Food for thought about how to live healthy!

Archive for the ‘Cancer’ Category

DNA: Don’t Get It Twisted

In the field of medicine, DNA and genetics is a relatively new concept. The first pictures of DNA were taken just over 50 years ago. Now, people use DNA for everything: engineering crops, selective breeding of livestock, solving crimes, medical therapy. But what exactly is DNA? What is it made of? How does it work? What does it look like?

Well Italian scientists have captured the most high-resolution photo of DNA to date, and it looks something like THIS:

A high resolution photo of DNA taken by Italian scientists. It was captured by dehydrating a strand of DNA and using an electron microscope.

It kind of looks like a hairy caterpillar.

Some of you are saying “Didn’t scientists take pictures of DNA in the 50’s?” While we have had images of what DNA may look like, we haven’t really been able to look at DNA directly. Old pictures were taken with X-Ray techniques, which use light to reflect the image of DNA. It’s like trying to determine what a hand looks like by looking at its shadow. Well with the electron microscope, used to take the picture above, scientists can fire electrons at the DNA to determine it’s really shape. We can even see the double helix base pairs! How cool is that?

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a double helix structure with four base pairs, adenine, guanine, thynine, and cytosine! The sequence of these base pairs determines how the DNA functions! For example, take the genetic sequence for eye color. A sequence of A-C-T-C-G-A might determine blue eyes while G-C-A-T-A-C might cause green eyes. Of course, that was just a short version. In reality, genetic code contain billions of base pairs and sequences that are responsible for EVERYTHING our body does. Much like a computer is programmed with simple 0110101 codes, our DNA functions the same way. And like a fingerprint, not one person’s genetic sequence is the same. Even identical twins have two different genetic makeups.

DNA resides in each of our cells in a structure called the nucleus. The nucleus is like the brain of the cell, and the cell functions as the DNA tells it to. The cell reads DNA via an intricate process called DNA Transcription and Translation. Sometimes, there is something wrong with the DNA. It may be damaged, incomplete, or unable to be processed. That’s when we have genetic disorders, such as heterochromia or red hair (yes, red hair is a genetic mutation of blonde hair!). When DNA becomes corrupt and damaged, whether it’s through age or an environmental factor or it’s just prone to be that way, that’s when cells become malignant and turn into cancer. From how many strands of hair we have to how tall we are, DNA controls it all.

The thing about DNA is it thrives off of diversity. That’s why inbred people were often kind of messed up. When you combine two very similar genetic sequences, the DNA can get confusing for the cell to process thus leading to a myriad of problems. While it’s legal in 19 states and in the District of Columbia to screw your first cousin (it’s also legal to marry them in 6 of those states), it’s generally not a good idea. Research has shown that offspring between first cousins have a 7 to 8 percent chance of developing a genetic disorder like Tay-Sachs or Cystic Fibrosis. Even though Charles Darwin, a guy who knew a thing or two about genetics, married his first cousin, it’s not recommended if you want a healthy baby.

After all, DNA, in it’s double helix shape, is already twisted enough.

Red Meat: America’s Worst Enemy

It’s unfortunate the foundation of a classic American diet is based on red meat. Hamburgers, hot dogs, beef, steak: all of these are difficult to pass up when living in America. But now it’s no wonder the U.S. has the highest rate of obesity and heart disease in the world. With a diet revolving around red meat, it’s inevitable.

A new study released earlier last week shows all red meat is bad for you. That’s right, ALL red meat. Although red meat has some good qualities, it is not the sort of food to put at the center of your diet.

Red meat is very high in two types of chemicals called myoglobin and haemoglobin. These two chemicals can be difficult to convert and digest which can damages your intestinal tract and lead to cancer. Red meat intake has been correlated with several forms of cancers included intestinal, colorectal, esophageal, lung, bladder, and pancreatic cancer. But that’s not the main reason red meat is bad for you.

