Author Archives: Dana Corinne Pirrotta

Over-hydration and Headaches?

from here

from here

As a kid, CAT scans discovered that the terrifying head aches I was getting were really just hemiplegic migraines; migraines that cause facial and body paralysis. Migraines are absolutely awful, but fortunately now, as a young adult, I can sense when they are about to hit and can take precautions to make the migraine less painful. However, as a kid, whenever I felt a headache coming on, I would immediately panic and become terrified that it would develop into a migraine. My doctor told my family that many headaches are caused by dehydration, and this made sense to me because I lived in Cairo, Egypt at the time and didn’t drink much water on a day-to-day basis. I made the immediate connection that drinking lots of water could prevent headaches, which could decrease my  migraine frequency.

Now, I drink as much water as I can. I am constantly drinking water; when I am bored, hungry, tired, literally whenever I can. In today’s health culture craze, water is something that we just can’t get enough of. We are constantly encouraged to drink as much water as we possible by movements like The Drink More Water Campaign . Curiously enough, I had just as many headaches as when I was dehydrated. To me, this meant that I just wasn’t drinking enough water, and I reached for the tap again. With this in mind, I kept drinking bottle after bottle and ended up with a splitting headache. Thankfully it did not grow into a migraine, but it made me wonder: was I drinking too much water? Is drinking too much water even a possibility? Are these headaches caused by drinking too much water?

from here

from here

We have been told contradictory statements our whole lives many regarding how much water we should drink a day. Most health classes teach that we should be drinking 2 liters of water a day by drinking eight 8 ounce glasses. Fitness instructors, like my mom, say that we should drink out body weight in ounces. For example, if I weigh 155 pounds, I should drink at least 155 ounces of water a day. I found a journal, titled, “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” Really? Is there scientific evidence for “8  8”? that concluded there was little evidence that all of us healthy adults need to be drinking that much water a day. They came to this conclusion by rejecting the null hypothesis; that drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day was mandatory for our health. In this randomized, double blind experiment, participants were randomly allocated different water drinking regimes. When compared to the control, the paper concluded  that there was no scientific evidence that the eight-8 ounce glasses rule was applicable to the American population. Everyone has a different body type with different body needs, and such a general statement, such as the “8 by eight rule” is not applicable to everyone. Saying that everyone needs to drink 8 eight ounce glasses of water is like saying that everyone needs 50 grams of protein in their diet a day; it is a rule/standard that doesn’t fit the entire population accurately! This serves as a contrast to the study we looked at in class regarding soda consumption and weight gain in children in the Netherlands. The results of that study are applicable to nearly everyone as drinking the extra sugar and calories led to weight gain where-as the eight by 8 rule is not universally applicable.

This study was conclusive in nature, and even warned that drinking too much water can lead to a potentially dangerous situation called hyponatremia. My first search on hyponatremia brought me to Men’s Health, and a page titled, Are You Overhydrated? This internet magazine also introduced the concept of “hyponatremia” and after encountering this condition twice, I figured I would take to Google Scholar again to find some more reliable information.  This journal, titled, HYPONATREMIA, explains this condition more scientifically as the situation where your body’s sodium levels are unusually, and sometimes dangerously low. According to The Medical Dictionary, hyponatremia is when the sodium levels in our plasma drop to 135 mEq per each liter of water. This can be extremely serious, and increases the risk of coma and seizures. It is triggered by the consumption of too much water in relation to the amount of sodium in your body. Sodium, as an electrolyte, is important to our body’s function because it regulates the amount of water in our cells. When the water to sodium ratio is too high, our cells swell, causing a myriad of health problems such as brain swelling. One of these problems, if you didn’t guess it, is headache!  Apparently, hyponatremia is very prevalent in emergency situations, such as in ambulance rides, and in is extremely common in nursing homes. But, who else can hyponatremia affect?

