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Archive for the ‘The Environment’ Category

Being Pro-active and Aware of Mental Health Defects

Seuing-Hui Cho. 23. Jared Laughner. 24. James Holmes. 24. Jacob Tyler Roberts. 22.

All four men, in their early 20’s, were involved in mass shootings that, combined, have killed dozens and crippled communities. While you wonder how some can be deranged enough to (allegedly) fire a gun into an open crowd, you also wonder how this could have been prevented and whether anyone saw signs beforehand of planned incidents like the Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Aurora, and Happy Valley shootings.

These four shooters all have a history of mental illness. These illnesses include schizophrenia, a disease that manifests around age 20, social anxiety, depression, and more. Many people argue that stricter gun control laws would help prevent these issues, but stricter gun control would only meet the solution halfway. On the other end of the spectrum, there needs to be more pro-activity in recognizing mental health illnesses and getting help quickly and early for those suffering from it.


Depression and social anxiety are two mental illness that are often the most expressed and easy to recognize. Although those who are depressed don’t always express it clearly, there are signs that friends and family members can look out for if they believe someone they know is depressed. Symptoms include attention deficit, fatigue and decreased energy, insomnia, irritability, feelings pessimism or emptiness, changes in appetite, constant headaches or physical pain, difficulty maintaining relationships, and thoughts of suicide. More symptoms stand out than others, but if you believe someone is depressed it’s better to be safe than sorry about confronting it.

Ask the person if they are having trouble with work, school, friends, spouses, money, or anything like that. If they complain they’re having headaches or other body pains often, getting a check up by a physician can determine whether or not the cause is depression. There are effective ways to treat depression, including SSRIs, individual and group talk therapy, and other psychotherapies. The worst thing about depression, particularly suicide, is that it is not taken seriously as a mental illness. If someone you know ever mentions committing suicide, even if it’s in a humorous manner, pull them aside and ask them if they’ve had thoughts of killing themselves. If they say No, make them insist and swear that they’re telling the truth, and if they Yes then stay with them and go with them to a counselor or psychiatrist. By being more pro-active about recognizing symptoms of depression, people can not only save lives of those who are depressed but also the lives of those they could hurt.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety isn’t just being social awkward. It is a fear of social situations and interactions. An estimated 19 million Americans are living with social anxiety. Social anxiety can be triggered by anything involving people, from eating at a restaurant to using public restrooms. Even future social situations that haven’t even happened yet can give someone social anxiety. It often starts in the adolescent years, but can be seen in childhood. In the cases of violent people who have social anxiety, they normally tailored  anxiety from a nervousness of people to a hatred of people. Rather than fearing social interaction, they loathed it and threatened or harmed those who forced social interaction upon them.

Some mild forms of social anxiety can include only one situation involving people, such as public speaking. However, more severe forms of social anxiety can interfere with relationships, work, and daily routines. People with social anxiety also have false and negative perceptions of people or events. Social anxiety is rarely diagnosed on its own. Those who suffer social anxiety often suffer from depression, OCD, and/or panic disorders. Symptoms of those mental illnesses lead to doctors to recognizing and diagnosing social anxiety. Signs of social anxiety include fear of talking or interacting with people, isolation, intense anxiety in social situations, severe mood swings, panic attacks, and confusion. Social anxiety can also manifest into physical symptoms which include muscle tension, upset stomach, sweating and blushing, shaking, increase heart rate and “pounding” heart sensation, and sometimes yelling or crying.

Social anxiety can be cause by biological, psychological, or environmental factors. Disrupted levels of serotonin in the brain can cause social anxiety and depression. There is also evidence that shows biological conditions like this tend to run in the family, so family history is a big factor to consider when diagnosing social anxiety. An embarrassing or humiliating past experience may leave psychological scarring and cause social anxiety in that manner. Environmental factors can influence social anxiety by observing other people and being over-sheltered or overprotected by parents during childhood. Treatments for social anxiety include medication, such an anti-depressants or beta blockers, and CBT, cognitive behavior therapy, which teaches people how to react to situations that trigger anxiety.


