Tag Archives: health

Completed genome of platyfish may give clues to deadly skin (and scale?) cancer

16 Apr
Scientists have decoded the genome of platyfish, which are prone to developing melanomas (shown above) along the tail and fins. Credit: Texas State University

Scientists have decoded the genome of platyfish, which are prone to developing melanomas (shown above) along the tail and fins. Credit: Texas State University

The platyfish (scientific name: Xiphophorus maculatus), a cousin to the guppy and a popular aquarium pet averaging about two inches in length may not seem like a spectacular organism. The small fish who likes to swim in schools may not have its own hour on the discovery channel, either.But, thanks to an international team of scientists who have successfully completed the genome of this fish, some clues regarding unknown details on cancers such as melanoma, may begin to surface.

What makes the platyfish special is that is shares many unlikely characteristics with humans–such as courting its mate and giving live birth to its young. But, scientists’ main reason for studying the organism stems from its tendency to develop melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. While platyfish come in a variety of reds, oranges, silvers and speckles, the spread of melanoma causes their scales to have dark spots that are easily seen.

“In platyfish, melanomas typically develop as black splotches along the tail and fins,” senior author Wesley Warren, PhD, a geneticist at Washington University’s Genome Institute, said. “These fish are an ideal model for exploring the many unknowns of cancer, including how, when and where it develops in the body as well as its severity.”

Just like humans, the platyfish genome consists of approximately 20,000 genes. But, unlike human chromosomes that have changed overtime, the chromosomes of platyfish and most other fishes have stayed the same for more than 200 million years.

“It’s very much a mystery as to why these chromosomes are so structurally similar among fish species over long time periods of evolution because they live in vastly different aquatic environments,” Warren.

The genome mapping project was led by scientists at Washington University, the University of Würzburg in Germany and Texas State University and the complete findings are published in Nature Genetics.

“Now that we have the genome in hand, we can tease apart the way genes interact with one another to cause melanoma,” co-lead author Manfred Schartl, PhD, of the University of Würzburg in Germany, said. “Just as in human melanoma, genes that play a role in pigment cells also influence the development of melanoma in platyfish.”

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Reference: Schartl M, Walter, RB, Shen Y, Garcia T, Catchen J, Amores A, Braasch I, Chalopin D, Volff J-N, Lesch K-P, Bisazza A, Minx P, Hillier L, Wilson RK, Fuerstenberg S, Boore J, Searle S, Postlethwait JH and Warren WC. The genome of the platyfish, Xiphophorus maculatus, provides insights into evolutionary adaption and several complex traits. Nature Genetics. March 31, 2013.

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Study shows ‘organic’ label can create a ‘health halo effect’

2 Apr

photo (1)Being cynical journalist, a poor-and-starving graduate student as well as a self-proclaimed environmentalist, I have gone back and forth on whether or not I believe that the word ‘organic’ has been condensed down to a  mere marketing tactic. A March 17 article by Slate , criticizing the suburbia-praised chain Whole Foods, has increased my skepticism.

A study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers found that food items simply carrying the organic label were evaluated as having a more satisfying taste and containing lower calories than the same food item without the organic label.

To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 115 people from a shopping center in Ithaca, New York. The consumers, after answering a questionaire about their environmental and shopping habits, were asked to evauluate three pairs of products: one pair of yogurts, one pair of chips and one pair of cookies. Each pair consisted of one of the items being labeled as organic, and one without. The food items were exaclty identical, except for the way they were labeled.

In addition to rating the organically-labeled items as tastier and better for the waistline, consumers also reported that they were willing to pay up to 23.4 percent more for them. Of course, this ‘health halo effect’ as the researchers dubbed the phenomenon, was more likely to affect consumers who already were more inclined to purchase organic foods.

So–the answer to my question–is the term ‘organic’ merely a marketing scheme?

While I do not know that there is a right or wrong answer to this, I do believe that some companies truly do back their labels and are committed to creating pure organic foods, while others may just be trying to attract the environmentally-conscious consumers who typically earn higher incomes and are more willing to spend more on these products.

