Author Archives: Nicolette Lynn Brown

Should Everyone Be Gluten Free?

Coming to college, I have met several people who are celiac, meaning they can’t ingest gluten. I also have a friend who is not celiac, but believe that a gluten free diet can lead to weight lost and other benefits. And for a while, my mom thought it would be a beneficial idea to put me and my sisters and brother on a gluten free diet. But should people who aren’t celiac be gluten free?

Gluten free has become one of the trending diets. It is a diet some people in hollywood follow, which stars like Gwyneth Paltrow say lead to more energy and less bloating. Gluten is a protein found in mainly carbohydrates and gives bread its spongy feel and is used to thicken soups. For people who are celiac, gluten irritates the small intestine. When the tiniest particle of gluten enters someone’s body that is allergic to it, an immediate and horrible response is called on to it. The response attacks the small intestine, and due to this problems like gastrointestinal distress can happen over a period of time.

For people like that it is imperative they avoid gluten, but for people with no allergy should we just follow the trend? People along with stars like Paltrow claim that gluten free can cure headaches, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. Some people find this to be true, but gluten free does not always work. Especially with weight loss,  director of gastroenterology and nutrition, Marc DeMeo, at Adult Celiac Disease Program at Rush University Medical Center states ” There’s nothing magical about a gluten-free diet thats going to help you lose weight.” One thing that a gluten free diet does though is limit the amount of foods you can eat, which leads to a decrease in over eating. The other down side to this is the replacements for gluten. More fat and sugar is added to the food to make it more appealing to eat.

If you do choose to eat a gluten free diet when you don’t need to, there are some risks to it. You eat fewer foods with nutrients when gluten free, leading to deficiencies in calcium, iron, riboflavin, and thiamine. Also you consume less fiber, because there is a lot of fiber in foods like breads and cereals. You can also decrease the amount of bacteria in your gut which affects your immune system. It is also a financial and  time consuming problem to deal with. Gluten free products can be more expensive than the regular version of the food, and are some times hard to find. You also have to pay close attention to food labels and do a lot of investigating in to products. Unfortunately too, gluten can be found in non food products like shampoos, medicines, and lotions.

It is highly recommended that you contact your physician if you feel that you have become celiac, and especially if you want to try a new diet. A gluten free diet is made for people that have no other choice than to not eat gluten. Gluten is a bad protein to certain people, but not for all. A gluten free diet does more damage than good for people who think its a great trend to follow. In conclusion, not everyone should go gluten free just because it is a new diet in our society.

Are Diet Pills Safe?

We all know the best way to lose weight and get in shape is by a healthy diet and exercise. But so many people use the help of pills that promote weight loss and help people shed pounds quickly. But are these pills safe to use?

The FDA has only approved of two types of pills, which are recommended for people who are extremely obese. Sibutramine, also known as Meridia, increases metabolism and affects neurotransmitters and serotonin. This pill can increase blood pressure and the person should be monitored while on it. The other downsides to this pill are all of the warnings and recommendations for it. People should not take it if they have heart disease, or a history of strokes and heart rhythm problems. This pill can not also be taken at the same time as decongestants, MAO inhibitors, and bronchodilators. This pill has been found to not be beneficial in the long run and has a history of some recalls.

Another pill approved by the FDA is Orlistat, also known as Xenical. This one stops the production of the enzyme lipase. Lipase breaks down fat but on this pill about 30% of the fat eaten is not absorbed and comes out of the digestive track. Problems with this are a lot of gas, frequent bowel movements, and an oily discharge. Later the FDA approved of a lower dosage of this medicine over the counter for adults. It became the first weight loss supplement approved over the counter by the FDA.

