Daily Archives: February 15, 2016

Sticky, Stinky Natto Stretches Lifespan

Natto is usually served with rice and other side dishes. (Photo by Taku on April 25, 2007)

Sonya Chung

Two East-Asian countries, d and South Korea, have become “super-aged” societies, as their numbers of seniors (people aged above 65 years) have risen dramatically. According to the UN and WHO, it only took Japan 24 years and will only take South Korea 18 years for their senior populations to double, while it took France 115 years and America 71 years. Triggered by such unbelievable rates, researchers investigated the people’s diet and found that various forms of fermented soybeans are often consumed with rice.

Natto, covered in white mucous sap, is a Japanese traditional fermented soybean product that has a soft texture and an unpleasant wet-sock-like smell (to be extreme); Korea’s cheong-gook-jang is basically the same product with different names. Natto contains high contents of fiber, various vitamins, minerals, and isoflavone (this will be discussed in depth later, don’t worry).

Once soybeans are soaked in water, boiled, and fermented, sensory characteristics of natto are improved, undesirable contents are eliminated, and some nutritional properties are enhanced. The hard and waxy surface of unfermented soybeans become soft in texture and gain a stinky odor. One very unusual property of natto is that, just as these sensory properties change, soy proteins, biological inhibitors, and bacterial enzymes break into easily digestible compounds when fermented. This decomposition allows more nutrients to be absorbed by the body, whereas unfermented soybeans do not grant as much absorption.

Moreover, the fermenting process actually increases the total amount of protein and the absorption of it; findings say that this phenomenon is due to the increase of microorganisms, the synthesis of enzymes, and the rearrangements of pre-existing compositions.

The high levels of vitamin K and isoflavone, specifically, account for natto’s standing as a functional food and dietary supplement. Natto contains hundreds times as much vitamin K, a producer of protein and bones, than other foods; this nutritional richness appoints natto a preventative food for osteoporosis.

Ikeda’s report (2006) on the association of habitual natto intake and bone mineral density (BMD), a means of measuring osteoporosis, depicts the positive relationship between daily natto intake and BMD. The experiment was done with 944 healthy Japanese women of ages 20 to 79, whom were categorized into pre- or post-menopausal; not the focus here, but menopause is when the reproductive hormones decline in female. After years of repeated measurements for the report, it was evident that the more natto consumed, the higher the BMD, meaning stronger bones.

White mucous sap of natto (Photo by Shahjahan Siraj on Feb 11, 2005)

White mucous sap of natto (Photo by Shahjahan Siraj on Feb 11, 2005)

Also an abundant nutrient in natto, isoflavone acts as a blood clot preventer, a blood clot dissolver, and a substitute for female hormone; in addition to reducing DNA damage, it prevents the activities of low-density lipoprotein, also known as the “bad” cholesterol.

Furthermore, isoflavone is accountable for natto’s strong antioxidative activities; but in order to understand what antioxidants are and how they work, the concept of oxidation needs to be covered first (anti-oxidants must be something opposite to oxidants, but just to clarify). Oxidation is the chemical reaction of transferring electrons from a substance to another, and in the process, free radicals are produced; free radicals are molecules that may cause damage or death to cells through chain reactions. Antioxidants, including isoflavone in natto, remove the free radicals and inhibit oxidative reactions. In short, why are antioxidants so important to health? They protect our cells from damage. (Hope you have a clear sense of antioxidants and oxidation now.)

Interestingly enough, according to a study done on Caenorhabditis elagans, a well-used experimental species of worm, the antioxidative effects of natto results in an increase of lifespan. Water extract from natto was injected into C. elagans, and the survival rate under excessive oxidation, a major factor known to reduce human lifespan, increased due to the antioxidative compounds in fermented natto.

Additionally, the average lifespan of the subjects increased by approximately 30% due to the inhibited growth of unfavorable bacteria, and the high polyamine content is further boosted – polyamines are known to have extended the lifespan of yeast, flies, worms, and human immune cells. Such experiments demonstrate that natto exerts high levels of anti-aging materials. (Of course, additional studies are necessary.)

However, because food of such high-nutrition only has a very short shelf-life due to the secretion of ammonia (a hazardous compound) after time, food companies have been continuously attempting to change the form of natto into dry powder. This way, natto will sell as more acceptable and accessible, especially as the unpleasant odor is reduced when dried.

A report on the different drying methods and the nutritional contents of natto concludes that vacuum-drying, freeze-drying, and oven-drying do not affect most of the nutritional content. The results of this experimentation conclude that heating natto at a temperature above roughly 50°C is likely to alter isoflavone into other less-nutritious derivatives and that, despite the drying method, angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitor activity decreases to about a third of the original level when dried. ACE inhibitor is a drug primarily used to treat hypertension and congestive heart failure.

