The Meaning and Importance of Herd Immunity

There has been a lot of talk about vaccines lately, thanks to measles outbreaks in the United States and many outspoken parents and medical professionals around the country and the world.

I recently watched a TED talk entitled “The Power of Herd Immunity,” in which Dr. Romina Libster, a pediatrician and medical researcher in Buenos Aires, Argentina, speaks about how the key to vaccine effectiveness and their magnificent power at preventing disease and especially epidemics, is called “herd immunity.”

She said, “Vaccines are one of the great successes of the 20th century’s public health. After potable water, they are the interventions that have most reduced mortality, even more than antibiotics.” Vaccines have the power to achieve this great success at reducing world mortality thanks to the effect of herd immunity, which is described in the following summary of an example given by Dr. Libster:

First, think of a city that has never been exposed to measles. No one in the city has ever even come into contact with the disease, and no one in this city has any natural immune defenses, such as antibodies, to protect them from measles. If a person sick with measles arrives in the city, the measles will rapidly spread from person to person upon contact throughout the city with little resistance.

Now, imagine a city where the vast majority of the people have had some opportunity to develop immune protection against measles, whether that protection came from having that sickness themselves in the past or being vaccinated. If this city has no current cases of measles and then someone with measles enters the city, the disease will spread slightly, but it will meet resistance. The people who already have immune resistance will be more likely to survive a measles infection if they get it, and measles will probably not have the opportunity to spread throughout the entire city. People away from the initial outbreak will likely never be reached.

To clarify the point of this comparison, Dr. Libster says:

“I would like you to pay attention to something. People who are vaccinated are not only protecting themselves, but by blocking the dissemination of the disease within the community, they are indirectly protecting the people in this community who are not vaccinated. They create a kind of protective shield, which prevents them from coming in contact with the disease, so that these people are protected. This indirect protection that the unvaccinated people within a community receive simply by being surrounded by vaccinated people, is called herd immunity.”

These unvaccinated people in both the theoretical city and in our real cities and everyday lives are not simply too lazy or paranoid to receive their vaccines. They include people who are too young to get certain vaccines, who may be allergic to certain vaccines (many vaccinations contain egg proteins and people who are allergic to eggs cannot receive them), and people have diseases or take medications that lower their immune systems greatly, whether or not they are able to receive vaccinations.

I appreciated that in her presentation, Dr. Libster did not simply ignore the fact that some people are able to be vaccinated but choose not to, due to personal reasons, and due largely to a fear of vaccines being associated with autism. In 1998, people had a valid reason for this fear: a research article had been published in one of the most important medical journals in the world showing an association between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism.

It makes sense that people, especially parents, would be afraid. However, often people let uninformed fear make them blind and they panic, oblivious to the fact that with something this serious, more research would be done immediately. And it was! Multiple studies were completed with vigorous scientific validity, specifically looking for an association between vaccines and autism. Not a single study could find a causal association between vaccines and autism. Not only could no association be found, but the original article went under robust scientific review. Why did this study find a relationship that no other lab could replicate?

As it turns out, further careful scrutiny of the original article found incorrect claims, invalid procedural methods, unfair treatment of the children involved in the study, undisclosed financial conflicts, and fraud. It took 12 years of review, lawsuits, and processing, but in 2010 the original publishing journal retracted the article and the lead investigator and author of the study, Andrew Wakefield, was stripped of his title as a medical doctor and banned from practicing medicine in the UK. Now that’s a side of the vaccine-autism argument that many people never take the time to discover for themselves.

After the publication of this article during the initial scare period, people around the world stopped getting vaccinated and stopped letting their children get vaccinated. What was the result? Measles. Once again, people were dying of measles because the vaccination rate fell below the herd immunity protection threshold and the disease spread without resistance.

Dr. Libster refers to the H1N1 pandemic when the outbreak occurred in Argentina. The hospital doctors treating patients quickly realized that young children, especially younger then four years old, chronic pulmonary disease patients, and patients with neurological diseases were suffering from H1N1 with more frequency and severity than other groups in the population. That was in 2009; in 2010, the H1N1 vaccine became available, and those high-risk patients and their close acquaintances were encouraged to be vaccinated. According to Dr. Libster, in 2009, the hospital she was in saw 251 patients hospitalized from H1N1 complications. In 2010, after the administration of the vaccine (93%), there were zero hospitalizations in the same hospital. Now that’s impressive! That is effective public health!