Other medications for weight loss can be found over the counter but also dangerous to use. Phenylpropanolamine was an ingredient in decongestants, and is highly recommended to not be mixed with other decongestants. It can lead to high blood pressure and studies have shown it to lead to risks of stokes. One benefit is it suppresses appetite resulting in the person to eat less. Products containing ephedrine have been banned by the FDA since 2004. Ephedrine is said to increase adrenaline and cause increased blood pressure and rapid heart beat. Deaths have been reported from it, but fortunately its hard to find products containing this. Chitosan is from shellfish and is thought of to catch fat. This component has been proved to be a money catcher has it fails to catch fat and help in weight loss. Studies have shown it to takes 7 months to lose weight with it, and women showed to lose no weight.

Judith Stern, a professor at UC Davis in the field of nutrition and internal medicine warns that weight loss pills aren’t for everyone. She highly recommends exercise and to start by

  1. Setting a goal
  2. Exercise 5-6 days a week
  3. Wearing a pedometer helps to record daily steps
  4. Create a weekly goal of 15,000 steps, but start off at 3,000 and add 500 more steps every week to get to your goal

Dr. Romy Block, an endocrinologist in Skokie, Illinois states “I do prescribe diet medications occasionally, but I am hesitant. There are many side effects that need to be monitored, including blood pressure, heart rhythms, and mood.” He also states that people usually lose abut 5-10 pounds on diet pills. This is great for the medical community but often for people looking to lose a significant amount of weight on pills, its disappointing.

In conclusion, diet pills seem to only have a small benefit in weight loss, and are highly unsafe. They cause more health issues than getting rid of obesity. Diet pills should be avoided and a healthy diet and exercise should be done instead.

Do Animals Talk?

I have always wondered if animals had their own language. Also if the sounds they make have any meaning behind it. Fortunately I am not the only person who wonders this.

Researchers  have been studying a group of seven different animals, Bengalese finches, Carolina Chickadees, Free-tailed Bats, Rock Hyraxes, Pilot whales, Killer Whales, and Orangutans. With these animals they have been analyzing their vocal sequences and characterizing them with Markov Chains. Markov Chains are a chain of numbers or letters, and the next number or letter in the sequence depends on the one that comes before it or a few before. The next number can be based off the ones before or from a history of notes with the particular animal.

Through the experiment the Chickadee, finch, bat, and whales did not fit the Markovian model, but a more complex model. The orangutan and hyrax did not fit any of the models which researchers do not understand.  Most of the animals  the researchers say, had sequences that fell in with a non-Markov chain. This threw researchers through a loop and showed them how the Markov chain might not be the best way to study the sounds.

Another thing observed is the chatter animals like birds and monkeys have and how humans assume its their way of communicating. Researchers observed how monkeys  have a particular scream when one of their predators is around. But after all the monkeys were in the tree, the same scream would continue as their predator stayed around. Biologist Tecumseh Fitch at the University of Vienna says, if this scream had a meaning to it then the same tone would not continue the way it does. Fitch explains how this would make more sense as a reaction to the predator.

As far as researchers know, humans are the only animal with a language. In order for something to be considered as a language, it has to be learned instead of an instinct. This is where the languages of birds and whales fit in. Whales teach their calves certain calls which over time turns in to an adult whistle and call.

Studying animals to see if they truly have their own language, and that humans aren’t crazy for mistaking their sounds as conversations, is still a very hard subject. What is holding researchers back is the lack of data. More mathematical analyzes need to be done, but researchers only have a small amount of recordings to work with.

Researchers have not yet been able to do away with the null hypothesis, animals do not have a language, because all the evidence has not been found yet. “We’re still a very, very long way from understanding this transition from animal communication to human language, and it’s a huge mystery at the moment” states zoologist Arik Kershenbaum.  I believe with new mathematical models and more data gathered, one day soon researchers will be able to tell us positive news about animals languages.

Can Looking at Foods Make You Fat?

One of my guilty pleasures is to go on Instagram and look at the food porn accounts. Why? Because the food looks so good and here at college I am not eating anything close to what is being posted. But now some studies are saying that this could make you gain weight. Is this really true?


