Author Archives: Michael Robert Szawaluk

Bent bristles? Might be time to change your toothbrush

How many times a day do you brush your teeth? Maybe the question should be how many times a week do you brush your teeth?  Some people are obsessed with brushing some use gum as an alternative. What should be true is that everyone owns a toothbrush! The age of that brush might not be something you think about often. I do, but only because my aunt was a dental hygienist and a staple gift from her is a toothbrush with a note that reads, “time to change your brush”. Yes, every holiday and birthday (thankfully, that is not all she gives me). I always change my brush but only because one is given to me and I don’t have to think about it.

Studies debate that the effectiveness of toothbrush bristles reduces over time with continued use. Is that true? How often should a toothbrush really be changed?

Null Hypothesis: If one person doesn’t change their toothbrush periodically after using it twice daily, and another person does change their toothbrush periodically after using it twice daily, there is no difference in the formulation of plaque on their teeth.

Alternate Hypothesis: If one person doesn’t change their toothbrush periodically after using it twice daily, and another person does change their toothbrush periodically after using it twice daily, the person who doesn’t change their toothbrush will accumulate more plaque on their teeth.



I feel compelled to first talk about toothbrush cleanliness. This post, published by healthcloud, shares some gross points about how we store our toothbrushes and the potential bacteria buildup, depending on our practices. It also shares how to reduce bacteria build-up. One of them is to not store your toothbrush in a closed container and to be sure it dries out before your next use (I bet many of us do use toothbrush containers since it hard to store your toothbrush in the dorm rooms!). It also suggests replacing toothbrushes every 2-4 months, supporting the alternate hypothesis.


In an article published by Europe PubMed, PubMed, 2 independent studies were conducted to determine the effectiveness of a worn toothbrush versus a new one in removing plaque from teeth.  The subjects were asked to brush 2 times a day for 3 months using an assigned toothbrush. The subjects’ teeth were examined prior to the tests, which was conducted for 1 week. Note: Plaque hardens into tartar in 48 hours.

Study 1 assessed manual toothbrushes and required subjects to brush for one minute, 2 times a day, with either the brush used for 3 months or a new brush provided. Study 2 assessed battery operated toothbrushes and required subjects to brush for 2 minutes, 2 times a day, with either the brush used for 3 months or a new brush provided. Subjects for both tests who were picked for new brushes were selected randomly. The conclusion reached for both studies was that plaque removal was significantly more for those using new brushes when compared to used brushes with worn bristles. Results did show that in some instances, plague scores for whole-mouth assessment for plague was not significant but was significant in approximal sites, or locations where adjacent teeth contact each other.

Confounding variables for these studies could be the amount of times subjects truly brushed their teeth during the three-month pre-test period and the testing period. If brushing did not take place as instructed, most likely the results would be even stronger as wear on the brushes would be greater.

Another Study, published by the Journal of Periodontology, was conducted using preclinical dental students. This study was more precise and the 40 subjects were tested so that none of them had any plaque on their teeth at the beginning of the study. They were divided into 2 groups with the first group using the same toothbrush for 10 weeks. The second group was given a new toothbrush to use every two weeks for the same 10 weeks. The conclusion was that those who used the same toothbrush for the 10-week period had developed significantly more plaque than the group who changed their brushes.


There is strong evidence in support of changing a toothbrush, periodically, to prevent plaque buildup. This rejects the null hypothesis and supports the alternate hypothesis. With regular use, the bristles of a toothbrush separate and become worn, rendering it less effective. Recommendations for replacement time vary. The third study reviewed replaced brushes every 2 weeks, which doesn’t seem reasonable or cost effective, especially for college students. I did search for a while to find the general recommendation, which I conclude is every 3 months. It really depends on how you store your toothbrush and how often you brush. Certainly, if it looks worn, replace it!


A topic for another blog would be about HOW we brush our teeth.  I saw this photo during my research and had to add it since Andrew mentioned in class the lack of evidence concerning the benefits of brushing your tongue. Everything I have read so far agrees with that conclusion. Most indicated that the benefit of brushing your tongue is to reduce bad breath – helpful tip!



Google Scholars: healthcloud  What’s on your toothbrush?

 Google Scholars: Europe PMC  An investigation into the effect of three months’ clinical wear on toothbrush efficacy: results from two independent studies.

 Note: reference on tartar creation

 Google Scholars: Wiley Online Library, Journal of Periodontology

Toothbrush age and wear as it relates to plaque control


Photo 1 source

Photo 2 Source



Drop a pint, it might save your life!

My last blog, Annual physical exams…are they really necessary?, prompted me to write this one. In that blog, I suggested that donating blood could be a good substitute for routine screening normally conducted in a doctor’s office for; weight, iron level, blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. Added to that list is that donated blood is tested for West Nile virus, Syphilis, Hep B & C and HIV among others. Donors are notified if their blood tests positive for any of the tests conducted.

