Friday, 1 July 2011

Why the Palm deserves a High Five

I bet you didn’t realize how unique and practical the palms of your hands were.
First off, the palms of our hands don’t tan or burn from the sun like the rest of our body. 
There are a few reasons for it.  Beyond the fact that they are rarely exposed to the sun like say, our forearms or neck… the palms of our hands don’t have as much melanin (the pigment that gives skin its colour).  The palms also have a thicker ‘callused’ layer which protects the skin from burning.
Other unique points about the palm…
It is always hairless.
It is one of the toughest layers of skin we have, yet it is also very sensitive.
In addition, unlike skin on other parts of the body, the skin on the palm is anchored down to the bones of the hand through a layer of connective tissue.
If it weren’t for this close attachment, the skin on our hands would slide around like a loose glove.  It would then be difficult to grip and twist something…like the lid on a new jar of pickles.
If the palm doesn’t deserve a ‘high-five’ it at least deserves some applause.


If you were ever in a swimming pool or bath-tub for an extended time, you’ll know that your fingers wrinkle and end up looking like a raisin.
Do you know why?
We normally connect “shrivelling” to something that has shrunk or been dehydrated.
This is quite different.
The finger as actually expanded, due to being water-logged.
Our fingers have a substance called “sebum”.  This oily substance can be seen on a mirror after we have put our finger-print on it.
One of the jobs sebum has is to keep water out of our skin. 
However, when we spend a lot of time in the water, that sebum gets washed off and water then gets absorbed into the outer-layer of skin (called the epidermis).  As the layer of skin absorbs the water it expands.  However, since certain points of that epidermis layer are tied down to another layer called the “dermis”, it expands more where it isn’t tied down.  This is where the ‘wrinkled look’ comes from.
So, the wrinkles are not caused by any shrinking or shrivelling-up, but from swelling.
Thankfully, soon after getting out of the water, the excess water evaporates and the body replaces the sebum to continue its work.


Inflamed sinuses, sinus infections, sinus headaches…
These are our most common associations with sinuses.  They are all negative and involve some pretty nasty pain.
The sinus is simply a space filled with air.
Why do we even have these things?
Do they have a purpose, or are they “as useless as windshield wipers on a submarine?”
The truth is that nobody has been able to figure out for sure what they are for.
Some people claim that the sinus cavities act as ‘insulation’ for the eyes…could that be all their only purpose?
The human skull has 4 major pairs of sinus cavities.  
1.    Frontal sinuses (behind forhead)
2.    Maxillary sinuses (behind cheekbones)
3.    Ethmoid sinuses (between eyes)
4.    Sphenoid sinuses (behind eyes)
Despite the mystery behind their purpose, some advanced vocalists/singers claim they can use these small air-pockets to their advantage.
In this case, the sinus cavities (and other spaces in neck and head region) would do for their voices, what the hollow part of an acoustic guitar does for the chords that are struck – adding resonance to the sound.
Without that hollowness in the guitar, sound waves would have no place to ‘bounce around’ and ‘amplify’ what is produced.  
Some of the world’s talented vocalists attempt to utilize the body’s natural ‘resonators’ (cavities/spaces) when they are singing to produce the fullest sound possible.
But other than that, the function of the sinus is still a bit mysterious.

Wiggly Ears ?

Do you remember ever seeing somebody demonstrate their very odd ability to “wiggle their ears”?
It is indeed a very rare ability. 
All humans have these muscles in their ear that would make this possible, however for most of us it is muscle that is very poorly developed.
By definition, a muscle that has no use is “useless” – As useless as a turn-signal on a fighter jet!
Contrary to humans, many animals have very highly developed ear muscles – this of course gives them the ability to move their ears quite easily – enabling them to better hear when potential predators or prey might be nearby.
If you’ve ever watched those TV shows where someone on a horse is trying to track-down someone on the run, you’ll notice the rider taking cues from the direction of the horse’s ears.
For humans and a few other primates that have dormant ear muscles, we compensate for our inability to move the ears with our ability to turn our heads in the direction of the noise. 

Why Thanksgiving Turkey puts you to sleep ?!!!

Do you have difficulty keeping your eyes open after eating that big turkey dinner?
Do you know what causes this?
L-Tryptophan is typically what gets blamed for post-turkey sleepiness.  It is a type of amino acid well known for its tendency to cause drowsiness.
But here’s why L-Tryptophan cannot take all the blame…
Other foods like pork, chicken, beef and cheese actually contain similar, if not higheramounts tryptophan.
There are other factors at play that cause severe fatigue after dinner…and it isn’t just that we don’t want to do the dishes.
It probably has more to do with the foods accompanying our turkey and how much we are eating.
Carbohydrates:  High carb meals actually increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain.  It also triggers the release of insulin which causes other amino acids (that usually compete with tryptophan) to leave the bloodstream. This leaves us feeling physically drained.
Alcohol:  To many people, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without a couple glasses of wine.  Alcoholic beverages are well-known depressants…a few beverages will certainly slow you down.
Overeating:  It takes a lot of energy to digest a big meal, especially if that meal has a high fat content. The gravy, creamy mashed potatoes, stuffing & rich desserts…When we fill ourselves with a heavy meal like this, our body redirects blood to areas involved in digestion.  This leaves less blood for our nervous system and brain to work with.