Yet, (personally speaking) as long as natto is not dried or heated above a high temperature, drying natto is worth more than retaining the original form to keep its ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors may be consumed in different methods, but fresh natto may not be as consumed due to its strong odor; odorless dried natto is the alternative for a broader range of consumers.

Even though the direct impact of natto on lengthening one’s lifespan may not be crystal-clear, the overall nutritional content may lead to a healthier diet and body over time.

A Resounding Approach To A Sounder Health

Photo by Fraser 70D on August 19, 2013

Claudia Foubert

Music has become a prevalent, almost essential, part of our lives. We crank up the volume and reflect in this sound mirror that reveals our inner selves, lending a voice to our unspeakable feelings and transporting our bodies to distant memories. The impressive role music plays on our emotional and social state has attracted much attention from psychologists and even influenced a new wave of modern therapy. But while many of us are aware of this musical revelation, a more intriguing facet has gone largely unnoticed: the most fundamental unit of music – sound.

Unlike music, sound constantly surrounds us. The beeping of a crosswalk, the whir of a fan, and the tapping of a keyboard, although unconsciously processed, have profound effects on our whole selves. Humans are bounding bodies of energy. We are entities consisting of cells that simultaneously vibrate at a rate of eight cycles per second, in astonishing congruence with the earth. Remarkably, sounds resonate with our cores just as well.

Audible or inaudible, they produce frequencies that align with the body’s core vibrations and unite body with sound. Like two dance partners, the perfect combination of frequency and being results in a harmonious ballad that feels effortless in each sway. In contrast, an incompatible vibration can disrupt our rhythm and have undesirable effects on our mood and comfort. If we could channel these “good vibrations” to tune our bodies, the benefits of a safe and natural practice would be worth something the Beach Boys would sing about! Fortunately, such a therapy exists.

Vibroacoustic sound therapy (VAST) is an alternative medical method that uses specific frequencies to heal both mind and muscle. Although this treatment has not garnered much attention, such a practice has been used far longer than one may expect. Dating as far back as 3600 BC, ancient peoples manipulated wall structure to capture sound and enhance vibrations that stimulate brain activity. Substituting chemical drugs with natural energy, this relaxation technique had a profound effect on early civilizations, so why not ours?

In an age where a copious assortment of pills stock grocery shelves, people have begun to rely on the unknown and not trust in nature’s given healers. To believe that something nontangible, such as vibrations, could touch us in such a physical way may seem incredible but is really only the beauty of nature.

The oracle chamber of the Maltan Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum. Ancient architects employed concave walls, niches, and cuts to control the movement of sound waves. Photo by Heritage Malta on January 21, 2009.

Modern medicine should focus on VAST and expand its use as an alternative, if not preferred, mental remedy. Though, where the mind goes, the body follows. Not only do vibrations elicit mental and emotional responses, but they also contain healing properties for physiological maladies. With psychological and physiological benefits, vibroacoustic sound therapy potentiates an impactful shift in current medical perspectives.

Placing hope in an evolving treatment, the school for the profound and multiple handicapped children (PLMD) sought to bring expression, awareness, and control to the fully dependent children who experienced various cognitive and physical disabilities. However, even with such a newly beneficial therapy, help seemed bleak. That is, until a boy with a particularly severe case cast hope.

M was in no way an obvious candidate for improvement. Suffering from cerebral palsy, epilepsy, uncontrollable spasms, as well as partial deafness and blindness, M disliked any form of interaction and would often isolate himself in his thoughts. Any chance he had to regain the essence of himself was soon put in the hands of sound therapy researchers. Treatments focused on vocal interaction through changes in pitch and volume as well as relaxation by low frequencies. Motor control was specifically targeted by the Soundbeam, an ultrasonic beam that produces a sound at any detected movement. In addition to intensive care, VAST offered M an ability he had not previously known – complete control.

A handicapped child uses Soundbeam to signal and increase awareness of his motor movements.

As a non-invasive therapy, VAST circumvents all fear of the unknown effects of a squishy, green pill and looming, radioactive machines and instead provides an aural and tactile explanation of sound medicine. Based on his own movements, M had the power to decide what sounds would be produced by the Soundbeam and when. Not only does this control promote mental involvement but it also challenges one to accept the healing process and willingly participate in prospect of positive results.

In the first year of sound therapy, M gained some conscious motor control and demonstrated finer, smoother movements. By his third year, M was increasingly aware of his surroundings, nearly able to sing along to certain music and often smiling. His apparent agitation would cease once therapy began as he sat upright, became mindful of his actions, and showed pleasure in self-expression.