Hyponatremia is also extremely common among long distance runners and tri-athletes. This study, Hyponatremia in ultradistance triathletes. discuses the danger of consuming too much water, especially in the case of athletes. Because an experiment would be unethical, an observational study was conducted. The participants were 605 athletes competing in the New Zealand Iron Man triathlon. The Iron Man triathlon is a race that includes a 42 kilometer run, a 180 kilometer cycle, and a 4 kilometer swim. The participants were weighed before and after the race, their beginning weight serving as the control. After the race, a blood sample was drawn from the athletes to determine the sodium plasma levels in the athlete’s blood streams. Although complete data was only available for 330 finishers, researchers discovered a strong, positive correlation between sodium concentration levels and amount of water consumed post race. 18% of the male finishers were deemed hyponatremic, and 11 athletes overall were severely hyponatremic- in danger of stroke, seizure, and more.  The researchers concluded that mild hyponatremia was associated with too much fluids in too short a period of time. Observational studies, such as this one, can only show correlations- not explain them. So, it is important that we take this study with a grain of salt. The correlation between over-hydration and hypotremia seems very prevalent, but, this was only one study, and who knows what other third variables may be lurking! Maybe triathletes have lower sodium concentration levels than the average human being in general, or that people that aren’t as in shape have higher sodium levels than these “iron men”. It is also important to note that only 330 participants made up this final conclusion and that 330 people is not a large population. Scientists can not make sweeping conclusions for large populations with generalizations developed from small, specialized populations.

Drinking too much water is dangerous, and in my experiences, it can lead to painful headaches because of the lack of sodium balance. Dehydration is not the only cause of headache, as I’ve learned that over-hydration can lead to serious health issues. Although it is important to drink enough water, scientists have not been able to discover what the “right amount” of water is for the average person’s daily consumption. Now, I will be much more conscious about how much water I drink on a day-to-day basis and not immediately blame my headache on dehydration. There is danger in drinking too much water, and also in drinking too little- it’s all about balance!

Veganism: good for our health?

taken from here

taken from here

U.S. News & World Report that the popular vegan lifestyle is ranked as number 19 on their list of best diets overall. But what makes something a “best diet”?  We are currently in a vegan craze, and I have met more Vegans in college than I ever have before; the lifestyle is curious to me. It takes insane discipline, dedication, and seems incredibly challenging to find suitable meal options- especially at Penn State! I have read the magazines praising the diet as the end all be all of health, and honestly, there seems to be no reason to disagree. What could be wrong with eating loads of veggies and no animal products? Apparently, while many are quick to praise the diet, there have actually been little to no research done on its long term health benefits compared to a typical diet, meaning that veganism can be no different than a normal diet from a health standpoint. So, is being a vegan really better for our health?

There have been no studies that can confidently conclude that the vegan diet outshines other diets from a health stand point because there have been  no controlled trials that have been able to prove veganism superior. It is often claimed that a low-carb and high fat diet is unhealthy for our bodies, and to some point, we should disagree. This study, Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents, was the first of many studies that found that a low-carb high fat diet might be most beneficial for humans, contrary to what was originally thought. This experiment was randomized, but not blind; two randomized groups of individuals were placed on either a high protein diet, or a low carbohydrate diet and were monitored for 13 weeks.  This is another example of how science “updates” itself. Physicians thought blood letting was healthy, and until there was a deeper understanding of how the body operated, blood letting was an extremely common practice throughout America. We once thought that a low carb diet was bad for our health, and are now in recent years realizing that a high-carb diet is the unhealthy life style that can lead to obesity and diabetes.

from here

from here

This is low-carb revelation led me to the  A to Z Study, a study that compared the Atkins diet to what is known as the Ornish diet, a diet extremely similar to veganism. The Atkins diet preaches low carbs while the Ornish diet (veganism with occasional yogurt and cheese) preaches high carbs and low fat. The A to Z study was conducted with the objective of comparing diets with various levels of  carbohydrates, and their effects on weight loss, cholesterol levels, and more. This idea to me was really interesting, and I was able to find a YouTube video of the research’s presentation that was much easier to digest than the research paper itself. The A to Z study was a randomized control trial that lasted about three years and was conducted in the United States. The 311 participants, all obese, post menopausal women,  were randomly assigned diets (Atkins, vegan/ornish, control) and were expected to follow them for the entirety of the experiment. Although we can rule out reverse causation (due to the laws of time), we should realize that this experiment was not conducted on what would be considered the average person. Does this conclusion still apply to men? To women that are not obese? To women that are not post-menopausal?