Music and Brain...

Have you ever wondered why we love music so much?
It seems to be for the same reason that we enjoy hanging around funny people, listening to inspiring speakers or going on roller-coasters.
What these things have in common is that they can change how we feel in an instant.  Music certainly fits in as one of these emotional state-changers!
In fact, music therapy is a growing field and becoming ever more common for treating patients in hospitals and recovery rooms.
Experts believe that our brains respond to the beats and rhythms of music.
Slower rhythms tend to slow the brain down and may have a relaxing effect – perhaps decreasing levels of anxiety and stress.
Faster rhythms of course would get the brain moving quicker.
Imagine trying to fall asleep to the rapid, pounding beats of heavy metal music….it would probably be a long and restless night!
Slow and soft classical music is also not likely to be played in dressing rooms before football games when athletes are trying to get wound-up.
 The power of music can also take us to times and places far back in our memories…making us feel like we are reliving certain experiences.

What's common between Cigarette and Carrots????

Nope, it’s not their cylindrical shape.
And no, it’s not that they both start with the letter “C”.
That’s right!  It is actually possible to be addicted to carrots.
Compulsive carrot eating is rare but does exist.
Studies have not yet determined whether the addiction is directly related to the beta-carotene in the carrots or to the physical act of putting carrots to the mouth – a behavioural substitute for those who  had been fighting cigarette addictions in the past.
In any case, when faced with withdrawal, those who live with the addiction experience things very similar to the nicotine addict: 
  • Nervousness
  • Cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
Our chances of becoming addicted to carrots is probably quite low -  Personally, you’d have trouble getting me to eat just one.
If you are addicted to carrots, did you know that the chances of your skin turning orange is actually very high?....Hard to believe? 
This condition is appropriately called “Carotenaemia”.
Carrots are very rich in something called beta-carotene  – an orange-coloured pigment that is responsible for this change in complexion.
It is completely harmless, other than its visual impact on the skin’s colour, which goes away over time. It is also becoming more common, with reported cases tripling in the last few years.
Have we stumbled upon a safer alternative to sun-tanning? Well, probably not.
It’s not clear how many of them we would need to eat to affect our skin’s tone, but having an addiction to carrots would probably help.

8 glasses of water.....??

With up to 78% of our body’s weight being water, it’s a bit startling that with just a 1-2% water loss in the body, dehydration symptoms would begin to kick-in.
What starts out as thirst, discomfort and loss of appetite and energy, turns into headache, dizziness and delirium – eventually leading to unconsciousness and death.
We lose a lot of our water through
  • Sweating (significantly more with exercise)
  • Urination
  • Bowel movements (significantly more with diarrhea)
  • Breathing
Needless to say we need to replenish ourselves.
But do we really need 8 glasses of water per day?
It’s a good rule of thumb, but there are a few arguments about this.
Some might adjust this to say “drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day”.
Contrary to what many of us have heard, all fluids can count towards the “8 glasses” – juices, coffee, tea, milk, even soft-drinks.
Foods count as well – contributing about 20% of our daily fluid intake.
But before we get too reckless…beer and pretzels are probably not the best option to rehydrate ourselves. In fact, alohol, soft-drinks, coffee, etc. should be taken in moderation.
Water is the wisest choice, as are foods with high water content – like fruits and vegetables.
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” (Thomas Fuller)

Fiery Mouth....!!

You might enjoy spicy food, but sometimes perhaps you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
What do we do when it feels like we’ve got a mouth full of hot coals?
Our instincts tell us to get some water in the mouth.  Seems logical. After all, water is what puts out real fires…
But water is a terrible mistake!
The reason is that the colourless, odourless and sometimes waxy chemicals in hot foods that create the burning sensation are “hydrophobic”: meaning they are water-repellent.
So when we put water in a mouth burning of spice, the spice doesn’t dilute…it actually gets spread around.
So what is the best form of relief?
Dairy is the secret!
Instead of scrambling to get water from the kitchen faucet, you’ll want to make a run for a glass of cold milk.
The reason dairy is effective is because it tends to have a high fat content.  While the spicy chemicals don’t dissolve in water, they do dissolve in oil. This will begin to dowse the flames in your mouth.
If dairy isn’t an option, you’ll want to go for a highly sweetened, non-carbonated drink, as sugar also can counteract the heat.
If after cooking your pot of chilli you find that you went overboard on the spice, adding some yoghurt or sour cream can often take the spice level down a few notches.
This is often more practical than tripling the recipe in an attempt to dilute and then having a 3 month supply of food left over.

