Friday, February 17, 2017

GUEST POST: Can Caffeine Really Benefit Your Health?

As always, guest posts are always welcome on my blog, especially ones about coffee! So, please enjoy this post by Faith Munsell...

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It seems highly unlikely that coffee, such a delectable, caffeinated miracle can prove to be good for you, as such is typically the case with most other delicious pick-me-ups.

Coffee can actually benefit your health—however, like anything else, it is only helpful if used moderately. ‘Moderation’ differs between people, and added health problems can determine just how much caffeine is safe for your body. For instance, our heart centre patients that present with heart disease might strain their hearts by drinking multiple cups of coffee in one day (or in one sitting). Therefore, if you do have an underlying health issue, it’s critical that you speak with your doctor about just how much caffeine is safe for you.


7 Ways Coffee Can Benefit Your Health

     
There are copious ways in which coffee can contribute to overall balanced health.

1. It Counters Diabetes

A Harvard study discovered a connection among the lowering of blood sugar (which can cause Type 2 diabetes in high amounts) and moderate coffee intake. Surprisingly enough, this has nothing to do with caffeine—in fact, decaffeinated coffee had a larger effect. Researchers accredit this to the antioxidants that decrease blood sugar levels.

2. It Extends Your Life

Harvard conducted another study that showed those who drank anywhere between 3 and 5 cups of coffee on a daily basis (in literal cups—not enormous mugs) “may be less likely to die prematurely from some illnesses than those who don’t drink or drink less coffee.” It’s likely that this is because of the cardiovascular benefits, lowering of blood sugar, and the addition of antioxidants. As a heart centre, we at Slidell Memorial Hospital completely recognise the value of food and drink packed with antioxidants like coffee.

3. It Elevates Your Mood

A happy body stems from a happy mind, and coffee is excellent when it comes to lifting your mood. There are several studies stating that it elevates your dopamine and decreases depression, although, for some, the mood elevation stems from the scrumptious hot drink and the relaxation that accompanies it.

4. Antioxidants

Whether decaffeinated or caffeinated, coffee is packed with antioxidants. These disease-conquering miracle workers aid in counteracting the oxidative effects leading to numerous diseases (as well as Type 2 diabetes) such as macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and other chronic diseases.

5. It Protects Against Some Cancers

It is important to note that coffee does not prevent cancer, although it can help guard you against specific types with its protective functions. Moderate coffee intake has proven in certain studies to fight off some cancers such as colon cancer, prostate cancer, and endometrial cancer.

6. It Protects Your Heart

You can improve your endothelial function by drinking just a couple of cups per day. This is important because it helps ward off heart attacks and strokes, and faulty endothelial functioning could land you in our heart centre. Coffee can help guard you against cardiovascular disease as well. Although this appears to work better for women than men, both genders are able to lower their risk of cardiovascular events and disease with controlled coffee intake (green tea also works wonders).

7. It Boosts Your Liver

Your liver really is the unsung hero of your body. While the brain and heart receive the majority of the news coverage, a healthy liver provides numerous crucial bodily functions.

According to recent studies, coffee seems to be hepatoprotective, although only when it is filtered. Filtered coffee removes cafestol and kahweol that espresso and other unfiltered coffee do not (this can lead to fatty liver disease—particularly when mixed with alcohol).

Now you know—coffee can positively benefit the body in numerous healthy ways. However, we cannot stress enough that this is only the case when drunk moderately. Another crucial point to note is that candy disguised as coffee is incredibly bad for your health. For instance, there are a monstrous 40 grammes of sugar in a Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks. Even worse, there are 48 grammes in their bottled Dark Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino. If you are considering replacing your caffeine dose with a hot chocolate, one of Starbucks’ worst offenders is their white hot chocolate—with a near-lethal 62 grammes of sugar.

All in all, when taken in moderation, coffee can be healthy so long as you steer clear of the overly sugary options.

Written by Faith Munsell from Slidell Memorial Hospital Health Blog

Disclaimer,

The scientific and medical opinions expressed within guest blog posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam). The accuracy and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam) is not liable for any errors or representations.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

My experience at the science communication primer



It has been a couple of months since I attended the science communication primer, held by the British Science Association, and I wasn’t originally going to review the day, but I thought it would be useful for those of you who might be thinking about going into science communication, and if your thinking about attending a similar event.