As if the facts themselves do not stand strongly enough, Libster pushed her call for all who are able to be vaccinated to do so with the following personal statement:

“Vaccination is an act of individual responsibility, but it has a huge collective impact. If I get vaccinated, not only am I protecting myself, but I am also protecting others. Sol [a one-month old baby that died in the hospital in which Libster works] had whooping cough. Sol was very young, and she hadn’t yet received her first vaccine against whooping cough. I still wonder what would have happened if everyone around Sol had been vaccinated.”

So the next time you see those cute kiddos running around on the quad while they’re on a field trip, or that elderly man who always rides the same bus as you, take a moment to realize that vaccinations do not just protect you, they allow you to protect others as well. I would hesitate to say this in most contexts, but in this case, it’s pretty good to be member of the herd.

Works Cited:

Libster, Romina. The Power of Herd Immunity. TEDxRiodelaPlata. Filmed November, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2015.

News Roundup: what’s more important – exercise or sleep?


Today we are tackling an important – and probably relevant – question raised by some of our readers. We have 24 hours in a day, but for those of use who want to pack in as much as possible, it may not be possible to do it all. In some situations, we have to forgo study time, sleep hours, or a night out with friends to make it all work.

If it comes down to it– what’s more crucial: an hour of exercise, or an extra hour of sleep?

The New York Times polled two physicians and learned that sleep and exercise share a “bi-directional relationship.” They write that exercise can actually lead to deeper, more restorative sleep. But they warn that sleeping for less than seven hours is a risky path to go down, possibly resulting in next-day drowsiness and lower motivation.

A article emphasized the absolute necessity of getting enough sleep at night, particularly if your goal is to maintain a healthy weight. The trainer featured in the article said that her opinion is that sleep is more important the exercise. makes a key point that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Not to mention – if you exercise more during a given day, your body might need more sleep time to repair and recover. They write that a key factor in workouts is their duration, and to aim for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on your personal goals.

Sleep well and be active, my friends :)

image from

Wellness Wednesday: Power Poses to Challenge Self-Doubt

Author: Sarah Donnell

I’ve heard it called Impostor Phenomenon or sometimes Impostor Syndrome, but it tends to announce itself more like…”OH MY GAH, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING DO YOU?! SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE KNOWN EXACTLY WHAT TO DO AND WOULD HAVE DONE THIS WAAAAAY BETTER. THEY’RE GONNA KNOW! THEY’RE ALL GONNA KNOW!” …At least that’s how it shows up in my head.

But whatever you call it, false feelings of not-good-enoughness are pretty common. Google it. Some researchers estimate that as many as 70% of people feel this way at some point in their lives. And while it can happen to anyone, researchers find this phenomenon especially common in women, people of ethnic and racial minorities, and anyone who’s trying something new or who feels different from the people around them.

Common or not, these automatic thoughts of impostordom can stall or stunt a person’s progress in life in major ways. And fears of having one’s “shortcomings” “found out” can keep folks from reaching out and connecting with others who could help.

There are a lot of theories out there about where this comes from and lots of advice for what to do about it, but I happened upon a TED talk the other day that gives scientific evidence to something I’ve learned doing theater.

ITC ensemble members using Image Theater techniques.

With Interactive Theatre Carolina, we use a range of theatrical tools to help folks better understand themselves and discuss the world we live in. One technique we use is Forum Theatre—sometimes called a “rehearsal for real life,” which seeks to empower regular folks to make courageous and healthy choices by practicing changing the outcomes of problematic scenarios. Another technique we use is called Image Theatre, in which participants strike poses and audience members discuss and analyze the stories and associations the body postures convey. A “picture’s worth a thousand words,” right?

This TED talk references a study in which Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and researcher at Harvard Business School, reports findings that support that rehearsing for real life…is also real life. She finds that changing our body language not only influences the messages we send to others but also the messages we send to ourselves at the chemical level.