Japanese researchers conducted an experiment on mice to see if this theory is true. The researchers studied orexin-A, a protein known to be activated by physical activity, thoughts, and mood in the brain. By injecting this in to the mice, their glucose increased and caused an insulin-induced glucose to also increase. This sent a message to the skeletal muscles which, caused their bodies to fuel up on energy. These affects were shown more in the mice which did not have many beta-adrenergic receptors, receptors responsible for a fight or flight response in cells. The orexin also caused VMH neurons to increase muscle glucose metabolism, which goes to show orexin is a key part in activating muscle nerves.


From all of this it’s concluded that the excitement for a treat triggers a response in muscles to gather glucose to prepare for the meal. If the muscle is not used, then the glucose is stored as fat.


Marc David, a consultant in nutritional psychology, states that people on diets often fantasize about the foods they can’t eat. Due to this, insulin production is increased, and since the people are not eating their forbidden foods, the insulin is then stored as fat. David calls this “non-caloric weight gain”, when your body is in a phase of cephalic insulin response and produces insulin when it is not needed.


One positive aspect of increased insulin is the affect that it has on physical activity. Mark Febbraio, a professor of cell biology at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, states that for someone running a marathon, they just fuel up on carbs and the thought of it. The extra insulin in the muscles can lead to the body burning more fat.


From all of this information, it is concluded that the extra insulin from thoughts about delicious foods is better in a case when you need to exert physical activity. In my case when I am laying in bed and looking at food, is causing me more harm than good.

Why Do We Binge Watch TV?

The day Netflix came in to my life ultimately became one of the best days of my life. And I know I’m not the only one who ditches their priorities to lay in bed and binge watch The Office for hours at a time. So when I realized how often this happens to me, I wondered why me and others binge watch TV shows.

One explanation can be due to neuroscience. A new phenomenon at the time founded by psychologist Edward B. Titchener, explained that we can recognize the feelings of others which is why we become glued to emotional based stories. He called this empathy, and also explained how we can also feel others’ psychological perspectives by calling it cognitive empathy. These explain why we develop a connection to the characters in our favorite shows.

Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University, examined empathy by showing his participants a story. The story consisted of a young boy with terminal cancer and showed how happy the young boy was, because he did not know his fate. It also showed the father’s side, who was sad to enjoy his son’s final months. From this correlational study, Zak examined that the participants showed empathy and distress after the video. Before and after the video, the participants had blood drawn to show the different levels of cortisol and oxytocin. One a stress hormone and he other a hormone associated with caring and connection, were both higher after watching the video, and showed a strong bond between empathetic feelings and oxytocin. The cortisol hormone heavily correlated with the feeling of distress.

After the video the participants had a chance to donate to charity, and the levels of of cortisol and oxytocin predicted how much the participants would share. Empathy is a feeling which humans act on, even when faced with fictional problems.

In a 2008 study conducted by psychologist Uri Hasson at Princeton, the interaction of TV and the brain was observed. Hasson showed his participants Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Bang! You’re Dead, and a ten minute video of a concert in New York. He examined their brains by fMRI, ad discovered the similarities of their reactions to the four different videos. The concert video showed a response in only 5%, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugyl and Curb Your Enthusiasm between 18%-45%, and Bang! You’re Dead at 65%.

Bang! You’re Dead was able to get a response from different regions in the brain unlike the other videos. This goes to show, a video with more “control”, which is showing the viewer what they should watch for, gets a bigger audience. Alfred Hitchcock is known for being able to put together thoughts, feelings, and predictions, which is what grabbed the attention of many people. This is just like in some shows, the certain qualities they have grab more people’s attentions which causes them to binge watch.

Netflix conducted a study, which showed that in a study of 1,500 people, 61% of the reported binge watching shows. They were also asked how they felt about it and three quarters said they felt positive about it. They also conducted a study where they went in to the homes of viewers and found that 76% binged watched as a way to relax, and 8 out of 10 preferred to watch multiple shows than just one.

