Archive for the 'Physiology/Pharmacology' category

Can you smell garlic in your amniotic fluid?

Jul 31 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

...this is a question that I have to imagine most of us have never really asked. But the next time you smell someone's amniotic fluid (why wouldn't you?), make sure to check and see if they've had garlic.

Mennella et al. "Garlic ingection by pregnant women alters the odor of amniontic fluid". Chemical Senses, 2013.


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At SciAm Blogs today: Losing the "taste" for sperm!

Jul 01 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

The human body is a versatile thing. So versatile that receptors that we usually think of as being important for taste...are also important in your SPERM. On the tongue, it's sweet or savory. In the testes...infertility. At least in mice. Head over and check it out!

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A molecule to prevent naked mole rat cancer

Jun 19 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

Naked mole rats have a tough time getting cancer. Even though they have incredibly long lifespans for rodents, living up to 30 years (as compared to mice, which only live four years under the best conditions), they don't tend to develop the cancers that are seen in other rodent species like mice, rats, and guinea pigs. Why do naked mole rats have such a tough time getting cancer?

Obviously this isn't something they are sad about, instead, it raises a lot of questions. Why are naked mole rats resistant to cancer? The answer to this question could be complex, but it could also tell us a lot about how cancer forms, and give us new strategies for cancer treatment.

Tian et al. "High molecular weight hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole-rat" Nature, 2013. DOI.
(And of course, it should be noted that everything is better with naked mole rats in it)
Credit: Photo by Brandon Vick/ University of Rochester

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Running and Hypothermia

Apr 16 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

I was truly devastated by the news from the Boston Marathon yesterday. This kind of senseless violence perpetrated at what has always been such a positive, peaceful, joyful gathering is just too horrible to describe. Scientific American is covering many aspects of this kind of event, from the wonderful behavior of fellow runners (acting against what psychology tells us), to the value of social media during the crisis. I have a post on why so many of the runners began to show signs of hypothermia after being diverted off the racecourse, and how runners and Bostonians helped each other. And today, I'm Running for Boston, and I hope you will run, walk, or otherwise locomote for Boston, too.

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Exercise fuel: Is that a banana in your pocket or are you increasing your performance?

Jan 16 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

As a distance runner, I see a lot of nutritional advice. As we get more serious about running, more serious about decreasing our times, increasing our distance, and other measures of "performance", we start haunting forums and websites, places that refer to food as "fuel". You hear a lot about "pre-race fuel", "post-race fuel", "post-workout fuel". Is it better to have an apple with peanut butter 1 hour before running? Or a bowl of oatmeal two hours before? It's better to "fuel" with pasta the night before a half marathon, but what about a 10k? When you're running for more than an hour, when should the "race fuel" come out? What kind? When do you switch from water to Gatorade and in what amounts? Should we never eat cheese? These are the kinds of questions that can make runners spend hours comparing notes, and that's not even getting into the actual workouts and races themselves! We all want to do our best, and we all want to feel our best doing it, to recover quickly, and to do it again.

When you talk a lot about different types of "fuel", you hear a lot about certain ones in particular. Peanut butter gets a lot of praise, high protein, tasty, and you don't have to eat a lot of it. For extreme conditions, honey will get you there. Oatmeal is a universal favorite. And then there's the banana. I sometimes think that endurance athletes must account for 90% of all banana sales in the US. No matter where you are, at the end of every race, 5k, or ultra-marathon, there will ALWAYS be bananas. Huge piles of them on the post-race tables, and racers snarfing them down.

Me, I've always felt a certain amount of banana conflict. In my daily life, I really hate them. I hate the flavor, I REALLY hate the texture. And the gross little strings just make me gag. The first thing that turns me off a food is telling me it's got banana in it. But after a long run, or a race…I'll snarf those bananas just like everyone else. After morning workouts I'll be there choking down a banana with my breakfast, grimacing all the while. Heck, after a while I ever started to crave them! During a long race, you really do start to visualize that banana at the end.

But why do I do it? I still hate them. I still choke them down and try desperately to get the taste out of my mouth afterward.

But I'm a runner, and I have always, always been told that bananas are a freaking wonder fruit. They've got carbohydrates, they've got potassium, they've got fiber. They've got the sugar to keep you on your feet and the potassium to stop your muscle cramps. They are THE thing that every athlete should eat.

I have always, always been told this. But after a while, I started hunting around. Where is the proof?! After all, we SEE all that nutritional advice…but most of it is anecdotal at best. What's truth and what's not? And where lies the banana?


Nieman et al. "Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach" PLoS ONE, 2012.
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When you throb with pain...are you feeling the beat?

I think we've all had that kind of pain. A headache, maybe, or an injury. The kind of pain...that THROBS. You know what I mean. When I get one of those throbbing headaches, it's like every beat of my heart is pushing the blood up through my brain, and with the blood comes another throb of pain. I feel like my head throbs in time with my heartbeat, and will even try to relax and slow my heart beat down to at least slow the throbbing a little. It never works.

And it turns out there's a reason that it doesn't work. Because it turns out that pulsatile pain has nothing to do with heartrate. And for this study, all the authors needed was a heart rate monitor...and some very long-suffering dental patients.

Mirza et al. "Is There a Relationship between Throbbing Pain and Arterial Pulsations?" J Neuroscience, 2012.

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Longer life with an extra espresso shot? Let's carefully consider the data.

May 23 2012 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

I realize this study is SO last week, which is about two months in dog years and a decade in internet years, but seeing as I'm about to lend my dulcet tones and my delicate opinions to Skeptically Speaking on this topic, I feel I must needs blog this paper.

That, and it's about coffee. How could I NOT blog this paper!?

Freedman et al. "Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality" NJEM, 2012.

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Experimental Biology Blogging: Using a chemical from slime mold to stop cancer spread

At Scientific American, I'm talking about a cool poster I saw on Day 2 of the Experimental Biology conference, where a chemical called Dif-1 from slime mold may be able to attack estrogen receptor alpha positive breast cancers! Head over a check it out.

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At #sciam Blogs: Running and Thermoregulation

Mar 28 2012 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

I get cold after I run. Really, REALLY cold.

I’m sitting here, preparing to write a blog post on thermoregulation. I finished a good run a while ago. The temperatures outside weren’t too extreme (50ish degrees F, so comfortable for a good run), and I was sweating freely when I finished. About an hour later, here I am, in fleecey pants, shirt, socks, hoodie…and sleeping bag. And afghan. And cat.

I’m freezing. Really, seriously cold. My nailbeds are almost purple, my hands are like ice, and I’ve got goosebumps all over. I’m almost too cold to shiver.

This happens every time I run more than about 5 miles.

Of course, being a scientist, I have to find out WHY! And I got in touch with Ollie Jay at the University of Ottawa to find out. Go over there and check it out!

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At SciAm Today: walking and running and muscle efficiency

Jan 02 2012 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

Sci is at Sci Am Blogs today, talking about a new paper on locomotor efficiency. We're some pretty efficient walkers and runners at specific paces. But what does that mean for our individual muscles? Find out and check it out!

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