Author Archives: Shannon Hughes

Free the Whales

My all-time favorite movie since junior year of high school has been a documentary you can find on Netflix called Blackfish. This popular depiction focuses on Sea World and the detrimental effects it has on whales by captivating them. I tried to make my dad watch the documentary with me one night and he refused to. He is by no means an animal hater (his best friend is my dog), but he disagrees with the protesting and media attention that surrounds Sea World these days and thinks the media should focus on more important things. He believes Sea World’s claims: that Blackfish is filled with lies and false propaganda. I decided to write a blog aimed at convincing my dad why the whales in captivity should be set free.

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Blackfish follows the life of the whale Tilikum, a thirty-five year old Orca whale who has been in captivity for most of his life. He has killed three people most notably his trainer, Dawn Brancheau in 2010. While Sea World claimed Dawn knew not to get into the water with the whale, The documentary goes onto explain that Tillikum’s aggressive behavior is due to his claustrophobic environment and CNN reports the suggestion that the whale has some type of mental illness due to his surroundings. Orca whales are known to be communal mammals who travel in pods. Being separated from their families when captured or having captive whales lose their babies to another theme park has proven devastating to the animals and spikes their stress levels. Now an animal’s stress may seem like a joke at first but the WDC explains that when these animals are distressed, they can go into an almost depression-like mode where they refuse to perform in shows or lash out at their trainers.

The whales bodies are distorted as 1% of the wild population of whales have their dorsal fins collapsed where as 100% of captive male whales have a collapsed dorsal fin due to the shallow waters of their environment.

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Tilikum with a collapsed dorsal fin

Now while I do believe whales should not be in captivity, I did find a part of Blackfish that seemed to be completely false. At one point in the documentary, the people narrating it claimed that Sea World’s whales live to thirty years old while in the wild they can live up to eighty years. The documentary then goes onto say that Sea World lies on their show tours and say that the whales live to thirty years on average to cover their reputation. After my own research, I found the whales in the wild have a range of living from 30-70 years and the data is not an average of eighty years as Blackfish suggested

Take Home Message:

Whales suffer immensely in captivity and it should no longer be allowed. Although Sea World has decided to no longer continue their shows, they still are keeping the whales to be observed by the public. However, make sure to always fact-check topics you find interesting. Although I found Blackfish to be very informative, one entire point in their argument proved to be erroneous

OCD…no joke

I am certainly one to make a joke claiming I have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and need to have everything perfect. This behavior however was much more inappropriate than I realized until I decided to research OCD, a topic I THOUGHT, I understood. OCD is in fact a real disorder that people struggle with. Recent media attention has been working to fight the humorous way OCD is regarded in order help raise awareness about what is in fact a serious mental illness. My attention was brought to this topic when just this week, celebrity and my favorite actress Amanda Seyfried revealed her struggle with OCD in an effort to inform the public about this commonly brushed-aside disorder.

What is OCD?

 The International OCD Foundation describes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as a mental illness where a person receives unwanted thoughts and feelings over imperfections and then is compulsed to address them to relieve their meimgresntal state. An obsession can be a fear of dirt and then a person will then feel compulsed to wash themselves repeatedly. Someone who has a fear of making a mistake may feel forced to continuously check their work.

OCD: Nature or Nurture?

OCD was known before its mechanism or its “why.” It originally was believed that low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin was the reason behind the disease. WebMD reports that now, OCD has been discovered to have both a biological and environmental origin. Scientists have found that the mental disease may be due to damage of pathways between judgment and planning sections and the areas that control physical movements.

Harvard Health Publications also reported that getting strep throat could lead to OCD in young children. The antibodies of the infection enter the brain and invades the basal ganglia emotion and motor movements.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can also be triggered by a person’s environment. WebMD explains how abuse, death of a loved one, and school problems can result in OCD behaviors.

How is OCD diagnosed?

OCD can be diagnosed with several steps. A physical exam is necessary to eliminate any other reasons for OCD symptoms. Next, a psychological evaluation is completed where a therapist refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The Mayo Clinic however, expimgres-1lains that it is difficult to diagnose OCD because its symptoms are similar to other mental diseases such as anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.