In short, striking powerful poses (poses that open the body and take up space) alters hormone levels—increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone)—which results in a person actually feeling more powerful. The opposite happens, as you might imagine, when a person strikes a low-power pose (body closed off and made small). These changes are measurable and almost instant; Cuddy’s subjects only held the poses for 2 minutes.

Will striking a power pose and altering my brain chemistry suddenly make me capable of being the next president? Highly unlikely. But could striking a power pose for a few minutes before leading a presentation help me interrupt some negative self-talk that might otherwise hold me back? Probably.

Check out some of the articles embedded and below for other strategies to get past fears of being an impostor in your own life. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stand like a starfish for the next 2 minutes and have a brave afternoon.

Wake Forest is Growing Kidneys, and We’re Not Talking About Beans

In 1999, Dr. Anthony Atala’s research and work resulted in the first successful laboratory-grown organ transplant in a human. Dr. Atala is the Director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston Salem, North Carolina. As a practicing researcher and urologic surgeon, he has been working on addressing a growing need in the world for over 20 years: growing transplantable organs from patient’s own cells instead of requiring them to wait for a donor match.

He is currently working on growing over twenty different tissues and organs in the laboratory, and has seen success in many organs already. A major advantage to this innovative work is that the organs are grown from the patient’s own cells, eliminating the organ rejection risk that all transplant patients face with donor organs. The clinical trial for the first lab-grown human bladder transplants included patients from 4 to 19 years old who had poorly functioning bladders due to nerve damage from spina bifida at birth.

The process began by taking cell samples from the bladder wall and muscles of each transplant patient. These cells were cultured in the lab, and then when a sheet of cells formed, they were placed on a biodegradable scaffold in the shape of a human bladder. Over a period of 8 weeks, the tissue grew and molded to the scaffold, forming a human bladder, which was then attached to the existing bladder of the patients. As the original and the transplanted tissues integrated, the scaffold degraded and the new bladder formed and healed. After over 15 years of follow-up, the transplants are still working successfully and urinary incontinence improved in all patients. The lab-grown transplant also has the added advantage of achieving improved quality of life without the negative possible side effects of the procedure typically used in the past, which was to repair damaged bladder tissue using intestinal tissue, which can cause osteoporosis and kidney stone formation. This is due to the fact the intestinal tissue is designed to absorb, and a bladder is designed to hold fluid for excretion, not absorption (Wake Forest…).

But Dr. Atala’s laboratory hasn’t just been successful with bladders. He and his laboratory continue to work diligently at learning to grow a variety of other fully functional organs and tissues. As a urologist, he has also successfully grown and transplanted four vaginas with eight years of successful follow-up, as well as the first bioengineered urethras in five boys in 2004. Growing urological and reproductive organs might be a strange or awkward thing for many people to think about or discuss, but these successes forebode amazing improvements in the quality and normality of life for many people born with congenital abnormalities or following severe injury or cancer (Mohamadi).

Not only have Dr. Atala and his laboratory developed an innovative idea, they’ve created an even more innovative way to bring their organ-growing ideas to fruition: 3-dimensional printing. In the beginning, they literally used a modified version of a commercially available inkjet printer to start “printing” organs. The ink was replaced with “biological material” (cells) and the an “electronically controlled elevator stage” replaced the paper to allow the 2-D printer to print in three dimensions instead. Now that they’re organ printing technique is working well, inkjet-based 3-D printers are custom-made for their purposes. Materials such as alginate, gelatin, collagen, and synthetic molecules are also used as materials to add firmness and structure to printed organs along with the cells taken and cultured from the transplant recipient.

There are four different kind or tissues that can be created using 3-D printing techniques:

  • 2-dimensional (ex: skin)
  • Hollow tubes (ex: blood vessels)
  • Non-tubular hollow organs (ex: bladder)
  • Solid organs (ex: kidneys)

As you go down the list, the difficulty increases when it comes to printing a functional organ that could be used in a human body. The first three have already been used and tested with success, and printing solid organs is definitely a strong work in progress (Atala, A. and Murphey, S.).

Below is a TED Talk given by Dr. Atala about how they grew the first successfully transplanted human bladder in the lab. One of the recipients of the successful bladder transplants is also a special guest in the TED Talk, and you’ll Dr. Atala holding in his hands an example of an experimental human kidney that they’ve grown in the lab.