Red meat also has a high percent of saturated fat and trans fat. The saturated fat and trans fat clings to our bodies because of its chemical form. A study done between vegetarians and non-vegetarians showed that vegetarians had 30% lower BMIs. Obesity then leads to other problems such as diabetes, acute coronary syndrome (stroke), and heart disease.

Why is red meat so high in fat? Well what is meat exactly? Meat is the flesh taken from animals that is then eaten by us. Usually, meat is the skeletal muscle taken off the legs and abdomen. Take a look at your own legs and abdomen. Sure, you have muscles there. But what surrounds your muscles? Fat. Animals are exactly the same way. And with the high-paced way red meat is processed and packaged these days, I don’t think ranchers are too concerned about the content of fat in their meat.

The key to red meat, like any other type of food that’s bad for you, is moderation. The FDA recommends  eating no more than 300 grams (11 oz) of lean red meat every week. Lean red meat has less fat and cooked more healthy than other meats.

Another way to make red meat healthier is to try cooking it in different ways. By slow cooking red meat, you can allow the proteins in meat to convert more easier and that way the meat doesn’t lose all its nutrients and doesn’t gain a ton of fat.

Of course, it would be wise to quit red meat entirely. White meat has the same kind of nutrients without all the fat, so it’s a good substitute. Certain nuts and fish are also high in iron and protein and can replace those nutrients lost by cutting red meat out of a diet. There are iron supplements you can take as well, but those aren’t as healthy, wholesome, and natural as getting your nutrients from food itself.

And honestly, who knows what chemicals are used to process red meats these days anyways?

Can IVF Lead to Breast Cancer?

The world was left shocked Monday when news broke that Fashion Police co-host Giuliana Rancic has breast cancer at the young age of 37. The most surprising news was that she has no family history of breast cancer, meaning something external could have caused it. Although there have been some studies debunking the theory, many medical professionals still suspect that Rancic’s efforts of getting pregnant via IVF, in vetro fertilization, could have caused her cancer.

Doctors recommend women start getting mammograms at age 40. Although 36 is considered young to have breast cancer, it is not uncommon. Women undergoing IVF are typically in their mid to high 30’s, so they are screened for cancers and other medical abnormalities for every course of IVF given.

An embryeologist prepares a sperm sample to fertilize an egg. Although IVF can be successful for women suffering from infertility, it can lead to hormonal problems which can cause a variety of other health lissues, possibly cancer.

In vetro fertilization is a last-chance effort women make when they want to get pregnant but are suffering from infertility. Eggs are harvested from the woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm, taken from her partner or a sperm donor, in a fluid medium. The fertilized eggs, now a zygote, are transferred into the woman’s uterus at the peak point of her hormonal fertility in hopes that it will attach to the uterine wall and begin to develop. Sometimes it never works, sometimes it works too much (ex: Octomom).

The thinking is that the hormonal treatments used with IVF can cause cancer. Elizabeth Edwards, who succumbed to her battle with breast cancer  last December, had her two children via IVF. Edwards, however, was 61. Rancic had never even had a mammogram until her doctor suspected she might have cancer.

Breast cancer, in particular, is common among IVF patients. In general, breast cancer makes up almost a quarter of all the world’s cancers. It is the most common cancer found among women and causes almost 15% of all female cancer patient deaths. Starting at age 16, women are recommended to check themselves for breast cancer by performing a monthly physical examination for lumps around the breast tissue and armpits. 80% of breast cancer is found by women finding lumps during self-performed exams.

Whether or not IVF can increase the risk of breast cancer has yet to be seen. Regardless, it is important for all women to regularly check themselves and for women over 40 to receive a mammogram every 6-12 months.

If you’re considering IVF, make sure you have a doctor who is well acquainted with the process and risks of the procedure. The only reason Octomom ended up having 8 babies at once is because her doctor was irresponsible. And if one treatment of IVF can cause hormonal problems, imagine what being pregnant with 8 kids is like.

California Starts Legally Protecting Minors from Sex and Sun

What is it with the American young adult society’s obsession to look as tan as possible?

Who would pay $30 weekly to be shot with radioactive particles? What parent would pay for their child to be shot up with radiation just to look dark??

