Category Archives: Issues in Science

Is Taking Popular Supplements a Waste of Money?

How many dietary supplements do you take every day? According to Statistics Canada, about half of the Canadians take at least one supplement a day.  There are so many supplement products in the market today and consumers are overwhelmed with all the choices available. Are these supplements really necessary for maintaining good health? A recent review article published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology suggests otherwise.

How Supplements are made

Most supplements are synthetically made in laboratories and very few are made from naturally derived ingredients. In terms of chemistry, there is no difference found between the synthetically derived and naturally derived supplements. Most of the commercial vitamins found are made synthetically due to cost and efficiency.

Wide selection of vitamin supplements found in drugstores (source: Wikipedia)

Research on popular supplements

A team of researchers from St Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto claims that taking vitamin and mineral supplements have no significant effect on one’s health. The team reviewed 179 studies with single randomized trials that were published from January 2012 to October 2017. According to their review, the most common supplements taken were multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C. Their findings on these four common supplements reveal that there is little to no evidence in preventing cardiovascular diseases or early death. However, among all the dietary supplements that were reviewed, vitamin B9 (folic acid), and other B-vitamins such as B6 and B12 with folic acid were found to decrease the risk of stroke by 20%. On the other hand, the team was able to conclude that vitamin B3 (niacin) and antioxidants have rather a negative effect on our body, which may even lead to early death regardless of the cause.

What should we do?

Dr. David Jenkins, the lead author of the study reassures people that there is no harm in taking most of the popular supplements, however, he also adds that people should know that there are no significant benefits in taking them. He recommends that people should rely on eating a healthy and balanced diet to get their vitamins and minerals. According to his research, fruits, nuts, and whole wheat pasta were some of the foods that people should consider adding to their grocery list.

Here is a video from TED-Ed providing background information on the vitamins that were mentioned in the review. (Source: YouTube)

Tina Kwon

Let Dark Chocolate Keep Your Blood Vessel Healthy

Have you ever heard having approximately 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate every day is good for our health? Several studies announced that dark chocolate helps to keep our blood vessels healthy. But, do you have any ideas of what makes dark chocolate be beneficial?  Compared to white or milk chocolate, dark chocolate is made of higher contents of cocoa solid in the range of 50 to 90% where the cocoa is known for a rich source of flavonol, a type of flavonoids.

Dark chocolate bars source:


What does flavonoid do to our body?

First of all, flavonoid is a plant nutrient that reduces cardiovascular diseases and can be found in many fruits and vegetables. A type of flavonoids, called flavonol, is found in cocoa and also it is the key source for the benefits of dark chocolate. One of its main function is antioxidants effects. An antioxidant is known for a protector of our body from any harmful damages caused by free radicals and their oxidation. For example, flavonoids lower the amounts of LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol, in our body since oxidized LDL cholesterol reacts with free radical and cause heart diseases. Another function of flavonoid is that this chemical is used to stimulate cells in inner blood vessels called endothelium. By stimulating the cells, nitric oxide can be produced and used to improve blood flow since nitric oxide can dilate arteries.

The following video explains further details about flavonoid and its function.


Research study on the effects of dark chocolate

A study on flavonoid-rich dark chocolate was done at the University of California. 21 healthy adult subjects were randomly assigned to high-flavonoid or low-flavonoid chocolate for 2 weeks. As a result, The group of intake high-flavonoid chocolate has significant mean changes of 1.3 ± 0.7% in dilation of the brachial artery, the major blood vessel in the upper arm. This study concludes that flavonoid improves endothelium functions and blood flow.


As dark chocolate contains flavonoids more and more, its impacts on our health, especially on cardiovascular health is significant. However, dark chocolate still contains fats and sugars that possibly lead to diabetes or weight increases. 30 to 60g of dark chocolate per day is recommended.



Ellen Lee









The Science of Aging: Can we live FOREVER?

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China who built the great wall of china desperately sought the elixir of immortality later in his life. As he grew older, he was terrified by the fear of death and was obsessed with the fabled elixir of youth. Unfortunately, he failed to find the elixir and died by mercury poisoning believing that mercury has the power of reversing the aging process. Now, more than 2000 years have passed since he died. The progress of science has made remarkable changes in our mode of living. Can scientists find the legendary elixir? If it cannot be found in nature, can we create the magical elixir ourselves?