It was held at Conway Hall in Holborn, London and was attended by a range of speakers including Dr Stephen Webster (ICL), Tom Chivers (Buzzfeed) and Mun Keat Looi (Mosaic) and much more.
Overall the day was an enlightening experience and I learnt a lot from each of the speakers and their views of science communication and their backgrounds.

Although it was a chilly October day, the hall was packed with a full-house of aspiring science communicators.  We all came from extremely different backgrounds but our intentions/goals were the same.

The day started off with an introduction and welcome by Katherine Mathieson who then introduced Dr Stephen Webster who spoke about the recurring themes that affect science communication and how the public relationship with science communication is an extremely difficult one to understand.

  • Recommendation: do take a notepad and pen to take down notes and possibly a tablet or laptop so that you could open and save the speakers recommended reading.


The next session was by a panel of speakers: Tom Tapper, Dr Claire Asher, Tom Chivers and Ellen Dowell. They discussed how to choose the right medium for your message which isn’t restricted to the usual, well-known methods.

The third session was on storytelling in science communication. Mun-Keat Looi told us all about the effect that storytelling has on engaging readers with science and gave us some great examples of where it is used. This is something I would like to adapt in my science blogs. We also did a fun and creative exercise where we had to make up a science story, with characters and a “plot” and swap with our neighbour and have them fill in the alternate sections.

Later on in the day, the fourth session was hosted by Marie Hobson who talked to us about evaluating our work and how to understand our audience and identifying potential challenges or barriers in our piece of science communication.

The closing session of the day was a relaxing interview with Helen Czerski. She talked about her scientific journey and her relationship with “bubbles” and her research.


As well as learning more about science communication, the event was really great for networking with other science communicators and meeting other people in the field. I would highly recommend this event for anyone who loves science and wants to communicate it or study science communication in higher education. 

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Friday, January 06, 2017

We have a new organ in our bodies!


Doesn't that sound crazy?
After years of research, scientists have discovered that we have a new organ in our bodies.
You'd think that with all of the dissections of the human body over 100 years of anatomy study, that we would know everything about the human body by now, but no! There is still more to learn and I wonder what else do we not know about our bodies?

The new organ is located in our digestive system, specifically connecting the abdomen and intestines and it looks like this and it's called the MESENTERY:


For hundreds of years, the mesentery had been considered a fragmented structure made up of multiple separate parts. However, research by Professor of Surgery at UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School, J Calvin Coffey, found the mesentery is one, continuous structure.


J Calvin Coffey, University of Limerick said: “In the paper, which has been peer reviewed and assessed, we are now saying we have an organ in the body which hasn’t been acknowledged as such to date.” 


So how does the mesentery work? I hear you ask.


It is a set of tissues which is formed by the double fold of peritoneum that attaches the intestines to the wall of the abdomen. Up until now, we only know the anatomy (structure) of the organ, more detailed functions of the organ are yet to be found out. 



The official google definition of the mesentery.
This is definitely a breakthrough in science. Knowing what this organ does will not only benefit research but further scientific research of the mesentery could lead to less invasive surgeries, fewer complications, faster patient recovery and lower overall costs.  We could also find out about diseases which could be affecting patients, and find a better and more specific cure for these diseases. 

The human body still has its ways of showing us how majestic it is and we can only wonder what else there is to find out about the forever-working-factory that is our bodies. 



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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Just add water: an emergency blood bank




I'm sure you've seen, fairly recently, a lot of advertisements calling for blood donation. Particularly in the U.K where the NHS pleads for blood donation so that hospitals and ambulances have enough blood in their blood bank to be able to provide it to patients during emergencies. However sometimes donations aren't enough, and science needs to find another solution, albeit temporary, to provide "man-made" blood for use in emergency blood transfusions.

The need increases especially when stored blood is unavailable or undesirable. Undesirable being defined as the blood type of the donor blood is not compatible with the patient's blood type or there isn’t enough blood ready for transfusion with the patient’s blood type.