Loose weight by eating more....!!!

Did you know that you can actually lose weight by eating?
One thing to note…it isn’t likely to happen by eating cheeseburgers and chocolate donuts. 
You’d need to eat what are called  Negative Calorie Foods.
How does it work?
All foods have calories, but the act of chewing and digesting those foods also burns calories. 
Take a donut as an example.  If we eat a donut that contains 400 calories, our body may only burn 150 calories while chewing-up, swallowing and digesting that donut.
That means we’ve experienced a net calorie gain of 250 calories and theoretically added some fat to our body.
Celery on the other hand, not only has far fewer calories than donuts, but is also more difficult for our body to digest. 
As a result, you’ll end up burning more calories than you consume.  So in theory, if you only consume celery (not recommended) you’ll ‘eat yourself skinny’.
Here are some other negative calorie foods…
Green beans
Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” 

Why we hate foods that others love....

Have you ever wondered why some foods taste good to you but make other people want to gag?
Our taste buds pick-up sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours. 
The more taste buds we have the more intensely we experience flavour…and this happens to be especially true for bitterness.
There are 25 different genes involved in detecting a bitter flavour.  But not all of these genes are active in everyone.  The number of genes active will often affect what the person thinks tastes good or bad.
The Age Issue…
Humans lose taste buds with age and so it is possible that we can better tolerate, or maybe form preferences for certain foods later in life.
We also don’t just taste with our taste buds…
The old saying, “we eat with our eyes, not our stomachs” is true…but probably not complete. 
Yes, foods that look good to us tend to be more appetizing. 
But what about our other senses?
How food feels in our mouth is important. 
Food texture is an issue for a number of people not tolerant foods that are slimy, or maybe even the texture of fruits and veggies. 
Sense of smell is even more significant.  It is very closely connected to our sense of taste (think about how holding your nose affects the flavour of food).
Our nose can actually recognize 10,000 odours. If the food in front of us smells like our old gym shoes, are we likely to put it in your mouth?
No stinkin’ way! 

Overdosing of water...

We live in society that seems to obsess over hydration. 
8 glasses a day is a generally accepted rule of thumb, but some experts say that even this could be too much and that we are safest when we pay attention to thirst.
Basically, if we drink water faster than we lose it (through sweating, breathing or urinating) it can actually kill us.
Tragic Example…
A 28 year old women competes in a ‘water-drinking contest’. 
3 hours and 6 litres of water later, the women vomited, went home with a bad headache and later died from water intoxication.
What Actually Happens…
By drinking too much water too quickly, our kidneys are unable to flush it out fast enough.  This leaves our blood somewhat watered-down.
That diluted blood is then drawn to areas of the body where the salt content is higher.  Excess water leaves the blood, enters these other cells and causes swelling as a result.
Most cells of the body can accommodate a bit of swelling, but a big exception is the neurons of the brain.  Inside the skull there isn’t much room for expansion.  When this does happen, it can be fatal!
The lesson?
It is possible to have too much of a good thing!

Benefits of ice cream....

Ice cream – it’s fatty, full of sugar and we shouldn’t be eating it.  That’s what many people would say anyway.
But surely it isn’t all bad…
If you enjoy having a couple scoops after dinner, here are a few points that, if nothing else, may eliminate some of the guilt.
Low Glycemic Index – What this means is that the sugar in ice-cream is a ‘slow release’.  It will keep you satisfied longer with less chance of binging  (the way you might after dropping from a sugar high).
Fewer Calories – 75 grams of ice cream have far fewer calories than say, a slice of cheesecake.  (about 110 calories vs 510)
Ice Cream is Made of Milk – Milk has many vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial to the body – Potassium, vitamin A, B12, D and K. 
Lowered Health Risks – Studies suggest that ice cream could potentially lower the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and arterial hypertension.
Despite these benefits, we’ll still want to take it easy on the amount we eat. 
After all, it is possible to have too much of even the most healthiest of things…

Chewing gum...

You’ve probably been told that if you swallow a piece of gum, it takes 7 years to fully digest and leave your body.
Fact or Fiction?
Well if you believed this to be true…you may also be a person who believes a watermelon will grow in your stomach if you swallow the seed.
It’s true that gum doesn’t digest or get broken down like other foods.   But it doesn’t get stuck in our stomach for years.
Though the process might be a bit slower than usual, what actually happens is it passes through our digestive system and comes out whole in our stool.
Gumming Up the Earth:
On a side note, chewing gum not spat in the trash can is the cause of billions of little black spots on streets all over the world.
In fact, Walt Disney is said to have banned the sale of chewing gum at its theme parks in an effort to keep the grounds cleaner.