In a nutshell, the individuals on the Atkins diet lost nearly double the amount of weight than the Ornish diet group, losing an average of 10.4 pounds. On top of that, the Atkins group experienced a decreased blood pressure,  triglycerides levels, and an increase in “good” cholesterol, known as HDL.  It was deemed that the Atkins diet was more successful than the ornish-vegan look a like. In this situation, the scientists were able to reject the null hypothesis; that a vegan-ornish diet was healthier for weight loss. The alternative hypothesis was that the atkins diet would help participants lose more weight, and this was proved with a high p-value. Although we can never be sure the probability of a false positive in science, we for now, we have convincing  evidence that this experiment wasn’t just a fluke.  The possibility of third variables could be at large, however. Perhaps some participants strayed from their diet, or others starved themselves or exercised more.

Now, one study can’t prove it all, and studies such as the  Seventh-Day Adventist Studies have found that there are lower mortality rates correlated with people who are vegan, but studies like this one are observational and we learned in class that observational studies can only show correlation, NOT causation. It is important to think about how third variables could effect the conclusions on studies like this. In class we talked about what third variables could adversely be affecting the “wormy kids”, such as their intelligence or affluence. We could theorize that the children who were stupid were stupid because they didn’t go to class and would play in the dirt all day, increasing their exposure to worms,  or that the children were stupid because their worms caused them to be uncomfortable and distracted during class. In this situation, we can hypothesize that maybe vegans have lower mortality rates because they are more health conscious. Perhaps they are more likely to exercise, and less likely to smoke or participate in unhealthy activities.

Fortunately, the vegan life style doesn’t seem to be going out of style, and we can be confident that more studies will be done in the future to really hammer out a conclusion. If I was to conduct my own experiment, I would shape it similarly to the Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents study, although I would use a randomized double blind experiment with a control group. This study did not utilize a control group, and I personally believe that results might have been different if the two test groups were compared to a group of unaffected participants. I would also use non-obese, healthy American Male and Females. These participants would be randomized to a control group, a group of Atkin’s dieting, and a group of vegan dieting. The A to Z study was not conducted with 100% vegans, and this could have made a compelling difference.

Ultimately, there is no increased health benefit to being vegan, at least as far as today’s research can show. There is a correlation between a lower mortality rate and the vegan diet, but to me, that isn’t persuasive enough to give up cheese and steak for a couple extra hypothetical years on my life. What I found most interesting while writing this blog was the scientific explanation for why there hasn’t been more conclusive evidence on the vegan diet. Apparently, the swift rise and fall of fad diets creates very little incentive to for scientists to study because it will quickly be replaced by another diet. By the time a study is completed and published, the findings are no longer relevant to the public. If veganism sticks around, then I’m sure there will be more research, and I’ll be waiting!

from here

from here

 

 

Can Wearing a Bra Cause Breast Cancer?

 

from here

from here

Like most of you ladies, I wear a bra every day, for every occasion. T-shirt bra, sports bra, trainer bra- we’ve worn them all! As a woman, breast health is extremely important, and nearly all of us have been affected by breast cancer in some way. In my situation, my grandmother has had breast cancer twice, and my Aunts have had breast tumors removed.

I wrote my last blog about how our deodorant could possibly be causing breast cancer, and while that could potentially be a real threat to our breasts, I am confident that we can rest assured knowing that if anything, we are safe from our bras.

Although nearly every American women wears a bra and is fine, there are always rumors of a correlation between breast cancer and wearing a bra. Even though this rumor is ever popular on the internet, exemplified by All Women’s Health, there is absolutely no proof that there is a correlation between wearing a bra and breast cancer. When it comes to breast cancer and our bras,  according to  Breast Cancer.org  it is theorized that bras with underwire (the average bra) blocks the drainage of lymph fluids from the breasts, trapping the fluids in the breast. Theoretically, this blockage leads to the development of breast cancer.

from

from here

Bra Wearing Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk: A Population-Based Case–Control Stud is the only study conducted on this topic because of the conclusiveness of the study. According to the study, there is barely any credible scientific studies besides this one. The goal of the study was to analyze the relationship between cancer risk and wearing a bra. The null hypothesis was that wearing a bra does not cause breast cancer, and the alternative hypothesis is that wearing a bra does cause cancer.

