Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

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Staying locked up inside our homes during this dreaded pandemic has made us realized that we definitely need to spend more time in our outside world. Not only to socialize but to get in touch with our natural environment. But unfortunately, even when we are deciding to play in the dirt or choosing to have our ears filled with bird songs, we are mostly unaware of what it does to us. Yet, we are just beginning to understand that nature can do way more for us than the other way around. As soon as we allow ourselves the satisfaction to immerse in any natural environment, we can observe physical and psychological benefits. It only begs us to wonder why outdoor activities are not persistently on our minds. And although we have been aware of our profound relationship with nature for a while now, there were still no words to describe it. More specifically, the term biophilia was, until recently, to some degree foreign to us. Just in case you still don’t know what biophilia might mean, it is a word used to describe our innate instinct to connect with nature.

Nobody ignores the positive effects present in our bodies when we spend time in nature. That’s why many people opt for outdoor destinations for their planned vacations. And one might believe that the relief we feel after those vacays can be the result of the time taken off work and it could in part be true. However, we should not underestimate the impact of natural input on the body and mind. Even short exposure to any of these inputs can produce a wide range of positive influences. Actually, a mere 30-min exposure can be sufficient to produce sensations like lowered anxiety, improved focus, increased productivity, heightened creativity, greater happiness, and more. Personally speaking, the addition of biophilic elements in my writing routine has definitely been a tremendous help. Especially the addition of nature soundtracks for my audio input has proven itself the most significant improvement. It certainly was the best tool to keep my focus on the task at hand, improved my creativity and reduced the anxiety that I was facing.

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Most people believe that our personal health is essentially synonymous with physical health. And even if this is not thoroughly wrong, it is a gross overestimation. Health researchers are busting their backs trying to popularize the notion that we need to do drastically more to preserve our health. Gone are the times when exercising and eating well were the fundamental guidelines. We most promptly need to consider our mental health as well. That begins with making sure to take advantage of all the tools at our disposal. Most of you might already be fervent adherents of meditation, and that is absolutely great. Meditation is very challenging, and if you can find success in the practice, I am most definitely impressed. However, caring for our mental well-being doesn’t have to be a demanding activity. The simple act of deciding to add a plant to your desk office can already help. Also, they, fortunately, don’t even need to be alive. The implementation of artificial elements reminding us of nature also produces some significant impact. Albeit, the results are more modest than when genuine natural components are involved. 

Interestingly, adding biophilic elements to your meditation might be a great way to enrich your experience. We don’t even need to go overboard with it. Adding a simple nature soundtrack as our background music might be entirely sufficient. The music may allow us to relax and relieve the underlying anxiety that is keeping our minds hostage. To some extent, we may even include more senses into our practice. We could involve our sight by imagining a forest, a beach, a mountain, or any other landscape for that matter. This approach is already so rampant in visualization exercises to promote relaxation and mental stability. Touch might also be a very remarkable way to stimulate our senses. Holding a sea shell or touching grass is a great way to connect with nature. The smell can also be a powerful ally. Adding some nature-inspired essential oil can be a very affordable and easily accessible way to remind ourselves of our natural world. At last, we could also include some tasting elements, such as fruits, veggies, nuts or any raw food. 

To this day, nobody has come to any solid conclusion to explain why biophilia has such a critical impact on our lives. Nevertheless, the strongest argument relies on evolutionary pressures. We feel more relaxed just by hearing a waterfall because access to water is essential. Through generations, we have integrated the sound of water as comforting and restoring music. The sight of trees can remind us of the possible access to food sources, either from hunting, fishing or gathering. Touching grass or a plant’s leaf might remind us of our proximity to nature. And I think that smelling and tasting natural elements doesn’t need any comment about their positive impact on our mood. What drove evolution was our need to survive, and being in proximity to nature provided us with the safest way to succeed. And even though, technically, an arid desert is still natural, it doesn’t seem to provide as much relief to us. We have probably learnt through our ancestors that nothing can abundantly grow there.  We have learnt through generations and generations not to feel at ease in those environments because staying there could result in death. 

