Tag Archives: health

Lose Weight By Eating CHOCOLATE!

Image from: http://healthmeup.com/

It would be a dream come true for anyone in the western world to eat what they want and look good doing it. We are constantly reminded of this dream of a diet-free life that guarantees our good looks on a regular basis by internet advertisements, infomercials, and magazines. Some recent discoveries, however, have ensured that the chocolate lovers of our world can live the dream.

Eat chocolate and you’ll lose weight! Incredible, right? Dark chocolate, despite being seen more as an indulgence than a weight-loss strategy, is full of many natural benefits. Primarily, it is full of antioxidants, which boost cellular metabolism, thus burning more energy while at rest. A 2012 study done at the University of California highlights this effect in the following CNN report.

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Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVTeHwOWksA

In addition to its metabolic benefits, dark chocolate also helps the body manage sugar spikes by significantly reducing insulin sensitivity. Increases in insulin sensitivity means that the hormone insulin no longer functions as well as it should. As a result, muscle and fat cells will be less effective at using sugar, resulting in weight gain, and eventually Type 2 diabetes. A 2005 study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition goes into greater depth with regards to chocolate’s effects on insulin resistance.

Image from: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/

So next time you feel the urge to have a sweet snack or a bit of dessert after a meal, don’t feel the need to resist. You may be doing yourself worlds of good by satisfying your chocolate crave! Despite its benefits however, the benefits only exist in moderation. Chocolate is not a miracle weight-loss drug, but its addition into a healthy diet and a bit of exercise can greatly improve your chances of fitting into those new skinny jeans for the summer!

By: Kia Sanjabi


  1. Fetters, A. (2014). Can eating chocolate help you lose weight? Retrieved 03/17, 2014, from http://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/chocolate-weight-loss#.
  2. Grassi, D., Lippi, C., Necozione, S., Desideri, G., & Ferri, C. (2005). Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(3), 611-614.

Reasons why we should not schedule ourselves for 8:00 a.m. classes

Image: Katherine Squier via Flickr – Creative Commons License

As children, many of us were designated early bed-times by our parents. For the most part, it was easy for us at that age to go to bed accordingly, but in the process to becoming adolescents, we find ourselves struggling to abide by these schedules and likely ended up abandoning them. As a result, we also struggle with waking up early and performing optimally for those early morning classes.  While some adults may blame that on a student’s lack of discipline, multiple studies have shown that biological factors are at play, and why shifting our school schedules can be beneficial for us.

As most of us know, sleep is crucial for children, but what is often underestimated is the amount of sleep required for optimal functioning in adolescents as well. Most professionals in the field, including Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., director of Sleep Research at Bradley Hospital, agree that adolescents and young adults require the same amount of sleep that children do, which ranges from about 8.5 to 9.25 hours a night. The problem, however, is that due to their increased responsibilities, school workload, and extra-curricular activities, adolescents rarely are able to obtain this amount on a regular basis. In her article, “When Worlds Collide: Adolescent Need for Sleep Versus Societal Demands,” Dr. Carskadon outlines the societal demands that conflict with adolescents’ biological clock for optimal sleep times, including early school starting times competing with our circadian rhythms.

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In this short video, Dr. Katrena Lacey discusses the main points of how teenagers’ sleep habits differ from that of children and adults. All the factors listed by Dr. Lacey contribute to the problem with adolescents’ lack of sleep.

One research study attempted to solve the issue regarding adolescent sleep deprivation. The recent study was performed by psychologist and sleep expert, Julie Boergers, Ph.D., on 557 adolescents at a coeducational residential school by shifting their school’s starting time from 8:00 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. These students filled out the School Sleep Habits Survey (SSHS), a widely used survey in the US and other countries, at three equivalent time points in their school terms to compare the effects on their sleep-wake behaviours, functioning, school participation, physical and psychological health, and even caffeine use.

What they found through statistical analysis of the SSHS was an increase in sleep duration by 29 minutes, which makes logical sense due to the later start-time for school. The significant statistical finding, however, is an increased number of students obtaining over eight hours of sleep per night (from 18% to 44% of students). Overall, these students noted reduced daytime sleepiness, feelings of depression, and caffeine consumption.

Although this study showed no substantial improvement in grades and academic performance, it puts a strong case forward for shifting our school schedules just about half an hour later to reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep. For those of us who feel that sleeping earlier is nearly impossible, this study gives them good reason to start school later, mitigating sleep deprivation that seems to be such a big problem in our college lifestyle.

Napping – Not Just for Children and the Elderly

Although napping is usually associated with young children and older adults, napping is a growing phenomenon among healthy adults! There are many reasons why people choose to take naps during the day; more and more adults are suffering from sleep deprivation and therefore get tired during the day and may take a nap, whereas others are simply looking for a way to relax.