What started out as a doubtful premise turned into an unimaginable success that no other practice could produce. VAST proved to have major effects on M and may be the needed solution for many others. Unlike other treatments, VAST emphasizes the importance of well-being, fusing both internal and external recovery. Nonetheless, a more physical application of vibrations does exist.

If vibrations can stimulate brain activity, then could such frequencies expand their influence on physical activity, or physical healing? M. Roelants, C. Delecluse, and S. Verschueren sought to explore this question in their experiment observing the unknown effects of vibrations on muscle deterioration. Their study specifically tested elderly women due to the participants’ age-related decrease in physical activity.

Employing whole-body-vibration (WBV) training, researchers had participants perform both static (immobile) and dynamic (joint-moving) exercises on a frequency-emitting platform. These frequencies would, in turn, stimulate sensory receptors that activate reflexive muscle contractions, similar to those experienced during physical activity.

A platform emits whole body vibrations.

A platform emits whole body vibrations.

After twelve weeks of WBV therapy, a significant improvement was noted in the women’s isometric and dynamic strength, speed of movement in knee extension, and counter movement jump performance. When compared to the conventional resistance training group (RES) who performed more rigorous exercises on a normal gym floor, the WBV group did not show significant advantages in resulting muscular strength. Therefore, WBV therapy proves to be just as efficient as the traditional form of exercise training for the elderly. Subsequently, VAST is a safer, less demanding exercise tool that minimizes strain on the elderly’s physical abilities.

As vast as the benefits may seem, should vibrations reign supreme to the ubiquitous use of drugs?  Well, not necessarily…

Ultrasound serves as a median between vibration and drug. Using low frequencies, clinical ultrasound penetrates the permeability of the skin barrier and allows easy drug intake and diffusion. This needle-free technique known as sonophoresis occurs through induced cavitation (formation of an opening) and has unprecedented accuracy in its administration, targeting specific muscles and cells and minimizing invasive drug exposure. Such precision can be used in the destruction of cancer cells as well as lipoplasty, the restructuring of fat molecules. In addition, heat-inducing sound waves and enhanced protein synthesis can facilitate bone growth and tissue relaxation. Although now used in a variety of instances, medical ultrasound continues to be studied due to its diverse and unknown effects.

Ultrasonic waves change the permeability of the membrane and facilitate diffusion of drugs.

Ultrasonic waves change the permeability of the membrane and facilitate diffusion of drugs.

So, if you remain skeptical on the idea of vibrational healing and are stuck on conventional prescription medication, then ultrasound may be a perfect intermediate for you.

The intertwining psychological and physiological effects elucidate VAST as a promising practice that uses nature to balance nature. The power of vibrations is evermore significant as the world becomes busier, noisier, and smaller. Now is the time to listen and find the harmony within the crowd.

Taking the Meat Out of a Meatless Argument: The Debate Over Veganism

vegetable cow

Photo by Luis Ampuero

Sofia Ocegueda

Veganism: a term that may have been heard quite too many times and has been trending worldwide. Veganism refers to a diet that excludes any animal product to be consumed. Additionally, as the population faces the issue of unhealthy eating habits, one constantly hears veganism being discussed as an appropriate alternative. However, this diet might, in fact, run the risk of malnutrition.

A recent study has found the two main reasons as to why veganism has become a diet to follow. This study conducted in Europe and Asia in 2011 questioned young adults about their reasoning behind such diet. The first is the more compelling one, you could say. The love for animals and concern for animal rights has led to a population that shames bacon like no other and questions the origins of every brownie made. The study found that vegans were specifically concerned with not only animal rights but also their welfare as well as experimentation and spiritual symbols.

On the other hand, the second reason why this diet is practiced is the concern for individual health. The same study conducted by researcher Serdar Izmirli et al. found that health was not as prominent as protecting animals, but was still present as an established reason. The seeming obsession with health has led to various individuals clinging to tofu and crying over spilled [soy]milk. However, the issue might be that many do not know of these alternatives. Additionally, many alternative products are more costly. As the following will go over, many vegans, in fact, do not get the sufficient amount of nutrients in their diet.


As taught in numerous health and physical education classes, a healthy body requires a nutritious intake. Cynthia Radnitz et. al observed the level of nutrients in an international sample of 246 vegans in 2014, and hypothesized that individuals following this diet because of health reasons would practice healthier habits. They also examined vegans who were more concerned with ethical issues and were predicted to follow a less nutritious diet. In order to examine their diets, researchers looked for specific foods known to provide health benefits. Such would include items with soy, omega-3 fatty acids and of course, fruits and vegetables. Foods with harmful contents were also taken into account in order to evaluate peoples’ diets.