The participants of the study were questioned on nearly every aspects of their bra-wearing habits, including size, brand, frequency of use, material, how many hours a day the bra was worn, if the bra had underwire, etc. With an impressively large p-value, the scientists failed to reject the null hypothesis. Thankfully for us, this experiment concluded that it was extremely unlikely that wearing a bra was linked to breast cancer. It was realized that there was only a minuscule difference between the breast health of women that wore bras, and women that did not wear bras.

So good news- we can keep wearing our bras. And even better news- this study escaped the file drawer!

from here

from here

In class, Andrew has been bringing up what we call “the file drawer problem”. The file drawer problem is a type of publication bias, and has impacted the scientific community negatively. The file drawer problem is an issue in the sense that it embodies the concept of selective publication. Robert Rosenthal coined the term in 1979, and it is used to describe a situation where scientists will not publish their papers if they find negative, or “boring” results. Not every experiment will be able to reject the null hypothesis, but it is extremely important that experiments that don’t make waves still be published. For example, we now know that wearing our bras is fine, but, if this study had never been published, then this health rumor would still just be a rumor, and would not be able to be proven false with the hard evidence provided in this study. The file drawer problem is a real issue in the scientific community because it is ultimately just a loss of information that could be referenced to or used in in other various observations. Just because we get a result we don’t like doesn’t mean that that result isn’t important!

from here

from here

 

Is our deodorant Causing Breast Cancer?

deodorant

deodorant

For the most part, deodorant is something that we all apply daily. Sometimes we apply it more than once, too.  Cancer is hugely prominent in my family, and my Grandma has conquered breast cancer twice. She works for Stanford University Pathology and immunology, and actually created the test for tuberculosis. Anyways, my grandma was definitely concerned for me and the other young women in my family, so she sends us all aluminum-free deodorant. To this day, we all get little sticks of aluminum free deodorant in the mail from her every month or so. Although I appreciate the gesture, I prefer using normal deodorant, I have found that it has a

The deodorant my grandmother always sends me

The deodorant my grandmother always sends me  from here

much stronger odor block and keeps me from sweating more than I do when I use the aluminium-free one. My grandmother is convinced that using regular deodorant can lead to breast cancer, and she is an incredibly intelligent woman, so I finally decided to do some research and share it with you guys.

 

There is a lot of new information emerging about breast cancer, including the scary hypothesis that our antiperspirants or deodorants may be causing it. Apparently, these products can contain harmful chemicals that can be absorbed through our skin and consequently enter our body through any cuts on our skin. This journal, Antiperspirant Use and the Risk of Breast Cancer, theorizes that the chemicals in our deodorants, particularly aluminum, may be linked to breast cancer because they are applied in close approximately to our breasts frequently. Personally, I use regular deodorants because I think they are more effective than the aluminum-free ones from my grandma. We have been learning in class that we don’t know what could be killing us until it is too late, like in the case of smoking. No one knew smoking was bad for their health until everyone had lung cancer.  But, what if there was a real correlation between applying normal deodorant and breast cancer? Should I stop wearing normal deodorant? What if I am slowly sickening myself!

Aluminum is particularly concerning as the active ingredient in antiperspirants not because the compounds can be absorbed by the skin, but because once they are absorbed they can spark estrogen-like effects which are particularly dangerous when next to the breasts. Estrogen can promote the development of cancerous cells in breast tissue, as learned from this journal, Influence of Estrogen Plus Progestin on Breast Cancer and Mammography in Healthy Postmenopausal Women. Many scientists are starting to seriously theorize that many cases of breast cancer could be related to applying aluminium to areas near our breasts every day. In a nut shell, theses aluminum compounds could be contributing to the development of breast cancer in women.