Another possible explanation for the reason we seem so particularly drawn towards living elements might reside in how these things are anything but static. We don’t quite like how things change so abruptly; it is anxiogenic. And yet, we still strive for change, a slow sluggish change, to be exact. And that is doubtlessly provided by most living biophilic components. A plant will always look like the same plant, more or less, but its leaves will change. Some will die and fall, and then some new may appear. Some new branches may emerge. The plant might also grow taller if its pot is big enough and has enough water and nutrients. All this to say that living things provide us with a slow but steady change that kindly reminds us of time and guides us into making the best of it. 

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Domestic animals are also fantastic biophilic elements, which might partly explain why zootherapy is so effective. Having pets does not only engage one sense, our sight, but all of them. We most certainly can see them zooming around, we can smell their breath, we can pat their fur, we may haphazardly taste their saliva, and we most definitely can hear them barking, meowing, chirping and more. And strangely enough, the benefits from being around animals are very similar to the ones observed from us being in nature. Amongst many benefits, we can notice lowered blood pressure, lightened breathing, increased mood and release of oxytocin which can promote calm and encourage attachment. Nevertheless, assuming that all the perceived positive effects relied on their biophilic aspect would be unfair. Being in the company of animals has also shown great help to maintain physical health by promoting physical activities and motivating their owners to get going. 

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Considering the importance of biophilia, we can now understand the need to incorporate some elements into our daily lives. And some changes don’t need to be extreme. As for me, I have decided to change the background for my desktop for a natural landscape which supplemented the nature soundtracks very nicely. I would like to include more biophilic elements in the future for my home, such as plants and maybe a pet someday, but they can be expensive. Right now, I prefer spending some valuable and wholesome quality time in the great outdoors. I honestly love the occasional hike, or sudden walks, or even spending time on our porch. The more important part is the do it consciously and mindfully. Whenever I’m outdoor, I seek anything that might remind me of nature. I particularly like hearing the birdsongs, seeing the occasional spiders, smell the decaying leaves on the ground or the freshly mowed lawn and holding rocks in my hands. 

Whatever you might choose to include, I approve of your change. These changes might not mean much to most people, but they mean a great deal to me, and I hope for you too. So, if you decide to make this move, please let me know about your journey. I would absolutely be delighted to hear about it. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

There are not many things we need to do to survive, but there is one action, in particular, that is critical for life. Luckily for us, most of us do it unconsciously, and that is breathing. When I say breathing, I am not only talking about lungs, bronchi, alveoli and passive gas diffusion. Even though those structures and actions are essential and play a large part in respiration, they are responsible for ventilation only. However, with ventilation alone, we cannot sustain our body in its entirety. To keep each and every one of our limbs intact, we need to bring all of this oxygen we inhale further from the lungs and closer to our limbs. And that’s where the blood comes into play, and that part is called perfusion. Yet, blood does not only serve to feed the rest of our bodies with oxygen; it has way more responsibilities. It’s basically our life essence. 

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So, our blood is actually way more than a reddish gooey liquid that leaks out of our skin when we injure ourselves. It’s indeed packed with many elements that are, of course, accountable for respiration but also protection, nourishment and waste removal. First of all, when we talk about blood, it’s practically impossible not to talk about our red blood cells; since those cells give human blood its most observable characteristic, or more precisely, its famous crimson colouration. Interestingly, not all animals have red blood. In some lizards, blood can be lime green; in some octopuses, blue; and in some fishes, virtually colourless. The reason why our blood shows that colouration is thanks to some protein called hemoglobin. It is precisely this protein that gives colour to our red blood cells, and since red blood cells outnumber all other elements, our blood consequently takes that crimson hue. Here, one might think that hemoglobin only serves as a blood pigment, but it does not. 

