Author Archives: Elsa Breakey

The Science of Blacking Out

I’m not just talking about drinking in this post. I was introduced to my senior project mentor last April and was so excited that I didn’t remember what she said and couldn’t report back to my teacher. This past May, I was required to present my senior project. I immediately blacked out and didn’t remember the presentation – I only knew I did a good job because of the score I received. And of course, there have been alcohol induced blackouts in my past. What causes blackouts? Can exciting or nervous feelings cause them? Did I have an actual “black out”?

Alcohol Blackouts 

Obviously a not remembering a night of drinking is different not remembering giving a presentation. We all have those mornings texting the group you went out with asking for details from the night before and putting the pieces together. But why did “one more shot” turn into a night of embarrassing stories you don’t remember?

According to an article called Your Brain on (Too Much) Alcohol, memories start in immediate memory, then go to short-term memory, and then to long-term memory. When someone drinks a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time, there is a blockage between the short-term and immediate memories. This means that the brain receptors that hold the memories shuts down, so you don’t remember anything.

The article explains the difference between partial and complete black outs. This depends on how much the receptors are disrupted. It was noted that it doesn’t matter how much you drink, but how quickly. They used the example of someone having a higher chance of blacking out when they down three drinks quickly compared to someone who could drink two times their BAC over a period of time and remember their entire night.

Other Blackouts

As I mentioned, I’ve experienced multiple types of blackouts – or what they seem to be. During these times, I never felt like I was going to faint. These moments have never lasted long, which makes me wonder if I would end up fainting if they were longer. According to my research, the symptoms I experienced were similar to fainting. I felt as though there was a loss of blood to my brain, and my nervous system was experiencing something that it has never been through. I regained consciousness a few minutes after the situation ended and I felt normal.

Other than fainting, I could not find any other explanation as to why I blacked out when I got nervous or excited.

How to Prevent Blacking Out

The Fix – an addiction/recovery website – explains blacking out and how to prevent it. Across the board, eating a meal before boozing can increase the chances of remembering your night. Hydrating, pacing yourself, resting, and settling for lighter drinks are obvious but effective methods for avoiding black outs. Studies show that women are more likely to blackout than men, due to their BACs escalating faster than mens.

Overall blacking out can be scary, whether it’s alcohol induced or not. It is common for a lot of people, but if you take the right precautions, blacking out can be eliminated.


The Art of Pimple Popping

While I was searching for a topic to write about, I realized that beauty and cosmetics interests me the most. For the most part, my skin is pretty clear other than an occasional pimple here and there. A lot of my friends have struggled with acne and tried cleanses, cleaners, diet changes, medicine, and popping them. I cringe whenever I see my friends pick at their face and pop their zits because I was taught by my mom to “let them run their course” and they will go away in no time. I listened to her and I like to think that not picking at my face keeps it pretty clear. What is the best way to pop pimples? Does popping pimples spread acne?

According to an article by Bustle, there is a correct and incorrect way to pop pimples. The best way to get rid of acne is to NOT pop the zit, but if need be, you should do it the right way. The incorrect way is to squeeze the shit out of the acne – that is the easiest way to get an acne scar and spread bacteria everywhere. Steaming your face before popping pimples can help open everything up and make the matter come out easier. A sterile needle (instead of dirty fingernails) can be poked into the zit sideways and pulled up so everything inside will come out and no scar will be made.

An article called Facing Acne breaks down what a pimple is. A pimple is an inflamed pore, and popping will make it worse no matter what. Squeezing a zit can cause bacteria to get pushed back further into the skin, which can turn the pimple into a cyst. There are no benefits of squeezing pimples. Pore layers that fight off bacteria can get damaged once the popping starts. Inflammation can come from this, so the zit will look worse than it did in the beginning, and it is possible that the acne spreads.

Popping pimples has always grossed me out because nails are filled with dirt and bacteria, which is getting trapped into your skin as soon as you start squeezing a zit. This can especially be damaging for those pimples that are forming but too early to pop – submerging them with bacteria before they’re completely formed can make them 10x worse. According to, open pores are more susceptible to becoming zits during the process of popping. The oozing substance that comes from zits can spread very easily, clogging pores with even more bacteria.