After analyzing the results, it was found that the hypothesis was only partially correct. Those concerned with ethical issues actually had a longer commitment to their diets and took a greater amount of vitamin supplements to fulfill their recommended nutrient intake. Those who chose to be vegan because of health reasons simply reported eating more fruits and fewer sweets than the other group. This exhibits a general overview of how vegans handle their diets. Let’s dig deeper into the topic!

Like any restrictive diet, veganism requires extra care and effort to still maintain your body as healthy as can be. A study conducted in Germany in 2002 recruited 868 vegans in order to evaluate the average nutrient intake of the vegan community. In addition to nutrients, weight and body mass index were recorded.

In general, vegans tend to have healthy lifestyles, as reported by the participants. However, it was found that an immense quantity of participants had a low consumption of calcium, iodine, and Vitamin B12.

Seventy-six percent of people did not reach the recommended level of calcium in their diet, which makes sense because of the lack of dairy products. The intake of iodine and Vitamin B12 were extremely low, as only 5.3 and 1.3% of the participants reached the ideal level. Protein needs also tended to be below the recommended level, as well as the total energy intake. An additional finding was that a fourth of the participants were underweight, which further supported the emphasis of consuming the appropriate amount of nutrients.

While considering veganism, it may affect not only you but also your family. Children with vegan parents are likely to follow the same restrictive diet, which may not be ideal if not practiced with care. Consider the case of Patient X.

Patient X is a 6-year-old boy of two vegan parents who implemented vegan diet restrictions. As a vegan is to do, he consumed no dairy or egg products. He additionally refused fruits and vegetables and relied heavily on the junk food for his primary nutritional needs. He did not receive any nutritional supplements.

Because Patient X was not receiving the appropriate amount of nutrients, he fell ill and developed the disease, Keratomalacia, an eye disorder that results from vitamin A deficiency. This further led to two corneal transplants, because the lenses had been lost. In the report, his mother admitted to not acknowledging the importance of reading nutrition levels.

This moreover highlights the importance of getting to know your diet, and how essential it is to be informed of what the body needs. One needs to know the benefits, but also the risks. Deficiencies can be extremely harmful as Patient X showed.

The advantages of becoming vegan are present as well. The majority did surpass the recommendation of fruits and vegetables. They also tend to avoid alcohol, as well as smoking. Iron levels were also adequate, as 93% of the group reached the recommended level. In order to excel in their diets overall, vegans must consider taking the supplements that may be absent in their intake.

Fear, Flee, Fluoride

ShinyTeeth-462by Mustafa Abdoh

    Mass hysteria floods the public psyche, panic in the media, incessant buzzing of rumor emanating from the lips of those around you. You lack the comfort you once knew from the moment you were first vicariously touched by the monster’s invisible hand. No longer can you rest at ease in the once-gratifying presence of a crystalline glass of water now that your eyes are opened to the heinous and insatiable appetite of this venomous fiend.

   There is no place on this earth in which this villain, Fluoride, could possibly reside and simultaneously hold up a respectable reputation as an upstanding compound. Hence forth and forevermore we should ban him from our pipelines and dental products and return to a time before the introduction of “big government’s” proxy in human extermination (for the obvious reason that governments are just too lazy to do the killing themselves!) By and by, if we’re going to die, why not get to know the reaper before he reaps?


Propaganda and lies!!!

     Fluoride, as it likes to be called, can really be thought of as a coalition group of chemical compounds containing the element fluorine (chemical symbol F). Fluorine can be considered the biological parent of all fluoride compounds, but interestingly enough you can’t find it isolated in nature because it is so electronegative. This property of fluorine means that if it is alone in the wild, it’ll ravenously grab the nearest element’s electrons and never give them back, much like a spoiled toddler.

    Unlike fluorine, which as we’ve said you’ll never find unless you are at the scene of a sun gone supernova, fluorides are literally everywhere, in small doses that is. Fluorides occur naturally in water and soil, as well as trace quantities in the air from various pollutants.

   I am confident you can grapple with the idea that fluorides are everywhere, but surely you are content knowing that the chemical is far from entering your loved ones’ bodies (and yourself, because you love yourself no?) Of course you are! And I proceed with even greater certainty that the structural integrity of your very being would be better off if it never even heard the name fluoride again. Yes indeed, pay no mind to the fact that fluorides are essential to the fortification of bone and teeth, and that your body contains the appropriate mechanisms for responding to excesses of the compound.

     Actually, maybe you should pay mind to that, literally devote all your attention to this last sentence. That image of a scythe-wielding fluoride molecule floating around and tearing up your innards might not hold up to all the hype. Perhaps those sweaty palms and shaky knees, which arise from the compounds mentioned, might not be due to its ill effects but rather due to a mild case of xenophobia (what is fluoride, Latin? That’s so foreign).