Hemoglobin is actually the protein in charge of carrying oxygen to our entire body. Its name comes from the presence of four heme groups, forming a tetramer. Each heme group contains one iron atom that can bind one oxygen molecule. So all hemoglobins can carry throughout the body four oxygen molecules each. Still, the heme groups are not only in charge of ferrying oxygen throughout our body, but it is also responsible for clearing part of the carbon dioxide by transporting it to the lungs. The binding of carbon dioxide to hemoglobin produces carbaminohemoglobin responsible for almost a quarter of carbon dioxide elimination. Yet, hemoglobin is not the only protein capable of carrying oxygen. There is also hemocyanin which can be found in some invertebrates instead of hemoglobin. 

The particularity of this molecule is that it contains copper instead of iron, giving this protein a blue colour. And this is the reason why some octopuses have blue blood. As for green blood, it is not caused by the absence of hemoglobin; nor the presence of another (green-pigmented) oxygen-binding protein. It is merely the result of red blood cells decay. When the hemoglobin-rich red blood cells break down, they leave behind a protein called biliverdin, which -you may get from its name- possess a green pigmentation. Even humans produce biliverdin, but it is highly toxic and assuredly deadly to us. So, we remove it like crazy, leaving our blood with mainly red pigments. However, some lizards can tolerate incredible amounts of this protein that can even supplant red blood cells concentration. The more abundant presence of biliverdin leaves the blood with a lime green colour. 

As for some fishes, most specifically cold water fishes, their blood does not bear any colour and is usually completely transparent. In this case, the culprits for the colourlessness are the red blood cells, or more precisely, its lack. Under cold temperatures, hemoglobin-rich blood can get so thick that it can jeopardize respiration entirely and can actually be more of an impediment than an advantage. The use of cold ocean water directly as an oxygen source is definitely a smart choice since it contains more oxygen than regular sourced water. So rich, in fact, that using red blood cells to carry it is overkill. Water merely gets incorporated directly into the blood that carries its oxygen throughout the body.

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As I said previously, there are way more components in the blood than only the red blood cells, precisely three more: platelets, white blood cells and plasma. Platelets are in charge of forming blood clots whenever an injury occurs. In such circumstances, it is of the utmost importance that the blood coagulates to stop any internal or external hemorrhages from forming. Uncontrolled hemorrhages can lead to organ failures, seizures, coma, and eventually death. And as for white blood cells, they are also vital players. Without them, our immune systems would be compromised. They are our first line of defence against potential pathogens and chemicals. They can recognize a vast array of pathogens and chemicals and signal their presence to the body. It is the first step that leads down to an enormous chain reaction. And if you think that white blood cells are marvellous, wait for plasma. 

As soon as I turned 18, I started donating blood during each blood drive organized by my school. I felt that it was a particularly satisfying and easy way to give back to my community. However, once I had my first tattoo done, it got particularly more complicated to donate blood. So after six donations, I entered a period when I didn’t give out blood and that lasted for about six years. Three years ago, I got a call from a plasma center; they were recruiting. Plasma seemed like a compelling option, and it was also more convenient as this center was permanently based. Yet, even though I knew what plasma was, I realized that I didn’t entirely understand what it was. Thanks to my firsthand encounter with plasma, I can now enjoy its importance more closely than ever. Plasma is what holds all the blood proteins and their other components in suspension. In plasma, we can find some more proteins like globulin, albumin and fibrinogen. Globulin helps fighting infection, liver function and forming blood clots. Albumin is there to keep water from leaking out of our blood and transport things like hormones, enzymes and vitamins in our body. Fibrinogen is a clotting factor. Plasma can also carry hormones, glucose, electrolytes, carbon dioxide and oxygen.  