The third, and often most severe, illness often seen in perpetrators of violent acts is schizophrenia. Jared Laughner, the Tuscon shooter, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is often misunderstood and therefore perceived wrongly. Schizophrenia is a form of psychosis, where the person suffering from it cannot tell what is real and what is a product of their mind. To them, the world is a jumble of confusing thoughts, images and sounds. About 2.2 millions Americans live with schizophrenia, and the disease affects about 1% of the world’s population. The causes of schizophrenia are not well understood, but researchers believe it is caused by imbalance in brain chemistry, particularly sensitivity to a neurotransmitter called dopamine. There are different types of schizophrenia that each affect people differently and have their own severity. The most often seen and heard about is paranoid schizophrenia. People with this type are preoccupied with false beliefs or delusions about certain people or things, or even themselves. Their thinking, speech and emotions, however, remain fairly normal.

Schizophrenia is most commonly, but not always, a sudden onset disease. If often onset around age 19-22, but can occur earlier or later. Schizophrenia in children is extraordinarily rare, but has been diagnosed in children as young as 6. People with schizophrenia exhibit a number of rapid onset symptoms, including sudden changes in personality, ability to perform routine activities, trouble paying attention, and radical changes in behavior.  Other more subtle symptoms of schizophrenia include moodiness, loss of pleasure in certain activities or loss of interest in life, poor hygiene habits, and lack of motivation.

One of the most common and most observed, yet least acted on, symptoms of schizophrenia is withdrawal from friends, family, and social activities.  In the case of Jared Laughner, and many other people suffering from schizophrenia, he very quickly and inexplicably became isolated from friends and family, not talking to them or interacting with them for weeks or months at a time. If you notice a friend or family member exhibit this sort of isolation or any of the other symptoms of schizophrenia for a period longer than 6 consecutive months, get in contact with them as soon as possible. If they refuse to answer calls, emails, or knocks at the door, then you can contact your local law enforcement and let them know about the situation. The sooner schizophrenia is diagnosed, the sooner the sufferer can receive treatment.

Schizophrenic people are usually not violent, but there occasional violent patients. They are often prone to violence not only towards others but towards themselves. Suicide is the number one cause of premature death in schizophrenics. By being aware of the symptoms of schizophrenia, people can help recognize those suffering from schizophrenia and get them the help they need before something worse happens.

While not every shooting can be prevented, be aware of symptoms of mental disease can truly help save lives, whether it’s preventing a mass shooting or stopping a suicide. If you are ever unsure if someone is suffering from a mental illness, it never hurts to try and talk to them. Talking to them might encourage them to talk to others and seek help. Mental illness, unfortunately, is overlooked by physical disease. Maybe it’s because physical disease are more tangible and people empathize with those patients, maybe it’s because there is less hope for those who suffer from mental illness. Regardless, because of the lack of national awareness, it’s up to individuals to look out for each other. You never know when mental illness could set in and it’s difficult to recognize, but if you see signs of illness and fail to act before a friend or family members injures someone else or themselves, it could leave you asking “Why didn’t I do something before this happened?”


UPDATE: Now we add the Newtown shooter. Reports are conflicting his age but he is somewhere between 20-24 years old. This is not coincidence. People need to wake up and realize the threat that those suffering from mental health have to the community. Gun control isn’t the only issue at hand. We need to raise national awareness about the horrors of mental illness. We need to make people more aware of recognizing the signs and being more pro-active about getting help for their friends and family. Obviously, the government isn’t going to do anything because they have their heads up their asses, so it’s up to us as members of our communities to look out for one another. Be aware. Speak up. Offer assistance. Like I said, by recognizing helping out someone who may be suffering, you could potentially be saving the lives of dozens.


Rising Rates of Autism: How and Why

With the election soon approaching, people will say anything to get people to vote for Obama or Romney. One of the things I saw on Twitter seriously irked me. It was a tweet from Donald Trump regarding the high rates of autism:

@realDonaldTrump: “Autism rates through the roof–why doesn’t the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism. We lose nothing to try.”

So Donald Trump is suggesting two things here: 1) The president has a direct influence over the rates of autism in the country (I’d like to see how that can be proved) and 2) Doctor-inflicted autism is a thing.