This amazing technology will hopefully help to reduce the need for long organ transplant wait-list and rejected transplants, and it is amazing to have such incredible research being done just a few hours away from those of us who are here at Chapel Hill. Having both a green thumb and a lab coat might be a better pair than anyone expected!

Works Cited

Atala, Anthony and Murphy, Sean V. 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs. Nature Biotechnology 32, 773-785 (2014).

Mohammadi, Dara. The lab-grown penis: approaching a medical milestone. Medical research: The Observer. October 4, 2014.

Wake Forest Physician Reports First Human Recipients of Laboratory-Grown Organs. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. May, 2006.

Three major benefits of exercise for college students


If you’re experiencing mid-semester slump – this article is for you. Undeniably, motivation wanes as the semester wears on and responsibilities pile up. Keeping up an exercise routine, however, might be exactly what you need when your energy is low. Read on for three important reasons college students should incorporate exercise into their daily routine.

Reason #1: Maintain body weight 

Exercising burns calories, which can help to create a negative energy balance. Offset the balance by 3500 calories, and that’s 1 pound of body fat.

Reason #2: Reduce stress and anxiety

When you have a to-do list a mile long and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. Exercise, however, can act as a tranquilizer of sorts, helping to calm you down, according to Mayo Clinic, exercise helps your mood and mindset by working in several ways. First, exercise releases “happy” chemicals: certain neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. Regular exercise also helps to reduce certain immune system chemicals that can leave our body in a heightened state of inflammation. Some studies even suggest that the increased body temperature from exercise could have a calming effect.

 Reason #3: Improved posture

Performing certain exercises of the shoulder and back can help to improve your posture over time. Movements such as shoulder rolls, chest release, pyramid, and chair pose are some moves that could help your back and spine.

Prevention Technology: Your Future Car Won’t Let You Drink and Drive

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health examined the impact of moving toward cars that are “smart” enough to prevent drunk driving in the future. How is this possible? Research and technology development is occurring right now that could easily be installed in all new cars sold in the U.S. over the next 6-8 years. This technology is called the “alcohol interlock” system, and is already in existence and use, but development research is working to make it quicker, more efficient, and more accurate for consumer vehicles.

What does the alcohol interlock system do?

The alcohol interlock device is a small breathalyzer device that can easily be installed on a vehicle’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s engine can start, the driver must breathe into the device and have a result below the breath-alcohol concentration programmed into the device, which is typically 0.08 in the United States (the legal limit). The threshold can also be programed to zero for drivers younger than 21. If the result is above the limit, the car’s engine will not start. For many alcohol interlock systems, the device will require another breath sample at random time intervals after the engine is already started, which makes it more difficult for the breath sample to be provided by anyone other than the person actually driving the car. If the breath sample is not provided, the device will record the occurrence, warn the driver, and then begin some type of alarm (such as triggering the car lights to flash or the horn to sound repeatedly).

The purpose of the interlock system is to prevent people with a breath-alcohol concentration above the legal limit from being able to drive a car by preventing the engine from ever starting in the first place, rather than relying solely on police to catch drunk drivers and prevent deadly road accidents. Currently, alcohol interlock devices are already used among individuals who have been sentenced for drunk driving as a way to re-gain their license and prove a clean driving record for a specified amount of time. However, a design that would allow the blood-alcohol level to be read by a simple finger scan is currently under development. This streamlined and still-accurate design could allow an alcohol interlock system to be installed in all new consumer vehicles for sale within a matter of years.

What is the public health impact of this technology?

The study from the American Journal of Public Health used Fatality Analysis Reporting System and National Automotive Sampling System’s General Estimates System data sets from 2006-2010 to estimate the injury prevention and cost-saving impact that could be associated with having an alcohol interlock system installed in all new vehicles.

They used the assumption that over a period of 15 years, the majority of cars on the road could be replaced by new cars with included alcohol interlock systems. Over 15 years of gradual incorporation into the car population, the systems could prevent more than 59,000 drunk-driving related crash fatalities, 1.25 million non-fatal injuries, and more than 340 billion dollars in injury related costs from these high-risk crashes in the U.S. alone!