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Plasma is indispensable for immunocompromised patients as it helps them get some precious antibodies. For these patients especially, blood transfer can be harmful as it may contain certain viruses, like cytomegalovirus, that can be harmless in healthy patients but, for them, can cause severe disease. Plasma can also be needed by patients with severe burns or blood disorders. Fortunately, plasma donations are even more convenient to make than blood donations, which take two weeks in between each of them instead of eight. This rapidity is made possible by its extraction method. Whereas each blood donation requires us to form back every component of blood: platelets, white blood cells, red blood cells and plasma, plasma donation only requires us to form back plasma. Even though during plasma donation, we also extract blood from our veins, only plasma is collected. The rest is immediately returned to the body. Plasma can be separated from other blood constituents easily using a centrifuge. Once separated, everything that is not plasma is brought back into a solution and returned to the donor. 

However, whenever the situation arises where a dearest one might need blood, we may feel compelled to give them ours, but it’s probably a bad idea. If blood types do not match, we may cause them to develop some deadly clotting. Blood types are actually a result of two things: antigens and rhesus factor, and together can create up to 8 different blood groups. There are two possible antigens, A and B, and we indicate O in the absence of both antigens. The rhesus factor is a protein that can be present on the surface of our red blood cells. When the protein is present, we say that our blood is positive and negative when the protein is absent. In my case, I am B-positive which is the same as my fiancée. It is pretty weird as the Canadian prevalence of this blood type is only 7.6%. It would have been much more likely if our blood type were A-positive (36%) or 0-positive (39%). Yet, the rarest blood type remains AB-negative with only 0.5% of the population. It means that statistically speaking, only one person out of a group of 200 people may be AB-negative. Also, O-negative individuals are considered universal donors as they may give their blood to anyone and AB-positive universal receiver as they can obtain the blood of virtually anyone. Now, what blood type are you?

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Bring Up Artificial Intelligence—What can it do for us, or more precisely what it can’t

From the moment the first computer was commercialized, people started asking themselves what computers could do for us. It was notably evident how powerful those machines were at helping us find information, provided an accessible platform for arcade gaming and facilitated typewriting. Then one day, during Summer 1956, scientists gathered for a workshop held on the Dartmouth College campus. The main intention of the workshop was to advance the computers’ capability. During this event, some even predicted that computers would be able to reason humanlike within the span of one generation only. It turns out that this could not have been more wrong. Now, after two whole generations, we are still waiting for such a technology to surface. 

The slow rate of development is not only due to the computing power often not being strong enough to support the most complex algorithms, but it is also because of the recurrent fading in popularity. Every time expectations are proven too hard to overcome, this field of research notices a substantial drop in fundings. These financial pitfalls have caused the progress to slow down and have deterred newcomers to get their hands in the game. In this decade, however, we can notice that we are back to a peak of interest. The arrival of deep learning and machine learning has reignited the flame that once existed of producing a machine that would legitimately be humanlike. Yet, I don’t believe this is at all reasonable to expect such things. My training in neuroscience has shown me on many occasions how complex the human mind and behaviours are.

So, before hoping for an Ex-Machina to be produced or a Jarvis (Iron Man) to be made, we must understand what the bases of artificial intelligence are. Let’s start by defining artificial intelligence (AI). Well, the first part is by far the easiest to explain. We could effortlessly replace artificial with the synonymous word ‘man-made’; the second part, however, is much more complex. For a better and more complete representation of intelligence, I suggest you read my post from last week (Bring Up Intelligence). In sum, I define intelligence as being multimodal with as much as ten possible intelligence. Anyhow, what most people mean when they talk about intelligence in AI is either one, or a combination, of the four approaches. 

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The first is acting humanly, where one AI reacts similarly given the same situation and environment. The second is thinking humanly, where the AI would produce the same sort of thinking we humans do, with all its flaws and biases. The third is acting rationally, where the AI behaves following rules and seeks to find solutions, even though the results could be proved useless given certain conditions. The fourth, and last, is thinking rationally, where the AI forms preset notions and guidelines on how to respond given different circumstances. Regardless of which combination you choose, the result won’t be anything like the AI pictured in most Sci-Fi movies. The news channels do not make it easier either. News anchors may tell us that the best chess players were all beaten by AI. Some others may report that the longest winning-streak player of Jeopardy! was defeated by AI. Yet nobody knows if they genuinely qualify as AI. Some scientists are indeed entirely dismissing them as AI on the basis that they do not think and thus cannot understand the games. They only react based on their learnt knowledge and the strategies they developed. 

