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Archive for November, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey Tryp(tophan)ing

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment
          Last Thursday, some of your relatives undoubtedly blamed their sleepiness on the turkey. Unless you’re related to a struggling dietitian, the famously rumored high tryptophan content was likely used to back the claim. One of the twenty main amino acids, tryptophan is used in the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, both of which are related to tiredness. Though logical, this rumor is false. For one, turkeys have no more tryptophan content than any other meat. Chicken actually has more tryptophan content by weight, but does eating KFC make you tired? If that’s the case, then you are probably just eating too much. The real reasons for that tired feeling after Thanksgiving dinner – and large meals in general – are the large amount of carbohydrates, fats and possibly alcohol that were ingested. It takes energy to digest food, and when there is a lot of food to digest, a lot of energy will be used. On a more biochemical level, when carbohydrates are being digested, insulin is produced and this causes amino acids other than tryptophan to be absorbed into the muscle cells. Even after eating meat, tryptophan levels will not be high enough to cause a noticeable effect, but the insulin induced absorption leaves a high concentration of tryptophan in the blood stream which then causes serotonin and melatonin to be produced, inducing sleepiness. In reality eating a large carbohydrate rich meal will make you just as tired with or without any tryptophan ingested. In addition, ingesting fats increases the time and energy needed for digestion, and alcohol is a depressant for the nervous system. Both of these will therefore only make the consumer more drowsy. So next time – most likely Christmas – a relative incorrectly blames his or her stupor on a specific food, correct them. Or instead, because it’s the holidays, be polite and silently shake your head in shameful disapproval.
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Just Flip the Switch and You Will Remember

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Have you ever starred at a page on a textbook and realized that no matter how hard you tried you knew the information just wasn’t getting imprinted in your memory bank? Well I have. However it may not be any fault of your own, it was rather a matter of whether you are in the right state of mind. (No I’m not talking about inebriation) Researchers have found a neurological signal that is triggered when the brain is suited for memorizing. “Instead of looking at how the information is being processed, we’re looking at how the brain prepares to process the information,” said study co-author Emrah Duzel, a neuroscientist at University College, London.

Some studies have shown that there are numerous signals and substantial neuro-activity during the encoding period of memory, while others have shown signals that precede the formation of certain memories. However, there was a recent study conducted that showed that there is a specific signal that precedes the formation of all types of memory—visual, sensory, verbal, etc. Researchers believe that this signal acts more like a switch than a process that is constantly working. This is because the brain simply does not have the capacity to remember everything we experience in our lives. (Some may think that would be cool, but on the contrary it is not necessary to remember that you poured the last drop of milk into your cereal at precisely 9:14:37am)

The brain is designed to process information that is subjectively important to our lives. It may be important for some to remember where the Post Office is, whereas others are more concerned with where the H&M is. This is why Duzel’s team used a magneto encephalograph to record and analyze the magnetic fluctuation of 24 test subjects during various memory tests. This was done in order to pinpoint the exact moment before each test subject processed information that was later recalled. The results were increased levels of “theta oscillations”. For those non-science people, theta waves regularly occur during deep REM sleep (when your dreaming) and moments of alertness. These signals appear to be localized in the hippocampus—where short-term memory is processed. However, when observing these waves during the experiment, they were localized in the medial temporal lobe (which is fairly close to the hippocampus).

Now wouldn’t it be cool if there were am app that measured our theta oscillations. If this app were made, we would be able to predict whether or not our brains are in the right state—emitting sufficient theta waves—to remember information. So next time you find yourself starring at a textbook page, try your hardest to get your theta waves moving, because otherwise you might as well be putting placing water into a bucket with holes at the bottom.

 

Questions, comments, something you forgot.

 

                                                 

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Developing a BIOLOGICAL Cure for Deafness

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

That’s right people, it’s not just a cochlear implant.  This is a bonafide biological rectification of deafness.  True, this gene therapy has only been tested on guinea pigs, but it has promising prospects for future human implementation.  This therapy includes the regrowth of crucial hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear which registers sound (currently it is stimulated by an implant in current hearing devices).

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After the application of this treatment, sensory electrodes around the animals’ heads show that the auditory nerves of treated – but not untreated – animals were now registering sound.    While human treatment is still far off, scientists say one future possibility would be to use the therapy to improve hearing in people who already wear cochlear implants. These electrical devices are of some help to people lacking hair cells, but the regrowth of even some hairs could boost their hearing further. Researchers say that the next experiments in guinea pigs will focus on this combination.  However, there are many obstacles to overcome before the procedure can be used in people, primarily, the scala media buried deep within human skulls, making it virtually inaccessible by surgery.  And of course, it’s also possible that the human immune system would react against the virus or reject it all together.  Of course, where one problem presents itself, another solution arises: namely stem cells.  One approach hypothesized in regrowing hair cells is to use embryonic stem cells.  Controversial of course, but there it is.  Current research is being done on stem cells for a “deafness cure” at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.  The exciting bottom line here is that there are now at least two possibilites for the development of a biological cure to human deafness.  It’s highly likely that both approaches or a combination of the two will be developed into clinics and clinical trials within the next decade.