The fabled elixir of life lets us live forever (Source: Innovation Toronto, click the image to visit the website)

What is aging?

We know intuitively what aging means, but what does it mean in the scientific term and how can we define ‘aging’? Scientists define aging as the intrinsic physiological process that declines body function and causes an increase in death rate. The mechanisms of aging are still not fully understood due to its complexity but scientists have recently made advances in this area. First, scientists have hypothesized the reasons why we age. In 1990, there was an effort to categorize 300 theories of aging by Zhores Medvedev and one of the main reasons is that cells can’t divide forever.


The Hayflick limit

In a laboratory in Philadephia, a young scientist Leonard Hayflick found out that our cells have a finite number of times – 40 to 60 times – to undergo cell division before they die and stop functioning. Once we run out of healthy and functioning cells in organs, we die. This means that we all have a biological clock that tells us when to die from the moment we are born. Why does this occur? Scientists believe that shortening of the telomeres accounts for this phenomenon. Telomeres protect DNA by acting as caps which prevent the chromosomes from deterioration. Telomeres are at the end of the chromosomes. As cells undergo cell division, telomere length gets shorter and shorter. When the cells run out of telomeres, DNA strands become susceptible to damage and this leads to cell death.

The Hayflick limit of a normal human cell. Cells can no longer divide at some point. (Source: The Bio Regulator Company, click the image to visit the website)

Not everything dies by aging

Does this mean that every living thing will die by aging? Not really. For example, cancer cells are biologically immortal under ideal conditions – which is not very good news for us. How about in living organisms? It turns out that some animals and plants are biologically immortal and do not die by aging. Hydra – a small, fresh-water invertebrate – is one of the organisms that does not age. In 1998, Martinez found out that Hydras do not exhibit evidence of aging. More recently scientists working at a biotech company founded by Google have discovered that naked mole rats defy the definition of aging; their death rates do not increase with age. So, by the same physiological mechanisms which hydras and naked mole rats use, can we live longer?

Hydra, an aquatic animal, is biologically immortal. (Source: Wiktionary, click the image to visit the website)



Anti-aging drugs?

Unfortunately, we are neither hydra nor naked rat mole. Physiological systems of the human body are much more complicated. So, we can not exploit their physiological mechanisms. What if we can extend our telomeres and let cells divide more times? Wouldn’t we be able to live longer? The answer is a half yes. Telomerase is an enzyme that can fix and extend telomeres at the end of DNA strands. It is like a small machine that resets our biological clock. Telomerase can be found in some types of cells in our bodies – especially stem cell. It seems like a no brainer. Let’s get some telomerase and put it in a pill. Well, the problem is that’s what cancer cells do. That’s why cancer cells are biologically immortal. So, unless you want to get cancer, don’t put that extra telomerase in your body. According to Elizabeth Blackburn, nudging up telomerase could decrease aging effects, but it could also increase the risks of certain and rather nasty cancers. She mentioned that there are many websites marketing drugs saying that they can extend telomere, but the problem is those drugs could nudge up the risks of cancers. Here is a major dilemma, cancer or aging?

(Video – Ted: The science of cells that never get old  by Elizabeth Blackburn)


So, there is no clear solution to aging yet. However, a journey of finding the elixir of immortality continues. Scientists keep on pouring tremendous efforts to understand aging and how to resolve the riddle of the true antiaging drug. Instead of making the drug, there could be other ways to approach the immortality. Netcome, a neuroscience startup that seeks to back up the human brain on the computer server. Biolife4D, a biotech company in Illinois, United States is trying to build human organs with stem cell technology and 3D bioprinting technology. Maybe in the near future, we will figure out an answer to the immortality.