Most mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers. This means that they sleep multiple times throughout the 24 hours of the day for short periods at a time. However, humans are monophasic sleepers. We sleep once a day for a prolonged period of time. We follow the circadian biological clock that is controlled by cells in the hypothalamus of our brains. The circadian cycle includes a “hump” of sleepiness that occurs during the mid-afternoon. This is another reason why individuals often get sleepy during the day. To deal with this “hump,” individuals either take caffeine, get more nighttime sleep or take naps. Studies have shown that naps are the most effective solution.

Naps can counteract the effects of sleep deprivation. Taking a nap can maintain and even improve alertness, performance, vigilance and cognitive functions. A study conducted at the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) on sleepy astronauts and military pilots showed that by simply taking a 40 minute nap, their performance and alertness had improved by 34% and 100% respectively. Planned naps for older adults may help with functioning and those who have narcolepsy may actually be prescribed with scheduled napping.

The length of the nap has different beneficial effects. A 10-20 minute nap increases performance such as motor skills and alertness. A nap longer than 20 minutes can assist in memory recall as well as enhance creativity. This is especially true for recalling information learned just before taking the nap. Napping for 30-60 minutes enhances decision-making skills like the skill to memorize vocabulary or remember directions. Whereas a nap that lasts 60-90 minutes helps make new connections in the brain and solve creative problems.

Here are some tips to follow for your next nap:

  1. Find a dark, quiet place – this will help you fall asleep faster!
  2. Keep your naps 20-30 minutes long – short naps have the most benefits. Longer naps may lead to sleep inertia and cause post-sleep grogginess or disorientation that may leave you feeling even more tired than before your nap.
  3. Plan and be consistent – the best time to nap is in the middle of the day from 1-3PM.
  4. Drink your caffeine at the right time – it takes some time for the effects of caffeine to start.
  5. Don’t feel guilty! – napping can make you more productive.

The following video “How to Power Nap” by DNews gives some more helpful information and tips on napping:

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Happy napping!

– Kathy Tran

The Truth about Plastics

Plastic pollution has become one of the most serious threats to our oceans today. Approximately 90% of all garbage floating in our oceans is plastic. Common sources of plastics entering our oceans include beach users, illegal dumping, and plastics manufacturers and transporters. Unlike other types of garbage, plastic is not biodegradable by bacteria and other micro-organisms. It is either broken down by tidal movements into micro-plastics or is photo-degraded into smaller and smaller pieces by sunlight. Therefore, these small pieces of plastics never really leave our oceans.

According to statistics, 267 species are being affected by plastic ocean pollution worldwide, including 86% of sea turtles, 44% of all sea birds, and 43% of marine mammal species. Marine animals often mistake pieces of plastic for food. Once ingested, their bodies are not able to digest these plastics. Therefore, these plastic items remain in the animal’s body causing damage to its digestive system. As a result, the animal dies from starvation and dehydration.

Animals also suffocate on plastic trash, such as plastic bags and cigarette packages, which block the animal’s air passageway and may also inhibit normal growth. Common examples include sea turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish. The plastic bags are too large for sea turtles to digest. Thus, the sea turtle suffocates to death.

Sea Turtle Mistaking Plastic Bag for Jellyfish (Image taken from http://www.seaturtles.org/section.php?id=126 via Google advanced search)

Smaller plastics, known as microplastics,  remain in our oceans and are ingested by planktonic organisms at the base of the aquatic food chain. These organisms act as food for other predators which make up higher trophic levels. As a result, the plastics, as well as the chemicals within the plastics, are passed on to higher trophic levels, affecting the entire aquatic food chain.

Plastics are made up of petroleum and other toxic chemicals. One of the most common chemicals found in plastic items is phthalates. Phthalates are used in many beauty products, such as cosmetics and facial scrubs. These products are used by humans on a weekly or daily base. However, the marine environment suffers the consequences of these chemicals and plastics being flushed down the drain.

The video below provides an insight to plastic pollution in more detail:
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It is necessary for humans to take necessary actions to prevent further damage to marine life. We do not have to be the reason why another sea turtle suffocates to death. We do not need to throw our litter on beaches. Don’t become a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution.

Cure for Malaria on the way?

Each year, more than a million people die of the harmful parasitic disease known as Malaria and this number is increasing each day. Approximately 3.3 billion people (this is almost half the population of the world!) live in Malaria-affected region; most prominently in the Sub-Saharan Africa. This harmful plague has been circulating our planet for a long time now and yet there is no known cure for this disease. In the past recent years, the parasite has developed resistance to a lot of drugs. According to some researchers, some prosperous nations were able to get rid of Malaria; it is the third-world countries where the number of deaths due to this disease keeps increasing. Figure 1. below shows the regions that are at risk of  Malaria. Fortunately, Malaria is no longer overlooked and there is extensive research being done to find the cure for this malicious disease.

