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Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

A Gluten Story, Part 2

Posted December 16, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Gluten can be eaten by itself and has become a common substitute for meat and tofu. It is particularly popular in Asia, where is goes by the name seitan and is often steamed, fried, or baked.

An interesting twist to this story comes when we start looking at the amount of gluten added to industrially made bread. (To read part 1, please visit here. ) Most of the bread in the U.S. is made by replacing hydration, fermentation, and kneading with artificial additives and huge industrial mixers. Image Credit

In the nineteenth century steel rollers and industrial mills replaced stones in the wheat grinding process. Steel was fast, efficient, and easy to maintain. Millers discarded the germ and the bran in the wheat kernel, along with most of the vitamins, fiber, and most of its healthy fats.

Most bakers include an additive called vital wheat gluten, made by washing wheat flour with water until the starches dissolve, to strengthen the dough and help the load rise. According to the New Yorker, "In general, the higher the protein content of wheat, the more gluten it contains." Vital wheat gluten is a powdered, concentrated form of gluten that is found naturally in all bread. The extra gluten is added to provide the strength and elasticity necessary for it to endure industrial mixing. Image Credit

Chemically, vital wheat gluten is identical to regular gluten - but some worry it's a crutch to add storage and functionality to the final product. Even though it doesn't add flavor it's added to pastas, snacks, cereals, and even some cosmetics. According to scientists at The Bread Lab in Washington, it makes bread taste like mush.

The FDA defines bread as being made of flour, yeast, and a moistening ingredient, usually water. Bleached flour uses chemicals like acetone peroxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide (still to be determined if bread will treat your breakout). Other possible ingredients include shortening, sweeteners, ground dehulled soybeans, coloring, and potassium bromate.

It's not possible to manufacture, package, and ship large amounts of industrially made whole-grain bread without adding something to strengthen the dough. Even "healthy" whole-wheat breads are packed with gluten under various ingredient names such as "whole-wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, and wheat fiber." Image Credit

There is a gluten-free movement happening in America. Sales of gluten-free products have doubled in the past five years and more than two hundred million dishes were ordered gluten free (also in the past 5 years?). While products started out only being sold in small boutique stores, they are now easily found in popular nation-wide chains. But the diet can be unhealthy, loaded with ingredients such as rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. These contain highly refined carbohydrates and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods given up. When it comes down to it, when the good things that sell food (salt, fat, and gluten) are removed more of another is added to keep it tasty. Gluten-free cake is still cake.

Although "gluten-free" is probably just another fad diet, large-scale, long-term testing should be done to look at the effect of added gluten in American diets but we won't have the answer for years. In the meantime, those who do have celiac disease have options, because who wants to go their whole life without pizza?

This blog is adapted from "Against The Grain"

5 comments; last comment on 12/20/2014
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A Gluten Story, Part 1

Posted December 14, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Humans have been eating wheat (and therefore gluten) for ten thousand years. For as much as we hear about gluten today I feel like it is still very much a mystery, especially after seeing videos like this.

Gluten is a protein. Actually, it's one of the most heavily consumed proteins on earth. It is created when the molecules glutenin and gliadin come into contact and form a bond. An elastic membrane is formed as bakers knead dough and the result is a chewy texture to the baked bread. Gluten also traps carbon dioxide which adds volume to the loaf as it ferments. Image Credit

Wheat provides more nourishment than any other source of food and last year's harvest amounted to roughly two hundred pounds for every person on earth. It is easy to grow, store, ship, and is especially versatile, serving as an integral part of bread, pasta, noodles, cereal, soups, sauces, gravies, and snack foods. Wheat is even found in processed meats and frozen vegetables - nearly a third of the foods found in American supermarkets contain some wheat component, usually gluten or starch or both.

So, how could gluten, a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening?

About one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease, a severe gluten allergy. Exposure to gluten can trigger an immune reaction powerful enough to severely damage the brushlike surface of the small intestine. The incidence of celiac disease has increase more than fourfold in the past sixty years. Another twenty million people complain of discomfort after eating gluten products and a third of American adults say that they are trying to eliminate it from their diets. At present, there are no blood tests, biopsies, genetic markers, or antibodies that can confirm a diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

There are many theories but no clear scientific answers. William Davis, a cardiologist who wrote the book "Wheat Belly," argues that wheat genes have become toxic and are nothing like the bread of 50 years ago. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and author of "Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat" believes as many as forty percent of people can't properly process gluten. And several small scale studies have found that removing gluten from a test subject's diet reduces digestive discomfort.