Now excuse me while I contemplate this thought by eating a “100 percent natural” Nature Valley granola bar.

Note: the “buy one get one free” label at Publix got my attention before the “100 percent natural” label.

Thoughts?

Nutrition expert debunks sugar myths

1 Apr
Meg is epicurious and has a strong passion for cooking healthy meals on a budget. Her passion for food and nutrition stems from a young age with exposure to cuisine from various cultures. Originally from New York, she moved to Tallahassee, Florida to receive a bachelor's degree in Dietetics at the Florida State University. Upon graduating, She took one step further to become a nutrition expert in the dietetics field. She is currently a graduate student studying Clinical Nutrition at the Florida State University with the intent of becoming a Registered Dietitian post-grad. She believes that food has a unique ability to bond people from around the world, to create new relationships, and to cement old friendships. She aims to share her nutrition knowledge with others and to encourage healthy lifestyles through fitness and nutrition.

Meg is epicurious and has a strong passion for cooking healthy meals on a budget. Her passion for food and nutrition stems from a young age with exposure to cuisine from various cultures. Originally from New York, she moved to Tallahassee, Florida to receive a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics at the Florida State University. Upon graduating, She took one step further to become a nutrition expert in the dietetics field. She is currently a graduate student studying Clinical Nutrition at the Florida State University with the intent of becoming a Registered Dietitian post-grad. She believes that food has a unique ability to bond people from around the world, to create new relationships, and to cement old friendships. She aims to share her nutrition knowledge with others and to encourage healthy lifestyles through fitness and nutrition.

Meg Khan-Karen is a guest blogger for Layman’s Terms Media. Periodically she will post thoughtful articles about leading a healthy lifestyle on a budget. Check out her Facebook page Daily Fit Dish by MegKKFit for healthy recipes at a reasonable price.

By: Meg Khan-Karen, Nutrition expert

“Sugar is poison.” This has been engrained in our minds since childhood. As children, we were often told to avoid eating too much sugar because it would rot our teeth, make us hyper, give us nightmares—the list goes on. More and more, we are bombarded with new food products that are marketed as being all-natural or ‘healthy’. However, one look at the nutrition label and it becomes clear that this is not so.

 

These products are filled with added sugars and other nasty fillers that our body can do without. From a young age, we have been taught to believe that sugar is harmful for our bodies, but how much truth is there to this claim?

Allow me to debunk the ‘sugar-is-the-devil’ mayhem for you.

Sugars are the building blocks of carbohydrates, which your body needs in order to function on a daily basis.  Sugars are naturally found in foods such as fruits and dairy products. These types of sugars are called simple sugars. Other foods such as vegetables and grains contain complex carbohydrates, both of which your body can break down for readily available energy when needed.

 

These carbohydrates allow our brains to function at optimal capacity and provide us with the energy to fulfill daily tasks, whether it be studying for exams, running errands, or training for the local 5K. Sugars from fresh, whole foods keep us healthy and strong. Therefore, not all sugars are bad for you. Without these carbohydrates, we would feel lethargic and unable to function to our best ability.

 

Here is where the confusion about sugar arises. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined ‘added sugars’ as ingredients in processed and prepared foods (such as breads, cakes, soft drinks, jam, and ice cream) and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table.1 These types of sugars come from either fruits or vegetables, but have been processed into a product that is unrecognizable as a whole food source. Such added sugars in our diets have been shown to account for the rise in obesity as well as a higher prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Reducing your daily intake of added sugars can lead to a decreased risk of acquiring such diseases as well as alleviating health problems such as inflammation, irritability, poor immune system and possibly even some types of cancers.

 

Today, a greater majority of Americans are consuming added sugars in the form of sugar-laden beverages like sodas or as hidden preservatives subtly placed into various packaged food products lining grocery store shelves. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar from table sugar or processed foods per day, which can amass to an extra 355 calories each day.2  This can lead to unfavorable changes in your waistline while also increasing your risk of obesity and acquiring other harmful diseases.