They also estimated that the cost of adding the interlock device to each new vehicle during assembly would be about $400 (barely noticeable considering the price of most new cars today). By eliminating over $340 billion in accident related costs that are often covered by tax-payers, the researchers found that the device would pay for itself in reduced crash-related costs in a matter of only 3 years.

Further development will ensure that the devices will not feel like the clunky interlock devices currently used in the cars of those convicted of drunk driving. They will be streamlined and with the possibility of effective fingerprint scan readings, the test will be able to be completed in just a matter of seconds, preventing inconvenience to rushed drivers.

Although police are on the lookout regularly, especially in college towns like Chapel Hill, getting caught while driving under the influence is still a matter of chance. Many impaired drivers have made many trips under the influence in their lives before they ever get caught, which means that relying solely on police still puts many other drivers at risk of being involved in a drunk-driving related accident before the drunk driver ever gets caught. Additionally, the interlock devices are a way of essentially protecting people from themselves, because often, impaired drivers also have impaired judgement and do not actually think that they are too impaired to drive safely, even if they are over the legal BAC limit.

With the simple scan of a fingerprint, we might be one step closer to keeping the roads safer from drunk driving accidents, putting parent’s minds at ease and especially keeping young drivers safer from being on either end of a crash. As technology advances, we will be able to further appreciate the public health approach of prevention rather than simply “solving” tragedies after they have already occurred.


Carter, P.M. et al. Modeling the Injury Prevention Impact of Mandatory Alcohol Ignition Interlock Installation in All New US Vehicles. American Journal of Public Health. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302445 Accessed March 20, 2015.

Rapaport, L. Sobriety tests in all new cars might prevent most drunk driving deaths. March 19, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2015.

NEW! Fitness Passport with UNC Campus Recreation



When you want to learn more about the world, you use your travel passport to experience new places. When you want to get a leg up on your fitness goals, you use your Fitness Passport!

Fitness Passport – pick yours up today!

Stop by the Student Rec Center front desk in SRC 101 to pick up your passport, free of charge, beginning March 16th. Complete the following six fitness challenges by April 24th to get a Campus Rec swag bag!

  1. EVENT: Function Movement Screening
    -Visit the Functional Movement and Fitness Center (FMFC) in the SRC, where a fitness consultant will perform a functional movement screening for you. Find more info about the FMFC and screeningshere.
  2. SOCIAL MEDIA: Like the Tar Heel Wellness Challenge and UNC Campus Rec on Facebook
    – The Tar Heel Wellness Challenge provides holistic health goals for UNC students, faculty and staff to reach every two weeks via Facebook.
    – Stay up to date with all Campus Rec has to offer and interact with us via Facebook!
  3. EVENT: Try out our Weekend Warrior Series or Yoga Workshops
    -These series offer unique ways to further your fitness practices!
    -More information about these offerings can be found here.
  4. SOCIAL MEDIA: Post a positive affirmation on social media using #UNCbodybeautiful
    – Accepting and loving your body for the things it can do for you is one of the first steps toward a happier and healthier life!
  5. EVENT: Join the fun and take a group fitness class
    – Campus Rec offers over 80 classes, in a variety of formats, per week FOR FREE.
    – Check out the full schedule here and try something new now!
  6. SOCIAL MEDIA: Bring your workout home with Training Time
    – Complete one of our Training Time series workouts on the Campus Rec YouTube channel.
    – Take a picture or video of your workout and post on Instagram with #UNCtrainingtime.

For each event challenge you complete, have the Fitness staff member at the event location stamp your passport card. For the social media challenges, show any Fitness staff member at any time your completed challenge to get your passport stamped. Fitness staff includes group fitness instructors, personal trainers, and FMFC fitness consultants. For FMFC hours during which you can connect with a consultant, click here.

Once you complete the full challenge, bring your stamped Fitness Passport to the Campus Rec Main Office (SRC 101) no later than April 24th to pick up your Campus Rec swag bag!

Spring break may be finished, but that’s no excuse to forget about your health and fitness. Take advantage of your Fitness Passport to jumpstart your spring fitness!