It's no secret that dietary patterns in the Western world have changed faster than human genes have been able to adapt. Most meals are full of sugary substances and refined, high-calorie carbohydrates. The wheat that we use today has been milled into white flour with few vitamins or nutrients. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found no evidence that a change in wheat-breeding practices might have led to an increase in the incidence of celiac disease. Other scientists agree that the wheat grain is not a lot different than it was fifty years ago. Image Credit

Wheat is more than just gluten - it is a combination of complex carbohydrates. An Australian team wondered if these could be responsible for the problems and devised another small scale study which identified FODMAPs, a type of carb that is found many types of foods that are high in fructose, like honey and apples as well as dairy products, like milk and ice cream. The study showed that FODMAPs might be the cause of digestive discomfort instead of the gluten. But these are harder to remove from a diet and harder for consumers to understand.

Gluten has been let out of the bag so to speak. The second part of this post will discuss how the process of making bread has changed over the years.

This blog is adapted from "Against The Grain"

5 comments; last comment on 12/18/2014
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The Best Medicine

Posted December 06, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

The holiday season means most of us will be spending more time with our families. Whether your family is happy and normal or just altogether crazy - it's important to laugh at the fuss of it all. Laughing might also do more than help you get through the holidays, it can also help you live to 100.

We've all heard the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. Doctors note that laughter can ease depression, strengthen your immune system, boost energy, diminish pains, and protect from the damaging effects of stress. Because laughing relaxes the whole body, a good hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. This relaxation reduces the amount of stress hormones and increases immune cells. Plus think of all the endorphins you're releasing - it is like a mini-workout.

Laughter has a direct effect on our blood vessels which control the likelihood of developing a heart attack or a stroke. A good deep belly laugh opens the blood vessels in the same as going jogging or even taking a cholesterol medications.

The Benefits of Laughter

Physical Health Benefits:

· Boosts immunity

· Lowers stress hormones

· Decreases pain

· Relaxes your muscles

· Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits:

· Adds joy and zest to life

· Eases anxiety and fear

· Relieves stress

· Improves mood

· Enhances resilience

Social Benefits:

· Strengthens relationships

· Attracts others to us

· Enhances teamwork

· Helps defuse conflict

· Promotes group bonding

Not to mention that laughing over your holiday dinner is the perfect way to burn off some of those calories. Laughing for 5-10 minutes can burn up to 40 calories.

Laughter is a form of communication. When laughter is shared it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy.

So if your family isn't funny, hang out with your friends, or if your friends aren't funny - get new friends? Or watch some funny YouTube videos, read the comics, or play with your pet. Do something that makes you laugh each day. J

Be happy and healthy this holiday season!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXcEJ6A6ViU

2 comments; last comment on 12/08/2014
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Reheating Dinner

Posted November 22, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

I recently bought myself a crock pot which means I have delicious meals and lots of leftovers. Eating leftovers for a week got me thinking about whether or not it was safe to eat out of Tupperware or if I was going to have to wash ANOTHER dish.

Turns out it's a mix bag but I'm going to get my dish soap ready.

Several years ago reports started surfacing about plastics used in kitchenware containing chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA); which, among its many roles, is used to make a type of hard plastic; and certain phthalates, a wide range of chemicals that are used to soften plastic. The media took up the calling and soon many companies such as Nalgene, P&G, and Nike were phasing out products using BPA and phthalates. Image Credit

BPA is found in tap water and air due to products breaking down and releasing the chemical. But the highest exposure comes from our daily diet with molecules of BPA migrating from containers into food.

An extensive test done by Good Housekeeping revealed that "no detectable amounts" of BPA or phthalates wound up in the food after heating in several brands/types of plastic containers - but don't rest easy yet. According to the FDA, adult Americans consume, on average, a cumulative 11 micrograms of BPA a day though diet - so how are we ingesting BPA? Their guess is mostly through liners in canned foods. The insides of food cans are often lined with an epoxy resin that keeps corroding metal away from the food. But BPA in that resin can migrate into the food.

Many studies have been done and we don't have a definitive answer about the risks of BPA yet. There is a lot to be debated, but most studies show that the normal exposure adults get is not enough to cause adverse health effects. However, exposure for fetuses, infants, and small children needs to be monitored much more closely since they are unable to process the chemical as effectively as an adult. Image Credit

This might be a case of better safe than sorry. There are some simple things to do that will limit exposure for you and your family. Check the recycling codes on the bottom of containers: number 7 may contain BPA and 3 may contain phthalates. Generally plastics with numbers 1, 2, and 4 are OK. Also, cool foods or liquids before putting them in plastic containers and avoid putting plastic items in the dishwasher. When purchasing food stick with more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and choose soups and broths that come in aseptic boxes. Always pick powdered formula and stick with BPA-free baby bottles/water bottles.

It looks like I'm going to start using glass to store the leftovers and reheat them on a real plate.

What are your thoughts on reheating in plastic Tupperware?

For more information, including a list of products found to have BPA, check the link here.

26 comments; last comment on 11/26/2014
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In Honor of Beards

Posted November 14, 2014 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

In honor of No Shave November (or Movember depending on your style), millions of men are taking on the challenge of raising awareness for men's health by not shaving for the month of November. Even our IHS office in East Greenbush NY has a team of die-hard beard growers who are raising money for this cause.