Artificial Oxygen Carrier

Dr. Doctor and his colleges and his team have developed ErythroMer which is a new artificial blood substitute which is currently under trials, testing its efficacy before its official use in health care. It is a red, powder-like substance which takes the role of blood once it is dissolved in water.

Dr. Allan Doctor, a professor of paediatrics, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, presented the new results in early December at the American Society of Hematology 58th Annual Meeting.

ErythroMer is a new solution in replacement of haemoglobin based oxygen carriers. Previously produced and tested haemoglobin oxygen carriers have proven to be inefficient because they carry oxygen around the body but they do not release it to bodily tissues.  They also trap nitric oxide which can lead to vasoconstriction and therefore high blood pressure.

Despite it being in the early stages of research, the blood substitute has provided very promising results in a proof of concept study in mice. Where they were able to prove that ErythroMer was able to deliver oxygen to mice tissues in the same way as mice blood and they were able to resuscitate rate that were in shock and had lost an average of 40% of their blood. 

The newly produced artificial blood (ErythroMer) is efficient at temporarily carrying oxygen around the body and releasing it to bodily tissues as required.  After passing several rigorous, initial, ex vivo and in vivo "proof of concept" testing and bench testing, this proves that ErythroMer is successful in emulating normal red blood cell physiologic interactions with oxygen and nitric oxide.

However, there is still 10 years worth of research and trials before the artificial blood product reaches patients in emergencies, till then, blood donation will still remain extremely essential. Next steps are to confirm our promising findings in a larger animal model, screen and address any toxicities, scale production, and eventually test for safety and efficacy in humans,” says Doctor.



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Monday, December 05, 2016

Guest post: 8 Reasons Why Kids Should Science More [Infographic]

Children doing science....

Not to sound too cringe-y but children are our future. That being said, it’s important what sort of education they get, particularly in science. Scientific method nurtures thinking skills; whether in the classroom or at home or with a group of friends, kids can come up with a simple theory and then try and prove or disprove their theory, learn from the outcome and improve their knowledge. Following this logical process supports children to think critically in other areas of study and life.
At even at its most basic level, science feeds a natural love for learning, curious children are natural explorers and science offers them plenty of hands on, fun and exciting things to explore.
Science helps children to answer questions about the world they live in by showing them how to think critically and teaching them the resilience they need to keep on questioning theories. Science doesn’t just teach kids about science, it teaches them about life and how to think independently for the rest of their lives.


So without further introduction here are 8  reasons why children should science more:

Click to enlarge the infographic!

This infographic has been created in collaboration by Marcus and Michael from Psychology and Science PsySci.co website.


Disclaimer,
The scientific and medical opinions expressed within guest blog posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam). The accuracy and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Crystals and Catalysts (Mariam) is not liable for any errors or representations.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

One Paragraph on Brexit and Science



It’s a time of uncertainty. Ever since the vote for Brexit happened science in the UK has been affected and that’s certainly no secret.  Although Britain is not completely out of the European Union yet, there are a few disturbances which have started to show ever since the results were released. The main consequence was the “burning of the bridges” - the relationship between the UK and the EU has been severed so that scientists in the EU do not feel welcome to collaborating with scientists in the UK. Brexit has even affected the quantity of international students who applied to study in higher education in the U.K this year, with many international students pulling out their places from UK universities after the Brexit vote, leaving many gaps unfilled.  This shouldn’t be a time where collaborating over research becomes a difficult task says Martin Rees in Nature’s micro article. Convinced that independent research councils work better than governmental agencies; he also recommends that a start for solution, needs a “senior independent voice in Whitehall by reviving the post of Director-General of Research Councils, supported by a strong advisory board.” Also, there are talks as to who should be the voice of science in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. There’s no way to disconnect science from politics so we’ll just have to work with it and have the scientific voice heard.

Special thanks to Frits Ahlefeldt for the caricature from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/browse-author.php?a=1210

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Does the public trust clinical trials?


Whilst you're reading this, hundreds of clinical studies are taking place to find the latest breakthrough drug in diabetes, heart, immunological or rare diseases that only affect a handful of people but are debilitating. The results of these trials are being published monthly in medical journals, most with positive results; but to what degree can a member of the public trust the results of clinical trials; particularly those sponsored by big pharmaceutical companies?