Other concerning ingredients include parabens, which, in a different way than aluminum, mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and can lead to cancer.  It was only in 2004 when the idea that parabens could build up and cause breast cancer surfaced from a study was published as Significance of the Detection of Esters of P-hydroxybenzoic Acid (parabens) in Human Breast Tumours. In the case of this study, the Null hypothesis was that the parabens in deodorant did not cause breast tumors in women, and the alternative hypothesis was that the parabens in deodorant did cause breast tumors in women. With a low p-value (below .05), the researchers  rejected the null hypothesis, stating that there was a correlation between wearing deodorant and breast tumor development. While they did find a strong correlation between parabens and aluminum and breast tumors, there was only a weak correlation between these dangerous ingredients and breast cancer. The mechanism for increased breast tumors is still unclear because scientists can not 100% determine what is actually causing the formation of the breast tumors. This is similar to the common class example Andrew likes to use of lemons and scurvy; Sailors knew that eating lemons and oranges prevented scurvy, but had no idea why. Scientists have a strong hunch that aluminum and parabens can cause breast tumors and cancer, but do not have a clear mechanisms in place.

This really shocked me, but according to the National Institute of Health (NIH), there have been no conclusive studies that can pin point a link between regular deodorant and the formation of breast tumors, and therefore the development of breast cancer. The FDA assures us that deodorant is safe for regular use, but if there have only been a few studies conducted, how can we be sure? Like Andrew said in class, the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence. For now, I’m going to give that aluminum free deodorant a chance. What’s worse, sweating a little extra, or possibly giving myself breast cancer? In this case, I think I am going to play it safe and give grandma’s deodorant another try. I recommend that you do the same!

 

Is wearing sunscreen bad for us?

download

Colorful sunscreen from here

In class, Andrew talked about how no one knew smoking was dangerous because the results weren’t prevalent until 20 years later, and this made me wonder what I have been doing that could create health problems for me in the future. I am a redhead, which means that my entire life has consisted of smearing sunscreen on my entire body whenever leaving the house to prevent a nasty burn. For the past 18 years, I have pretty much always been covered in sunscreen, and now I am curious to see if sunscreen could be dangerous. What if the chemicals in our sunscreens actually caused cancer?

think-before-you-slather-why-your-sunscreen-may-be-harmful

Photo from here

I first visited the American Academy of Dermatology’s website, where I learned that on average, 5.4 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer each year, making it the most common cancer diagnosed. Melanoma is considered the most fatal skin cancer and will perhaps affect up to 76,380 people world wide this year. The ACD recommends daily sunscreen application.

34571547 - squamous-cell carcinoma or squamous cell cancer.

squamous-cell carcinoma from here

I wanted to see the data, so I used google scholar to find this journal, The Null Hypothesis was that wearing sunscreen did not effect levels of BBCs, and the Alternative Hypothesis was that wearing sunscreen did effect levels of BBCs. This paper, focusing on the effect of sunscreen,  was first published in November, 2006.  This study was a randomized experiment, and the participants were 1,621  members of Nambour, an Australian community. These scientists has conducted a previous study where they discovered that there was a reduction of a type of cell called a squamous cell carcinomas (referred to as a SCC) in individuals that wore sunscreen daily and regularly over the course of four years. The Null Hypothesis was that wearing sunscreen did not effect levels of BBCs, and the Alternative Hypothesis was that wearing sunscreen did effect levels of BBCs. There was not the same type of decrease in the basal cell carcinoma cells (called BBC), but it was identified that BBCs could be delayed when compared to the results from the control group (no application of sunscreen). 92% of the participants followed the study until its completion in 2004. The remaining subjects were exposed to follow ups in their randomized groups.

Researchers discovered that those with fair skin (like me) had slightly lowered BBC rates then the participants who did not wear any sunscreen. For this conclusion, the researchers have included the p value, stating that P=0.03. With a low p-value below the usual alpha level of 0.05, the researchers were able to reject the null hypothesis and conclude that wearing sunscreen, especially for people with fair skin did indeed lower rates of BBCs.