Join the Campus Rec Crew!

Ahh, the sun is finally out (just in time for Spring Break to be over) and it’s perfect tee shirt weather! Want to add a rad new tee shirt to your collection? You’re in luck!


If you’re looking for a great job on campus with fun, energetic coworkers, look no further: Campus Rec is hiring! Each semester, we host two interest sessions for people interested in learning more about Campus Recreation student positions! You MUST attend an interest session to receive an application, and the current application cycle is for summer and fall employment with Campus Rec!

With a large variety of positions opening, come by TODAY or TOMORROW to learn more about all of the awesome opportunities you can have by joining the Campus Rec team!

Interest Session Dates: March 17 (TODAY!!) and March 18
Time: 5:30 pm

Location: Fetzer 109

Positions include:

  • Climbing Wall Monitor: Keep people safe, prevent chaos at the climbing wall, and teach new climbers how to belay and climb safely!
  • Graphic Designers: Remember how in high school, every now and then your club would hold a poster-making meeting for some special event? You might not get to use as much glitter as you did in high school, but you could be an official poster-maker EVERY. DAY. You’ll also be part of the team that works to keep our website looking spiffy.
  • Lifeguards: Guard those lives and wear that chlorine perfume with pride. Sunscreen not included, but the cool lifeguard shorts are part of the package. And no, you may not guard in your tiny Speedo, sorry.
  • Main Office Assistants: Hold down the fort by answering and transferring phone calls, and being prepared to answer the most random questions you can think of. You’ll be the glue that holds all registration-related things together in the Campus Rec world; a perfect job for multi-taskers, smiling faces, and those who can gracefully wear the mask of patience at all times!
  • Marketing Assistants: If you want to be that person that everyone loves because they’re handing out free stuff, you’ve found your calling. Be prepared to help with anything from tablings in the Pit to getting people to take surveys on our iPads. And most importantly, be excited to tell others about your positive experiences with Campus Rec!
  • Mascot: Because who doesn’t want to wear a gorilla suit with Carolina blue sunglasses and dance around campus anonymously? (Probably claustrophobic individuals and those prone to heat stroke… but that’s beside the point.) You know you’re fun and we want to see some major enthusiasm from Gus the gorilla this year!
  • Operations Ambassadors: Help keep the gym a happy, energetic, welcoming, and safe place for every single person who walks through those front doors! This job is more than just swiping One Cards, it’s making sure everything is running smoothly throughout the entire gym and welcoming each patron with a smile!
  • Promo Team: Use your creativity to get the word out around campus about all of or special events, fitness classes, outdoor expeditions, and positive messages about health!
  • Photographer: Handy with a camera? Turn your hobby into a job by taking pictures of various Campus Rec events that are worth a thousand words!
  • Sports Officials: Put your athletic enthusiasm to good use as you officiate intramural games throughout all athletic seasons! No experience is required, but a good attitude, confidence, and a willingness to learn are essential!
  • Swim Instructors: Help transform children into fishies and adults into confident, more effective swimmers as you help others discover the joy and low-impact benefits of swimming!

Working as a main office assistant and as a blogger for the marketing and special events team has been such a fantastic experience for the past two years! After writing more than 100 articles for the Tar Heel Tone Up, I learn new things and find interesting new topics in the world of health and fitness every single week! I also get to annoy my friends with the line “Did you know…” every time I read a new research article for a blog. I’ve met so many wonderful people from working in the main office, and no one seems to judge me for bringing a bagel to work with me practically every morning. I’ve made friends with student co-workers and have had leadership opportunities by helping to interview and hire new students and I’m excited to meet the new people who will be joining us so soon!

If you’re looking for a chance to make extra money, build your resume, have leadership opportunities, make new friends, and have a lot of fun—apply for a job with Campus Recreation! You’ll be glad that you did and we look forward to seeing you at the interest meetings this week!

High fructose corn syrup – what you need to know


Stroll down a modern grocery store aisle, and you will likely see hundreds of packaged products containing a myriad of ingredients. Among these will likely be “high fructose corn syrup”. This added sugar has gotten a lot of attention lately, and it can be tough for consumers to make sense of the mixed messages. We’ve gathered recent research on high fructose corn syrup to give you a buyer’s guide.