Figure 1. World map showing the risk of Malaria across the world.


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From the genus Anopheles, the female mosquito attacks the human when it is sound asleep and drinks the blood without acknowledgement. In the process, she releases saliva to prevent blood coagulation, and it is at this point when the infection spreads in the human body. This saliva contains one-celled malaria parasites (plasmodia) that act like tiny microscopic worms and burrow themselves in different liver cells. From this point on the disease spreads in the body through red blood cells and causes symptoms such as fever, headache, chills, nausea etc. The following video shows what happens in detail once the parasite attacks the host:

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Researchers and doctors from all around the world are working hard to develop, not just vaccines, but drugs that might help cure Malaria. Through the use of chemical insecticides or drainage of the water where the larvae of these mosquitos live in, could result in a significant reduction of their population.

Additionally, several drugs are under work that may be effective on a small scale. One such company is GlaxoSmithKline that developed a vaccine and conducted a clinical trial on 15,000 babies and children in Africa. Up to 18 months of age, the drug worked effectively and protected the babies. But the effectiveness wore off afterwards. A Research team at the University of Cape Town have been working on a drug that worked adequately on animals with no adverse side effects. Once this drug is put to use in clinical trials and positive results are found, it might be the breakthrough to the cure for this disease.

Even though there isn’t a set cure for this disease yet, there is still some ongoing progress. Until further research is done and results are found, we can only hope that this plague is cured before it gets too late.

– Hiba Rajpar








Multivitamins: Helpful, harmful, or just harmless?

Although the idea of vitamins (initially “vitamine” from “vital amine”* (1)) was conceived in the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the 1930s that scientists discovered that they could be artificially synthesised (2). Twenty years later, multivitamins and multimineral complexes (called MVMMs) would be widely consumed based on the belief that they were beneficial for one’s health (3).

Nowadays almost everyone takes MVMMs, and the nutraceutical market has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. Despite their popularity, MVMMs have received a significant amount of flak in the past year due to the documented inefficacy in healthy individuals. There are several research papers documenting MVMMs ineffectiveness, and some recent findings indicate that MVMMs can be harmful (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

It’s not unexpected that high doses of some vitamins are harmful; after all, “the dose makes the poison” and anything – including water – in a high enough dose can kill. However it is unexpected that taking moderate doses of certain vitamins can be harmful. Some ingredients in MVMMs that can harm more than help are vitamin A, folic acid, iron with vitamin D, and possibly vitamin D.

The negative effects of beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) on smokers has been known for two decades, and gave scientists the first inkling that vitamin supplements could be harmful. There is a well-established correlation in the scientific literature between beta-carotene supplementation (by smokers) and lung cancer (12). Most non-smokers ignore this, but this finding was only the beginning.

Folic acid, the synthesised form of B9, is well-known by women who are trying to conceive or pregnant. After the finding in 1964 that folic acid supplementation reduced neural tube defects, the pill became widely prescribed to pregnant women (and mandatorily added to food) (13, 14, 15).

Despite its supposed benefit, an increased susceptibility to multiple cancers has been associated with folic acid in recent years. Excessive folic acid – especially when it is unmetabolised, as happens often with synthetic B9 – can stimulate tumour growth (16, 17, 18, 19, 20). Some researchers chalk this up to folic acid being inherently different from the naturally occurring form in food, tetrahydrofolate.  The research is still unclear, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid MVMMs with folic acid (unless you’re pregnant).

Regular doses of vitamin D have recently been correlated with increasing the severity of cardiovascular disease (21, 22, 23). The proposed mechanism involves   vitamin D increasing calcium levels (which can contribute to plaque calcification) (24). (Excess can build up after taking a low dose of vitamin D over the long term**.)

Perhaps the most surprising finding on the harmfulness of some vitamins was on vitamin C and iron. Vitamin C is believed to increase the absorption and uptake of iron in the gastrointestinal tract, so many doctors will advise iron deficient patients to take a hefty dose of vitamin C alongside iron supplements. Apparently, this has been linked to a drastic increase in risk of cancers in the GI tract (25, 26, 27).

If you’re a relatively healthy individual, it’s best to avoid supplementation of a number of vitamins and/or minerals. Some people consider MVMMs “health insurance”, although there is clearly a dark side to some complexes.

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(Don’t take MVMMs; if you’re going to supplement, it should be targeted.)

*The “e” on “vitamine” was dropped when scientists realised that not all vitamins contain amines.

**The “long term” is apparently “three months or more”.

– Jennifer Labrie