 

Currently, the American Heart Association suggests women should consume no more than 100 calories, or about 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  For men, the suggestion is 150 calories, or 9 teaspoons of sugar per day.

Consider this: One 12 oz. can of Coca Cola contains a whopping 39 grams of sugar, which is equal to 9.75 teaspoons. This is more than the American Heat Association’s suggestion for both women and men.

 

Eliminating added sugars from your diet may seem like a daunting task, as they are found in nearly every processed food product on the market. However, decreasing your consumption is the first step to building a healthier body and a brighter future.

 

Here are some tips to get you started in eliminating added sugars in your diet:

  • check nutrition label ingredient lists for words that end in ‘-ose’ such as maltose, sucrose, dextrose, and high fructose corn syrup as well as brown sugar, raw sugar, corn syrup, malt syrup, pancake syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrates, and corn sweeteners, all of which are added sugars
  • avoid adding white sugar to your foods and beverages like coffee or tea.
  • stick with the whole fruit – instead of a glass of juice, grab an orange or an apple
  • look for “no sugar added” or “low sugar” options and if necessary, consider canned fruits packed in water
  • when baking, cut the sugar requirement in half or consider a replacement such as unsweetened applesauce or mashed fruit, such as a banana
  • check the labels of packaged products such as salad dressings, tomato sauces, cereals, yogurts, and of course treats and candies
  • consider natural, plant-based sweeteners such as Stevia or Agave syrup

References:

(1)   Johnson, R. K., & Yon, B. A. (2010). Weighing in on Added Sugars and Health. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(9), 1296.

(2)   Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009; 120:1011-20.

(3)   Harvard School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet. Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved March 28, 2013, from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/

 

Fool proof way to be a good cook

28 Nov

A new study shows that adding vegetables to a meal doesn’t only up the nutritional value, but also makes others percieve you as a “good cook.”

Researchers  at Cornell University surveyed 500 US mothers and found that adding vegetables to a family meal would cause the preparer of the meal to be percieved as a better chef, more thoughtful and more caring. The main course of the meal, when veggies were added was also percieved to be more tasty. Continue reading

Researchers quantify the benefits of exercise

8 Nov

While it may be a no-brainer that regular physical activity can have many health benefits, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have found out that even modest exercise can add 1.8 years of life expectancy over age 40.

“Modest exercise,” as defined in the study included activities such as 75 minutes of brisk walking per week.

“Physical activity above this minimal level was associated with additional gains in longevity. For example, walking briskly for at least 450 minutes a week was associated with a gain of 4.5 years,” said I-Min Lee, MD, associate epidemiologist in the Department of Preventive Medicine at BWH and senior author on this study. “Further, physical activity was associated with greater longevity among persons in all BMI groups: those normal weight, overweight, and obese.” Continue reading

How is health literacy measured in America?

18 Sep

Health communicators face the challenge of communicating what can be complex subjects to the general public. To do this, measures of a particular audience’s health literacy may be measured to create a strategic communication plan. Surprisingly, the form below is how health literacy is tested in the United States.

Is this enough? Is there a more comprehensive strategy? This test simply measures whether or not the patient can read the words aloud, not if they can comprehend them. Research also shows that a majority of the population is health illiterate based on this test. What are effective mediums that health communicators can use to educate lay people?

This, is of course a rhetorical question that will appreciate any comment. I hope I will slowly learn some sort of answer to this question as I research more.

The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine takes two to three minutes to complete and can be administered by a nurse or other staff member.

5 Myths about Science communication

7 Sep

Since the majority of graduate schoolwork is reading academic journals about a particular area of interest I have decided to start blogging the interesting articles I read. Since my specialization in Science/Health communication, these are the topics I will be posting about on a weekly basis.

If you’re a follower of science, health or communication-related topics, please follow along and comment! Since most people probably don’t have the time to read long journal articles, I’ll just summarize the key points and make them into illustrations.

Here is the first one, the “5 myths of Science Communication,” from an opinion article titled “Scientists Intuitive Failures,” from The Scientist.