From these studies when can see a correlation between binge watching and emotion. Through Zak’s and Hasson’s experiments, what is happening in the videos triggers different hormones and feelings causing the viewer to feel attached to what is happening.Through Netflix’s studies we can see that people also use binge watching as an escape from life which leads to positive feelings. The conclusion from this is emotions such as empathy could be the x variable which causes the y variable, binge watching, to occur.



Does a Trim Actually Make Your Hair Grow?

I’m sure if you’re a girl, and maybe even a guy, you’ve been told that getting a trim will help make your hair grow fast and longer. I’ve been told it before and have even told people that advice. Is it even true?

If you logically think about it, how does cutting off the end of your hair enable the hair in your roots to grow? Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist who studies hair and scalp health, says it is not true. The only thing that determines hair growth is your genetics. Some other factors in hair growth are dietary habits, endocrine function, thyroid function, and your general health.

Even though cutting your hair doesn’t necessarily make it grow, it’s still good to try to get your hair trimmed every six to eight weeks. Phillips describes how a trim will give your hair a healthier appearance, and stop split ends from traveling up the hair shaft and causing further damage. She also explains how frequent trims can lead to a net gain of four inches of hair every year. Your hair grows half an inch every month, so cutting off a quarter inch every six to eight weeks can lead to a healthier hair gain.

Women’s Health Magazine also states that skipping washes can be good for your hair too. Washing your hair too often can strip your scalp of natural oils that promote hair growth. They recommend using dry shampoos between washes. Also, when you do wash your hair, its important to massage the scalp for about three minutes.Paying close attention to the hair follicles in the scalp can stimulate them and help with hair growth.

While cutting your hair to make it grow faster is a myth, regular trims can help with hair gain. You will have healthier ends as your hair grows, which results in less cuts up to five inches from damage. There are also a number of ways you can help your hair grow stronger, if you pay close attention to your hair health.

Why do We Sneeze?

Sneezing can be one of the most annoying and natural things that happen to us almost everyday. From the noises people make doing it, to how frequent they do it, it’s annoying. Today in class when a girl sneezed, it made me question why do we do this?

Sneezing is a response by the body when the respiratory epithelium lining of the nose becomes irritated. Inflammatory cells release histamine and eosinophils chemicals in the nasal mucosa.  The release of the chemicals is triggered by filtered particles, physical irritants like perfumes, and respiratory infections. The prior itching you feel before a sneeze is due to the stimulation of nerve endings. Inside the brain, a reflex is caused by the nerve ending simulations. The air part of the sneeze is caused when the head and back muscles experience nerve impulses going up and down the sensory nerves.

The velocity of the airflow is then caused by the built up pressure in the chest when the vocal chords are closed. When the chords open, the air is able to get up the respiratory track and take what is irritating the body out with it.

There are some ways to stop it from happening, like looking at a light, or putting your finger under your nose. But is it really safe to do? Dr. Joseph Donzelli says ” A sneeze can propel air at speeds up to 100 mph, so an individual should never physically try to stop a sneeze.” If you stop your sneeze before you feel the pressure building up, you won’t harm yourself. There is also a medical way to stop sneezing. Antihistamines stop the production of histamines, which is the first step in sneezing. These can be by prescription or over the counter.

Even though sneezing might be an extremely annoying thing to the person sneezing, and everyone around, it is an important action done by our body.

What are Our Phones Doing to Us at Night?

I remember my mom would always yell at me and tell me not to go on my phone before I went to bed. Sometimes she would make me leave it in our kitchen before I would go upstairs (super annoying and embarrassing). I always thought that she did not want me to stay up all night, which is true in a couple of ways.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital, conducted a study on the affects of reading an LE-ebook verses a regular print book at night. Through the study they found the participants who read with an electronic book at night took longer to fall asleep. Their natural circadian clock, synchronization of naturally feeling tired from environmental cues, were set later along with reduced alertness in the morning. Another affect greatly impacted from this was reduced melatonin at night, which we learned from the mice pop quiz article, is affected by blue lights at night.