I have found that letting a zit run its course is always more effective than popping pimples. The last thing I want is more pimples or acne scars, so keeping your bacteria filled finger nails off the pimple and continuing a normal face wash, moisturizing, and make up routine can be the most efficient way to get rid of a pimple.

Stay away from popping pimples, but if you must – steaming your face and using a sterile needle is the way to go.


Can Hair Dye Cause Cancer?

I never put chemicals on my hair until 8th grade when I got a perm. This was a terrible idea because 1. my hair looked awful and 2. the amount of chemicals from that one treatment aren’t healthy. A few years later, I started to get my hair highlighted. Knowing this wasn’t good for my hair, I still continued to renew my highlights every few months because I like the way they look. I still do. I never thought about the effects hair dye can have on my scalp or even my brain, which leads me to the question – can hair dye cause cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, hair dye can seep through the skin or be inhaled during the process, getting into the body. Hair dressers and people that constantly are around the product are more prone to chemicals entering the body.

Does hair dye cause cancer?

Some studies show possible connections between cancer and hair dye while others do not. The studies that have seen a correlation between hair dye and cancer have been blood and bladder cancer. Scientists usually look at studies done in the lab and among humans so they can get more accurate results.

One study that was conducted involved substances being exposed to animals and seeing if tumors were formed. Another study looked at people with and without cancer, and who dyed their hair and who did not. It is difficult to form a conclusion from both of these studies, since animals and humans differ, and the idea that there could be other factors instead of just cancer patients that dye their hair.

People Exposed

According to the above article by the American Cancer Society, people that are exposed to hair dye constantly are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Blood cancer such as non-hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia were linked to the usage of hair dye, but the risk is small. Constant exposure to hair dye can be linked to bladder cancer – mostly in hair dressers. People that get their hair dyed are not as likely to be diagnosed with bladder cancer. Breast cancer has not been linked to the usage or exposure to hair dye.

Should I Use Hair Dye?

Hair dye is regulated by the FDA, but they do not look at every ingredient in the substance before it goes on the market. The FDA has the power to take action if the product is detrimental to someones health or isn’t labeled correctly. However, the FDA does not the ability to force a recall on a product – they can only request one.

Not enough studies have been conducted to confirm if hair dye causes cancer, but there is always a risk. The American Cancer Society suggests to take precautions while using hair dye such as wearing gloves, not mixing products, and never dying eyebrows or eyelashes – you could go blind.

The safest bet is to be careful while using hair dye and try to buy the product with the least amount of chemicals, since it is not confirmed that hair dye can cause cancer. Fragment Of Woman's Head Coloring

Chicken Noodle Soup + Orange Juice = Sickness Cure?

There’s nothing like a steaming hot bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup to pick you up when you’re not feeling the best. Every time I’m sick, my mom loads me up on orange juice and chicken noodle soup. I don’t mind either so I scarf both down, not actually sure if it helps or just consciously makes me feel better. As I sit in au bon pain and scarf down a bowl of soup, I can’t help but wonder – is chicken noodle soup (and orange juice) actually good for the soul?

Chicken Noodle Soup

UPMC Health Beat helps me understand this concept by first breaking down the ingredients and their purpose in an article published in 2014. The warm broth can help with the upper respiratory system and clear congestion. Chicken can help support the immune system, while the noodles will help you feel more full. While I always thought carrots, celery and onion were just for taste – they can help build a stronger immune system and fight off illness quicker.

Of course medicine can help you fight off your sickness as well, but the antioxidants from chicken noodle soup can really help build a strong immune system and give the body the extra kick to conquer the illness. Studies have shown that a bowl of chicken noodle soup can work as an anti-inflammatory and help with congestion.

A study conducted by Fox News explained that the key ingredient in chicken noodle soup to cure a cold is the chicken stock. The base can help decrease mucus production, even with store bought soup. When the study tried vegetarian soup, the results weren’t as effective as the soup with chicken stock as the base. The key is chicken!

Not only does chicken noodle soup taste great, but it makes you feel better too. It’s a win-win.

