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.
Archive for the 'Physiology/Pharmacology' category
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?
(BEHOLD. My NEMESIS. Source)
Nieman et al. "Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach" PLoS ONE, 2012.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Today was a lovely day. The weather was perfect, a good day in lab, a good run, a delicious veggie burger, a good beer. Life was pretty much perfect as I sat down in a mood to blog.
...and then I read this paper. And it was like this:
(You know, if only they could have told it to me in a GOOD way...)
There are some papers that you finish reading, and you think to yourself "yup, we're all screwed". I think I have to go find a heartwarming paper about curing cancer now to make myself feel better.
See, first first hand smoke came for your lungs. Then it came for your throat. Then SECOND hand smoke came for your lungs.
...and then they both came after your SPERM.
Marchetti, et al. "Sidestream tobacco smoke is a male germ cell mutagen" PNAS,
I suppose since this is about sperm it should be a Friday Weird Science, but it's just too depressing...
Oh man, now I'm all down and no one will want to read it. I'll try and be perky about it! HONEST! Bad news in a GOOD way!
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One of the interesting things about being a scientist is reading how science is interpreted in the mainstream media, and then comparing the headlines back to the science that was, you know, actually done. When I was a young, and highly naive little scientist, I would read the headlines and go "oh, wow, they found that brain structure and hormone use are correlated in women and makes them behave differently. They must have done all of that stuff in the study".
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA. No, no they didn't. At first I was often surprised to find that the media would put all the hypotheses and suggestions in the discussion of the article in as fact, and it turns out that the people doing the study wouldn't have done ANY of those bits AT ALL.
Now, I am not as young (sniff), and I am slightly less naive. So when I saw headlines like "Salt Appetite Is Linked to Drug Addiction, Research Finds", "Cocaine Addiction Uses Same Brain Paths as Salt Cravings", "Appetite for salt linked to drug addiction", I know that you can't ASSUME that they tested the actual drug addiction propensities implies in the studies.
So when you see headlines like this...don't put down the Fritos. Put down the Fritos because those things are gross and probably terrible for you, sure (have you SEEN the fat content on those things?!), but not because they make you a crack junkie.
Liedtke, et al. "Relation of addiction genes to hypothalamic gene changes subserving genesis and gratiﬁcation of a classic instinct, sodium appetite" PNAS, 2011.
This does not mean this is a bad paper. On the contrary, it's a fine paper. But it does mean, yet again, that you shouldn't believe everything you read.
For starters: "salt appetite" doesn't just mean that you prefer butter style popcorn to kettle corn.
(mmmm, salt. Source)
(And finally a small rant. ", research finds"? ", research finds"?!?! Who the heck thinks that's good sentence structure or in anyway improves the headline?!!? I see this all the time and it always makes me cringe a little. Argh)
Sci's been meaning to cover this paper for a while, honestly. There is really so much to blog and so little time, you know? I saw this paper make a minor splash when it came out back in June, and I've been wanting to read it myself. And what better way to really READ a paper than to blog it?
So let me introduce the subject of today's paper, the monogamous prairie vole.
The prairie vole is kind of a darling of the research vole. I mean, it's got nothing on mus musculus, but we do tend to like our voles. They're monogamous! Isn't that sweet! It's cute and easy to breed, and...monogamous! Really, that's the defining feature that makes them interesting, because there really are relatively few species out there other than primates that ARE monogamous. Only 3% of mammals, in fact. So some research has gone in to what it is that MAKES them monogamous, especially when compared to their extremely close cousins the mountain voles.
And then of course, once you've got through all the monogamy issues with the oxytocin and the vasopressin, you start to look at other aspects of this rare kind of social behavior. Things that can be affected by it and things that can affect it.
Things like drugs.
Liu et al. "Social Bonding Decreases the Rewarding Properties of Amphetamine through a Dopamine D1 Receptor-Mediated Mechanism" J. Neuroscience, 2011.