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Composition

High fructose corn syrup comes from – you guessed it – corn. A batch of corn is taken through a multi-step process to separate the interior of the corn from the kernel. Treating this starchy interior with special enzymes and adding water breaks down the chemical bonds to form a syrup – corn syrup. Corn syrup is made up entirely of glucose, a small sugar molecule. The corn syrup mix is then treated with more enzymes to convert some of the glucose sugars into fructose, another type of sugar. This glucose/fructose mix is referred to as high fructose corn syrup, our final product.

High fructose corn syrup is made of up the EXACT same sugars as cane or beet sugar (“natural” sugar) – glucose and fructose. The only difference between the two sugars is that the glucose and fructose are “linked” together in cane sugar to form a larger sugar molecule, known as sucrose. The glucose and sucrose are simply mixed together, but not bonded, in high fructose corn syrup.

High Fructose Corn Syrup in Your Body

Here’s something that may surprise you: high fructose corn syrup and regular cane sugar are processed (metabolized) the EXACT same way in the body once they’ve been broken down.  In the intestine, cane sugar (sucrose) is broken apart by special enzymes (sucrase) to give the free glucose and fructose molecules. As high fructose corn syrup is already in the individual molecules, it does not need to be broken down. The sugars are then taken up by your body and used for energy.

Is high fructose corn syrup uniquely harmful?

Short answer – the scientific community doesn’t think so. This special sugar syrup isn’t any more harmful than traditional cane sugar. There is, however, a growing body of research that suggests all kinds of sugar are “toxic” for the body, in the words of Dr. Robert Lustig. Check out his impassioned video to hear his argument. Lustig studied obesity, and he asserts that sugar is a “poison” to the body. See for yourself!

High fructose corn syrup makes up about half of all added sugars in processed foods. It’s here to stay, because it’s cheap and not any more dangerous that cane sugar. Whether or not sugar is to blame for the obesity epidemic – the verdict is still out on that issue.

image from

What to do When the Clock Just Won’t Stop

On Tuesday, I wrote about a topic recently featured by TIME: aging and living longer lives thanks to many medical advances. But no matter what we do to continue to extend life expectancy in the future, the clock will still keep moving forward, and seventy years will always be a long time for a body to accumulate all sorts of wear.

Adapted from the same issue of TIME (February 23 – March 2, 2015), here are some  scientifically sound ways to protect your mind and body from the side effects of aging:

  • Grow old in a big city. This might seem counterintuitive, because many of us imagine, or have seen others growing old in a quiet, secluded place with plenty of peace and privacy. However, a study of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. ranked them by their suitability for growing old, and Madison, Wisconsin came in as the #1 pick! Why would older individuals pick a big city over a small town? Larger cities typically have easier access to health care, specially-designed transportation for individuals who cannot get around by walking or driving themselves, and provide more social and cultural stimulation. In a large city, it is more difficult for even the elderly to spend too much time alone when even the simplest of errands involves going out into a very social environment. Ruth Finkelstein, a longevity expert at Columbia University, said “As we age, our worlds tend to shrink, making our immediate neighborhoods all the more important” (Worland, 79).
  • Don’t take telomerase. Remember those things called telomeres that I talked about on Tuesday? Telomeres are a trailing piece of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes that deteriorate over the lifetime and leave chromosomes more exposed and vulnerable to the effects of aging. One enzyme, appropriately named telomerase, has been discovered to repair, maintain, and even slightly rebuild telomeres when it is present in sufficient quantity. This might sound like a great thing, which is why many herbal supplements have started to boast that they contain some amount of synthetic telomerase. However, if the telomeres never shorten at all, you’re essentially creating immortal cells that can replicate over and over without slowing down. This might sound familiar, because unregulated replication is exactly what cancer cells need. Naturally maintaining telomeres is great, but you might not want eat extra telomerase on a regular basis, according to the experts (Kluger, 85).
  • Meditate. We too often treat our mind and body as two entities much more separated than they actually are. While I personally value the mind over the body, it is important to realize that the state of your mind is extremely intertwined with various outcomes in your body. A study published in February from UCLA compared two sample groups each containing 50 people from ages 24 to 77. One group contained people who did not meditate, and the other contained regular meditators who had been practicing some form of meditation for at least four years. MRI scans of each participant’s brain showed that the meditating group had less gray-matter loss in the brain (which occurs with age) than the non-meditating group (Kluger, 86).