Uploading the human brain to the computer. (Source: Live Science, click the image to visit the website)

Drinking too Much Water Can Kill You

Growing up, we have been told numerous times to drink at least four-to-six cups of water a day to stay hydrated. Water is an essential part of life, but what if I told you that drinking too much water can kill you? There are many studies that explain how over-hydration, especially when you are finishing a workout or have kidney issues may increase the risk of water intoxication. Water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia can be hazardous to your health and in a few cases lethal.


Drinking 3 Litres of water a day keeps you well hydrated.                Credit: Chris Bishop

How Can Over-hydration Kill You?

In this video, Science Insider a YouTube channel that primarily creates educational videos, explains how dangerous and harmful over-hydration can be.

Drinking faster than your kidney can process disrupts the balance of Sodium and water in the cells resulting in the cell swelling up and expanding.  The video continues explaining how the continuous swelling of cells, especially brain cells  leads to dizziness and brain damage.

Research Study on Water Intoxication

A study from Queen Mary University of London, explained that water consumption is indeed beneficial to the human body in healthy amounts. However, Exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) also known as water intoxication in marathon runners are more prevalent.

The study collected surveys on 298 participants who were all runners in the 2014 London Marathon, surprisingly only 48% of participants had knowledge about the effects of water intoxication and how much water should be consumed during the run. As study shows that 13% of marathon runners show mild symptoms of water intoxication. The saying “drink to thirst,” is known to be the most effective guideline to prevent water intoxication compared to “drink to max.” There isn’t enough proof  that establishes when mild symptoms of water intoxication becomes symptomatic. But what is known is that hydration strategies is vital to the safety of participants that are involved in high physical activity.


Know your limit and stay within it!                                            Credit: Chris Bishop


The effects of over-hydration is lethal and should not be taken lightly! We’re all guilty of gulping down a few drinks or even consuming excess amounts of water after a workout, however we should definitely take a few sips back and think about how much water we really need.


Cindy San

Blog Post #1

Critical New Findings May Lead to Changes in COPD Treatment Plans

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada and is currently affecting nearly 2 million Canadians 35 years of age or older. This incurable, progressive disease is described to feel as if you are slowly drowning making it clear how much damage it can cause. 

Picture the lungs as networks of different branches from one trunk. As these branches move further out, they will branch off more and become smaller and smaller. As you can imagine, damage to these branches can have catastrophic effects where patients slowly lose their ability to breath. This is what happens to people with COPD. These branches become damaged causing inflammation and narrowing of branches called bronchi. This damage can make it so hard to breath that even a quick trip to the fridge seems impossible. Due to its progressive nature, researchers are looking into treatments that can reduce the progression of COPD.

Changes to airways as COPD progresses (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Early detection is a key component to controlling COPD progression. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has been established for standardizing COPD progression. GOLD creates a 4 staged index from mild to very severe COPD based on a breathing test that assesses lung capacity. This helps doctors to understand how damaged the lung tissue. 

Although this has been an excellent tool for diagnosing COPD, researchers have noted that some of the very fine, small branches, where gas exchange occurs, are not well understood. Understanding this gap of knowledge between lung function and onset COPD is critical for developing effective treatment plans.

A recent study published by investigators from the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation was some of the first to try to fill this hole. The results were astounding, showing that nearly 41% of the terminal bronchioles are lost in mild and moderate cases of COPD. This would mean that patients who present very little symptoms are already losing a significant portion of their terminal branches. When finally diagnosed, the disease may be more advanced than previously thought. Even more importantly, mild and moderate COPD patients receive minimal treatment according to current guidelines- these results may change that protocol.

Terminal Bronchi with alveolar sacs for gas exchange. (Source: wikipedia creative commons)

The knowledge gained from this study may help to explain why many clinical research trials for COPD have fallen short. If disease progression is more severe than originally believed, the cohorts being used may not be appropriate for the study. This result may change how many studies are structured in the future.

The researchers have emphasized that these results are preliminary, and more research should be done with larger cohorts before any large conclusions can be drawn. However, this does start the conversation on current treatment plans and where changes may need to occur to better diagnose COPD in its early stages. This in turn will hopefully lead to better outcome in treatment of its progression.