How much does the public trust clinical trials?

With the amount of work that is being done recently, public trust in clinical trials has been improving although not to the needed extent. In 2013, a public survey conducted by the Health Research Authority (HRA) for the NHS, respondents had less confidence in health research studies undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry.

In this survey, there were 1,295 adults aged 18 years or more from across England in 2013.

Only 27% of participants in the survey said that they had increased confidence in clinical studies when knowing that pharmaceutical companies work closely with the NHS, whereas this factor did not have an impact on the other 61% of respondents.

It’s well understood that pharmaceutical companies must make a big profit to ensure their company keeps on running and continuing to conduct a lot of clinical trials with amazing results that beat their competitors - which is why some members of the public feel that their results must be “too good to be true” and won't trust the results coming from a study conducted by a pharmaceutical company.

However it should be known that there are regulatory authorities such as the FDA (US) and the EMA (EU) who have full access to all data from clinical trials (the good and the bad) and they decide which drug can make it to the drug market depending on the results of the clinical study and the side effects associated with the drug.

Another reason for the lack of trust between the public and pharmaceutical clinical trials is partly due to the fact that there is a lack of understanding of what the results of the clinical trials mean and how they affect the public. This goes back to how science is communicated and who it’s communicated to.

A research paper published in 2011 discusses the need for research to be published to the public without restrictions; stating that the “interests of the patients must override commercial interests”. The paper also discusses several issues that the drug industry has when it comes to data sharing, sharing the data may not solve all problems but it can “demonstrate many of the hidden flaws in the research process”. Other “flaws” discussed in the 2011 paper is the issue of pharmaceutical companies comparing new drugs to placebo instead of comparing them to existing drugs on the market to achieve better results. Selective reporting has also been an issue with many clinical trials, the benefits of a number of drugs have been overrated whilst the harms have been underrated significantly, this has lead to serious and negative consequences in the past for patients and many lives have been lost due to hidden adverse events.

“For example, a class 1 anti-arrhythmic drug likely caused the premature death of about 50,000 Americans each year in the 1980s. An early trial found nine deaths on the drug and only one on placebo, but it was never published.”Gotzsche PC. 2011.

Therefore sharing data is absolutely beneficial so that everyone, including the public, is well informed about what the true harms and benefits of new drugs are leading to fewer harms within healthcare research. Not only that, data sharing also could reduce the amount of cheating in the industry and improve the efficiency of health care research and provide more reliable and meaningful data.

Again, one of the most important factors is communication. Every person/figure/authority has to be able to openly communicate all data, the positive and the negative so that there is transparency and everyone benefits from the data.




After all the issues I’ve discussed, it’s now time to discuss the solutions that have been implemented which aim to increase public trust in clinical studies.

Since 2005/2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) has aimed to create a global network of clinical trial registers and their goal is to “increase transparency and accountability on the part of companies and institutions that do clinical research, and, in turn, boost public trust and confidence in that research.”

Registering a clinical trial is the most important factor for the acceptance of a clinical study being published in a reputable journal. In response to the action that WHO have taken, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) agreed to not publish the results of any clinical study unless it has been registered in a public register before the enrolment of the first patient. Now the majority of trials are registered in Clinicaltrials.gov (this is one of main open clinical trials registers).

On 3rd October 2016, ClinicalTrials.gov currently lists 226,788 studies with locations in all 50 States (USA) and in 191 countries.

Not only does registration allow the distribution of information among clinicians, researchers, and patients, it also acts as a reassurance blanket for clinical trial participants that their participation and their results will become part of the public record for public benefit.

Would a member of public participate in a clinical trial?


Going back to the survey results published by the HRA for the NHS:
  • 33% of respondents would be very happy for their GP to access their patient records to see if they might be suitable to join a health research study
  • 25% would be very happy for a hospital consultant to access their records
  • and 18% would be very happy for an NHS doctor who does not provide their care but is doing research to access their records
  • but 77% of all respondents would be confident about taking part in a health research study if they knew that it had been reviewed by a Research Ethics Committee.
So although there is a degree of hesitancy, this doesn’t prevent people from agreeing to participate in clinical studies. 