    To find a cure, let’s start close to home – with bones. Bones are structured in a lattice network, an ordered and repetitive organization of molecules, comprised of a compound called carbonated hydroxyl apatite. This compound is responsible for maintaining bone strength. When fluoride is absorbed from the bloodstream into the bone, it is dispersed throughout the bone lattice and randomly replaces the hydroxyl groups from some of the apatite molecules, creating carbonated fluoroapatite.


This is in your bones, pretty isn’t it, it has phosphate, calcium…… and fluoride

     Despite being a tantalizing name for a fizzy mouthwash, this compound, which your bones have synthesized, alters bone density and structure as well as increases resistance to acid corrosion, as fluoroapatite is more stable than hydroxyl apatite. Therefore fluoride acts as a preventative agent against osteoporosis at natural levels.

   Now you see that fluoride knows its way around your bones. But from my personal experience, I have never excised a femur to lather it in toothpaste so that I may strengthen some skeleton. Last I checked, toothpaste, a prime source of fluoride, is traditionally meant for teeth. Teeth, while they themselves are not bone, similarly contain hydroxyapatite. The substitution with fluoroapatite in the enamel therefore acts in exactly the same manner and with the same benefits.

    Now imagine a steaming, rich chocolate cake filled with layers of soft lustrous cream and topped with the ripest assortment of your favorite fruit. Excellent work! You employed the expert reinforcement of fluoride to coat your enamel! This is true because fluoride reaches your teeth not by blood but by saliva. Every time you salivate (drool) at the thought or sight of decadent nourishment, fluoride reacts with the dental surface and prevents acid corrosion caused by carbohydrates, like those found in cake.

    Fluoride is also a serial killer, to put it bluntly. You are in an eternal struggle with it in every waking moment. You battle the fiend as he eradicates enumerable masses. He takes life without regard. Bacteria never stood a chance. As much as you fed them and nurtured each single celled angel, the heartless beast sought them out and took them from you with frigid efficacy.

    The war effort was launched by our ancestors after the industrial revolution. A dramatic increase in grain and sugars boosted life expectancy and allowed the peoples to follow god’s promise and multiply fruitfully. But the increase in fruit and other delicacies in the human diet have allowed the colonies of naturally occurring bacteria in our mouths to multiply to absurd levels, giving rise to dental caries, or in mundane speech, cavities.

    The primary culprit in the causation of corrosive caries is none other than streptococcus mutans. Researchers conducted a comparative study to discern the efficacy of fluoride toothpastes in contrast to their natural counterparts. The results revealed that the “zone of inhibition” where the bacteria could not cross was largest in the fluoride group. The natural toothpastes also had zones of inhibition, yet the fluoride content contributed significantly to the repulsion of the bacterial horde.


The face that launched 1000 brushes

    To be frank, the visage of fluoride, like many other topics strewn into the media limelight, has been distorted beyond reason; however, such phenomenon is not without cause. Like every stereotype, there is truth in the sea of illusion engulfing fluoride.

   You remember fluorine right? Fluorine is designated as a trace element required for our continued existence, like selenium or iodine. It is called “trace” due to the miniscule concentrations in which it is present, leaving only traces of it for us to observe. The issue arises when fluoride concentrations exceed appropriate levels, where the once benevolent champion of pearly white goes from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.

   The ultimate irony in fluoride poisoning is that all of the positive effects fluoride strives to uphold are actually reversed. Basically, this amounts to your teeth and bones corroding due to skeletal and dental fluorosis.

   Fluorosis (both of the dental and skeletal variety) occurs when the fluoride molecule competes with the other molecules for the calcium in the body, destroying the crystal lattice of bone and enamel; it renders them porous and unstable like brittle sponges.

   However that’s only the irony. The real problem is not that you will be a spineless gum-toothed jellyfish, but that fluoride will also attack your DNA.

      Fluoride is processed rather well by the liver; elevated blood concentrations of fluoride last no more than an hour, after which excess awaits you to visit the porcelain palace to empty your bladder. When an overdose occurs, however, the liver cells will take in fluoride. This process was observed in a study on rats.

     Several groups of rats were given increasing levels of up to 200ppm (parts per million) of sodium fluoride in their drinking water with the control group receiving no added sodium fluoride. Unbeknownst to the rodents, the extra fluoride-salty water they were consuming encouraged apoptosis, or cell death, in the liver.

     The fluoride activates this gene expression for p53 and caspase-3 proteins, encouraging the self-destruction of the cells. The fluoride actively alters the DNA to further encourage the transcription and production of these proteins. As more cells burst, the livers swell and the rat is slowly stripped of its bio toxin filter.

