Tag Archives: health

Is nail biting a sign of perfectionism?

Next time someone tells you to stop biting your nails, tell them to stop boring you! A new study has found that people prone to body-focussed repetitive behaviours may be perfectionists.

nail biting

Biting your nails might mean you’re a perfectionist
credits to: flickr

Body-focussed repetitive behaviours are a group of behaviours where an individual causes damage to themselves. Examples of these behaviours include biting nails, hair pulling, and biting the inside of their cheek. Individuals can spend hours doing these activities, taking away from their day. Engaging in these behaviours can lead to psychological symptoms like depression, shame, and isolation.

In this study, the researchers looked at 24 people that exhibited body-focussed repetitive behaviours and a control group of 24 people that did not exhibit these behaviours. The participants were first screened through a telephone interview then completed questionnaires to evaluate emotions including boredom, anger, and guilt, to name a few. Then, the participants were experimentally exposed to four different situations, designed to provoke different emotions: stress, relaxation, frustration, and boredom.

The researchers found that in the boredom and frustration situations, the participants that had a history of body-focussed repetitive behaviours reported a greater urge to engage in these behaviours than control participants. Moreover, none of the participants felt the urge to perform these behaviours in the relaxation situation. Kieron O’Connor, the principal investigator has stated “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviours maybe perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform task at a ‘normal’ pace.  They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”


Perfectionism can lead to depression.
credits to: Flickr

This new research falls in line with what we already know about perfectionism and its detrimental effects on people. A study has shown that perfectionism can lead to anxiety, depression, and may even be a risk factor for suicide. In fact, two separate studies have looked at the link between perfectionism and suicide. The first study found that when conducting interviews with the loved ones of people that had recently killed themselves, more than half of the deceased were described as perfectionists without prompting. The second study found that more than 70% of 33 men that committed suicide placed exceedingly high expectations on themselves, a trait associated with perfectionism.

It doesn’t take much to imagine why perfectionists are driven to self harm so often. The impossibly high standards that they hold for themselves means that they aren’t happy even when they achieve success. It has been suggested that anxiety over making a mistake may be what is holding them back from success. Research has confirmed that the most successful people in any given field are less likely to be perfectionistic. Imagine having a surgeon that had to be absolutely sure about each cut before making it, their patients would spend much longer on the table, increasing their chance of death.

Check out this TED talk all about perfectionism:

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– Siana Lai

Can Vegetarians Say Goodbye to Some Cancers?

Cut the meat, cut the crap? It appears this is the case when considering colorectal cancer, a cancer of the large intestine and rectum, and its reduced risk in vegetarians. This cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. A new study found that a vegetarian diet may cut ones risk of colorectal cancer by 20%! In a society that’s obsessed with weight loss, a vegetarian diet seems to be increasing in popularity. What is it about the vegetarian diet that may be causing this association?

Vegetarian diet: Flickr Commons by Ano Lobb

Vegetarian diet: Flickr Commons by Ano Lobb

Vegetarian diet: Flickr Commons by bangdoll

Vegetarian diet: Flickr Commons by bangdoll






The biggest reason for the association between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk of colorectal cancer is little to no consumption of red and processed meat. A nutrition report addressed the relationship between consumption of red or processed meat and risk of colorectal cancer. Examples of red meat include, beef, goat, lamb and pork. On the other hand, examples of processed meats are ham, bacon, sausage and hot dogs. It was stated, in this nutrition report as well as a review, that studies from 2007 to 2011 continued to support and strengthen the finding that as consumption of red or processed meat increases, the risk of colorectal cancer does as well. However, this has not been concluded as a cause-and-effect relationship. It is this association that seems to be the biggest reason why vegetarians appear to have a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

Red meat: Flickr Commons by Jeff Attaway

Red meat. Source: Flickr Commons by Jeff Attaway

Processed meat: Flickr Commons by Steven Depolo

Processed meat. Source: Flickr Commons by Steven Depolo






It is important to remember that a vegetarian diet is a lifestyle choice and there may be other reasons why it is associated with reduced colorectal cancer risk. Not only does this diet include a decreased meat intake, it also includes decreased consumption of unhealthy foods, increased consumption of many healthy foods and healthier activities. For example, vegetarian diets show a reduced sugar intake especially through decreasing caloric beverages. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption is also a key aspect of vegetarian diets. This diet has also been demonstrated to include healthy activities such as, not smoking and avoiding/moderate consumption of alcohol, both of which are linked to reduced cancer risk. Therefore, as was mentioned in the previously talked about nutrition report, it is necessary to clearly understand how different aspects of a vegetarian diet may be influencing cancer risk.

You may be wondering, don’t these diets also result in decreased consumption of other essential nutrients and protein, which could increase cancer risk? As Professor Marion Nestle addresses in the following video posted by Big Think, vegetarians don’t lose out on much.

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Towards the end, Professor Nestle talks about how being a vegetarian plays a positive role in the environment. Therefore, not only is vegetarianism thought to be benefiting the individual, by appearing to reduce risk of colorectal cancer, it has broader implications on the world around us.