Throughout the study, participants were either given an iPad to be on for four hours during five nights in a row before bed, or given a printed book to read. The iPad users experienced feeling less tired in the evening, longer time to fall asleep, and less time sleeping through REM sleep. Even though iPads were only used during the study, it was concluded that anything emitting a blue light like phones, tablets, and LED monitors all give the same affect.

The researchers of these findings urge the importance of the affects because decreased melatonin secretion can lead to multiple cancers such as prostate, breast, and colorectal.

“Since more people are choosing electronic devices for reading, communication, and entertainment, particularly children and adolescents who already experience significant sleep loss, epidemiological research evaluating the long-term consequences of these devices on health and safety is urgently needed.”                         – Charles Czeisler PhD, MD, FRCP, chief, BWH Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders

Dr. Anne-Marie Chang an associate neuroscientist at BWH Division of Sleep and Circadian urges people to stay away from blue-light late at night since it shows a number of problems of  affecting your health. Blue light can also lead to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity besides causing cancers. She recommends to avoid light-emitting objects, and if you have to use them, use technology that can filter out the blue light.

So what does this mean? Using anything that emits a blue light, which for most of us is our phones, affects our sleep. The affect on our sleep also affects how we are the next day, like our alertness, which I know greatly affects me. So should we be scared that using our phones before bed to catch up on all of our social media will harm our health? Yes and no. Yes because sleep is an important part of our daily routine and is the reason why we have energy and can be alert throughout the day. Even though I am not a scientist, I do not think we all have to be so scared about the severe results like cancers, from using our phones. Based off of all the information, as long as you are smart with how long you are on your phone, and how long before you go to bed, your health should be okay. You should take your own health into consideration and determine what’s best for you. Don’t freak out, just be smart and aware how much more important your health and sleep are than your phone.



Will Diet Soda Kill You?

In the past couple of years I have tried to become healthier, which included cutting out and adding new foods into my diet. I am a huge fan of a good coca-cola but realized the sugar content is not what I needed to lose weight. A can of cocoa-cola contains 44 grams of sugar, while your suggested daily limit is between 25-35 grams (depends on gender). After seeing this I stopped drinking regular soda and switched to diet coke. I hear all the time “Diet Coke is so bad for you” and “You’ll get cancer from drinking it”. Is that really true? Will I end up killing myself from trying to reduce my sugar intake by drinking a diet soda? 

Aspartame is the key ingredient in diet sodas, and is what is said to make them so bad for you. On explains the benefits of actually consuming aspartame. One of the main benefits is weight loss and control, and is claimed to even help people with diabetes. The fewer calories and no sugar aspartame helps diabetics manage their weight. On another aspect of the site is the expert opinions, which all give aspartame a good review. The American Cancer society states that aspartame does not cause cancer because of the way it’s digested, it does not reach your organs.

After reading the American Cancer Society’s review I clicked on their website to read more. Aspartame is broken down into three chemicals, phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. High doses of methanol can be deadly, but the amount of methanol from aspartame is a lower dosage than methanol from natural foods. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are naturally found in foods that contain protein, and don’t cause health issues. An Italian study was conducted on mice and resulted in the conclusion that aspartame in rats may increase blood related cancers , such as leukemia and lymphoma. The results of this caused the FDA to investigate because of the lack of publishing information done by the scientists. 

A similar conclusion was founded by an experiment on humans. A study done on 125,000 people by the National Cancer Institution found a link between the aspartame soda and blood related cancers. The scientists who conducted this search found the results to be by chance.