Takeaway Message:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does not simply mean you need to have a clean room. Those struggling with the disease feel that they have no control of their own thoughts and that they must respond to these unwanted thoughts. It is something that Approximately 3.3 million people in the United States alone struggle with according to UOCD. This research serves as a reminder that Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious illness that should not be joked about.


To Be or Not to Be…Gluten Free

About three years ago began the takeover of the gluten-free diet. It seemed that everyone, including myself, assumed they were allergic to the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and grocery stores began to stock up on low in gluten and high in price foods. Anecdotes from celebrities took over the media, claiming they felt so good and lost so much weight by cutting gluten from their diets. As we learned in class, anecdotes can lead to research of a topic, but do not serve as proof. It seemed this was the way to go to be healthy until doctors said it was not. Very quickly, if you said you were gluten free but did not have the disease that made you gluten intolerant, people were quick to tell images-1you that was no longer the healthy way to live.

So why do people go gluten free diet?

A gluten-free diet is used to treat a genetic disease called Celiac. Celiac is an abnormal immune response to gluten where the body’s small intestine is damaged by the protein and can result in many nutritional deficiencies. Some of the symptoms reported by the Celiac Disease Foundation include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, and irritable moods. Harvard Health Publications claimed that 50 milligrams of the protein, about the size of a crouton, is enough to make someone with celiac very sick. Personally, I became aware of this disease when my best friend has diagnosed with it three years ago. She began to experience incredibly painful stomachaches every time she ate to the point where she would refuse to eat anything. The doctors took a long time to diagnose her as the test for celiac use to be a process of elimination of other diseases. Today, however, they can do a blood test and a biopsy of the intestine.

My friend was found to be extremely allergic to gluten. Now when she goes to a restaurant, she has to ask that any of her food not only be without gluten but also cooked on a pan covered in tinfoil so as to not ingest any gluten from other meals cooked on the same pan. This anecdote suggests how a gluten-free diet is necessary and good for someone with Celiac. WebMD reports that there are several clinical trials testing drugs to treat the disease and research is being done to for a potential vaccine. For now, however, those with celiac must simply cut out the wheat, barley, and rye.

But what about people who are notimgres-1 gluten intolerant?

Because of its exclusion of carbohydrates, the gluten-free diet began to be adopted for weight-loss purposes and those who had no gluten intolerance were all of a sudden cutting it out of their diet. That meant no more beer, donuts, bagels, or soy sauce (yes soy sauce has wheat in it). No longer eating these unhealthy carbs could in fact boost you energy levels and make you lose weight. After hearing about how good my friend felt, I too decided to go gluten free and was so for about six months. The results? Nothing. I replaced Oreos with gluten free Oreos and cut out healthy carbs and grains. This is exactly what doctors are now warning against. By cutting gluten from your diet, you can experience nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamin B found in bread and cereals. Excluding whole wheat means cutting out an already low fiber intake as Americans typically already consume less fiber than recommended.

Take Home Message:

If you do not have Celiac but want to go gluten-free, I believe it can be an effective diet if done properly. I replaced cookies with gluten-free cookies and considered myself healthy when in reality, I was just keeping healthy nutrients from myself. If you go on this diet and it forces you to cut the bad carbs and replace good carbs with healthy substitutes such as rice and quinoa, then I could see it having a beneficial effect for weight loss. The gluten-free diet’s bad rap for those not affected by Celiac comes when people are uninformed about the correct approach for the diet.imgres

Don’t Sleep, Be Happy

Have you ever had that experience where you and your friends are up studying late at night and you hit this wall where you can’t think straight? You all start to giggle at things that are not funny and next thing you know, you are all in the WEIRDEST mood? This state of tired giggles is something I have always heard being called the “Sleepy Ha Ha’s.” It is a mood you can enter where you are ridiculously tired and in desperate need of sleep and you find yourself high on your own exhaustion.

I decided to see if I could find any research done on this very small phenomenon few people have heard of. Although I did not find much information specifically focused on the “Sleepy Ha Ha’s,” I came across several studies that addressed a very interesting thesis: Sleep deprivatsearchion can help ease depression.

This theory was first suggested in the 1970s by researcher Gerald W. Vogel. He compared 14 non-depressed control patients and 14 depressed patients who matched in age and lack of sleep. Vogel than concluded from his results that sleep deprivation, specifically the deprivation of the REM stage of the sleep cycle, improved depression. Today, researches have been able to continuously correlate sleep deprivation and an improvement in depression, however they are still in search of the mechanism.

