HIV-1 replication. They also conducted proteomic analysis to identify the proteins that Nef regulated.

They found that Nef shuts down the SERINC3 and SERINC5 proteins so that they can not be incorporated in the newly formed virons. When there is no Nef the virons replicate with SERINC3 and SERINC5 proteins into their viral envelope. This renders them unable to infect new cells by not letting the virus pass through other uninfected cells. Prof. Gottlinger, also from U MA Medical School, states, “Somehow these proteins are blocking the release of the virus’s genome, essentially keeping the virus from spreading.”

Using this information we can create new medicines that inhibit the Nef protein and slow down the spreading of HIV-1. This is a major breakthrough in AIDS treatment and could vastly improve the longevity of AIDS patients.

HIV Life Cycle

Is Double-Dipping a Food Safety Concern?

Everyone has been in the position where they have been left with a half a chip or breadstick in your hand after dipping. You most likely have wondered if it is OK to double dip. Whether you never double dip or think anything of it, is double dipping like putting your whole mouth right in the dip? Is this habit simply bad manners or are we actually contaminating dip with bacteria by double dipping?

A team of undergraduate researchers at Clemson University decided to answer this question. They created an experiment to find out if there is bacterial transfer when you double dip. They wanted to see if double dipping caused more bacterial transfer, but they also wondered if the acidity and type of dip affect the outcome.

They first started by comparing bitten versus unbitten crackers and how much bacteria would transfer to a cup of water from the cracker. The study found that there were 1,000 more bacteria per mL of water when the cracker was bitten versus unbitten. Next they wanted to test if pH levels affected the bacteria levels. They used bitten and unbitten crackers in water solutions with pH levels of different typical food dips. They used pH levels of 4, 5, and 6 (which are all near the acidic end of the pH scale). After dipping bitten and unbitten crackers into the water and measuring the bacteria levels and again measuring the solutions after 2 hours, they found that the more acidic solutions tended to have less bacteria over time.

Now the researchers wanted to move to real food. They compared 3 types of dips: salsa, chocolate and cheese dips. All three types of dips differ in pH and viscosity. They used All Natural Tostitos Chunky Hot Salsa (pH 4), Genuine Chocolate Flavor Hershey’s Syrup (pH 5.3) and Fritos Mild Cheddar Flavor Cheese Dip (pH 6.0). They again used bitten and unbitten crackers, measuring the solutions immediately and after 2 hours of waiting in order to see how the bacteria populations were behaving. When they did not double dip (unbitten crackers) the foods had no detectable bacteria present. But once a double dipped cracker was used (bitten cracker) the salsa had about 5x more bacteria than the chocolate cheese dips. The salsa contained 1,000 bacteria/ml of dip; the chocolate had 150 bacteria/ml of dip; the cheese had 200 bacteria/ml of dip. But it is also important to note that the salsa bacterial numbers fell to about the same levels as the chocolate and cheese after two hours.

These results can be explained pretty easily. Both chocolate and cheese dips are thick and have a higher viscosity than the salsa. The lower viscosity of the salsa causes more of the dip touching the unbitten cracker to fall back into the dipping bowl. This allows for more bacteria to be present. Also since salsa is acidic and most bacteria do not like acidic environments, after 2 hours the acidity of the salsa has killed some of the bacteria lowering the levels over time.

We can conclude from this study that double dipping leads to more bacteria levels in dips. So if you see double dippers you might want to steer clear from their dip.



Do Males and Females Respond Differently to Concussions?

The majority of people play sports that can result in head injury.  When a head injury is hard enough a concussion may occur.  A new study on mice shows that the symptoms and time it takes to recover from the concussion can depend on the patient’s gender. This is important news because it is could change how different genders receive treatment to concussions. Thus understanding how sexes differ after a concussion might allow for better treatments for each.

Ramesh Raghupathi, a neuroscientist at Drexel University, notices that a lot of the brain injury research looked at its effects on males exclusively. He thinks scientists have assumed that females would respond the same way to concussions as males. Raghupathi comments that females are just as susceptible to concussions as males, so why the lack of research on the effects on females? Raghupathi and his team decided to address this problem by giving concussions to mice of both sexes.

When a concussion occurs to someone they might experience dizziness, nausea and memory problems.  These problems can culminate into depression due to constant headaches and a never-ending feeling of sadness. They would look for these effects in mice by looking at how they swim. When a mouse can’t escape a pool, it may give up and float. Researchers describe this as being similar to depression. This serves as an animal model for that condition in people.

Researchers found that one to two months after a concussion, male mice would be the first to give up and float. Females, however, kept swimming. From these results we can hypothesize that after brain injury males might be more prone to depression after a concussion than females. On the other hand,  female mice reacted a different way. They became more sensitive to touch. Raghupathi describes this sensitivity as a marker of migraines and the sensitivity to light and touch. We can hypothesize that females have a greater risk of migraines following concussions.

This is a study done on mice granted so we cannot be totally sure if the same results apply to humans. But if it does this could greatly influence how we treat concussions in different genders and make the treatment more specialized per gender.


Is there such a thing as exercising too much?

outdoor fitness

Everyone always wishes that they worked out more. Most Americans don’t even get the recommended amount of exercise in. But is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Well the answer is yes. Exercise provides many health benefits provide many health benefits that even increase how long you are able to live for (Exercise Increases Life Expectancy).  Exercise helps improve mood, helps control weight, combats health diseases, boosts energy levels and can even promote better sleep. But when do the benefits give way to detrimental effects?

At some point working out too hard or too long increases the risk of injury and other adverse effects. This detrimental effect usually only happens with intense exercise, like training for marathons or endurance activities where you put your body under increased stress for extended periods of time.

In a British study of more than a million healthy middle-aged women in Circulation, those who were physically active at least once a week were less likely to have heart attacks, strokes or blood clots in the legs or lungs over a nine-year period than inactive women. Also activities includ­ing gardening and housework showed the same effects as being physically active. But the key observation from the study showed that women who exercised every day didn’t benefit more than the less frequent exercisers. In fact the study showed that the women were at a greater risk of detrimental stress. The study also showed the best health benefits to the woman who exercised at least two times a week, and no more than six times, had the lowest cardiovascular risk, compared to infrequent or daily exercisers.

sun exposure

Initial Blog Post

Hey guys, my name is Michael Thomas and I am currently a senior. I am studying Economics in the school of Liberal Arts. I am from Collegeville, PA which is about 45 mins outside of Philadelphia. For people that don’t know the area I always say I am close to the Philadelphia Premium Outlets and the King of Prussia mall. Honestly, the main reason I am taking this class is just curiosity since I already fulfilled my natural science gen ed requirements. One of my friends is in the class so he recommended I take it to help fulfill credits to graduate. After four years at Penn State I cannot recommend going to the place that matters most, Beaver Stadium. This single place to me brings back so many memories and I am unfortunately having my last football season this year. Enjoy it will you still can. Go State!



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