This post is part of a two-part series. The previous blog discussed the importance of raising awareness for men's health and the second post will discuss the importance of growing a beard.

First off, fun fact: hormones called androgens stimulate vellus hair (light, soft body hair) to darken and coarsen. This hormone is higher in men causing their hair growth to change more than women's. This is why men can grow beards and women can't*. Also, the rate/thickness of facial hair is determined by genetics.

Research shows that growing a beard has many benefits and a long history of prestige and power. Since the first humans, a man's beard was a symbol of power, sexual virility, and social status. Throughout history beards have been used to show maturity and experience. Various cultures, such as the Egyptians, used the beard to symbolize kinship. Here is a fascinating historical overview of the beard.

Besides showing everyone how strong and powerful the wearer is, beards also function to protect the skin from the environment. According to a study done by the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, beards block 90 to 95 percent of ultraviolet rays from making contact with facial skin, leading to lower rates of skin cancer in that area. This also means beards keep the face wrinkle free since the sun causes up to 90 percent of the visible signs of aging.

This wrinkle free skin will also be clear of blemishes. Acne and hair-follicle inflammation are oftentimes the result of shaving. Beards prevent men from rubbing the natural moisturizing oil off the face and protects against winds, preventing redness and dryness.

Beards have this strange way of keeping men's skins looking younger, while making them look older. Beards have been shown to age a man as much as 8-10 years. This may also correspond to the fact that the more facial hair a man has, the more masculine both men and women perceive him to be. According to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, facial hear strongly influences people's judgments of men's socio-sexual attributes. There are some nuances to this statement (the study took into effect when the women were in their menstrual cycle and the amount of facial hair) but the overall theme is that "beardedness" affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggests that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring.

So I know November has started already, but it's not too late to start growing your beard! Besides all the benefits listed above, you will be part of a movement to raise awareness for men's health.

For more information on beards check out this article. To support men's health month check out the Movember page.

*Some women have higher levels of androgen and testosterone causing an increased amount of darkened body hair.

7 comments; last comment on 11/15/2014
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In Honor of No Shave November

Posted November 11, 2014 7:05 PM by Chelsey H

In honor of No Shave November (or Movember depending on your preference), millions of men are taking on the challenge of raising awareness for men's health by not shaving for the month of November. Even our IHS office in East Greenbush, NY, has a team of die-hard beard growers who are raising money for this cause.

This post is part of a two part series. This blog will discuss the importance of raising awareness for men's health and the second post will discuss the importance of growing a beard. With the average life expectancy of a man almost five years less than a woman, it's time to take note of some ways more men can get and stay healthy.

November isn't just about cancer awareness, the No-Shave movement also focuses on mental health. Did you know that more than four times as many men than women die by suicide in the United States? Mental health problems in men can often go undetected or untreated. There are many reasons, and often lack of awareness is the biggest culprit. Mental health problems can arise from events such as PTSD and head traumas sustained by veterans. Men may not be able to recognize or articulate the symptoms or signs they experience. There are also stigmas (shame and embarrassment) preventing them from accessing mental health services. If you or someone you know experiences mental health problems (or you just want more information) talk to your doctor, loved one, or call a support line. Most importantly - talk about it, you are not alone.

One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. That number is huge and it's important to understand your personal risks by knowing your family history and any environmental conditions you might have been/are exposed to.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men in the United States, meaning that one in seven men will be diagnosed in their lifetime, with the risk increasing with age. The prostate is a gland, located below the bladder, which produces fluid that protects and enriches sperm. Prostate cancer occurs when some of the cells in the prostate reproduce far more rapidly than normal,

resulting in a tumor. One important thing to note is that most prostate cancers develop without men experiencing any symptoms in the early stages. There are tests available, including a physical exam and a blood test. Talk with your doctor about the best test option and when to start testing. There are many resources available if you have more questions.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men aged 15-35 years, with over 8,000 new cases diagnosed annually. However, the five-year relative survival rate for men in the U.S. with localized testicular cancer is 99%. The cancer starts with an abnormal growth or tumor that develops in one or both testicles, which are responsible for the production of male hormones and sperm. Testicular cancer often manifests as a small hard lump, with swelling or change in the consistency of the testicle. It is highly treatable and often curable - when caught early enough. Regular self-examination of the testicles is important for men so you can quickly determine if something is not quite right. A guide for conducting a self-exam can be found here. For more information check out the many available resources.

The goal of No Shave November, besides growing fabulous facial hair, is to start the conversation. Have it with your spouse, partner, father, brother, friend, and/or loved one - but start talking. There any many resources, professionals, and doctors available that will be happy to help you maintain a long healthy life. You can always help by donating as well.

4 comments; last comment on 11/14/2014
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