            Another controlled study put half of the participants through an 8 hour course of guided meditation and meditative walks, while the control group did 8 hours of relaxing activities without the meditation. At the end of the course, the meditative group had less inflammatory markers and significantly fewer inflammatory cytokines (a kind of protein) in their blood levels. Inflammation “creates a friendly environment for cancer, brain deterioration, [and] cardiovascular disease,” so you might want to consider some adding a little more meditation to your life to find more peace both mentally and physically (Kluger, 86).

  • Be optimistic. Analysis of 97,253 women who had filled out questionnaires as part of the NIH’s Women’s Health Initiative study found that the women who scored high on optimism had “significantly lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality than women who scored high on pessimism.” Those with lower cynicism scores also showed lower risk of death (Kluger, 86)!

            A 2012 study of 430 people who had undergone coronary bypass surgery used an optimism survey to find that the most depressed and least optimistic respondents had “More than twice the complication and rehospitalization rate than the optimistic group” within just eight months after surgery. If simply having a positive outlook can help you reach more positive results, I’d say something that simple is definitely worth a try (Kluger, 86)!

  • If you’re going to play brain games, don’t forget to exercise. There is debate about whether or not “brain games,” such as those created by the Lumosity company, can really improve overall brain function with practice. Some say yes, while others say that you really only see change in the skills required for that specific game, but that those skills might not actually translate into your everyday life outside of the game. If you’re not receiving much daily taxing mental stimulation, it might not hurt to give the “brain games” a try, but most researchers would suggest a more proven method to slowing aging in the brain: aerobic exercise (Worland, 87). As it turns out, you don’t even need to actively engage your brain to glean some serious anti-aging mental benefits. All you have to do is go work up a sweat and achieve the double-benefits of some relaxation and stress-relief along the way!
  • Don’t go through life alone. Statistics have repeatedly shown that people who are married have longer life expectancies than their single peers. This is especially true for men, and there are many speculated reasons behind this trend. A likely explanation explained by Peter Martin, a professor at Iowa State University, is that “marriage, if you stay married, is wonderful social support.” In a successful marriage, each partner has a lifelong friend who makes them happy, who can watch out for their general well-being, and who can provide emotional support through the most difficult times in life. People are also more likely to adopt healthy habits (this is also true for unhealthy habits) such as healthy eating and exercise if their spouse does those things. So why does the “marriage effect” seem to affect men more strongly than women? Another speculation says that women are naturally more social creatures than men and are more willing and capable of finding healthy means of social support with or without a spouse, while men are more likely to lack adequate loving social support outside of marriage (Sifferlin, 94). Either way, if a long and healthy life is your goal, why not find someone to stand by your side as you walk through life together?

Dr. Dean Ornish, of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute and the University of California, San Francisco had this to say about his anti-aging formula: “We landed on a simple prescription: a whole-foods and plant-based diet, stress-management techniques, including yoga and meditation, moderate exercise, and social support. In short: eat well, move more, stress less, and love more.”

Now if you’ll please excuse me, I need to go write this on a notecard under the heading “life motto,” and stick it on my bathroom mirror. Happy Friday everybody, and Go Heels!

Works Cited

 Kluger, Jeffrey. Get Your Head in the Game. TIME Magazine, February 23- March 2, 2015. P 83-86. Print. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Ornish, Dean. It’s Time to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine. TIME Magazine, February 23- March 2, 2015. P 97. Print. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Sifferlin, Alexandra. Do Married People Really Live Longer? TIME Magazine, February 23- March 2, 2015. P 94-96. Print. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Worland, Justin. Can Brain Games Keep My Mind Young? TIME Magazine, February 23- March 2, 2015. P 87. Print. Accessed March 12, 2015.

Worland, Justin. Where is the Best Place to be an Old Person? TIME Magazine, February 23- March 2, 2015. P 79. Print. Accessed March 12, 2015.

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