So first of all, if Obama should be blamed for the rise in autism, then I think Bush deserves equal blame for the rise in obesity, diabetes, infertility, and cancer during the 2000’s. Just sayin.

Secondly, there is absolutely no hard evidence that doctors can inflict autism on children without getting caught. There are a lot of modifiers to that sentence so I’ll break it down.

Most people think autism is administered via vaccines, even though all the research done on that theory has been debunked and it was proved that law firms payed researchers to botch data to publish those theories. So if your child is given a vaccine, with your consent, and develops autism, it’s not the doctor’s fault. It’s either the vaccine companies fault (which it has been proved dozens of times that it isn’t, hence the hard evidence) or your child just has autism that was either triggered by a prominent immune response (which is extremely rare) or your child just has autism. Parents assume vaccines give their kids autism because kids are taken for their MMR vaccines when they’re 12 months old, the same age when they start exhibiting signs of autism! Go figure!

Now, if your doctor had given your child a vaccine, without your consent, and your child developed autism, then it would be fair to say that the doctor was at fault however the doctor would be sued for medical malpractice and never be allowed to practice again. That’s the without getting caught part.

Now to understand why doctors can’t deliberately inflict autism or how the president has no control over autism rates, we have to understand autism. Unfortunately, autism is not extremely well understood because it is hard to research.

Autism is a developmental disorder that delays mental development of toddlers and children. It is typically diagnosed around age 2, but doctors are working on more methods to diagnose it earlier. The sooner autism is diagnosed, the more ways there are to treat it. Symptoms of autism include difficulty talking, difficulty making eye contact, attention deficit, lack of facial expressions, among others. Autism is also associated with mental retardation. About 75% of children born with autism are also mentally retarded. But what’s the difference between autism and retardation? Retardation involves a lack of the capacity to learn while autism is primarily a delay in learning. Some of the smartest people in the world are also autistic.

What causes autism? Certainly not vaccines. There is no definitive proof as to what causes autism because most researchers believe it happens with brain development while the baby is in utero. It can also be hereditary, considering autism affects boys 4 times more than girls. The rarest cases of autism come from infections, where the immune response damages the brain and causes autism-like symptoms.  Childhood infections have also been linked to OCD, ADHD, and other mental disorders. Crazy parents use this theory of immune response against vaccines since vaccines produce a similar immune response, but the immune response in vaccines is not nearly as powerful as a real infection.

So why the rise in autism over the years? It’s actually several factors: 1) Women are having children at older ages. In the 20th Century the average age for having a child was in the late 20’s. Now in the 21st Century it’s in the low 30’s. While having a child when you’re 32 doesn’t pose a lot of risk, it’s usually the age when risk factors begin to rise. After age 35, the risk of a child being born with a mental defect doubles after every year. So imagine women having children when they’re 40, even 45 years old. Modern medicine has allowed women to get pregnant, but older mothers really shouldn’t be too surprised if/when their children are born with a defect.

2) Because women are having kids at older ages, they are using IVF more. IVF, in-vetro fertilization, is used when the woman has exhausted all of her options of getting pregnant sexually. A fertilized egg is implanted into the uterus during the woman’s peak hormonal fertility. IVF is a fairly new procedure, and the more research is done about it, the more risks are being discovered. IVF has been linked to cancer and is now being linked to hormonal abnormalities in babies.

3) Environmental factors. We live in an age where some sort of preservative is in all the food we eat and everything is made out of BPA. We don’t know how these chemicals directly affect the growth of babies and children, but we know it’s not good. These chemicals can influence the fetus in utero and can also impact the baby after it’s born. The same environmental factors have also been linked to increase in cancer, genetic disorders, allergies, etc.
There is tons of research being done on autism, but as I said earlier research as to why kids get autism is difficult. Any research being done on a fetus in utero is difficult because researchers want to get answers but at the same time don’t want to risk the health of the baby. There are several treatment options being researched and doctors are looking into specific genetic sequences that could cause autism. But as for research as to why autism happens, that answer could be years, even decades, away.