If you want to learn more, here’s a link to a more in depth summary/analysis.

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Heart Attack Proof

November 28, 2011 3 comments

Heart disease is a big killer in America. Many men and women have heart problems and do not even know until it is too late. Usually the best way to counter this is to recognize the problem early on so you can change your lifestyle in time.

One, doctor however, has come up with a new way to treat heart disease. In fact, Dr. Caldwell is saying if you follow this regiment your heart will be heart attack proof.

In the article it says that the diet consists of no meat, no dairy, no eggs, and no added oils. If you can stay away from those foods you will basically be heart attack free for life.

In college it is really hard to eat healthy because of time constraints and lack of effort to eat well. College kids normally want something quick they can take with them, even if it is healthy or not. GW in the past few years has made it a point to increase the quality of their food on campus which is great and a positive step for other schools to follow.

Having said all this, is this heart attack proof diet feasible for a college student, let alone a person living at home? I know it would be a serious struggle for a lot of college kids to get the proper nutrients they need while avoiding these foods. So what do you think? Can kids in college easily be on a heart attack proof diet? Can regular people living at home? What does it say about American food that we have to stop eating these foods completely in order to avoid heart attacks?

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The Race to Mars

November 28, 2011 2 comments

According to this article, a NASA rover named Curiosity is scheduled to launch this Saturday from the US towards Mars, potentially racing Russia’s spacecraft which is currently stuck in the Earth’s orbit.  If the Russian mission is saved, both the US’s and Russia’s crafts will leave the Earth’s orbit at the same time, traveling the same speed towards the red planet.  Both countries face a great challenge, as the difficult road to Mars has been attempted before without success.  Russia in particular has a very treacherous road ahead of it, as it has had eighteen failed missions to Mars since 1960.  The last successful interplanetary mission was fifteen years ago, and in between then and the present, much has changed and grown in terms of technology.  The possibilities of achieving the mission are still slim, however, and  the potential loss for Russia,  while a victory for the US, could be a great failure for science.  There is fear that if the craft does fail, it will plummet back down to Earth between this December and February.  The craft is carrying toxic fuel and radioactive material, and the site of the crash cannot be predicted until one day before it lands.

Do you think the possibility of this danger is worth the exploration to Mars?  Do you think that the US will succeed in its mission?  On a less related note, have you always found space fascinating and did you ever want to be an astronaut?

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Making eye contact, interactive

November 28, 2011 5 comments

The other day I came across an article that I thought was very interesting. Titled A Terminator-style contact-lens display, it talks about how scientists have discovered a way to incorporate a single LED with an antenna into a contact lens. When a radio frequency is sent to the LED the antenna will pick it up and light up the LED. If this technology progresses we might soon be able to see the latest text message or social networking update right in front of our eyes. Or we might be able to watch entire movies or tv shows right in front of us. This technology brings us one step closer to the technology we see in the movies, where they have a constant stream of data flowing right in their eyes. My fear is that it would make testing and academic integrity very difficult, because people would be able to see the answers without getting caught. How would teachers catch them? Will everyone have to have their eyes scanned before every test, these contacts would be virtually invisible when not activated, so I guess that would be the only way. What do you guys thing would be some cool applications of this technology? How about some negative effects of these?

The “Snob” Diet

November 28, 2011 3 comments

So if you are anything like me, you ate way  too much this weekend and might be wondering if you have done irreparable damage. I was also working tirelessly on my research paper for our UW class, which, for my class is all about diet and exercise (and the media of course). I also happened to have the December issue of Glamour magazine at hand, and came across an article about their new fad diet, the “snob” diet.

I wish I still had the magazine with me, and unfortunately I was not able to find the article online, but basically the article is just about eating more nutrient rich foods rather than processed, “low-fat” foods. I thought this was interesting, and I kind of want to try the diet partially because it promotes eating foods that most diets would steer clear from: cheese, bread, some sweets etc. The article states that if you are eating good, rich foods you will eat less and receive a more well-balanced diet. I actually found a blog that goes over the diet, if you want to see that.

Now I could get all worked up about how the media should stop pressuring women to look a certain way (believe me, I have lots of research to back me up) but I actually liked this idea. I don’t know if it would actually work, but I have always hated the idea that you cannot eat the foods that you want and still be “fit.” But it makes sense that all of the foods that are made for dieting are actually nutritionally insufficient, and therefore can easily leave you wanting. Personally, it is in this wanting more phase that I end up snacking, which I think is probably the most unhealthy thing to do.

So what do you think? Are you interested in nutrition? Do you agree with Glamour that it is okay to be a “snob?” Do you have any good tricks for staying healthy this holiday season?

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