Author Archives: Lucille Laubenstein

Coco-NUTS for coconut oil!


The latest health fad that is trending is coconut oil! It appears to be a go to answer to many

Coconut with jasmine

health and beauty related questions. To examine the legitimacy of all those claims is far too massive of a task to try and undertake in one blog post. In this post, I will specifically be looking at whether consumption of coconut oil has antimicrobial benefits.

First, let’s define what an antimicrobial is. According to the Antimicrobial Resistance Learning Site, an antimicrobial is an agent in our bodies which works against microorganisms. Its purpose is similar to that of an antibiotic, the main difference being that an antibiotic is a microorganism developed to fight other microorganisms. An antimicrobial however, is a natural or synthetic material, or a combination of the two, which targets microorganisms, without harming the host too much. Also, with these two terms, we have a square and rectangle situation going on. By that I mean, like all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares; the same goes for antibiotics and antimicrobials. In this case, the antibiotic is the square, and the antimicrobial is the rectangle.

A study which was published in the Journal of Medical Foods found that the strongest antimicrobial effects against bacterial were a result of the presence of lauric acid in virgin coconutoilcoconut oil. What makes lauric acid such an effective antimicrobial is the fact that it is a fatty acid. Because of this, they are particularly good are disrupting lipid membranes of the intruding microorganisms. To check the validity of this, I looked for additional research on the topic. A paper in the Asian Journal of Pacific Science, as well as a paper presented at the AVOC Lauric Oils Symposium also saw these benefits.

So it has benefits, should it be taken when you feel a cold kicking in? There was not a lot of information on how to use this information. Perhaps there is a file drawer problem going on if the results are mundane. One book, did connect the beneficial antimicrobial properties to preventative health measure, but it was still vague.

To conclude, because of the lauric fatty acid component which is prominent in coconut oil, it has beneficial antimicrobial properties. What can an SC200 student take away from this? Coconut oil is a good substance to incorporate into one’s diet for general health purposes, and to ward off bacteria which could make you ill. However as far as using it in place of medicine, I would stick to the meds.

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Green ______ and Ham!

Eggs! People seem to love them or hate them! Regardless, they are crucial part of cooking and baking. Some people however try to avoid them! There is a widely accepted notion that eating facts-left-eggeggs, and more specifically, egg yolks, will increase your cholesterol levels, and therefore your risk of heart problems and stroke. This idea appears to be accepted among many without question! But is this statement fact or fiction?! Does the consumption of eggs increase your risk of heart problems and stroke?

I found several studies which considered this question, three stuck out to me. The first was found in the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. Here, I found a 20 year long, longitudinal observational study with over 21,000 participants. The consumption of eggs was documented by a weekly questionnaire. Based on the number reported, the risk of stroke, myocardial infractions, as well as death, was assessed by the frequency of consumption. They grouped amount of eggs consumed into various levels of frequency. Because of confounding variables, additional questionnaires were also sent out on a less frequent basis, checking several other aspects of the participant’s life, such as alcohol consumption, and diet. Their data concluded that the amount of eggs consumed had no significant effect in those areas. That held true for men and women, but not for diabetics. Unfortunately for diabetics, their relative risk was double that of a non-diabetic person, in all the consumption level categories.

Slightly astounded that being a diabetic could so greatly increase the risk for diabetics, I sought out additional studies to see if this was a fluke. I found a meta-analysis, published in The Britishfrowning-face Medical Journal which reviewed the work of 17 similar studies. Several thousand people were involved in those studies, so there was no problem with small sample sizes! The results of the meta-analysis came up with the same conclusion! Egg consumption led to no additional risks for non-diabetics, but an increased risk for diabetics!

Now that this strange result was backed by the power of a meta-analysis, I went to find out what it was exactly that cause the consumption of eggs to be so much riskier for diabetics. There seems to be a lot of information connecting the consumption of eggs to diabetes. Not only does it seem that eggs increase your risk of heart problems and stroke, as a diabetic, but there is a lot of information connecting the consumption of eggs to the development of type 2 diabetes. The information on whether this connection was strictly a correlation, or was causal as well was less clear. Here, is a video which I found most helpful on the subject.

To conclude, no, egg consumption does not increase your risk of heart problems or stroke, unless you are a diabetic. This is true for both men and women. From these results, it is safe to say that SC200 students can continue enjoying eggs worry free… unless you are diabetic.