   Despite the fact that these rats were given 12-50 times the appropriate levels of fluoride, people fear fluoride. In Australia, groups and individuals have levied all of the arguments as to why water fluoridation is a bad idea, going as far as linking water fluoridation to the Nazis and lowered child IQ.


It has fluoride in bold and black and white, it has to be true!!!

      In this particular Australian case, the public health care costs due to dental caries outweighs the costs of water fluoridation seven-fold. While fluoridated water is already available to 85% of the population as of 2009, the debate continues, with both sides shouting science and hysteria on the matter of fluoride. Yet the question remains, how much is safe?

       If we leave the land down under and return to the land from sea to shining sea, we find that in 2011, the shimmering pools of fluoridated water were found to contain concentrations of fluoride that, while previously deemed safe, are now considered too high. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services lowered the previous fluoride level from 4ppm to a mere range of 0.7-1.2ppm. Changes like these, and the expanding body of research on the subjects of water fluoridation, are what fuels the fiery debate like that in Australia. But at the end of the day, we can always blame the Nazis and fluoride for why we failed that 9th grade geometry test.

       So, fluoride can literally change who you are on the inside, for better or for worse, kind of like a best friend. Too much of a best friend can tear you apart, but just enough will give you the support you need to live a prosperous and joyous life.

El Nino – The Bad Weather Mastermind

IN SPACE - In this handout photo provided by NASA, Hurricane Patricia is seen from the International Space Station. The hurricane made landfall on the Pacfic coast of Mexico on October 23. (Photo by Scott Kelly/NASA via Getty Images)

IN SPACE – In this handout photo provided by NASA, Hurricane Patricia is seen from the International Space Station. The hurricane made landfall on the Pacfic coast of Mexico on October 23. (Photo by Scott Kelly/NASA via Getty Images)

Ashu Mishra

After bombarding the Americas with drenching rain, heavy floods, and millions of dollars in damage, Hurricane Patricia finally crashed into the Pacific Coast of Mexico on October 20th of last year.

Hurricane Patricia mirrored current records for hurricane intensity across the board, and finally weighed in as the second strongest hurricane to ever hit the Pacific Coast. But its unusual intensity isn’t due to chance. In fact, El Niño related weather conditions set just the right conditions for Patricia to build up her strength. So what exactly is an El Niño, and what does it do? More specifically, how will it affect us?

According to most weather channels, the current 2015 El Niño is like a giant squid – we know it exists, but we have no clear idea of how it behaves or affects its environment. On the contrary, science quite clearly understands El Niño patterns, and can even warn people how to prepare for its potentially devastating effects.

An El Niño is a slightly abstract thing to try and understand. It is a climate condition that takes place when Pacific Ocean currents push warm surface water on the Asian side to the American side. When the warm surface water moves away on the Asian side, colder water rises up to take its place. At the end of the day, the ocean ends up with a warm side and a cool side. Because of the ocean surface temperature changes on both coasts, this directly changes the temperature of the air above the water.

So how are we affected by El Niños? Research shows that the El Niño’s effects include the formation of drought in some areas and excessive precipitation in others. M. J. McPhaden, a marine environmental researcher, explains that the changing air temperatures are able to move around atmospheric pressure zones. Simply said, the hot air on the American side rises while the cold air on the Asian side sinks. This moves around large air pockets that are known to cause rain.

This research is critical for California’s drought forecasting. By studying the strength of El Niño’s, we can see that strong ones have a tendency to bring above average precipitation to California. Since the current El Niño is one shaping up to be one of the strongest on record, the state can begin preparations to best collect the increase in rainfall that could potentially end the five-year drought.

Conversely, Pacific Island nations are facing a serious drought that takes a toll on their agriculture-based lifestyles. In addition to the millions of people having fewer freshwater and food supplies, they also face severe social and health problems that stem from the current El Niño. Because freshwater is harder to access during droughts, people in these developing countries often drink contaminated water to survive. This leads to large outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases. Research also indicates that damaged economies and declining living conditions during El Niño years result in more violence and fewer children enrolled in schools.

According the research of a group of scientists from Hawaii, Taiwan, and Australia, El Niño can also cause intensified cyclones. These researchers tracked down the data from cyclones that occurred during past El Niño years, and showed that these they have stronger winds than cyclones that occur in non-El Niño years. They explain this relationship by showing that El Niño ocean wind currents cause more extreme air pressure shifts. This seems to explain why Hurricane Patricia was so strong.

So why is this El Niño more intense than previous ones? Researcher Michael Lipin explains that global warming could explain the conundrum. He states that, due to the rising temperatures of the atmosphere, water evaporation has increased. The movement of water rising into the air generates more energy to power severe storms.

Since humans can’t control weather patterns, all we can do is to prepare ourselves to minimize the El Niño’s destruction. In order to prepare, we must first refine our ability to understand the exact effects each specific weather system will cause.