In high school, I sponsored several blood drives. I was l looking for a volunteer opportunity and landed on blood drives because, at the time, my Grandfather was awaiting a heart transplant. Thankfully, he got one and two years later he is still with us. I spent a lot of time in the hospital around that time and became aware of the desperate need for blood, every day. The blood drives were my way of helping a little, but, I also learned quite a bit. That said, I never looked at donating blood in terms of benefits to the donor, other than learning the results of one’s screening tests. I researched the topic and discovered that donating whole blood can reduce the amount of iron in our systems, which may reduce risk associated with cardiovascular events. Such an event can cause damage to the heart muscle. This would certainly be a good reason to donate whole blood, but is it proven?

Null hypothesis: Donating whole blood does not effect levels of iron in your system nor reduce cardiovascular events.

Alternate Hypothesis: If you donate whole blood, you will reduce the amount of iron in your body, thus reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.



This article provides a good overview of several benefits of donating blood all resulting from reduced levels of iron in the body. It suggests that lower levels of iron reduces risks associated with liver and heart ailments, cancer and hemochromatosis, which is a genetic disorder caused by iron overload.


Source: Photo 1


I then found this retrospective cohort study of donor activity over a three-year period for two groups. The first group, consisting of 1508 subjects, donated only one unit of blood in that timeframe. The second group, also consisting of 1508 subjects, donated more than one unit of blood each year, over the 3-year period. The subjects were matched for gender and age. Medical records as well as a common questionnaire were utilized to determine medical developments for the subjects 10 years after the study period. 2104 subjects remained in the study for evaluation which concluded that the subjects who gave more frequently had fewer cardiovascular events, were less likely to be taking medication and weighed less than the subjects who donated blood less frequently.

A research article published by the British Medical Journal compared 40 years and older males, with no known heart ailments. A total of 3,855 subjects initially participated; 655 were whole blood donors and 3200 were non-donors. All the subjects had varying education levels, non-cardio ailments and levels of activity. At the final assessment, 2,966 participants remained in the study. Cardiovascular events were reported for 64 donors (only non-smokers were included) and 567 non-donors resulting in a 95% confidence level that whole blood donation may reduce iron in the blood thus reducing potential cardiovascular events. This study did suggest additional clinical trials as a follow through for confirmation.


While I believe more robust studies are needed to solidify evidence of reduce heart ailments because of donating whole blood, the evidence provided is certainly convincing enough for me to continue to donate and potentially change the frequency of my blood donations. Take a look at the BLOOD FACTS below. If these studies don’t convince you to donate, the facts listed below should be convincing enough for you to consider donating as well!

Blood Facts:

  • Red Blood Cells have a shelf life of about 35 days.
  • Each blood donation is tested for HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Syphilis, West Nile Virus and other infectious agents.
  • Testing requires 24 hours.
  • Every 5 seconds someone needs blood, a friend, a family member or maybe even you.
  • Less than 5%of the population donates blood, yet 80% of the population needs blood.
  • Nearly 4 millionAmericans would die each year without life-saving blood transfusions.
  • An estimated 109,500 Americans will be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma this year.
A bone marrow recipient
needs up to 20 units of red blood cellsand 120 units of platelets.
An automobile accident victim
needs up to 50 units of red blood cells.
A sickle cell anemia patient
needs up to 14 units or red blood cellsper treatment.
A cancer patient
needs up to 8 units of platelets per week.
A heart surgery patient
needs up to 6 units of red blood cellsand 6 units of platelets.
An organ transplant recipient
needs 30 units of platelets and 25 units of plasma.


Organic Facts: Health Benefits of Blood Donation

Study #1: Google Scholars: Wiley Online Library:

Google Scholars: BMJ – British Medical Journal

Community Blood Services: Blood Facts – DID YOU KNOW?



Annual physical exams…are they really necessary?

I hate going to the doctor’s office.  The truth is that I just don’t like getting shots (odd, because I don’t mind giving blood) and almost every year through grammar school and high school the annual visit included a shot for a vaccine or the flu shot. Before coming to Happy Valley, I had to go to the office so I could receive the Meningococcal vaccine, the one required if you live on campus. Just the name of that vaccine makes me shiver. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled when I had to go back for a flu shot, during the Thanksgiving break. When we were leaving the nurse at the counter asked about making an annual checkup appointment. Really, still? I started thinking about why we get an annual physical. Sure, if you are a child who needs vaccines or play on an organized sports team and need clearance to play, you should go to the doctor annually. Annual visits to the doctor may be warranted for people over fifty as well.  But if you are a heathy adult, it seems unnecessary.

Null Hypothesis: Annual physicals are a necessary preventative measure for healthy adults.

Alternative Hypothesis: There is no need for an annual physical if you are a healthy adult.