By: Katie Donohoe

Using the Power of Sunlight to Fight Infections

Imagine if the most resistant pathogens that plague our society today could be destroyed using the power of sunlight. Terrifying resistant bugs seem to become ever more common, and ever more dangerous. Taking a round of antibiotics can be a gamble, as there is no guarantee the bacteria will be killed off by the drugs. Antibiotics are starting to fail, but what if there is another solution after all options have been exhausted?

The overuse of antibiotics (Source: EarthPulseDaily on Flickr)

As early as 1845, it was known that sunlight could be used to treat bacterial infections. Ultraviolet (UV) light was also found to have incredible effects upon affected skin, destroying the genetic material of harmful microbes circulating in the blood underneath its surface. Nonetheless, researchers decided to take it one step further: Why not expose the blood to the UV light directly?

That’s exactly what researcher Emmett K. Knott and his co-workers did to blood extracted from infected dogs, using a machine that passed the blood under a UV light. Remarkably, the dogs made a full, long-term recovery without any side effects. Similarly, in 1928, a woman who was on the brink of death due to septic abortion complicated by a Streptococcus infection was treated with UV blood irradiation (UVBI) and recovered completely, even having two healthy pregnancies some time afterwards.

Old and new: UVBI machines (Sources: PubMed Central and Champion Ultimate UV)

You might be thinking that exposing your blood to UV rays sounds extremely dangerous! However, our body cells contain repair enzymes that can quickly fix any damage done to them by the low dose of UV light.

UVBI was an outstanding method for treating infections during the 1940s and 1950s, but was sadly overshadowed by the emergence of antibiotics. Too much of a good thing quickly turns sours, and this has certainly become the case with modern antibiotic use. Doctors are prescribing antibiotics when they are not needed – such as for viral infections – and also prescribing them too frequently when they should really be a last resort. UVBI seems to be making a small comeback, but few recent studies have been done, as some medical practitioners refuse to accept it as a viable treatment for infection despite its decades-long history. This is an effective, low cost treatment with no side effects that is still being used in some technologically-advanced countries. Hopefully, UVBI will be widely used again, starting with patients who have failed their antibiotic treatments.

Here is a TED-Ed video with more information on how bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics:

By Gabriela Rosu

The Flu Shot Debate- Does it really work?

Every year, we are reminded all around us by advertisements, pharmacies, doctors, even family members to get our flu shot so we won’t get sick! However, there are some that are skeptical when they see flu shot advertisements and campaigns. The general public debates on whether this shot actually does anything beneficial and are skeptical when reports come out every year of vaccines not being as effective as they should be or deaths from the flu such as this article here.

Flu virus coming into contact with cell. Source : Flickr Commons


So, to be a voice of reason in this massive debate, one first needs to understand how the flu shot actually works and why there have been past years where the flu shot has failed tremendously or has had huge success in keeping people healthy.

How it’s made

Between flu seasons (Spring-Summer), scientists’ study previous month’s “flu-trends” and base the vaccine they make for the year on this information. The influenza vaccine is first made in lab months prior to our annual “flu-season” (Fall through Winter) and then injected into hen eggs where the virus can multiply. The next step in the process requires the virus to enter a weakened, inactivated state. This inactive state prevents the virus from further mutation in the human body, which would otherwise consist of flu symptoms. Vaccines are then made with the inactivated flu virus.

How it works

The timeline for this process can be problematic in that the preparation of the vaccine occurs months before the current strain of influenza affects the general population. The time which the vaccines are modeled after the flu virus strains to when people can actually receive the flu shot is approximately 6 months prior to distribution. This leaves plenty of time for the flu virus to further mutate. This is why in some flu seasons the vaccine can target the completely wrong strain of influenza, thus leading to a useless vaccine.

Source : Flickr Commons

Flu Vaccine Source : Flickr Commons

However, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccines can reduce the risk of illness and symptoms by 40%-60% on a good year when the vaccine closely matches the circulating strain.

Now to answer the question; Does the flu vaccine really work? The answer I believe most accurate is yes. Although there is potential for the flu strain to mutate to something that does not match the vaccine exactly, little protection is better than no protection, and by getting the flu shot you are not only protecting yourself but also those around you.

-Morgan Strohan