So how do you avoid having a child with autism? Any doctor wishes they knew the answer, but there are several ways to cut the risk of your child developing autism. Having children at an early age is always beneficially for your baby. The earlier, the better. Woman are most fertile in their early 20’s, but since women are getting married later they’re having kids later. It’s generally wise not to have kids after the age of 32, especially if you or the baby daddy has a history of autism or genetic disorder. My mother had me when she was 34, but that was in 1991 and my mother is the healthiest person I know. If you want to have a kid, try to get pregnant anytime between ages 25 and 32.

Avoid IVF or any other drugs that could influence your endocrine system. The endocrine system influences fertility and development in the woman, and if thrown off balance could be disastrous for a baby. If you need to use IVF as a last resort than do it, but always try to get preggers naturally first.

Get rid of BPA in your home. BPA can be found in any and all things plastic, and can also be found in make up, a product women are very fond of.  Getting rid of plastic tubberware and kitchen ware is a good place to start. Avoid drinking out of plastic water bottles. Throw out make up for more natural, organic make up that is specifically labelled BPA-free.

Lastly, if you think your child might have autism, take him/her into the doctor’s office as soon as possible. The earlier autism is diagnosed, the easier it can be treated. Usually if autism is caught within the first 12 months of life, those children can go on to lead a pretty normal life as teens and adults.

And if you don’t like what science has to say about autism, well you can always blame the president for it.

Tracking Circadian Rhythms via Twitter

Do you tweet when you’re happy? If you do, you might find a pattern of the time and date you tweet your good feelings.

According to an international study published by Cornell University found that Twitter users are generally happier in the morning, around midnight and on the weekends. People were also happier when the Sun was shining than on a cloudy day. The study tracked half a billion tweets from 2 million users from 84 different countries for over 2 years.

Sounds pretty logical: people wake up ready to take on the day and their mood deteriorates as their day goes on. But actually, that’s not necessarily the case. The same mood pattern was found on weekends when people didn’t go to the office and the pattern included people from all over the globe.

Researchers have found that the daily happenings that occur in people lives don’t count for their mood swings. Rather, it is the natural circadian rhythms determining our lows and highs.

The circadian rhythm is more widely known as the internal clock. It controls our sleep patterns, appetite, hormonal changes. It includes a variety of biochemical, psychological and behavioral processes. Plants, animals, even fungus all have circadian rhythms.

Although everyone has an internal circadian rhythm, it can be affected by environmental factors, most notably light. The new research shows that daylight can have a bigger impact on people’s happiness than once thought.

Melatonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of drowsiness and lethargy, is secreted during the late night hours and secretion stops around 7 a.m. which can account for why people feel happier in the mornings. If you like working out in the late afternoon to early evenings, it might be because you have greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength around 5 p.m.

Circadian rhythms are a fairly new concept in the field of psychology so there’s not much known about them. There are medications that help adjust certain disorders, like insomnia, that can disrupt circadian rhythms.

The new study also shows how social media is changing the face of research. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it possible to gather sample sizes of millions of people rather than a few thousand.

One of the biggest things to help balance your circadian rhythm is to always get a good night’s sleep. At least 6 hours of sleep is needed to have a healthy amount of energy needed to get through the day. 8 hours is of course recommended, but there are talks of raising that number to 9 or 10 hours.

As for Twitter, you can find this blog on Twitter @AnApple_a_Day

Varieties in Infection: Viruses vs. Bacteria

Germs. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have cilia while others have flagella. Some have uracil, others have thymine. Some are good, some are bad.

How could such small organisms be so deadly and difficult to treat? Here’s a look at how the two differ.


Bacteria are single cell, prokaryote organisms that live in every kind of habitat on Earth. Some bacteria even live in radioactive waste. A vast majority of bacteria are completely harmless to the human body. Some bacteria are even beneficial for you! Bacteria are often very simple in structure and not nearly as complicated as some of our cells. In our cells, we have different structures called organelles than function in some of the same ways that our body’s organs do (hence the word organelles).