New science and technology has allowed for researchers to better understand how exactly El Niño can impact global weather patterns in the long run. One very important development is NASA’s new focus on using its weather satellites to track ocean height and surface currents to predict the strength of El Niños. As researchers get better at using these tools and analyzing data, they can one day alert governments to prepare for the coming droughts, enhanced fire seasons, and harmful ground-level pollutant levels.

By understanding El Niños, we can spread awareness of its power so communities can organize and prepare for its effects. Perhaps, as in California’s case, they can direct the power of weather systems to benefit the people. Regardless, El Niños give rise to an interesting question for the scientific community: How can we turn research into policies and practices that benefit humanity?

Weed is What You Need

Addie Frank


Indeed, you should read about how weed is a need to help those succeed to impede…pain, nausea, and muscle rigidity. Most people probably wouldn’t have guessed those three words to be the end of that rhyme so what do those three side effects have to do with weed, otherwise known as marijuana? Two words: medical cannabis.

While recreational marijuana is only legal in four states (Colorado being the most well-known), medicinal marijuana is actually legal in nineteen states. That is almost half of the U.S.! Although the law in these nineteen states allows the use and consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the controversy over its actual benefits continues to push forward.

According to W.J. Maule, the issue with the use and consumption of medical marijuana is more about how it can harm the body through using it over a long period of time rather than about the help it can and does bring. Focusing on the harm it can produce overshadows the benefits, causing a loop of legality to occur in the political world.

With medical marijuana being illegal in most of the United States and used minimally in the states in which it is legal, case studies and research about its benefits are inhibited. However, on the other side, because there are not many case studies or much research out there showing how beneficial medical marijuana can be; changing political policy about medical marijuana cannot happen without the proof from such research. It is a never ending cycle unless political policy changes to allow more research or for studies to happen regardless of the law.

Medical marijuana grunge rubber stamp, vector illustration

The fight for the right to legally use medical marijuana has been going on since the 1970s. A man named Robert Randall was the first person to succeed in a legal case regarding the right to use cannabis as medication. Marijuana had been dubbed a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. This drug classification meant that any drugs under this title was deemed to have “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” as stated according to Kevin B. Zeese. This classification still applies to this day.

Many organizations supporting the use of marijuana in a medical setting or even recreationally have fought against this classification and laws restricting the use of marijuana because with its restriction, research on this drug cannot be furthered.

However, thirty-three states in the United States in the years 1978-1982 did pass laws to allow marijuana to be used by seriously ill patients. Once this was done, the states had to pass the requirements of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse in order to actually have marijuana in the hands of the state. By 1984, seventeen states had done this and had active Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) programs. With this, states could move forward in investigations and research of marijuana.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive chemical in Cannabis sativa that is the “high” people are searching for when they smoke, eat, etc. this plant. THC is most effective in the body when smoked, and as said by Maule, it can be detected in the body immediately after smoking and at its highest peak in the body within 10 minutes.

How THC and other cannabinoids (other chemicals in cannabis) work in the body is that they bind to receptors in the central nervous system. The body actually produces naturally cannabinoids, but at low levels. The receptors for them are found in the parts of the brain where movement, stress response, advanced thinking, and memory are controlled. Pain perception and nausea/vomiting are also controlled by cannabinoid receptors in the body. By putting cannabis in the body (through any venue), the natural level of cannabinoids in the body rises drastically so receptors are loaded up, and the actions controlled by these receptors are affected.

When THC or other cannabinoids bind to these receptors, pain can be reduced, muscle spasms can be diminished, and other symptoms of varying illnesses can be alleviated. Illnesses or diseases such as Parkinson’s, HIV, or psychosis, and even the side effects that come with chemotherapy can all be helped through medical marijuana.

Cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment option for Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nerve degeneration disorder, was examined in a case study done by professionals from Rabin Medical Center and Tel Aviv University. Twenty-two patients with this disease were monitored after using/smoking cannabis to see if their symptoms were improved such as pain, motor symptoms, and muscle rigidity. The case proved that all three of these symptoms along with sleep were improved after smoking cannabis.

This case study is important for its findings, but must be looked at from afar due to some important restrictions it presented. A small group of subjects leads to variability in how useful marijuana actually can be in real life for symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. Further, many of the symptoms measured in this study were patient identified symptoms. Patients reported their pain levels using the Unified Parking Disease Rating Scale so the results could be skewed based on what each patient feels is a lot of pain or a little bit of pain.


Another case study conducted in California by the State of California Medical Marijuana Research Act showed positive findings for medical marijuana. Two trials were conducted with patients who had HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and neuropathic pain. They were given cannabis cigarettes with varying amounts of THC in them including ones that were placebos with no THC at all in them. The results showed reduction in pain (30% reduction in pain intensity). Interestingly enough, the medium-dose cannabis cigarettes had the same effect as the high-dose ones in reduction of pain.