So, it becomes hard to say when AI will realistically be intelligent. Moreover, if you consider the multimodal view of intelligence, then it becomes almost unfeasible. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence suggests that there are officially up to nine types of intelligence. Trying to recreate them artificially has met many successes but a lot more failures. For example, reproducing logical-mathematical intelligence has been highly successful. But every attempt at recreating creative intelligence has shown very miserable results. If we bring them all up in consideration of their reproducibility potential, we have: logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, linguistic, intrapersonal, creative, musical and spiritual. Let’s note that most, if not all, of those successes, failed to introduce more than one intelligence type. So, trying to bring them all up in one machine to create a proper AI has still a long way to go. 

One way to avoid dealing with all these different intelligence types would be to omit them entirely and instead opt for a criteria-based description of true intelligence. However, coming up with all the various criteria can form a notion that can sometimes feel incomplete. So trying to encompass all the elements forming intelligence is a serious exercise. The most recent attempt at determining these criteria brought up elements like reasoning, understanding, determining or detecting lies, finding relationships between items, considering meanings, and separating facts from beliefs. And all these components make sense. Getting to analyze a situation and coming up with explanations requires both reasoning and understanding, but these skills alone don’t make you particularly smart. Being able to pick your knowledge carefully is also critical. But let’s be honest, some information may need some special treatment as it may also hold very different meanings giving varying context. As a final touch, being able to assemble all of our knowledge together is definitely an advantage. 

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However, even with this new definition, we can’t realistically produce something that will include all of these components. Right now, all attempts at building AI have been separated into two groups: strong AI and weak AI. Strong AIs are unspecialized and thus can theoretically do many things, but they produce very weak results. For better outcomes, weak AIs are actually the way to go, even though they are highly specialized and thus, really know how to do one thing only. One downside to consider for weak AI is that they will never be independent. They will always need an external actor to compensate for their lack. 

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AI development made lots of progress in the last few decades, regardless of the difficulty we have faced defining what does or doesn’t classify as AI. The quest began with a handful of expert systems that were basically merely following set operators. These expert systems are computer programs following rules based on different algorithms. For instance, the grammar check found in Microsoft Word is an expert system where most grammatical rules are integrated into the programs through a series of algorithms. Yet, expert systems established those rules based on common sentence structures that are usually kept very short. Thus, when the expert system meets, for example, nested sentences, it has a hard time suggesting a proper correction. One way around this issue has involved the help of machine learning, where the algorithms go through an iteration process to learn based on a very large data set. Even though this may sound like a dreamy alternative, machine learning can introduce a lot of flaws into the program. We have to be careful to vet our data set adequately beforehand. 

Coming up with new AI has definitely revolutionized how we do things. Now, most bank security measures include AIs for their fraud detection. This implementation has allowed the banks to identify more frauding attempts and has accelerated their detection rate. Hospitals and clinics use AIs to help them with resource scheduling. For instance, when they need to plan work schedules, budgets or material resource allocation. Engineers will use it to perform complex analyses in signal processing and control theory. Manufacturers prefer using AI for automation, whereas retailers will favour the use of AI to perform customer services. Other fields will employ AI to optimize safety systems or machine efficiency, but whatever is the reason behind their use, we can all agree on one thing; the presence of AI will become ever more widespread.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

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Well, it will probably come to you as no surprise, but we always need to keep moving. Let me be clear; I am not suggesting here to become fidgety, but to avoid remaining stationary for extended periods. The benefits of an active lifestyle have been promoted for many years now. I actually cannot remember a time when the benefits were unmentioned by the media. Nowadays, instead of the mention of being active, we hear another word, workouts. However, even if the principle stays the same, people can seem a little confused when we ask them to differentiate both. The first, staying active, essentially refers to remaining engaged with movement as much as possible; the second, workouts, often mean the accomplishments of strenuous activity, exercise, or work.  Where one somewhat suggests a life commitment, the other one mostly hints at something more intense and sporadic.  Now, one question still remains: from which one can we genuinely reap the most benefits?