Annual physical exams were endorsed by the American Medical Association in 1922 and have become part of a routine, for many, as a preventative measure and, for some, a reassurance that they are healthy. Routine physical exams normally include; a Q&A about general health, allergies, surgery and habits such as alcohol intake, tobacco use and frequency of exercise. They may also include urine tests and blood work and usually provide for temperature, blood pressure, pulse and examinations of your throat and ears.


In an article by U.S. News Health Care, the question of the need for a yearly exam is examined and concludes that annual visits to the doctor are not necessary. It suggests that if you are a healthy adult, visiting a doctor every 5 years would be reasonable. To support this conclusion, a study, by the Cochrane Collaboration, was referenced. This study analyzed results from 14 trials which included approximately 183,000 participants. The analysis showed that there was no effect on risk of death associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease or illness. One trial did detect an increase in cholesterol and high blood pressure, however, the analysis concluded that these patients may have already been suspected of high risk in these areas. Lastly, the trials were determined to have not influenced increased visits to doctors, work absences, disability claims or hospital admissions although, the data was vague and could be subject to the File Drawer Problem, Andrew discussed in class.



This Harvard Health Publication blog supports the elimination of routine annual visits stating that the visits do not stop you from getting sick nor prevent death. It states that, statistically speaking, tests ordered on healthy people produce false positive results identifying problems that don’t exist. It concludes that the emotional, financial and resource costs to conduct these tests are enormous and should be redirected to those truly in need. It suggests that online surveys and rigorous preventative steps by individuals can replace annual visits. This report references an article posted in the The New England Journal of Medicine which also provides convincing arguments to change the annual routine and consider visits based on evidence rather than the calendar. It agrees that false positive testing can do more harm than good and wastes a lot of everybody’s time.

Alternatives to annual physicals

WebMD documents when to get screened for the detection of particular ailments. It suggests, for instance, a cholesterol test every 4-6 years and a colonoscopy starting at 50 years old. Mammograms for women at 40 years old are recommended and blood sugar tests for those overweight should be considered. Of course, if you are predisposed to certain ailments or have a family history of disease, screening is warranted.


The research presented disproves the null hypothesis and accepts the alternate hypothesis that annual physicals are not necessary for healthy adults. During high school, I sponsored several blood drives. Since arriving at college, I have donated blood. When you donate blood, you are screened for a variety of things such as; weight, iron level, blood pressure, temperature, and pulse and you are asked to complete a lengthy questionnaire about your current health, travel, surgeries and habits.  Sounds a lot like a routine physical to me and it is free! So, if you don’t have time to get to the doctor’s office, you can’t afford it or you just want to be a good person, donate blood and get a mini check-up for free!

Picture sources:×647/quality/85/?url=%2Fcmsmedia%2F74%2Ff0%2F5157150e4b7d8e55bbb0cb911c4f%2F140529-doctorexam-stock.jpg


Physical Exam:

U.S. News Health Care:

Study: Cochrane Collaboration:

Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School:

The New England Journal of Medicine: Improving Value in Health Care – Against the Annual Physical:

Webmd Screening timelines:

Screened (blood donation):

Don’t use birth order as an excuse, you’d be wrong!

I was born the second son and older brother to my sisters, fraternal twins, who are two years younger than I, in a family of four children. Sometimes I wonder if my life would have been different as the oldest, the youngest or even as an only child, which, on occasion, I would have preferred. The latter would have been my preference during this recent school break at home as I just needed to sleep, have some quiet time and get school work done. It is hard to meet any of those needs with my family of 6 people. There is always someone in the bathroom when you want to use it, someone playing the television or talking too loudly, specifically when I am on the verge of thinking of a great blog idea!

My parents have referred to me as the middle child, even though there are four of us, because my younger sisters are twins. In terms of birth order, I am in the middle so I can understand the categorization. I came across the chart below and started thinking about my personality and that of my siblings. While each of us resemble the descriptions for our birth order, any one of us can check off certain characteristics in the other categories as well.  That led me to my hypothesis; Birth order doesn’t drive personality traits since we are all individuals with different likes, needs and desires.


Picture source:

A study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, used a compilation of data for approximately 20,000 subjects representing people from Germany (10,457), America (5,240), and Great Britain (4,489). Given the size of the sample, the results were considered statistically significant. The analysis assessed the subjects in the same families and between different families. It evaluated the subjects with specific assessment for what are considered the big five personality traits:

  • Openness – being imaginative and willing to try new experiences
  • Conscientiousness – being reliable, organized, methodical and a planner.
  • Extraversion – being energetic, talkative, assertive.
  • Agreeableness – being friendly, kind, sympathetic and compassionate.
  • Neuroticism – emotionally unstable, moody, tense, worrier.

Confounding variables considered in this study included; family size (family size of more than 4 siblings were excluded), age disparity of siblings, socioeconomic status and genetic susceptibility.