Orange Juice

A big glass of orange juice has always accompanied a bowl of chicken noodle soup when I catch a cold, which is then followed by a few vitamin C tablets after my meal. OJ is key when recovering from being sick, but why?

Fox News refers to a study done by the University of Toronto in the 70’s that the length of a cold can be shortened by one day just by taking the daily recommended dose of vitamin C. According to the FDA, 90 milligrams daily is enough. A glass of oj typically contains 120 milligrams of vitamin C – a good amount to help fight a cold.

While some claim the daily dosage is helpful, Linus Pauling – a biochemist – insists that taking four times of the daily dose can help tremendously. Others say that exceeding the dosage has no actual benefit and the recommended 90 mg is just as helpful.

Bottom line – no matter how much vitamin C you intake, benefits will follow – whether its in the form of a tablet or a cold glass of orange juice.

Chicken noodle soup and orange juice is my favorite cold remedy combination that has ongoing positive effects and can kick a cold away in no time.

Power couple.

Power couple.


Adderall: A College Students Best Friend?

Over the past few months I’ve been here so far, I’ve noticed that college students are constantly asking around for Adderall. I know people take it to stay up late and study, curve their appetite, and just to last longer at the day drinks on Saturday afternoons. Sounds great, but what are the health implications? How does it work for people diagnosed with ADHD and people that are not? Do people get misdiagnosed?

ADHD Diagnosis

ADHD stands for Attention-Defecit/Hyperactivity Disorder and has a several step process to decide if a child has ADHD, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The criteria for diagnosing a child with ADHD is determined by six or more symptoms on inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms include trouble paying attention, staying organized, is forgetful in daily activities, easily distracted, talks excessively, fidgets and many more. Not only do the children have to display the symptoms in two or more settings, but they also have to show that another mental disorder cannot describe the symptoms they acquire. The evidence will interfere in the child’s school work, social skills and everyday activities.

The diagnosis remains consistent in teenagers and adults as well, but people 17 and over must show five or more symptoms in the categories of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Adderall can also be used to treat narcolepsy.

Health Implications

Sure, adderall can be great for patients diagnosed with ADHD. My question is: what is the long term effect of using adderall for someone without ADHD? First things first, not everyone can use Adderall. People with Tourettes, glaucoma, and anxiety should stay away from Adderall use. The stimulants in the drug can cause serious detrimental effects on the heart.

According to, Adderall has a high risk of addiction since it is classified as a Schedule II drug. Usage of the drug should be monitored by a professional, and addiction is less likely if prescribed by a professional. Risk for addiction is more common among those who use Adderall that do not have ADD, ADHD, or narcolepsy.

Along with addiction, Adderall use can also cause anxiety, weight loss, an irregular heart beat, and problems with urination. Long term abuse can be accompanied by insomnia, personality changes, and possibly psychosis.

Adderall Intake

Other than swallowing the pill, it is also common for those who are not prescribed Adderall to snort it. This causes a quicker reaction – or so people think. states that Adderall taken the proper way, orally,  works faster by getting into the bloodstream and causing a longer lasting euphoric effect.

Snorting Adderall can cause problems in the respiratory system, such as circulation issues, nasal and sinus problems, and irregular heartbeats. Long term use can damage the development process in the brain, toxic shock, and major withdraw symptoms.

The way a person intakes Adderall can be damaging in addition to taking it without a prescription.

Do people get misdiagnosed?

A lot of my friends are constantly looking for Adderall. About half of them have ADD or ADHD, while the other half will do anything they have to to get it. However, from the half that are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, some were misdiagnosed. Once my friend got to college, she immediately convinced the doctors she had an attention/hyperactivity disorder and was prescribed Adderall.

Noted in a study by Michigan State University, ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder among children in the United States, where 4.5 million children under 18 are diagnosed with it. Todd Elder said this is because a teacher would most likely think that a child in kindergarten that can’t sit still or that acts out has ADHD. Meanwhile, it could be possible that the child is 5 where the other classmates are 6.

Elder conducted a longitudinal study that consisted of 12,000 kindergarten students, looking at the diagnosis and treatment among the age differences in the class. His study found that about 20% (equivalent to 900,000) of the 4.5 million children diagnosed with ADHD have been misdiagnosed.