Recent studies from the Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute of the University of California, Berkeley has begun to form a connection between sleep deprivation and the brain’s ability to release positive stimuli. Glial cells called astrocytes regulate the human brain’s chemical that controls sleep. They release adenosine and as this neurotransmitter builds up, the urge to sleep gets stronger and depression seems to be improved but only temporarily, until the person falls asleep.

To test if sleepiness eases depression, The Translational Physciatry Journal reported how scientists performed an experimental study where they injected mice that had depression-like symptoms with adenosine so although they slept, the mice had an increased amount of the neurotransmitter that created the sleepiness feeling. Once they were awake, it was reported that the mice had an immediate rise in their moods for approximately 48 hours.

Now this study forces me to ask: How do mice have depression-like symptoms? What is beingimages measured to diagnose a mouse with depression? What do researches use to detect an elevation in the mood of a mouse? Although this study at first seemed to create a strong correlation between a build-up of adenosine and relief of depression, one must step back to ask how these researchers concluded the mice were at one point depressed and then were no longer depressed. With such a soft-endpoint, a false positive could easily occur with this study.

Take Home Message: So based on this study alone, should you avoid sleep to ease your depression? I would say no. Although this study may support evidence of the alternative hypothesis, mice and humans are very different and more information on how the researchers measured depression in mice would be necessary. Now, based on the years of research for this thesis, should you avoid sleep? I would say maybe it would be worth asking your doctor about since other scientists have found strong correlations between the two. However, we must keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation, so if it were up to me, I would definitely discuss with professionals.

Does Being Cold = Catching Cold?

Up until high school freshman year physics, I had always listened to my mom’ s advice: put a coat on or your going to get sick. Cold weather and catching the common cold always seemed to be directly related until my physics teacher claimed it was an old wives tale with little science to support it. From then on, I blindly accepted that cold weather does not lead to you getting sick and that leaving the house without a coat would only cause temporary chilliness and no other ailments would arise. Now, four years later, as a freshman in college, I am turning back to my mom’s advice as new studies are showing that the weather can very well affect your health.

Previous scientific data supported that there always seemed to be a correlation between the low-temperature seasons of fall and winter and the rise in colds, however scientists often connected it to the indoor environment that cold weather creates. Human Health Line newsletter explains that catching a rhinovirus causes the common cold and the flu is caused my contracting the influenza virus.


Influenza virus.








As temperatures drop, people are more likely to come in contact with these viruses as the cold weather pushes people inside and into closer quarters with each other. The dry air mixed with the central heating also creates an environment that these viruses can thrive in.

George Washington University research suggested that by believing that cold weather directly causes one to be sick, people are failing to identify the actual causes of catching a cold. This could result in failure to take corrective measures to avoid viruses that are hiding inside warm environments.

So what is making me re-think a belief I have held for almost four years? A recent study from Yale University has discovered that the cold weather may actually have an affect on the human body’s germ-fighting abilities. These researchers took a strain of rhinovirus that had been adjusted to affect mice and injected it into the rodents. They then monitored the airways of the mice as they were placed in environments set at several different temperatures. They found that in the cooler temperatures, the mice’s cells failed to fight infection as efficiently as they did in the warmer temperatures. At the normal body temperature, the mice’s cells reacted well, sending signals to unaffected cells to form and immune response where as the mice with lower body temperatures had a much weaker reaction from their immune system.

Now this is one study and further research would be necessary to rule out chance. However, along with this potential direct causation being researched in the Yale study, there are other correlations surrounding the rise of colds during the cold seasons. Natural News reports that cold weather can dry out your nasal passage, expelling mucus, which serves as your immune system’s first form of protection.

The take home message: Personally I hate being cold and I hate being sick therefore I will make the effort to bundle up this winter. It seems that you can’t lose by taking this measure so I would argue that throwing on an extra layer is certainly worth it.

Social Media: Blessing or Addiction?

How many times a class do you check your instagram/twitter/facebook? Five or ten times? Once every five minutes? Why do you think that is? Recently I have found myself in class (not SC 200 of course) going to check my phone when I really did not need to, considering I had just checked it five minutes prior. Its not that I was bored or disinterested, it just felt like something I needed to do. This peaked my interest after awhile. Can social media be addicting?