This study was conducted to determine if birth order defines the direction a person takes in life. It described and refuted the early studies that originated the birth order theory. Francis Galton conducted a narrow study of first-borns in 1874, concluding parental favoritism drove intellectual superiority.  Alfred Adler defined the birth order theory in the early 1900s, suggesting that personality is influenced by such order. Finally, the Family Niche Theory, produced by Frank Sulloway, in 1996, was reviewed but dismissed because of the limited sampling of only one sibling per family and a subject self-rating model of themselves and their own siblings.

The research conducted for the study was independent, robust and thorough. It reflected consistent, proven results of broad analyses and data. It claims to have achieved a power of 95%, which translates to a mere 5% potential impact on our lives, driven by birth order. I believe that this topic fits the framework of correlation does not imply causation topic that Andrew shared in class.


This credible and statistically significant study determined that, intellect aside, there is no lasting effect on the big five personality traits, because of birth order. I must admit that the data presented was a bit intimidating to dissect, but after reading through it a couple of times, I think it makes logical sense. In my research, I came across this personality test. It is free and claims to be reliable. It might be an interesting test to do with family members over the winter break!


Study: Examining the effects of birth order on personality:

The Big Five Factors:

Personality test:

Bumpy Knees

I was one of the smallest kids in my grade up until high school. Over the year between my thirteenth and fourteenth birthdays, I grew about 6 inches. I slept a lot that year and had a lot of pain in my legs, especially around my knees. I played basketball and baseball and my legs hurt, especially after practices and games. The pain was so bad that year that I went to see the doctor, whose diagnosis was that I had Osgood-Schlatter Disease (OSD). The recommended therapy was to ice my knees, take over the counter pain relievers and reduce or stop sport activities. This led me to conclude that all young athletes, especially ones who have a significant growth spurt, will develop OSD.


Both Dr. Robert Osgood and Dr. Carl Schlatter described the disease, hence, the name.  According to an  article published by James R Gregory, MD, OSD is caused by persistent stress on tendons and muscles surrounding the tibial tuberosity, or the oblong part on the top of the tibia, or shinbone. As per a Mayo Clinic Publication, the disease occurs mostly in boys from the ages of thirteen to fourteen years old and girls from eleven to twelve years old and is worsened by jumping activities such as; gymnastics, running, basketball, soccer, ballet and volleyball. Basically, the pain results from the stretching of the tendons and muscles around bones growing at a faster pace, specifically around the knees. It mostly impacts the Patellar tendon which runs from the thigh and connects to the tibia. If the condition is very bad, the Patellar tendon can pull away from the tibia, called avulsion or separation, causing more bone to grow on the tibial tuberosity; resulting in a noticeable and permanent bump just below the knee cap. This bump represents the result of the body repairing itself. The disease can present itself in both knees and can last as little as weeks or up to months, as it did in my case. It does cease at the point adolescent growth stops. This is a helpful video to describe the disease.osgood-2osgood-1


A BioMechanics publication, referenced an injuries audit for youth football, which concluded that only one of twenty child athletes, aged eleven to thirteen showed signs of OSD. Another study, reported in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, stated that of 193 student athletes who participated in a survey, only 21.2% or 41 of them had shown any signs of OSD.

Another study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, was primarily conducted to assess body types of athletes to determine risk factors for OSD. The study assessed 300 knees of 150 players and established a testing group of 70 knees. One year after the initial observation, 10 knees with OSD or 14.3% were compared with the 60 without OSD to determine variabilities in muscles, weight and strength. This study concluded that methods for stretching could be taught to aid players.

While these studies reported that not all athletes were afflicted by OSD, it was not specifically stated that all the athletes had experienced extreme growth-spurts. The one interesting thing I did come across is that doctors and scientist do not know why bones grow faster than tendons and muscles in some or all adolescents. OSD represents the effects after stress to the impacted area occurs. None of the research I reviewed concluded why it happens, similar to Andrew’s 11/8/2016 lesson about the uncertainty of science.

In conclusion, the studies do show that not all young athletes suffer from Osgood-Schlatter Disease. For those that do suffer from it, the good news is that is stops once a growth spurt ends. Most young people with OSD are able to continue playing sports, however, in severe cases, it is recommended that a break be taken from activities such as jumping and running. Stretching and strengthening exercises may help relieve some of the pain while keeping the area fit. These exercises focus on the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. The bad news is that the damage is oftentimes done. My bumpy knees are a good example of that.

Picture 1 source:

Picture 2 source


Picture 3 source

Sources: “Video”

Asleep in 4-7-8?