There are no easy ways to answer this question. The most beneficial might, in truth, be a mix of both. I am decidedly already putting all of my eggs in that basket. I would say that I started adopting this approach very gradually. I must say that, at first, adhering to any physical activity was difficult. Then, suddenly, scheduling a walk during my day became much easier, and working out began to grow on me. Unfortunately, considerable change is sometimes our worst enemy when trying to establish a new habit. In my case, moving from Montreal to Sherbrooke (both in Québec, Ca) was enough to put a wrench in my newly set lifestyle. Even though the Eastern Townships is positively heavenly for its scenery and many trails, finding time to walk seemed once again challenging. Working out in our now reduced-size apartment was becoming somewhat challenging. Now a month and a half later, I am nearly finding myself having to start again from scratch, but I keep wondering if this whole thing is worth pursuing if I keep on ‘failing.’ And my verdict remains yes. The pursuit should never stop if we want to be healthy. 

It is probably more difficult to find a spot for both types of activities in your schedule, but it is worth considering. Whereas working out can be very profitable for your overall health, maintaining physical activity, aka staying active, might be the only way to retain the procured perks. If we listen carefully, that is indeed what our body is trying to communicate. Our body not only desires to work hard, but it also needs consistency. Our body will adjust with the life we give it. If we stay static -like remaining inside, on our computer all day, and eating junk food- it is only natural that our metabolism begins slowing down and that we start storing our unburnt fat and glucose. If, by contrast, we change our lifestyle to reflect a more active baseline, our body will naturally increase its metabolism to meet our increased demand for energy. However, this change won’t occur overnight. Changes require a whole logistical switch in the body, and our system doesn’t like to switch things around. As we often say, our body is pretty stubborn. If the body can survive on the current arrangement, then it won’t change. 

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In other words, if we plan for a more healthy way of life, then sticking to a 30-day physical challenge won’t do the trick. Yes! You will most definitely lose weight, but your metabolism will most certainly remain the way it always was. For the whole month, you might notice some decent changes to your health. Unfortunately, none of them may persist if you don’t pursue a similar level of activity. So, my advice is to work hard; still, you must remember to keep it light enough to retain the desire to do it over and over again.

Apart from weight loss being an apparent and very well-supported argument to encourage working out, there are many other advantages. So much so that some pharmaceutical companies are currently looking into ways to develop a pill that could recreate the effect of working out while staying largely inactive. This strategy is regarded as potentially misleading since the outcomes of workouts are complicated and multifaceted.  Working out indeed triggers a broad cascade of effects that affect more than one physiological system, all of which can interact with one another. Thus, believing that one medication could activate all pathways and produce all the same effects at once is probably fickle. Another approach would be to create a drug that could promote exercise. One difficulty that most people face when commencing a new workout plan is a lingering struggle. This persistent effort, which is very laborious, is often enough to discourage people from pursuing any activity. Now, imagine that a pill could resolve this obstacle. As a new workout beginner, you would already have a decent amount of stamina that could alleviate some of the struggles we typically feel. Then, you certainly could see yourself persisting with the new plan sketched up for you, no? And that is absolutely what a team of scientists is trying to accomplish.

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Finding ways to create a more active population is not a goal to merely keep in mind. It is imperative. Working out has been shown to challenge nearly all organs in our body; subsequently, stimulating growth and repair. The challenge faced by our body during a workout session is changing more in our bodies than we may easily list. It is not often clear if all benefits stem directly from working out or if one of them might be responsible for the many. It would be pretty reasonable to suppose that losing weight might be the change that leads to the reduced risk of developing many illnesses. However, some studies showed that the impact of workouts on our overall health stems from more than weight loss. The benefits seemed to come from the activity itself first.