Source: Flickr Commons by QuotesEverlasting

Source: Flickr Commons by QuotesEverlasting

It seems Einstein believed it too, in many ways, cutting the meat is cutting the crap.

– Surekha Gangar


Saying Goodnight to Bed Bug Bites

Cimex lectularius

Cimex lectularius, the most common bed bug           Source: Gilles San Martin on Flickr

Many of you may not think that bed bugs pose a significant threat in your life. Several believe that only cheap motels and hostels became infested with these parasites, and that I was never at risk of coming into contact with them. It turns out this issue may be closer to home than we think. According to the British Columbia Ministry of Health, there have been increased reports of infestation, particularly in Downtown Eastside Vancouver, but also throughout British Columbia. Houses, apartment buildings, hotels and university and elderly residences across Canada have fallen victim to infestation.

Scientists at Simon Fraser University have recently come up with a concoction of pheromones that attract and trap bed bugs. After years of investigating this issue, they found the right balance of pheromones that causes bed bugs to be drawn to the source of the chemical attractant. The key is histamine, which bed bugs interpret as “safe shelter”. As soon as they come into contact with the histamine, they stay there, despite whether or not they have recently fed. This essentially helps stop their reproduction and spread. This mixture of pheromones has already proven extremely effective, and has even been tested in bed bug infested areas in Metro Vancouver.

Here is a video by Simon Fraser University introducing the scientists responsible for this research:YouTube Preview Image


Bed bugs were basically eradicated in the mid-20th century due to widespread use of pesticides such as DDT. However, in recent decades they have been making a global comeback, likely due to increased international travel and pesticide resistance. Reaching epidemic proportions, bed bugs are returning in higher abundances, distribution and intensity of infestation. For this reason, it has become imperative to find more effective methods of early detection and extermination of bed bugs.

Bed bug bite

An example of a bed bug bite                                   Source: hiroo yamagata on Flickr

Bed bugs have not been proven to carry infectious diseases, but their bites can be itchy, cause rashes, and some people can suffer severe allergic reactions. Moreover, their presence can be irritating and distressful, causing loss of sleep, anxiety and paranoia. Many people go to great lengths to minimize the effects, including the use of pesticides and radical cleaning.  Pheromones are a much less harmful way to get rid of the parasite. Finding the right combination of histamine and other chemicals could have huge implications for the global eradication of bed bugs. Low-income areas are usually unable to afford professional extermination, and since the cost of the pheromone method is low, these regions will have better opportunity for monitoring and preventing infestation.

So, if you ever have the misfortune of getting bed bugs in your home, hopefully it happens after next year, when the pheromone treatments should be widely available.

– Anne Persson

Has daylight savings left you feeling tired?

Every autumn when Daylight Saving Time (DST) rolls around, most of us tend to appreciate the extra hour of sleep. When spring comes around however, many tend to suffer from the loss of sleep. Since there are a number of health risks that accompany the time change, we must be proactive in making sure the time change doesn’t negatively affect our health.

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The days after DST begins can leave many feeling dazed. Image Source: Flickr Commons by: Zeek_

Every spring we turn our clocks one hour ahead to allow for brighter evenings. DST started during the world wars to save energy, as less lighting was needed in the evenings because the evenings were brighter.

The reason we suffer when the clocks turn ahead by an hour is related to our “biological clock“. This clock tells us when to sleep based on our bodies natural 24 hour cycle. When we lose an hour of sleep, our internal clock can be thrown off, resulting in a variety of negative affects.

The overwhelming benefit of DST is the brighter evenings we get in the warmer months, but just what are the drawbacks? Consider this videos response:

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Video Source: Harvard Public Health

As mentioned in the video above, there have been reports of increased risk for heart attacks after the time change, as well as an increased number of deaths due to car accidents. What seems like a little sleepiness can have a huge impact on many.

Interestingly, Washington state is considering getting rid of DST due to the risks associated with the time change. Although the removal of DST could be very beneficial health-wise, British Columbia is not likely to do the same. Even if we can’t get rid of DST, we can find a way to better adapt to the change.

Take a look at this video that provides a great solution to the abrupt change of DST:

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Video Source: Sleep Number

Regardless of whether you are for or against DST, it’s likely to stay. So even if the start of DST has left you tired, make sure to plan for a regular daily sleep schedule and be prepared for next springs time change.

-Selamawit Joseph



Three-Parent Babies

Last month, the United Kingdom voted to legalize “three-parent babies.” They are the first country to allow this procedure and within a year, the first of these babies will be born.