After reading this paper, I googled, “Is Sunscreen bad for you?” Of course, many biased holistic sites popped up, but I was able to find a TIME Magazine article titled, Is Sunscreen Safe, and Do I Need It Every Day?  that addressed the subject.  Most sunscreens have nanoparticles, which reflect the sun’s UV lights, preventing skin exposure.  According to the EWG, nanoparticles definitely provide great sun protection.  Now, scientists worry that nanoparticles are small enough to be actually absorbed by our skin, and easily enter our blood streams.   Researchers are more concerned than ever after unsettling results from lab tests on rats. Rats injected with these nanoparticles showed signs of cell distress, which is correlated with cancer. Although there is room for worry, these rats were inhaling and being injected with these particles, and tests have not been done where the particles were topically applied to the rat’s skin.

Although we should be concerned with the results on this rat study, more studies have to be conducted before scientists can make any claims. There is evidence that sun screen prevents the development of skin cancer and there is a pretty slim chance that these findings are all a fluke. Although it is impossible to rule out chance completely, it seems very unlikely that sunscreen does not have any effect on the reduction or delay of the development of BBCs. There is just developing research that sun screen could potentially cause other kind of cancers. For now, I will still keep wearing my sunscreen, but I will definitely change my skin care habits if more research emerges.

Killer Lip Stick

photo from

photo from here

I love makeup! For the most part, I practically wear some sort of makeup every day; mascara, tinted moisturizer, lipstick. But can using these makeup products on a day-to-day basis actually cause bodily harm?

Photo taken from Here

Photo taken from here

I started doing some research with a particular focus on lip stick because it is something almost all women wear, and it is a product women wear where it can easily be accidentally ingested.

 

According to The New York Times, nearly all lipsticks on the market contain a small amount of lead. If you’re wondering why this is a problem, take a look at this site that details some of the dangers that consuming lead can have on the human body. Lead is considered very toxic to humans because it have extreme and continuous negative implications on our internal organs.

Researchers discovered these small amounts of lead in a  2011 FDA study. The FDA was suspicious over growing rumors regarding lead in the makeup industry, and were surprised when their study proved the rumors to hold some truth.  When the FDA made the executive decision to do a follow up study, they were shocked to discover that over 400 brands of lip stick included the dangerous metal. They also discovered, that along with lead, there are other metals within the lovable product, such as cadmium and aluminum. Although less damaging than lead, those metals can also be lethal to the body.

Lip stick from here

Lip stick from here

According to Snopes, lip sticks in the USA with the highest concentrations of lead are the more brighter, pigmented colors.  This post also notes a correlation between how long the lip stick lasts and  the lead concentration within it, stating that lipsticks that are marketed to last longer have a higher concentration of lead.

The FDA advises all lip-stick wearers not to panic- the lead is not harmful immediately. Instead, the FDA’s main concern is that over time, the lead from the lipstick will be absorbed into the body and accumulate. After a while, theoretically, enough lead will have compiled in the body to cause the harm mentioned above. The New York times article (previously linked above) explains that lead is a material that will “sit” in our body’s organs until there is enough of it in one crevice to be harmful. For more information, here’s a link for a page about lead poisoning.

But, if you are still curious, here is an interesting video showing how you can use a gold ring to test your favorite lipstick for lead! If you get results you may not like, here’s another video where a you-tuber shares her favorite lead- free lip sticks on the market!

-Dana

Sources

  1. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/cadmium/
  2. http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/lipstick.asp
  3. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/is-there-danger-lurking-in-your-lipstick/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_UfCQuQQbE
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gzcVJcu1m4
  7. https://ryanezamorabeauty.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/lipstick-tag/
  8. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/05/study-lead-metals-lipstick-top-20
  9. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/

We love chocolate !

The other day in class we looked at a possible correlation between the amount of chocolate a country consumed and the amount of Nobel prizes won per country. This was especially curious to me, and our class was able to identify some confounding variables that could explain the correlation, including the country’s wealth, population, and education.

This graph can be found

This graph can be found here

I love chocolate, and was really interested to find out if consuming more chocolate actually could make someone smarter, so I decided to research this new correlation and write a blog about it!