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Social media is embedded into modern culture. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, the list goes on and on. Within the last decade there have been increasing numbers of social media platforms, and their influence has expanded as well. Young people more than any other age

Group Of Children Sitting In Mall Using Mobile Phones

group are the ones who are committing the most time to it. On average, people between the
ages of 8 and 18 spend 11 hours and 18 minutes a day on some form of recreational media. That is almost half of their day! Seeing such a striking statistic made me wonder, does social media negatively affect adolescent development?

From the most three most relevant papers I found on this subject, it appears that social media affects adolescent development in three major ways. It affects our behavior, health, and self-esteem.

To begin with, there is a theory on behavioral learning called Social learning theory. It is the notion that children imitate behaviors they observe, particularly ones which result in favorable outcomes. So, the more time they spend observing celebrity behavior, or whomever they see on various media platforms, the more likely they are to normalize it, and reflect it into their own actions. So, if the president elect says something which makes grabbing a woman by the hoo-hah acceptable, the adolescent observer will absorb that information and translate it into their own behavior (probably not that extreme, but in other ways). This still holds true with the exposure to mature material such as sex, drugs, and violence. Per a paper by Victor C Strausberger, Amy B. Jordan, and Ed Donnerstein, being exposed to these concepts at such a young age can result in the mirroring of that behavior. This leads to increased aggression in adolescents, and increased participating in risky behavior

Our physical health is also impacted by social media. Engaging in social media is often a sedentary act. People watch YouTube, and scroll through Pintrest while sitting on their couches. downloadThere is a correlation between such heavy social media usage. This type of lifestyle has several negative health implications, including, but not limited to increased risk of heart attack, loss of lean muscle tissue, and depression. These are not the only health risks which are correlated with social media usage. So much screen time can also lead to developmental disorders such as ADHD. Also, youth who use social media tend to develop sleeping disorders as well. These are not all the negative physical health issues which can arise, but they are too numerous to list in this single blog post.

Lastly, social media can negatively affect one’s self esteem.  A study conducted using Dutch adolescents, and a friend networking site, examined the relationship between the sites use and the self-esteem of the participants. Unlike I expected, their study found that the effect of this social media platform on self-esteem was directly related to the type of feedback the users would receive. The more positive comments they got, the better they felt about themselves, and the opposite effect occurred for negative comments. This is logical, but it still surprised me, so I looked to see if any other studies had had similar findings. As it turns out, this is not the only study which saw that it can be beneficial. I think that my own bias got in the way when I was making assumptions before reading the study.

young woman looking into a mirror


After analyzing these papers, I do not think that there are any issues in terms of the science behind them. In my researching, I found copious numbers of papers on the subject, probably because of its current prevalence, so I do not think it suffers from the file drawer problem. Also, because they looked at specific things, I do not think it suffered from the Texas sharp shooter problem either. And they are all published works, which means they have been subjected to peer review in order to get here. The bit that I did find challenging was the experiment relating to self esteem. This was based on self reported, self reflection on how the participants were impacted, and self esteem is a solf endpoint and therefore difficult to effectively mesure.

Overall, yes, social media does have a negative effect on adolescent development for the most part. The exception to this being that the reception on one’s profile on social media, and how it affects adolescent self-esteem.  Based on this, I think that the best thing for SC200 students to do would be to consider whether the risks of these effects, and the effects themselves are worth it to you. If nothing else, they should try to be more aware of their social media consumption, and its influence on their life.

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Is Ethanol an Easy Fix?

Between the views of the winner of the election, and the views of one of our recent guest speakers in class, Mike Mann, I have been confronted with some very conflicting perspectives on climate change. I, like Mike Mann, believe that it exists, is aided by human actions, and is an extremely troublesome issue. There are several different areas in which people think we couldcar-06 change the way we do things, to be less harmful to the environment. One of ideas which has been tossed around to do that is converting our method for powering vehicles from gasoline to ethanol, or at least making ethanol a more substantial part of the mixture which powers cars. Would this switch have a positive impact on the environment?

To properly examine this question, we must first define what ethanol is. Ethanol is a biomass-fuel produced by biomass. Biomass can include: corn, sugarcane, grass, garbage, or other organic materials.  Over the past several years it has been slowly integrated into the fuels of standard. Currently, the average amount of ethanol in regular gasoline is 10%. So it does not account for too much of the overall constitution of standard fuel. There are several ways which this fuel can be assessed to determine its how environmentally friendly ethanol is. Specifically, I am going to examine its effect on air quality emissions, effect on water quality, efficiency of production.