Now I would like to not consider myself genuinely addicted to Instagram or Facebook but it seemed like a interesting idea when you take a second to look around the Hub and the majority of people are obviously posting Snapchats or showing their friends and Instagram post.

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is real and, according to the National Institute of health, can actually cause deep psychological issues. Although not officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder, IAD is being researched and a sub-category under it is social-media addiction specifically. Columbian University psychiatric and neuroscience researcher Sean Luo, reported that around 3.7-13% of U.S. Internet users are way to involved in Internet usage. Further studies have even show brain abnormalities that mimic those found in substance abusers.

Another aspect of social media addiction is the idea that “getting likes” on a post can stimulate the reward segments of the brain. However, there has yet to be a proven correlation between narcissism and social media.

As students we know that checking our phone in class leads to distraction and the high risk for you to miss something important in class. However, when we step back and compare your phone to a cigarette, we face a new perspective. As we learned in class. Smoking spiked in 1900 and lung cancer spiked twenty years later. Because the affect of smoking on the lungs was so delayed, it took scientists a long time to determine how dangerous cigarettes are. Constant phone attention has spiked in the early 2000’s, so what could spike twenty years from now? What could be detrimental long-term affects that we will experience in twenty years, but won’t be able to solve for forty years?



Kiss of Death

Walking around Penn State campus, you are sure to see something on both men and women, young and old. Race, size, and health do not prevent this common occurrence as it can be seen on anyone. What is this thing that many people on this campus have in common every Monday morning after a weekend of socializing? A Hickey.


The media has been reporting about a seventeen year old from Mexico named Julio Macias Gonzalez who recently passed away. What was the cause of death for this seemingly healthy young man? A hickey. Julio had received this “kiss of death” from his girlfriend. The suction created formed a blood cot in Julio and resulted in him breaking out into convulsions at his family dinner and dying from a stroke as the blood clot traveled to his brain.

In another case from 2010, a forty-four year old woman from New Zealand was admitted to the hospital after a sudden paralysis of her arm. This was also due to a stroke that at first seemed to have no causation until the doctors noticed a bruise on her neck. A hickey located on a major artery had traveled to her neck and caused a minor stroke. This woman survived.

Now as we have discussed in class, should these few and far between anecdotes mean you should never give or receive a hickey? The choice is up to you. Death by hickey is so uncommon it is unheard of. This calls into question whether the hickey is actually the cause or if there is an underlying health issue. According to USA Today, the suction of the hickey could serve as a catalyst for an underlying health issue such as an existing connective tissue disorder.

According to Dr. Robert Glatter an emergency room physician, a hickey would have to be given with enormous pressure and in just the right spot. He also cited a vigorous cough or aggressive movement of the neck as other ways for a stroke to occur.

The preceding information leads me to believe that reports of hickeys leading to strokes display hickeys having more of a correlation with strokes, but certainly not a causation. With so few reports and studies done, there is little evidence that a strong enough suck of the neck will lead to a blood clot.

That being said, should you ignore these cases and continue on as if these things are not dangerous? Well that’s up to you. As an individual, you must evaluate the risk along with your desire.




I Like Science, I Just Don’t Get It

Hi, My name is Shannon Hughes and I am a freshman from right outside of Philadelphia. I’ve always liked science. In fact my favorite class in high school was senior year Physiology, where we learned how the human body works. I thought the dissections we did were so interesting and I always participated in class discussions no matter how confused I may have been. I like science…I just don’t get it. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the muscles of a real-live (dead) cat, but I could never understand how the muscles moved, how nerve impulses worked, or the difference between muscle and fascia. In previous years, the laws of physics and chemistry made no sense to me, but the experiments were always cool. I like the fun facts of science, just not what’s behind them. This class is perfect for me because it will be filled with “fun facts” and although we may delve into the reasons behind them, we will do so in a way that will not leave me completely lost in the end.




In Physio last fall, I did a presentation on the polio virus and how it affects muscles and one article I read mentioned that now doctors are trying to create a way to treat brain tumors with the virus. I found it so interesting how someone somewhere had this idea to stick a deadly virus into someone else’s brain to kill an even deadlier illness. This crazy idea actually works now. I have come to learn that this method has been progressing immensely and you can read more about it here.