The Daily Express ran this headline claiming that a 40 year-old study declared that chocolate could actually make us smarter.   The study affirmed that the individuals who brandished more impressive scores on various tests consumed the sweet stuff at least once a week.  (U.S National Library of Medicine, 2016) The researchers concluded that the habitual consumption of chocolate could be responsible for results, indicating an increased intelligence. The key word in this conclusion is “could” , and that is what I think is something particularly important to focus on.

A recent article from the UK News went into depth about the Daily Express’s report, including details regarding how the experiment was conducted. This experiment was completed with 1,000 participants- an important detail we should always take into account, as we learned in class Tuesday. (Here is another site that also details the importance of having an acceptable test subject population.) 1,000 participants really isn’t a lot of people, so we should be cautious when accepting broad conclusions based off of small groups of people. 1,000 people is a relatively small sample size, because it is still possible that the results the scientists gathered could be due to some fluke, or chance. The more participants, the more accurate the study is, and 1,000 test subjects may not quite cut it for a conclusion that applies to the entire population. (Science Buddies, 2016)

Before you reach for some chocolate before an exam, keep in mind that researchers haven’t really discovered the true mechanism behind this correlation. (According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and what we learned in class,  a mechanism is the reason why one factor affects another factor.) Researchers weren’t able to discover the mechanism behind the correlation of chocolate consumption and intelligence because there are many possible confounding variables, such as gender, age, race, and overall health. (U.S National Library of Medicine, 2016) Consuming chocolate is not solely responsible for the increased cognitive capacity hinted at throughout the experiment.

This relates to what we have been studying in class; correlation does not mean causation! (Wikipedia, 2016) There is no way to prove a direct correlation because a reverse correlation is equally possible. In this particular study, the reverse correlation is that people that are more intelligent eat more chocolate. However, the researchers could not confidently label the correlation, and supposedly the media ran the story with an interesting title to promote more clicks.

Beyonce rocking a KALE sweater, from here

Beyonce rocking a KALE sweater, from here.

Articles with catchy and appealing headlines always get us excited, but its important to note that the science behind the headlines is not as accurate as we would like to believe. Even though we want to believe eating chocolate hand-over-fist will make us smarter, the mechanism is still unidentifiable.

How about some kale instead?

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/news/2016/03March/Pages/can-chocolate-make-you-smarter.aspx
  2. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/chocolate-consumption-and-nobel-prizes-a-bizarre-juxtaposition-if-there-ever-was-one/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfXf6FtTs-E
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2016-03-09-can-chocolate-make-you-smarter/
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4148275/
  6. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/science-mechanisms/
  7. http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/top_research-project_signal-to-noise-ratio.shtml
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

 

 

 

Are “Shade Balls” Shady?

As many of you might have read from a popular BuzzFeed article, Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has recently signed off on the release of 96 million “shade balls” into the Los Angeles Reservoir.

These shade balls are small, four inch black plastic balls made of black polyethylene, and costs 36 cents each according to Time Magazine. Initially, some researchers were confident that the shade balls could effectively save up to 300 million gallons of water every year, an especially prevalent feat against California’s drought.  According to NPR, 300 million gallons of water is a supply great enough to provide at least three weeks worth of drinking water for Los Angeles residents. In theory, these shade balls reduce the amount of water evaporated by dramatically reducing the surface area of the reservoir they cover.

Volunteers releasing shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir.

Volunteers releasing shade balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir. Photo taken from this site.

Unfortunately, new research is emerging describing the potential negative implications of the shade balls. One article from Tech Times written by Jill Arce, slams the shade balls, declaring flaws in the design and introduces a possible alternative motive for the Mayor to use this method.

Research the Mayor chose to cite from The Daily News claims that because the balls will completely cover the water- the average temperature of the water should drop due to less sunlight exposure. Water that is a cooler temperature will create an environment that is not as hospitable for algae and further bacterial growth.  However, Experts do not agree. According to The Grist, the shade balls actually increase the surface area for bacterial growth because the surface and sides of the balls will increase the area  bacteria and algae have to spawn and develop. Also, the black color of the balls will actually heat up the water, leading to an increased evaporation rate.  It is predicted that LA’s reservoir can expect skyrocketing microorganism growth.