One can measure the way in which ethanol pollutes the air in two ways; emissions during cropped-danger-of-ethanol-fuelproduction, and emissions caused from burning the fuel. Currently, we are at a point where the production emissions are higher than that of gasoline. However, the emissions coming from burned ethanol are less harmful than those of burned gasoline. It is a bit of a mixed basket.

The effect of ethanol on water quality comes from its production. If the crop used to make the ethanol requires large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, then more of that substance will be exposed to the environment. Amounts of these substances will find their way into water runoff and groundwater, which can contaminate larger water supplies.

There are two ways in which ethanol is produced, via food matter, and non-food matter. How it gets from seed to being used, it called life-cycle emission, and this affects its environmental impact. The life cycle emissions vary from source of production. Having ethanol produced from a non-food source, it more efficient and has lower life-cycle emissions than that produced from food matter. Despite that, the primary way we produce ethanol is via food matter. While it is renewable, unlike traditional fossil fuels, producing ethanol from a food crop like corn is very demanding in terms of amount of land needed, as well as water needed. It does not have a good energy balance; the amount of fossil fuel energy needed for production is more than that which the fuel provides. Therefore, recycling non-food organic matter is superior, because it doesn’t have that same environmental drain, and has a better energy balance.

It is hard to have a definitive conclusion on whether or not switching cars to a fuel with a higher concentration of ethanol will positively impact the environment.  There are a lot of factors influencing how green ethanol really is. The largest environmental problem with ethanol, is its production. In order to make ethanol a viable alternative its production needs to become less demanding of land, water, and fuel. All of those problems however are solvable, with the developing technologies and enhanced methods of production which are being developed. I would conclude that in the long run ethanol will be an environmentally friendly option for fueling vehicles, but we are not there yet. Once that point is reached, I think that transitioning cars to ethanol will have a positive effect on the environment. The biggest roadblock I think will be the same ones which we discussed in class which are affecting policies regarding green energy now, politicians who are supporting the fossil fuel industry.

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Music Improves Cognitive Abilities… Mostly

As children, my brothers and I did not have too many restrictions in terms of what extra-curricular activities we participated in; the two requirements we had was that we had to play a sport, to get good exercise, and we had to play an instrument, because my mom said playing music helped with cognitive growth and development. As a result of this, my older brother and I can play guitar, and my younger brother can play piano. Besides gaining a neat party trick, I wonder if learning how to play an instrument actually helped develop our brains and attributed to our academic successes over the years.

The Null Hypothesis: Involvement with music* as a child does not aid cognitive abilities.

The Alternative Hypothesis: Involvement with music* as a child does aid cognitive abilities.

*I would like to clarify that when I say “Involvement with music”, I do not mean simply listening to music. What I mean is the child is involved in the creation of music in a structured setting; not simply listening to music in general in life.

A variety of studies took different approaches when looking at this question. A study conducted by three professors in the department of history at Sam Huston State University examined the effects of early music training on child cognitive development. Their study had a sample size of 71 children of the ages 4 to 6 years old. At the beginning of the experiment, all of the children took two tests; one was an assessment of their musical skills, and the other was a multi-part intelligence exam. After that, roughly have of the participants took part in a 75 minute long, parent involved, structured music curriculum. When the duration of the curriculum was met, both the students involved in the music curriculum, and those not retook the same exams from before the experiment. Post analysis of the results, it was shown that those involved in the music program had substantial gains in their music skill assessment, as well as the memory exam section of the intelligence exam.

The second source I found which looked at regards of this question, was a meta-analysis done by Jane M. Standley of Florida State University. This meta-analysis looked at music reading, music learning, and music participation’s involvement in improving one’s academic abilities. While meta-analysis do tend to be more reliable than solely looking at individual studies, this one especially because it even includes other meta-analysis in its review, this one acknowledged the difficulty in doing such a study for this question because the studies looked at a diverse array of how one approaches musical intervention in academics. With that being said, the meta-analysis showed that the effectiveness of these styles of incorporating music to enhance varies by study, and method used, but overall tended to produce positive results.