Overall, Adderall can be great for those diagnosed with ADD, ADHD and narcolepsy, but detrimental when abused – especially to those not diagnosed.

Adderall can come in either one of these forms.

Adderall can come in either one of these forms.


Charcoal – Good or Bad for You?

Before I came to school, I only thought charcoal had two purposes – drawing and teeth whitening. My roommate, who is originally from Ukraine, woke up one day with a hangover that ended up lasting until 3 p.m. She asked me if charcoal pills were a thing in America and explained that they can soak up all the bad stuff in your system and make you feel as good as new in an hour or so. I was really interested in this, but wondered what makes charcoal do the trick.

According to WebMD, charcoal can be used to help drug overdoses and poisonings, and helps clear out the body. Activated charcoal can also be used to prevent high cholesterol, hangovers, and gas. Charcoal is considered “activated” when combined with high temperatures to spread the surface area. When charcoal is consumed, the process of adsorption allows elements to bind to a surface – making the charcoal useful.

Referring to an article by Dr. Axe, activated charcoal use has more benefits than drawbacks overall. It can whiten teeth and actually change the pH balance in your mouth – which works to prevent gum disease and bad breath. The article also states the point that people don’t typically think of mold growing in their bodies, but mold can thrive anywhere. Activated charcoal can help cleanse the body of mold – overall prohibiting the side effects of mold before they get bad. The side effects of toxic bodily mold are depression, heart disease, nausea, and more.

What does this look like?


Above is a picture from an article called Combat Bloating with Activated Charcoal. You can purchase activated charcoal pills online or at a store like Natures Way. It was even noted that the pills can help clear up acne and prevent body odor – it does it all! A digestive cleanse is also one of the many convenient things activated charcoal can do. It can boost your immune system, remove the toxins that can cause allergic reactions, and boost mental function and energy.

So this pill that isn’t very popular seems like it should be the new craze – but are there any disadvantages of consuming activated charcoal?

Constipation and vomiting are a couple of side effects that come from activated charcoal according to Some more severe side effects are allergic reactions, metabolic effects, respiratory problems, and ocular and hematologic issues. Is it worth it?

All in all, activated charcoal seems like it can be your best friend some of the time, but your worst nightmare other days. I would like to try it to whiten my teeth before I digest it – I think it can do more good than harm!

Why are Artificial Flavors so Addictive?

As I sit here in the Hub, I’m craving everything unhealthy – Goldfish, Pringles, mac n cheese, pizza rolls…EVERYTHING. I have come to terms that the freshman 15 is a real thing and I’m experiencing it right now, and my junk food cravings aren’t helping me avoid it. Something keeps bringing me back to these fattening foods, and I’m convinced it’s the artificial flavors that are packed into all these snacks.

I have never been one for healthy eating and trying to change my habits in college isn’t the easiest thing to do. I have always wondered why I don’t crave healthy food, but at any given moment I could eat a whole bag of chips or a sleeve of cookies. So why is this?

According to Seattle Organic Restaurants, immediate satisfaction is displayed after consuming junk food with additives and preservatives. Businesses will spend an abundance of money on research to find the perfect combination of artificial flavors to pair with your taste buds. Once you’re hooked, it’s a challenge going back to healthy eating. I found out that salt, sugar, and fat can be just as addicting as drugs or alcohol. Once something with sugar, salt, or fat goes into your body, there is an instant sense of bliss that is activated in the middle of the brain – leaving you want more. Although the junk food tastes good, there are many drawbacks to constantly eating unhealthy.

High blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease can derive when the kidneys cannot get rid of excessive sodium levels. Salty chips are just as addicting as sugary soda. Soda drinkers can go through withdrawal after trying to give up the sweet drink, and even become depressed or anxious, according to Seattle Organic Restaurants. Even soy milk has been noted to cause migraines if someone is trying to stop drinking it. No matter what habit you’re trying to break, your body will face side effects and withdrawal from the transition.