I sometimes find it hard to fall asleep at night. My mind can race thinking about the events of the day, an upcoming test or a blog that needs to be written.  It doesn’t help matters when I stay up late and have had a cup or two of coffee and have eaten whatever sugary snack that was within reach. Not being able to settle your mind can lead to sleepless nights, tossing and turning in search of rest.  Some people believe white noise can help. Others use sleep aids such as eye masks and body pillows, melatonin or the more extreme sleep aids like Unisom or ZzzQuil.  A friend of mine told me about a breathing technique called the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise or The Relaxing Breath when I complained about not being able to fall asleep. I was skeptical and wanted to know, is it proven that you can fall asleep by just following this breathing routine?


I first set out to understand exactly how to conduct this breathing exercise.  The 4-7-8 technique was created by Harvard trained medical doctor, Dr. Andrew Weil. He believes that the routine allows your body to relax and create a state of calm, naturally.  He has referenced it as a form of Yoga and has created a video to demonstrate the use of the technique as shown here Dr Weil 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise.

This method of breathing has been compared to pranayama, which is a yoga technique for meditative breathing. A researcher at Brown University, Aaron Berard, was asked to opine on the breathing method as a means to induce sleep. His conclusion was that the method was clearly a form of meditation but that there was no direct link to an absolute means to sleep. Aaron Berard commentary. Dr. Weil has referenced a research paper entitled: Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers This study concluded that autonomic functions, such as respiratory rate and heart rate, were improved in slow breathing exercises.

As said earlier, the 4-7-8 breathing technique relaxes the whole nervous system in a way of extreme relaxation. Being relaxed before you go to sleep is very important because you will most likely find it easier to fall asleep. This technique is able to be used every day multiple times a day.  Now, keep in mind that in order for this exercise to work, you must train your lungs over time. Practice makes perfect, but then again it just might not be for you. There have been numerous studies outlining how mediation can affect your sleeping patterns and bodily functions. Overall, these studies have concluded numerous things except that mediation will put you to sleep, but have stated that mediation is directly correlated to activating brain stimulation by allowing more oxygen to the brain which in turn effects the mental and physical state in a positive way at which we sleep.



There is no scientific proof that the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise will make you fall asleep.  For me, I find that it works to calm me down and relax while I focus on the breathing technique.  By counting in my head and focusing on my breath, other thoughts are allowed to escape.  While the technique might not be a scientifically proven method for sleep, it is simple, quick, doesn’t cost anything and it works for me – why not give it a try!



Does lightning strike twice in the same place?

I have always enjoyed a strong rainstorm and I still get a bit excited when I see lightning and hear the roar of the thunder that follows. Lightning is an incredible spectacle. It gives me a bit of a thrill, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. Lightning can also be a frightening occurrence. Many have been comforted by an old saying that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, but is that true?


When I was younger and my siblings and I were outside, I can remember my mother calling us in if a storm was starting. She was always worried about lightning, having seen a tree struck and damaged badly, when she was a child.  She would tell us to never go under a tree during a lightning storm and to get in a car, if we couldn’t make it to safety. She explained that the rubber tires on the car would be the grounding conduit for the lightning so we wouldn’t be harmed.



What exactly is lightning? Lightning is an electrical spark created when positive and negative charges within clouds build up to such a capacity that air breaks down and discharges the electricity. Lightning actually strikes from both the sky and the ground. The lightning strike we see is the negative electrical current from the ground. The place, where the negative current strikes, sends a positive electrical channel back up into the clouds. Also, lightning looks like a single bolt, but it really is a series of short bursts that occur in less than a second and is less than two inches wide. See a more in-depth explanation of lightning here by watching a National Geographic video of The Science of Lightning.


The old saying that lightning never strikes the same place twice is just not true. There are actually three answers I will provide as evidence that the saying is a myth. The first answer is that lightning most definitely can strikes the same exact place twice. In fact, there is recorded evidence of the same structure being hit multiple times over the course of one storm and over time through numerous storms. In Chicago, the Sears Tower was struck 10 times. A TV tower in West Virginia was struck 50 times – see that video proof from a professional storm chaser  here.  Clearly, lightning is drawn to the tallest point in an area, such as skyscrapers and television towers.

The second answer is that some single flashes of lightning actually strike in multiple places. A study funded by NASA described here, recorded that 35 percent of flashes captured in their sample had two or more strike points.

The third answer is not scientific at all, but it too, is not true. The idiom, lightning never strikes twice, can be interpreted to mean that the same, highly unlikely occurrence of bad luck or misfortune will not happen twice to the same person. Unfortunately, this is just not true as possibly some of you already know.


The final analysis is that lightning most certainly can and does strike twice in the same place.  It can strike anything twice and is most definitely more drawn to the highest point. A single bolt of lightning can strike multiple times and, sadly, misfortune can come to people more often than once!  One last note, my mother wasn’t quite correct when she said the rubber on the tires of a car is what grounds the lightning. It is actually the metal frame of the vehicle that directs the currents of lightning to the ground.  I will be calling home tonight to let her know.