Bacteria get their energy from one of three sources: light, inorganic molecules, and organic molecules. The bacteria that live inside us get their energy from inorganic and organic compounds, but the relationship between us and our gut flora is symbiotic, meaning we benefit from each other. Bacteria often eat the extra waste and toxins that build up in our body and they also keep our immune system in tip-top shape. Bacteria are also capable of eating other bacteria, one of the most famous ones being Vampirococcus.

Bacteria that form a parasitic association with other organism (including humans) are known as pathogens. Pathogenic bacteria are by far the number one cause of infectious diseases. The two most common types of pathogens are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but with every bacteria there is a different antibiotic to treat it. Bacteria can also act similar to other bacteria so it can be difficult to diagnose illnesses. Some bacteria, such as MRSA, have become resistant to common antibiotics and can be fatal.


Viruses differ vastly from bacteria. One main reason: viruses are not living organisms. Viruses have a very simple structure. There is genetic material, either DNA or RNA, on the inside which is covered by a coat made of certain proteins, and on that coat there are molecules known as lipids which are used for attaching onto bacterial or other cells. Viruses are very small, up to 10 times smaller than bacteria, and that’s what makes them tough to treat.

Viruses have several means of infection. Some viruses can be spread by blood-sucking insects, such as West Nile Virus. Other viruses can grow in food and water and infiltrate out digestive systems, causing gastroenteritis. Coughing and sneezing can send viruses into the air to be inhaled by someone else, which is how viruses like the flu are spread. Several STDs are viral organisms, such as Hepatitis B, Herpes, HPV, and HIV.

Viruses interfere with homeostasis, the process that allows your cells to function in a healthy manner. In the case of HIV/AIDS, the virus interferes with your T-Cells and Microphages, cells used by the immune system to combat disease.

Viruses work in two ways. The virus can infiltrate the cell where it can use your cell’s energy and reproduce it’s genetic code to make more of itself, then destroy the cell and send out its newly created minions. Or, the virus can latch onto the cell where it inserts its genetic material into the cell’s membrane. This newly introduced genetic material gets processed and inhibits the cell from functioning. Virus that transmit their genetic code are often viruses responsible for causing certain types of cancers such as HPV causing cervical cancer.

Not all diseases are caused by a bacteria or virus. Parasites, fungi, environmental toxins, and genetic mutations can all cause harm to the body. Bacteria and viruses tend to be the most common. If you think you may have a serious illness though, seek hospitalization immediately. The sooner the disease is caught, the more effective treatment is.

As long as you eat well and practice good hygiene, you’ll be well defended against any potential microbe invaders!

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

The Sunny Side of Vitamin D

Spending enough time outdoors is essential to living a healthy lifestyle. While fresh air and a change of scenery can help reduce stress, it’s actually the Sun that provides the most important necessity that can only be found outdoors: Vitamin D. When UVB light hits your skin it synthesizes a type of cholesterol found in your skin, creating Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is one of the most beneficial supplements available, yet a new study published earlier this year found that Vitamin D deficiency is common in obese adolescent teens. Since 2009, it has been reported that 70% of American children are Vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D is important in adults, but is found to be most beneficial in kids because it can prevent numerous diseases later on in life. Children with adequate amounts of Vitamin D have lower risks for developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and rickets in middle to old age.

Benefits of Vitamin D for all ages include reduced stress, healthier skin, stronger bones, regulated immune system, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

It doesn’t take a two hour tanning session every day to get enough Vitamin D. Two 15-minute sessions of exposure to sunlight every week can produce enough Vitamin D.

Plan to spend part of your Labor Day outside, whether it’s playing catch with the kids, lounging by the pool, or taking a walk in the park. Use a mild sunscreen, like an SPF 30, so you can prevent getting sunburned without completely blocking the Sun’s UVB rays.

Since it’s too hot to do anything strenuous (108 degrees is the high in Phoenix today), my roommate Maria and I decided to do something fun in the Sun without the sweat:

Maria is feeding pigeons breadcrumbs while they rest in the shade.

Pigeons flock to Maria as she scatters breadcrumbs on the ground.

A pigeon looks for any leftover crumbs.

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 🙂