One of my problems is that if I eat something salty, I crave something sweet right after, and vise versa. I always try to convince myself out of it or grab a piece of fruit, but the ice cream or gummy worms always win. Since the combination of salt, fat, and sugar all at the same time gives your brain and body an immense sense of pleasure, the food industry can work its magic to leave you wanting more – every single time.

Referring to an article posted on called Why Is Junk Food So Addictive?, it is stated that sugar can be more addictive than cocaine. Not only do corporations get you hooked by using sugar, but also narrowing their focus on taste, the texture/consistency of the food while being consumed, and the macronutrient content of the food. They know the exact way to combine the ingredients so you finish the bag of Dorito’s in one sitting.

Consuming less junk food will help your body crave less of it (obviously) – but for now, I’ll realistically continue to gain more weight.

This photo is junk food, specifically refined sugar, from the website

This photo is junk food, specifically refined sugar, from the website


Can Keeping Electronics Too Close To You Cause Cancer?

I wonder this a lot – being that I usually have my phone in the waist band of my shorts or right beside my face when I sleep. Even a simple phone call could have the same impact. When I’m home, I constantly get reminded by my dad that keeping my phone too close to me all the time can cause cancer, but I shrug him off and go about keeping my phone on my body.

I recently started sleeping with my phone beside my face here at school, since I don’t have a side stand to put my phone on so I can hear my alarm in the morning and charge my phone at the same time. It has sparked wonder if keeping electronics too close to your body can actually cause cancer.

According to the World Health Organization in 2011, you should send a text instead of call, use your phones speaker or a head set, and keep your phone away from your head while you sleep. CBS News put out an article stating that cell phones give out electromagnetic radiation all the time, boosting your exposure and making you more susceptible to cancer risk. Using the airplane mode feature or simply placing your phone on a night stand could help deduce the radiation exposure.

CBS News also points out that keeping your phone in a pocket or bra isn’t the best idea, but holding a cell phone a small distance away from your body can significantly reduce the phone signals going into your skin. The Truth About Cancer confirms that cell phone radiation can cause two specific types of brain tumors called Acoustic Neuromas and Gliomas. Gliomas are malignant while Acoustic Neuromas are non-malignant, but can still be deadly. However, cell phone radiation can cause many different types of cancer, such as Thyroid cancer, Stem Cell cancer, and Leukemia – just to name a few.

Referring back to The Truth About Cancer, keeping your cell phone too close to your body can cause more than just cancer – it can also damage DNA, which some people consider a myth. conducted a trial on mice to see if cellular radiation impacted the DNA in male germ cells. The trial showed that the DNA was damaged significantly in the mice that were tested whenever the phone was in dialing mode rather than listening mode.

Bottom line: don’t keep your phone in your pocket, bra, waist band or on your bed during sleep – the damage that can be done isn’t worth it. Maybe I should start listening to my dad more often.

This photo is from, portraying the detrimental effects of cell phone radiation on the body.

This photo is from, portraying the detrimental effects of cell phone radiation on the body.

Science Isn’t My Thing

Hi everyone!

My name is Elsa Breakey and I’m currently a freshman from Pittsburgh, PA. I am in the Division of Undergraduate Studies but I hope to get into Smeal and pursue some type of business degree – not totally sure what that will be yet. I chose this course because I needed to fulfill the science requirement and there wasn’t any chance I was taking a bio, chem, or physics class, or anything that had to deal with astronomy. My advisor recommended this course to fulfill the gen-ed and to get me thinking in a different way – I’m very excited to get deeper into this class.

When I was little, I always wanted to be a doctor…that dream ended after freshman year advanced biology. I always was so interested in the human body and functions until I had to sit through a semester of pointless labs and lectures that didn’t make sense to me. I also realized that being a doctor would be cool and everything, but it’s too much school for me. I am very undecided about what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I know science isn’t going to be a part of it.

Along with the human body and functions of it, I have always been interested in the way drugs affect the brain. Although maybe a strange thing to be intrigued by, it’s relevant where I grew up. In Greensburg, about 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, there was a huge drug problem – heroin specifically. Lots of overdoses and deaths came from the horrendous drug, even my sister lost one of her closest friends to it. It was tragic, but the fact that it was so addicting after one use caught my attention. For some more information on how heroin affects the brain, click here.