Why does the hair on all other parts of your body stay short, while the hair on your head can grow very long?

The question of hair in general has always intrigued me, well, truthfully, it has often grossed me out, quite frankly. I come from a rather large family with one older brother and younger twin sisters.  We all shared one bathroom growing up and I was disgusted when I took a shower after my sisters, who have very long hair. The drain was constantly filled with masses of hair that they left behind for me to clean. As you may imagine, there were many screaming matches that ensued. Too Much Information possibly, but cleaning out hair that is more than 12 inches in length is just too much to handle early in the morning. So, why does hair on all other parts of your body stay short, while the hair on your head can grow very long?


I’ll start with a few fun facts about hair provided by the American Academy of Dermatology How Hair Grows are; that the only places hair doesn’t grow on our bodies are the soles of our feet and the palms of our hands; hair you can see is actually dead, which is why you don’t feel pain when you get your haircut; and, we lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hairs a day!


To get to the answer to the question, it is important to first understand the science in hair growth. Every human is born with about 5 million hair follicles, the small cavities from which hair reaches the surface of our skin. Anagen, defined here, is the growth cycle and the first phase of hair growth. It occurs when blood flow enters into the hair follicle and feeds oxygen to stem cells.  When these stem cells divide they form keratinocytes, defined here, which are the building blocks for the root of a hair. As keratinocytes continue to divide and push towards the surface of the skin, they die and form keratin, defined here, which is the protein that holds a strand of hair together. This process continues until the strand, which is then dead, pops through the follicle to the surface of your skin. The second phase of hair growth is called Catagen, defined here, or the regression phase, which lasts for up to two weeks. About 3% of our hair is in this phase at all times. In this phase, the blood supply gets cut off at the bottom of the follicle which stops the creation of keratinocytes. This phase stops the growth of hair in that follicle and the follicle shrinks and pushes the strand to the surface. The third phase is called Telogen, defined here, or the resting phase in which hair does not grow any further. About 8% of our hair is in this phase at all times. It is in this phase that the hair that can be seen above the skin falls out. This is the phase in which we lose those 50-100 strands of hair per day.


The answer to the question of why does the hair on all other parts of your body stay short, while the hair on your head can grow very long is in the Anagen, or the first phase of hair growth. Hair grows at a rate of about 1 cm every 28 days.  The hair on our heads grows continually for 2 to 6 years in this phase as compared to other parts of our body like our eyebrows, eyelashes, arms and legs, which only grow for up to 45 days. Interestingly, hair on different parts of our bodies grow at different rates per month. For example, eyebrows grow at a rate of only 4.2mm per month.

In conclusion, scientists have figured out the way in which hair grows and the speed in which grows. They are, however, still trying to conclude how the Anagen phase is driven for each body part.  Genetics play a role to some degree distinguished by different hair types. Chemical growth signals directed by stem cells in the skin is the most current determination as to how our hair grows. While we might not know exactly how each body part knows not to allow hair to grow too long, we can all be thankful that certain areas don’t grow hair like the hair on our scalps.







Do Twinkies Last Forever?

I just want to start off by saying, I LOVE TWINKIES. Ever since I had my first one they have always been my guilty pleasure. Sure, they aren’t the best food you can eat, but they aren’t the worst. Wait…maybe they are. I’m sure you have all heard of shelf life- or the amount of time a food remains usable for consumption, and I very sure most of you have heard that Twinkies can last anywhere from 50-100 years.  Even though that discussion is still in the midst of debate we can confidently say that numerous rumors have gone around the Hostess Company and how their products are made.



The Hostess Twinkie is believed to be made up of all artificial ingredients; meaning that literally no real food products are in a Twinkie. Because this so called chemically produced snack food has created many rumors and myths, some people have gone so far as to say that a Twinkie can remain fresh and edible even through a nuclear war. There have been many claims regarding the shelf-life of these beloved yellow sponge cakes. The urban legend that Twinkies can last forever was sparked by a teacher who claimed that a Twinkie still “looked” good enough to be eaten even after 30 years in a classroom. To go even farther, people have claimed that this “baked good” is not even baked. They believe that some magic chemical poofs up a substance that is then colored brown to provide the appearance of baked cake.



The myth has been debunked. Twinkies are, in fact, made with several “real” ingredients such as sugar, flour, eggs and canola oil. However, they are made with some not so appealing artificial ingredients, as well, such as chemical stabilizers, artificial flavorings, and numerous preservatives. The shelf life of approximately 25 days for Twinkies is, in fact, extended because the product does not include extensive dairy ingredients. This extended shelf life is due to those stabilizers that slow down the rate at which Twinkies spoil. Even though the ingredients in Twinkies slow down the time it takes for it to spoil, it will still go bad.