Although minors make up 10% of the commercial tanning population, the governor of California has signed into a law a bill preventing anyone under the age of 18 from using artificial tanning beds.

Thankfully, no one under the age of 18 in California is going to be hit with those fun purple lights anytime soon. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that prevents minors from using commercial tanning beds.

I personally have never understood how looking like a carrot looks hot. But I guess people can’t help it if they’re sexually attracted to walking traffic cones. If you’re one of those people who tans every week, you may as well have skin made from traffic cones.

Natural tanning is one thing. It is the healthiest way to get that bronze glow so many crave for. The Sun’s UV rays stimulate the production of Vitamin D, and 30 minutes of sunlight a day has shown to be effective against fighting depression.

The ultraviolet rays from tanning beds can cause serious damage. The radiation actually makes skin thinner, thus making it more vulnerable to radiation and less likely to heal. Those who tan artificially once a month or more are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Let me make this clear: tanning, in general, is not good. Both the Sun and artificial tanning beds give off dangerous UVA and UVB rays. But if you are trying to get darker, stick to the Sun. Or try using artificial tanning sprays. Sprays rarely have side effects and look just as natural as a normal tan.

As for STI prevention? Let’s just say, I know I’m getting old when my friends start having kids on purpose. Keep in mind, I’m only 19 and my friends are not much older (or younger) than I am.

Gov. Brown also signed into a law a bill that gives children 12 or older to get medical care that involves the prevention of STI’s without parental consent. This includes the HPV vaccine. While some people believe it is encouraging kids to have sex at a younger age and rebel against their parents wishes, others say that giving kids the freedom to choose whether or not to be vaccinated could save thousands of lives.

HPV is a virus known to cause several deadly forms of ovarian cancer. The vaccine is the only known vaccine that prevents a certain form of cancer.

But whether you’re in support of the new bills or against them, one thing is clear: health guidelines for adolescent minors are finally starting to get the recognition and attention they deserve. Many healthcare laws focus on adults or children, but several state and federal laws are vague about the medical treatment of those 12-17. My guess is the reason that politicians neglect the adolescent age group is because they are unclear whether teenagers should be treated as children or adults.

Whatever the case is, parents need to set a good example and clearly communicate with their kids the dangers of teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and STIs.

*Side note: STI stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection. Most people are used to seeing the abbreviation STD, Sexually Transmitted Disease. The medical community has recognized that the illnesses transmitted via sexual intercourse are infections and not diseases, considering they are caused by a pathogen whether it be a bacteria or a virus. The term STD is still used but STI has become recognized as the more accurate term.

The Science Behind a Sunburn

If you, like me, were out in the sun almost every day chances are you got your fair share of sunburns as I did. And we all know how great sunburns are: the sensitivity to touch, the redness, and the peeling afterwards. But when you get a sunburn, make sure you thank your skin cells for the sacrifice they made to keep you healthy.

A sunburn is caused by too much UV radiation from the Sun that literally burns the skin cells. But usually the burn itself doesn’t kill the skin cells.

UV radiation can cause damage to occur to a cell’s DNA. This can disrupt the cell’s ability to reproduce and function, and can cause the cell to become cancerous.

Cell have structures inside them called lysosomes. They act as a sort of stomach for the cell and contain hazardous chemicals. When the cell becomes damaged by UV radiation, it literally commits suicide by bursting open its lysosomes and leaking all those toxic chemicals which then kill the cell.

So your skin cells kill themselves to prevent them from becoming cancerous. How noble of them! But keep applying that sunscreen!

Every time you get a bad sunburn that causes blisters and such, it doubles your chances of getting melanoma in the future. The older your body ages, the less reliable it is at defending itself.

Summer’s still not over which means it’s still very easy to get a sunburn if you spend most of your day outside.

I don’t think I’ll be getting sunburned any more this summer, considering most of my days will be spent sitting in a classroom wondering what my next blog post is going to be about.

That’s the apple of the day 🙂