After reading through these studies, I had a few concerns. The first study was NOT a randomized control trial. In fact, there were several factors which went into their placement, many of which could be confounding variables. With the second study, it seemed to be going in too many directions. There were thirty studies involved, not many of which were using the same methods in their experiments. If this were broken up into more specific categories the results might have been more clear. The only reason that I could come up with for why they would keep it so large and generalized, and that is there could be a file drawer problem with the various types of studies involved.

Conclusion: Based on these cases, one could conclude that the alternative hypothesis is supported and  music involvement does enhance one’s cognitive abilities. Whether or not this is what attributed to my siblings and I’s academic triumphs however, is still unclear. There are too many confounding variables to say that for sure.

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Frozen Food Fad

Growing up, my family cooked; and we cooked a lot. Making meals and such from scratch was not something reserved for special occasions, holidays, or to impress company; in my household, it was just our way of life. However, once I was old enough, and I started going over to my friends’ houses, I soon realized this was not the norm.  A study done by CBS News found family_cooking_3051495bthat only 43% of Americans reported having home cooked meals six to seven days a week. In fact, roughly half of the money Americans spend on food, is spent on food eaten when eating out.  But it did not used to be this way, in 1984, roughly 75% of the meals eaten at home in the US were also prepared at home. And a graph produced by the Washington Post depicts the decline of home cooked meals in the US since then. So what is causing this decline in preparing meals oneself?supermarket

A major factor influencing this decline is time. On average, Americans over fifteen years of age, spend an hour eating per day. Typically, this time is not solely spent eating either; we are multitasking. It is a rare occasion for an American to be eating for the sake of doing so. We are too busy to relish in meal time, so instead dining becomes a chore which we do while simultaneously doing other things, work, watch television, drive, etc. Making a home cooked meal takes time. One has to select a recipe, go out and buy groceries, do the meal prep, cook alarmclockthe meal, and then eat it. The OECD’s conducted survey conclude that the average amount of time spent on meal prep and cleanup in the surveyed countries other than the United States is two hours and eight minutes per day. Whereas in the United States, the average is thirty minutes. While time dedicated to meal prep is a major factor in the decline of home cooked meals in the U.S., it is not the only factor.

Another influential variable in the decline of home cooked meals in the United States is an economic one. In 2015, less than half of the U.S. population were middle income; 49.9% to be specific. In that same year, 29% of Americans were considered to be of low income, and 21.1% were considered to be of upper income status. This effects the number of meals prepared at home because it is more expensive to be doing so. When shopping in a supermarket , it is less expensive to buy the prepackaged, premade, and processed foods, than it is to buy ingredients to make a meal yourself. A dollar spent on the processed foods, will buy you more calories, than spending it on the ingredients needed to make a meal. Then, from a financial standpoint, it makes far more sense to be buying the premade food rather than the ingredients to make meals yourself, because you can get more bang for your buck. And people do just that. The average American consumes 72 frozen meals annually, and spends $57.10 on said meals per year.


Based on this information, it can be concluded that we are in a shift away from traditional, home cooking, to these new manufactured, ready made meals.

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Can they handle that kitchen task? Yes they can!

Let’s Make Some Babies

What sparked the idea for this blog post was a Gattaca-esque video that popped up on my gattaca-originalFacebook feed. The animated video explains the process of how humans could be potentially grown, and tailored to the parents preferences, much like in the movie Gattaca. So this led to my wondering, is it actually possible to grow a human outside the human body?

As said in the video, the type of science that is working on developing this process is called eugenics. The purpose of eugenics is to try and enhance the genetic makeup of humans. The term itself was first coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton. Since then, the field has continued in their suit of human betterment through genetics.

With this type of science comes a plethora of ethical issues. People are very concerned in terms of genetically altering people and how that would effect people with disabilities. Some are of the opinion that doing this kind of research subjects eugenics_congress_logopeople with disabilities to even more discrimination than they already face. It suggests that people with disabilities are only their disability, and it overlooks all that they can do and the positive impacts that they make on society. It also discourages diversity, which occurs through the regular processes in reproduction. There are arguments on both sides, but either way there is a lot of red tape involved in terms of actually doing anything, as numerous policies have been put in place regulating eugenic experimental applications.

Also, I have seen no studies even suggesting completing such an experiment. Again, this is do to all of the rules and regulations which have been put in place. It seems that the idea of growing humans outside of the human body is strictly a theory, and a pretty out there one at that.