As we saw with the Twinkie in the classroom for 30 years, a Twinkie can survive a long time, it did turn a gray diminished color. In another case, a high school student back in 1980 decided to put a time capsule in the ground by the school, which included a Twinkie. He recovered the capsule during his 22-year school reunion and the long-awaited results were revealed. Inside the time capsule, along with the Twinkie, was a magazine, an American flag, and a t-shirt, to name a few. Too much surprise, the Twinkie, the only food item in the capsule, turned out to be in the best shape. Even though it was most likely not edible, the form, sponge, and cream of the Twinkie remained recognizably similar. In this article, the author goes on to explain how unenthusiastic they were to ever eat another Twinkie again.

Now the real question is: After reading this information, would you still consider eating a Twinkie? For me, the short answer is yes! Although I must admit after doing the research and carefully reading the ingredients on the package I certainly won’t be so quick to grab one over another, healthier snack. Hostess produces around 500 million Twinkies each year, so, clearly it can be said with confidence that Americans are not turned off by the rumors about and the experiments conducted on the golden cream cakes. However, my advice to you when you need a sugar boost would be to grab an apple.





Are Redheads a Dying Breed?

I come from a family of redheads so it has been a topic at family gathering for as long as I can remember. My Grandmother is strawberry blonde and so is her daughter, who is my mother. My uncle, my mother’s brother, and his wife have 2 children with red hair. My cousin, on my father’s side, has auburn hair, which is reddish brown in color. She has a daughter with red hair. Needless to say, I have heard all the gene pool conversations since I was a little kid.

I should start by saying that, yes, my family has roots (no pun intended) in Scotland or Ireland. Most have been in America since the 1800s, but heredity is a critical factor. It has been stated that a variant of the red-hair gene originated in Europe 30,000 years ago. While up to 6% of northwestern Europeans have red hair, upwards of 13% of the population in Scotland claim fiery locks and over 30% carry the gene. The Scots beat the Irish, who have around 10% of their population as redheads but the Irish have the lead in carriers with nearly 50%!


My uncle was the first one I ever heard say that redheads would become extinct in the 21st century.  I honestly think he was obsessed by articles he read that were released in 2005 and 2007 because he was the proud father of two gingers.  He is blonde and his wife is brunette but the mutated gene, called the MC1R, scientifically named melanocortin-1 receptor, is a recessive trait and it takes both parents to pass it on.  In my aunt and uncle’s case, both of their mothers’ are redheads. Recessive genes can skip a generation, as it was for them. genepoolred

The human gene pool doesn’t include very many red hair genes.

So, are redheads really becoming extinct? The answer is NO! The answer is that simple but the math behind it isn’t. The calculations created by Dr. Barry Starr, from Stanford University, in 2014, could make any carrot top’s head spin! In short, the belief is that approximately 1% of the world’s population is a redhead. That puts the number of redheads at about 70 million, not a number likely to become extinct any time soon. According to the article, which uses the Hardy-Weinberg equation, carriers near the 300 million mark and will serve to procreate gingers for a long time to come.

Some believe the hype was started by companies who produce hair dye. Maybe the myth was started by people just jealous of those with the unique hair color or they wanted a nickname similar to ones the copper tops receive -something cool like Flame, Firecracker, Big Red, Rusty or Ginga. Regardless of where it originated, there is certainly enough scientific proof that redheads will be around for centuries to come. I know the topic won’t die around my family’s dinner table!


My cousins



CULVER CITY, CA - DECEMBER 04: Conan O'Brien attends Children's Defense Fund's 24th annual Beat The Odds Awards at The Book Bindery on December 4, 2014 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

Conan O’Brienchuckie_finster

Chuckie Finster from “The Rugrats”


Links for Pictures:

Cousins: Family Pictures



Are Poker Players Geniuses?

You have in your hand the 7 of diamonds and the 2 of clubs all in against another player with pocket queens debating whether or not to call, are you going to win or bust out? In poker, there are many aspects that are involved including, risk, lucky, demeanor, and strategy, but perhaps the most important skill set to have is statistics. Yes, you can know that the probability of flopping 4 of a kind is extremely low, but do you know your odds of catching that single 8 of hearts on the river while knowing you have one in your hand but not knowing who else has one or if it has already been discarded? Poker, Texas Hold’em specifically, to me is perhaps the most exhilarating sport out there. While it takes absolutely no athletic ability, it takes a special brain to become one of the best. I used to play poker with my high school buddies every weekend and, honestly, it was the most fun we had together. Since I like math a decent amount I found myself reading up on the statistics of each hand you are dealt. What I found most intriguing however was the fact that you can win the hand by not necessarily knowing your odds, but by bluffing. I like to consider poker greats such as Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Ivey, just to name a few, absolute geniuses. Poker
Poker is a game of serious concentration and manipulation. You can be thrown off a hand with such easy by a better player when is reality you have the better hand. In other words, being a “Poker Genius” is all about your brain.
Watch this video to see exactly what I am talking about:

To be able to memorizes hundreds of statistics they you must incorporate into the game within seconds takes a fully developed awareness of your surroundings and tremendous focus. Here is what I’m taking about when I say poker is all about statistics.