Sweet Benefits of Honey

The world of nutrition seems to works as follows:
The better the food tastes, the worse it is for us…and of course, the more bland and tasteless the food, the healthier it is.
A Rare Exception is Honey! 
Check out these advantages…
1.     Antioxidant levels similar to many fruits & vegetables
2.     Helps with metabolism – promoting weight-loss
3.     It’s a natural cough medicine (honey has antibiotic properties)
4.     Heals wounds (put over cuts, scrapes and burns to speed healing)
5.     Hair Conditioner (Honey is good at holding water molecules – mix it with some olive oil)
6.     Good for digestion (sugar in honey is pre-digested by bees…so, it’s easier for us to digest)
7.     Full of vitamins and minerals
8.     Athletic performance (Good for boosting energy and stamina – its glucose is absorbed  fast and provides a quick boost, while its fructose is a ‘slow release’ for lasting energy)

Non Dairy Calcium

It’s been pounded into us that we need calcium for healthy bones. 
When asked which foods are rich in calcium we think milk, cheese, yoghurt.
If you’re sick of dairy or if dairy makes you sick, here’s the good news…
Milk isn’t the only game in town!
Here are 6 non-dairy options that are bursting with calcium:
Leafy Greens – Kale, broccoli, bok choy, collards, etc.
Root Vegetables – Rutabaga, sweet potatoes, squash
Nuts & Seeds – Sesame seeds, almonds pine nuts
Beans & Legumes – Kidney beans, black beans
Fermented & Organic Soy – Tofu, miso, tempeh
Others - Almond butter, sea vegetables, cocoa, figs

Orange Pith

Orange juice is a breakfast obsession in North America.  It’s known for its source vitamin C.
Did you know that freshly squeezed orange juice only has 25% of the vitamin C of the whole orange?
Many people throw out the most valuable part of the orange…
It’s called the “pith”.
The pith is the white stuff that lies under the skin of the orange.  You might say it has a bland-to-bitter flavour.
Not only is the pith fully loaded with vitamin C, but it also contains high levels of fibre, anti-cancer agents and bioflavonoids (a type of antioxidant).
Interesting facts:
Orange is known as one of the world’s favourite flavours.  It ranks 3rd – trailing only chocolate and vanilla.
The pith of an orange is also used by some as a natural teeth whitener.


Spinach is probably one of the more famous of leafy greens.
It was Popeye’s favourite food.  He’d chow down on a can of spinach, causing an instant muscle-explosion in his arms.
Among many other nutrients, spinach is considered a very rich source of iron!
With every 180g serving of boiled spinach there are 6.43 mg of iron.  Compare that to a 170g hamburger patty that has 4.42mg at the most.
But eating doesn`t mean absorbing…
The absorption of iron into our bodies will vary based on the presence of other things – like for example fiber and Vitamin C.  Without Vitamin C, iron absorption can be difficult. 
On top of that, spinach also contains substances like oxalate.  Oxalate not only prevents iron absorption, but it will also remove existing iron from the body.  The addition of oxalic acid to the diet is said to counteract this.
So, sometimes it isn`t what we eat that matters – it`s what we eat with what we eat that is important.
I bet you didn`t know this…
In 1870 a scientist misplaced a decimal point while measuring the iron content of spinach.  It led to an iron content 10 times higher than reality and a popular acceptance of spinach`s powers.  The mistake wasn`t noticed until the 1930`s.

The hottest pepper on the planet is…

The Naga Jolokia Chili Pepper.  Also known as theGhost Chili – found primarily n Bangladesh and a few of the north eastern states of India.

The level of heat in peppers is rated on something called the “Scoville Scale”.
The number of  “scoville heat units” will go up or down depending on the concentration of capsaicin in each substance. 
Capsaicin is the chemical compound in these peppers that irritates our tissues.  In high concentrations, it is what makes you feel like you’ve just spit-out a mouthful of molten lava. 
Putting some perspective to what’s hot and what’s not…
According to their Scoville Ratings:
Jalepeno Pepper/Tobasco Sauce = 8,000
Malgueta Pepper = 100,000
Habanero Chili/Scotch Bonnet Pepper = 350,000
Naga Jolokia Chili Pepper = 1,075,000…Over 100 times hotter than Tobasco Sauce!
Interesting to note that capsaicin from these types of pepper are commonly extracted and used in ointments that provide some relief to aching muscles and arthritic joints.