On the opposite end, a specific case study on one patient presented a completely different picture of medical marijuana. This young man, named “Mr. Z”, had been in military service and was self-diagnosing marijuana for medical reasons. However, because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, the marijuana only heightened the symptoms of this condition. He suffered from hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (believing he was Jesus Christ). The marijuana had been used to relieve the pain he felt, but it caused psychosis to occur for “Mr. Z”.

The issue with using this case study as effective proof against medical marijuana is that other problems were present in the subject which caused the marijuana to produce adverse effects. So this case study lacks reliability for whether or not medical marijuana is bad to use.

So given all this information, should marijuana be legal for medical reasons or would it only encourage marijuana use for all? That’s up for debate, but weed may just be what is needed for pain reduction in chronic diseases and illnesses.

A True Best Friend

Brian Koo

Having a pet nowadays is a common thing in families all around the world.  One of the most common household pet is a dog and a common saying of dogs is that they are “A man’s best friend”.  Dogs are extremely energetic and will bring joy to anyone who sees them wagging their tail.  However, dogs can do much more than just simply be family pets; they can neurologically and physiologically affect how you react around them or around a certain predicament.

While the neurological reasoning behind dog therapy has not always been known, its therapeutic effect has always been prevalent throughout history.  Animal therapy, in records, originated from the ancient Greeks.  During these times, horses were used instead of dogs for the therapeutic effects.  Patients that were ill would ride on the backs of horses to raise their spirits and make them feel calm.  Both dog and equestrian (horse) therapy derived from animal therapy, but today, dog therapy is the most common in the world.

With anything in the medical world, there are always concerns and hazards that people are weary about.  For therapy dogs, the most common issues are whether they are properly vaccinated or properly trained to be an effective therapy dog.  There have been some opposition to the use of therapy dogs but for the most part, they are widely accepted throughout many hospitals.  These dogs are properly taken care of by their caretakers and are made sure they are well trained and properly vaccinated to insure the safety of both patient and dog.

So how does dog therapy actually work?  It is commonly known that the majority of people feel happy and gleeful when they are around a cute animal, but what truly allows dog therapy to be effective?  The answer is behind the different hormones released when a person interacts with a dog.  A study released by the Journal of Psychosomatic Research showed the different hormones released when a human and a dog interacted together.  It showed that hormones such as beta-endorphins and prolactin (these are released when a person feels stressed) were released similarly in both the person and dog.

The main difference, however, seemed to be the levels of oxytocin released in each.  This was noted to be much higher in humans after interacting with a dog.  Oxytocin (another type of hormone known as the “cuddle hormone”) is a great indicator of the neurochemicals measured for social attachment on animals.  This evidence showed why humans felt loved being around animals even if they were in a predicament.  As shown by the given evidence that oxytocin plays a huge impact on the effectiveness of dog therapy, there have been experiments conducted in different scenarios in order to prove that dog therapy is indeed effective and health concerns are the least of worries.

One experiment was conducted at Indiana University during finals week in both the fall and spring semester.  In order to prove that dog therapy was effective outside of the medical scenario, the university library was the chosen location for the therapy dogs to be at.  Hundreds of students came to the library during the week since they had to study for their finals.  To gather data, the students were asked questions before and after interacting with the therapy dogs.  From the 449 students that had taken part of the experiment, 93% reported that the therapy dogs had lowered their stress levels and made them feel a lot more relaxed.  These responses showed that the dog therapy had indeed de-stressed the students from studying for their finals.

A similar method of studying was done but in a medical scenario.  This study was conducted in a large urban teaching hospital in Irvine, California.  A teaching hospital is different from a normal hospital for it provides clinical education and training to future and current physicians, nurses, and other health professionals, in addition to delivering medical care to patients.  In this experiment, both patients and workers were surveyed in order to see if dog therapy was indeed effective.  The total number of patients and workers surveyed were 125 and 105 respectively.  From the patients, 96% of them agreed that the 30-minute dog therapy sessions made them feel relieved and calm for the first time ever since being entered into the hospital.  97% of the workers agreed that dog therapy helped the patients since they could notice a difference when interacting with them.  These high percentages from both studies showed how effective dog therapy really is in both the medical and non-medical world.

Overall, the use of dog therapy has been proven to be very effective with little to no repercussions on either the patient, worker, or dog-handler.  The universal response from studies and actual use of dog therapy has been very good meaning that dog therapy is beneficial.  People should enjoy their time with their dogs and utilize dog therapy whenever available because dogs are indeed a true best friend.