Poker is all about how you play the game. You must learn to be in control of your hand and learn how to control other players hand to your benefit. The best poker players in the world can do this without even thinking. They are manipulative geniuses who are hardly ever wrong. I would definitely consider professional poker players geniuses.




Should I take a language?

If you are anything like me, taking Spanish in high school was equivalent to trying to get a newborn to talk. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t try it was that I it just seemed so “foreign”. My Spanish classes in high school were me sitting in class for 50 minutes starring at the teacher trying to think of what she was saying.  However, I managed to take four years of Spanish but still ultimately only developed the skill set of what a 5 year old in a Spanish speaking country has. I was inspired to write about this because I recently went on a service trip to the Dominican Republic, and NO ONE spoke any English. So you could imagine the struggle.Ron
I have always heard that learning another language such as Spanish or Mandarin or even Arabic can be the difference between you or someone else getting a job. Knowing how to speak another language 100% creates advantages for you in the workforce especially in business. According to a U.S. News and World Report, learning another language for business purposes can not only open up different career paths for you, but lead to an increase in pay as well. In addition, learning another language can increase your overall general intelligence. A new study, as illustrated in ScienceDaily, state thats learning a second language at a young age can change the shape of the brain which results in enhanced memory and intelligence moving forward in life.
Companies are looking for employees who can connect with other people on a different level than just whatever business they are in, so learning a new language is a very important skill to have. If you are interested in business, like I am, knowing a second language can globalize your potential to find a job; and that is the ultimate goal for anyone graduating from college.

So next semester when you are debating between a language or jogging class, I strongly advise you to take the language; it will definitely pay off.


“The One”

Going to college there is a lot to take in and consider like, how you are going to do in your classes, what friends you will meet, how will you adjust to a bigger community and so on. But one that doesn’t seem to be a concern, right now as a freshman, is who you will wind up spending the rest of your life with. Being in past relationships for anyone it is tough to say goodbye or even say that this person is “the one”. As a man, yes I’ll call myself a man now, I usually wouldn’t be so concerned over this matter but I wanted to do some research trying to find out if I could actually meet “the one” at Penn State.
The one
In a USA Today article, it clearly states that even though it was more common to find your spouse on a college campus a few decades ago, it is highly sought after today. Of course you meet many people when you go away to school but finding the right type of person for you can be challenging. Many factors go into this process such as personality, athleticism, intelligence, religion, physical appearance, so basically your overall ideal person, the type that you have always sought after. Finding the right person can definitely differ based on the school you go to. For instance, since Penn State is such a large school you might think it is harder to find someone than say a small local community college.
It is no mystery that people with similar interests and personalities will usually be drawn to each other but sometimes you cannot tell if you are actually clicking on that desired level. If you are anything like me and are terrible with reading other people especially when it comes to relationship interest there are many articles that can help guide you to better understanding how you are feeling; like HERE
On a personal note, based off personally experience and what not, just be yourself. My mom always tells me to just be myself and in reality, being your confident, selfless, fun, personable self is the best way to get through sticky situations not only in relationships but in life. So, if you haven’t met “the one” just yet, don’t worry, that person is out there.


Science? Hard Pass

Hey everyone my name is Mike Szawaluk and I am a freshman from Glen Rock New Jersey, just about 25 minutes outside New York City. I chose to take this course because it was recommended to me by my academic advisor as being a very popular Gen Ed. Although I am not very good at science in general the course description of SC200 really caught my eye because I have always been interested in topics “bigger than science”. As I applied for PSU I wanted to go into Physical Therapy or something along those lines, but my sophomore and senior year in high school I took Chem and Bio and absolutely despised them. After Bio I knew I would not be able to keep up with college level sciences so I have chosen to go down the business path with the intent on being a finance major. I don’t necessarily have a hard time knowing what is going on but have always been more interested in the bigger picture stuff, the stuff that is interesting.
Blog 1 pic SC200

Another reason why I am not pursuing a science major is simply the amount of work. And yes, I know no matter what major I choose there will be an incredible amount of work and studying, but just something about memorizing a bunch of long names just never suited me. I have always been more of a statistics guy, or a sabermetrics guy for all you stoolies out there, and being in a book all the time was just not my thing.

And just like this course, I have always been drawn to obscure science related topics that can be found anywhere. I love playing poker and have gotten pretty good at it since my friends and I used to play all the time. Lets just say that things got heated. And just like some of the creative topics that have been discussed in this class already, the science of poker is a fascinating one. Many think it is a game of luck and that the “house” always wins but it is a game of high skill and intelligence. The science of pokerHERE is a one that goes overlooked.