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The Powers of Meditation

Life is stressful; cars break down, people break up, families dispute, accidents happen, and all of


this is inevitable. Additionally, to all of that, people have mental disorders which can exaggerate this stress, add to this stress, and or, make it harder to handle. With mid- terms upon us, as well as the looming deadline for this blog period, and upcoming test, I found myself wondering if there was any way to lessen the effects of stress. Specifically, whether the practice of mindfulness and meditation had any effect on the reduction of one’s stress.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBSR for short, focuses on cognitive awareness which connects the mind and body. This practice has been done for thousands of years, and while it can have spiritual connotations, in recent years it has moved past that when being applied to health and wellness. In this context, it is said to increase one’s awareness of one’s mental processes, and enhance one’s coping abilities.

One study, conducted by Diana Koszycki, Melodie Benger, Jakov Schlik, and Jaques Bradwejn, looked and how MBSR faired in comparison to traditional psychological intervention in regards to patients who suffer from social anxiety disorder. Their experiment involved 40 patients, all of which had said disorder. They were then randomized into two groups, one which received treatment in the form of MSRB session, and the other in the form of a more traditional style therapy session. The results here showed that while MSRB may not be as effective as interventions through therapy sessions, MSRB definitely did have a positive effect on the patients.

I also found a meta-analysis on this topic which analyzed the results of 64 studies. They looked at the effects of MSRB in regards to several illnesses, in regards to coping with the symptoms (including stress).  As a result of all of these studies, the meta-analysis concluded that there is a basis for saying that meditation and mindfulness can improve one’s physical and mental health, but there is also a need for more research to better back this claim, and understand it in terms of having more specific applications.

brainharvardmeditation-657x360Based on these studies, while more research is needed, thus far, the null hypothesis, that mindfulness and meditation does not affect one’s stress reduction, was rejected. It can be concluded that through the practice of mindfulness based stress reduction, one’s stress is actually reduced. So next time you are stressing, like when trying to submit all of these blogs on time, take a minute to meditate, reflect, and refocus, because it really does make you feel better.

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Just Breathe…


Just breathe. These two words are often uttered during times of emotional distress. Whether someone is hyperventilating, sobbing, or simply stressed, the go to method for calming oneself down is taking deep breaths. But is this something that people do just because it is something people have done, or is there a scientific reason for why we are advised to take deep breaths in stressful situations?


In order to understand whether or not the deep breathing has a positive, calming effect on people when under stress, we first need to understand what is occurring in our brains during these times. When put in a stressful situation, or a time of perceived danger, the brain is signaled, by visual and auditory cues. These cues are interpreted by the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for emotional processing. Fun side bar, parts of the Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out” took place here. I digress, once the amygdala interprets the cues, it in turn signals a different part of the brain, the hypothalamus.

vector illustration of the brain's limbic system

vector illustration of the brain’s limbic system

The hypothalamus acts as a modem for communication. Working primarily through the autonomic nerve system, it is responsible for many of our involuntary bodily functions, i.e. the ones we do not consciously control, blood pressure regulation would be one example of this. In relation to our body’s response to stress, once the hypothalamus is signaled, it does two things. First, it signals the autonomic nerve system to trigger a release of epinephrine (adrenaline), via the adrenal glands, into the bloodstream. This release of adrenaline results in a person experiencing elevated pulse and heart rate, as well as rapidness of breadth. Other senses may be heightened as well. Then, once those effects begin to wear off, the second phase of the body’s stress response is activated. This backup response is called the HPA axis.  Its purpose is to keep that state of heightened awareness caused by the initial response of the hypothalamus going. It does so through the use of various hormone releases. After the situation which caused this response passes, the parasympathetic nervous system halts the response, and you start to regress back to your original state.

Like the body’s natural stress response, it has a relaxation response as well. This occurs at the end of the stress response with the triggering of the parasympathetic nerve system.  Deep breathing helps stimulate this nerve system. The relaxation response alters the body’s response to stress. It does so in a myriad of ways. Immediately after one begins to breathe deeply, the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and muscles relax. Therefore, calming oneself. It is key however, that when one is practicing these deep breaths, that they are true, deep abdominal breaths. Continuing to breathe shallowly will not have the same effect to trigger the relaxation response.


So as it turns out, when given the advice to “just breathe” when you are stressed, do not just shrug it off and ignore them. It actually helps and will rapidly improve your physical state. Don’t stay stressed, just breathe.

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