Mitchondrial replacement can prevent mitchondrial disease from being passed on to future generations
Photo courtesy of Flickr

These babies will have three parents in an attempt to eradicate mitochondrial disease. In short, this disease is caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA which in turn leads to insufficient energy for the cell’s survival. The death of cells causes the organs to fail ultimately leading to death. This illness is passed through the mother to her children. There are three traditional choices for mothers with this disease that hope to have children. They can adopt a child, use a donor egg, or become pregnant and at 11 weeks have the fetus tested for mitochondrial disease. At that point, they can choose to terminate the pregnancy. However, there is new hope on the horizon for prospective mothers in the United Kingdom that have this disease. The government recently legalized a method of three-person in-vitro fertilization, mitochondrial donation.


There are two methods of mitochondrial DNA replacment, maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer.
Photo courtesy of Flickr

There are two different methods of mitochondrial donation. The first is named maternal spindle transfer where the repair is completed before fertilization. An egg is taken from both the mother and the donor and both the nuclei are removed. Next, the mother’s nucleus is kept and inserted into the donor’s egg while the donor’s nucleus is destroyed. Then, the donor egg containing the mothers nucleus and healthy mitochondria is fertilized with the father’s sperm. Finally, the egg is implanted back into the mother.

The other method of fertilization is named pronuclear transfer. In this procedure, the repair is done after fertilization. First, an egg is taken from both the mother and the donor. Then, they are fertilized with the father’s sperm. Before the eggs have a chance to replicate, the chromosomes from each egg are taken out. Next, the donor ones are thrown out and the donor egg is filled with the mother’s chromosomes. Finally, the egg is implanted in the mother.

There are many ethical concerns attached to this issue causing countries including Canada to hold back on legalizing this procedure. In Canada, this specifically has to do with the fear of opening the doors to designer babies. Not only are designer babies horrifically dystopian and Brave New World-esque, it may also decrease the natural variability of the human race, something that is required for the race to survive and adapt. However, changing a baby’s mitochondrial DNA is a far cry from creating designer babies. The procedure has no effect on their hair or eye colour and it isn’t enhancing them in any way. In fact, the change affects less than 1% of the baby’s total genome.

Other ethical concerns include “germline” genetic engineering, the fact that one of the embryos are destroyed in the pronuclear transfer and that we are unsure of this procedure’s effects on humans. Even with these concerns, this procedure is worth it if we can eradicate a painful disease affecting millions.

Check out this video by Elliot M. that sums up mitochondrial replacement:

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– Siana Lai

Boosting Your Immune System with a Dose of Personality

Personalities and their effects on biological systems have become an increasingly popular focus of research over the last few years; the target of these studies is often related to the degree in which our personalities can regulate many aspects of our life, such as our wellbeing. A video from the Youtube series ASAPScience (see below) provides an example of the link between personality and biology. The video specifically discusses a relationship between personality and sleep habits (whether you’re a night owl or a morning person) and how the latter reveal your personality traits.

The science behind our personality is simple. It can be defined as a collection of characteristics or qualities that form an organism’s unique character. These specific traits that all combine to form a unique personality can affect different aspects of our life, such as our performance in school and the friendships we have. The question is, does personality really have an impact on our health?

Previous studies have linked personality and its role in the risk of developing health problems. More recently, research has shown that personality traits can be a factor in how well a body can fight a disease. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, a study conducted by Kavita Vadhara and colleagues at The University of Nottingham has shown that some traits part of the ‘Big Five’ group, which are five primary dimensions of personality common to all humans, can play a role in the way the defence system of the body works. This system is also known as our immune system.

The 'Big Five' Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality. Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Big Five’ Model shows the five primary dimensions of personality.
Big Five Source: Wikipedia Commons

The team of researchers asked 121 students to complete a questionnaire based on their personality. This questionnaire measured their degree of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. Specifically, they looked how extroverted the participants were (energetic, talkative), their neuroticism (how anxious or moody) and their conscientiousness (how organized or thoughtful). In addition to the questionnaire, they also took a blood sample from each participant. This allowed the analysis of a number of genes that are involved in an inflammatory immune response, which is a response initiated by our immune system that helps the body fight infection and speed up the recovery from injury. Using microarray technology to determine which genes are active, the team of researchers were able to make a correlation between personality traits and the active genes required for an immune response.

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes. Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

The above instrument is used in microarray technology to identify active genes.
Microarray Source: Wikipedia Commons

Results showed that participants who scored higher for extroversion in the questionnaire had an increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes (genes capable of promoting inflammation). However, participants who demonstrated a higher degree of conscientiousness subsequently had a decreased expression of pro-inflammatory gene expression. In other words, individuals with a more social behavior appear to have a greater ability to deal with infection and injury, whereas participants who were more cautious could not effectively handle the infections. The third trait mentioned, neuroticism, did not show an association with gene expression.

Before you celebrate that your outgoing disposition means you’re better at fighting illness, I think an important question that should be asked is, what is influencing what? Could it be the opposite cause-and-effect relationship, where our immune system influences our behaviour? Whatever the cause of the above results, the study conducted by Vadhara and colleagues provides further support to the dynamic relationship between health and personality.

Check out this video by Kurz Gesaft explaining how the immune system works:


Thanks for reading!

Samantha Mee