Despite the results founded by the NCI, the FDA concluded in a statement that they feel no need to change their view on the safety and consumption of aspartame in the U.S. The result of this is an example of correlation vs. causation. Based on the scientific research done by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, proves the statement to be true. These two organizations show through their research that because two things happen at once, does not always mean one object causes another. Other factors can come into play such as age, gender, and hereditary with humans. Also experiments done on animals don’t always show the exact result as humans.

In the end, the chemicals that are the result of broken down aspartame show no signs of causing cancer, and the experiments showed the coincidence of the objects having cancer at the time of consuming aspartame. As long as I stay within my daily limit of aspartame, I will not develop cancer, and I nor anyone else will die from drinking diet soda.





Why Do We Get Allergies?

It’s that time of year again for me and many other people who suffer from allergies. I have lost track of how many times I have sneezed and how many tissues and allergy pills that have been used. So why do people have allergies? Why do we have to suffer everyday for a good month, or even worse a year?

Scientists say there is no exact cause known yet for allergies. One thing that is known about it is, it’s the immune system pathways that become inflamed when in contact with allergic proteins. Such allergic proteins are pet dandruff, plant pollens, insect venom, or foods.

Our immune system separates foreign and non foreign bacteria by creating special antibodies that can trigger a response to the certain bacteria. The antibodies are made to mass produce and circulate a foreign protein to form an immunological memory. The antibodies are produced to get rid of the bacteria that can harm you, and sometimes they detect non-threatening proteins and launch an attack. This is when you have your allergy attacks. Your antibodies can detect something as a simple plant protein as a foreign object and launch a severe attack on it. Allergies are thought to be an extreme along the same line of autoimmune disorders.

The most common allergy which I am discussing is respiratory  allergy. This is mainly triggered by animals, molds, plant pollen, and dust mites which all float around is mass quantities. About 60 million Americans suffer from this, and on average suffer from two to three types of allergens. The most common allergens are grasses, ragweed, cats, dogs, dust mites, venom, food, and birch. I know personally this time of the year I suffer from ragweed and all year long cats and dogs.

Scientists say part of the reason why we develop allergies is because our immune systems are not exposed to enough pathogens. Because of our good hygiene in our households when we are infants, harmless bacteria are seen as deadly parasites, which cause our immune systems to attack. This is when the hygiene hypothesis comes in to affect showing that children in urban settings and countries, who also do not have siblings, develop more allergies.

Allergies are a cruel response from our body and make life hard to live around the seasons and times that the common proteins are developed. To one day stop this epidemic does that mean we need to expose our children to more bacteria as infants? Hearing that question does not sound like a safe thing to do, but if you really think about it, possibly it is logical. Exposing infants to the simple proteins that most Americans have allergies to, can most likely help the infants build up a better immune system and cause them to most likely not develop allergies. Now I am wishing my parents exposed me to more grass and animals, so I would not be sitting here writing this and sneezing. 



First Blog Post

Hi everyone! My name is Nikki and I’m from Lumberton, NJ. No one has ever heard of my town before so to give you an idea where it is, it’s about 25 minutes from Philly. Growing up I thought that maybe one day I would do something with science, like biology, because I love animals. Then I got to biology my sophomore year and hated it. It was one of the most confusing and hardest classes I’ve taken. So needless to say after that, I dropped my hopes of ever doing anything with science. A career in science for me was never a definite, because I have always also been interested in fashion. Now I plan on getting into the Smeal College and earning a marketing degree, and hopefully one day work at a big clothing retailer.

I decided to take this course because it seemed like the most interesting way for me to get my science credits. I was worried with all of the courses I need to take to get into the business school, to take a challenging science class that I would never need. Knowing that I can come up with my own topics to discuss, and learn about the ones suggested in our course seemed like the best way for me. Below is a picture of my dog, Sadie, because I am a huge animal lover and miss her a lot. Also, <ahref=””>here</a> is a link to a Jimmy Kimmel video because when I’m bored I go on you tube and watch a bunch of videos.