It has recently been brought to the  LAWPD News Room‘s attention that EPA regulations state that large open reservoirs of water need to be covered to protect the water from chemical contamination.  City officials were slotted to purchase an actual shade to cover the reservoir, but the shade balls were much less expensive- raising eyebrows within the scientific community, seeing that the research behind the balls shows more negatives then positives for water quality and conservation. Some reports, such as this one from The Grist, suggest that the Councilmen only launched the shade balls in an attempt to save money while meeting the EPA’s standards- not because the balls are truly effective. While a shade would have been much more expensive, it would not have nearly as much controversy surrounding its effectiveness at water conservation and prevention of contamination.

When I first stumbled upon this article from BuzzFeed, I thought the shade balls were an incredibly unique and effective solution for keeping the drought in California at bay. However, now that I have given myself the opportunity to look into this report further, I am starting to realize that these shade balls are actually really shady.

mad shade.

mad shade from here.

This blog post ties into the main themes of SCI 200- when it comes to science, you need to be skeptical! I was so willing to buy into the idea of shade balls just because a funky BuzzFeed article made them sound cool and creative.  After reading multiple arguments for and against the shade balls, I have ultimately come to the conclusion that I do not believe the shade balls are useful, and that they were only adopted by the LA government in an attempt to save money. When it comes to science, it is important to look at both sides of the coin, and form your own opinion. Are these shade balls actually extraordinary, or are they just a cheaper alternative to a real solution? Please let me know what you think of these shade balls in the comments!

-Dana Pirrotta

Sources

 1. http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/08/balls
2. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/78087/20150822/la-black-ball-strategy-may-result-in-bacterial-nightmare.htm
3. http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/13/shade-balls-protect-la-water-supply-during-drought.html
4. http://grist.org/article/why-shade-balls-arent-such-a-great-idea-after-all/
5. http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20160115/NEWS/160119829/los-angeles-removing-shade-balls-from-some-reservoirs
6. http://www.pslc.ws/macrog/pe.htm
7. https://www.buzzfeed.com/abagg/throwing-shade-balls?utm_term=.omDeY35kz#.taoXp30QR
8. http://www.dailynews.com/environment-and-nature/20150812/what-are-shade-balls-and-how-they-help-save-los-angeles-water
9. http://time.com/3998554/shade-balls-graphic/
10. http://www.latimes.com/local/cityhall/la-me-balls-first-and-spring-20150824-story.html
11. http://www.ladwpnews.com/go/doc/1475/2588938/Shade-Balls-Frequently-Asked-Questions
12. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/11/431670483/la-rolls-out-water-saving-shade-balls
13. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/08/11/431670483/la-rolls-out-water-saving-shade-balls

1-800 Science Skills Wanted

Hello!

My name is Dana Pirrotta and I am a freshman here at Penn State. I’ve lived more than half of my live overseas, but I have always considered Penn State to be my true home. I was born in State College and raised in Okinawa, Japan.  My dad is an active duty Marine, and his sacrifice has brought us all around the world. My family moves every 2-3 years, which is great because I love meeting new people.  I can’t wait to get to know you guys!

I actually enjoy science, especially biology. Unfortunately, I really, really, struggle with mathematical comprehension, and that makes many science courses especially challenging. I am honestly excited to take a science class that won’t create stress over complex chemical equations and other complicated mathematical excursions.  SC 200 was most appealing to me because it focuses on comprehension, and not memorization. Sometimes it is too easy to get those two mixed up and I believe that strengthening my comprehension skills will make me a better student.

I am not a Science major because I am not particularly confident in my science skills. I could very well be Patrick Star in this photo below because sometimes I ask “stupid” questions. (I am so relieved we can submit questions through our phones!)

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My military background has shaped me to love international politics and foreign relations so my intended major is in Political Science. I love learning how various governments function and interact with each other, and my dream job is to work for the State Department.

On a fun note, I love corny jokes, so here are some relatively amusing science related jokes I found browsing the internet. Enjoy!