To conclude this three-page blog post; even though previously there has been many issues which have resulted in public distrust in clinical trials, new initiatives and new rules and regulations are being implemented for public interest and well-being and to increase the transparency between pharmaceutical accompanies, institutions and the public.  

Would you participate in a clinical trial/study?







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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My rollercoaster attempt at moving to WordPress and what I learnt from it


You may or may not have realised that there's been a bit of confusion around my blog over the weekend as I tried to move my blog over to wordpress.com (there's a big difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com - will explain in depth below) but I wasn't completely successful and so I restored my blog back on blogger - my safe home. :)

Reasons why I wanted to move to WordPress:
  1. It's a more professional
  2. It's recommended that more bloggers should use it since it's more flexible and professional for blogging
  3. The majority of science blogs are hosted on WordPress
How I tried to move over (and only partially succeeded)

I used the instructions from this website, and the coding to move to WordPress, I imported my files to my WordPress.com blog and I managed to set a redirect from my blogger blog to my WordPress blog that I had set up. But, this was only partly successful because I couldn't figure out how to set up a redirect for my individual posts - they only redirected to the home page, and this would confuse a lot of readers! Turns out, that they meant wordpress.org! *facepalm* So I ended up returning back to my Blogger blog.

What I learned from the process and you should know too...
  1. You can't access any coding on wordpress.com, or add in any plugins other than the ones that are provided to you, so I couldn't create individual post redirects to my new website on wordpress.com
  2. Blogger has more flexibility and options for free templates (which if you know me, I love changing templates!) - Wordpress does have an extensive variety of templates, but I didn't feel that they suited my blog or niche 
  3. To have access to coding you need to download and install WordPress.org (Note: To set up Wordpress.org you need to have purchased a domain name and have a host -like BlueHost or any other host which are recommended by WordPress). Wordpress.org is for those who are more experienced with coding and plugins and working with hosts
*A tip before you start blogging!*
Read around A LOT before you start blogging to choose where you want to host your blog (Blogger, WordPress, Medium, Wix or any of the other tools available online)

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Butter or Fish Oil for the Brain? (Infographic)


 Today's posts is in the form of an infographic, with a simple topic today: the brain and controlling how much food we eat and what types of food we eat. 
Please give all the right credits and link back to this post if you'd like to share this infographic.
Thanks!

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

One Paragraph on Green Energy From Grass


Garden grass could become a source of cheap and clean renewable energy, scientists at Cardiff University, UK, have claimed. They have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass with the help of sunlight and a cheap catalyst; hydrogen is contained in enormous quantities all over in the world in water, hydrocarbons and other organic matter and there is a serious need to release hydrogen from these sources in a cheap, efficient and sustainable way. This process is called photoreforming or photocatalysis and involves the sunlight activating the catalyst (metal based: palladium, gold and nickel) which then gets to work on converting cellulose and water into hydrogen− their “results show that significant amounts of hydrogen can be produced using this method with the help of a bit of sunlight and a cheap catalyst”.

[1] Caravaca A. et al,  Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Science, 2016; 472 (2191) [2]

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Saturday, August 06, 2016

Happy 2 Years Crystals and Catalysts!





Happy 2nd Birthday to my blog! - what have I achieved in the last two years?

I cannot believe it's been two years since I started blogging about science (where does time go?!)
But I guess time flies when you're having fun...

I dived into the deep end when I started this blog, after being hesitant to start it for about a year. Now it's something I am very happy and proud to have initiated and made it into a "portfolio" for my writing - which I'm still working on, still practising (I am not a professional - yet! ;) ).

Why I started my blog?

Becuase I wanted a career change. After I graduated I didn't feel like my place was in the lab. Not that I hate working in the lab, actually the opposite, I loved it. But I think that as much as the world needs great scientific research it also needs great science communication.

What have I gained so far?
  1. My job as a junior medical writer in medical communications! (although medical communications is completely different from science communications, my blog was a good example of my writing skills which got me the job at a renowned med comms agency. A future post on medical communications vs. science communications will be coming on this blog.)
    1. Learning the different types of science communication and when and where they are used
    2. Being able to research different scientific topics whilst writing about them 
    3. Great readers - obviously! Thank you for reading. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
    Here's to many more years to come! 


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