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We can observe some benefits earlier than others. As often mentioned now, weight loss is one of the most apparent changes we can notice and results from an energy/calorie deficit. As a general rule of thumb, the more energy we spend and the less food we consume, the greater this deficit becomes. Whenever our bodies detect that we are spending more energy than can be produced by our food consumption, the more our bodies will rely on the content of our fat cells to supply the additional fuel needed to meet our increased demand. 

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A reduced body fat percentage means a decreased risk for our body to deposit fat -visceral fat- around our heart and other vital organs. This effect immediately represents a lower risk of heart diseases, an improved functioning of the pancreas, and preservation of our mental acuity as we age. However, weight loss alone cannot explain the entire picture. Workouts also have their own arsenal responsible for cardioprotection, pancreas protection and neuroprotection. By increasing our blood pressure, we create acute stress on the body that has proven itself beneficial for protecting the organs it supplies. Also, strenuous activities provide our body with acute mechanical stress that can strengthen our muscles and our bones and reduce the risk of falls later on in our lives. 

Working out also improves your mood by releasing some good ol’ endorphins. It also helps regulate stress hormones levels, which ensures that you keep a healthy mental state. Along with relaxing your mind, exhausting our bodies before going to bed is also a foolproof way to gather a good night’s sleep. The list of benefits here is not exhaustive. Some studies are even suggesting that constant physical activities, along with working out, significantly reduce your risk of developing some cancers, including colon, breast, uterine and lung cancer. And if you’re looking to maintain a healthy sex life throughout your life, you may regard your demanding physical activities as your holy grail. For men, regular physical activity would come with a lowered risk of developing erectile dysfunction, and for women, it might be a sexual mood booster. 

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Many other advantageous changes are happening in our bodies when we decide to adopt a more active lifestyle, along with workouts, probably more than what I have just mentioned. And if you are looking into a way to cheat death for longer, you might consider implementing these few changes to your life habits.  Personally, I know that I want to prolong my life for as long as possible while remaining healthy.  For this reason, I will keep on trying to push away my laziness and motivate myself to always do more. If you think that workouts are too far of a stretch for you, then you might be pleased to realize that working out does not necessarily involve weightlifting. It could be sprinting, playing a sport, rock climbing or any other moderately challenging activities. Just remember to find one that aligns with your own interest, and you will be setting yourselves up for success. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

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Coffee is such a morning staple that I cannot remember a morning without it. For instance, my parents always consumed a cup of coffee as soon as they were up. However, they never grab their daily cup from a coffee maker nor an espresso machine. They instead preferred using instant coffee powder. My parents were not too keen on us drinking coffee too young as they have heard that it can disrupt our growth. So, as I reached my 16th birthday, I was then allowed to drink coffee. At first, I found the taste of coffee to be too bitter for my taste. I would typically add an equal amount of coffee powder and sugar to my mug. My parents interpreted this particularity as an undeniable reflection of my disdain for coffee. Believing that I dreaded coffee, they often tried to dissuade me from drinking it. However, I knew something that seemed to escape their understanding. I had come to realize that once my coffee got spiked with abundant amounts of sugars, the taste became fantastic. Yet, it still took me years to grasp the difference between the taste of instant and filtered coffee. And oh boy, it’s weird how distinct it can be.

Once I started dating my fiancé and moved in together, we had to acquire a coffee maker. Manuel was used to the taste of filtered coffee, and even though he constantly assured me that instant coffee was fine, I wanted to please him. It turns out that filtered coffee became my preferred sort of coffee. I was now able to reduce the amount of sugar I had to put in. Now, I don’t even need any. Sometimes when I feel like spicing things up, I add a little something along with my freshly ground coffee beans, like cinnamon. It supplements the taste by inserting an extra layer, or a new dimension, to it. I have also read that some also like adding cardamom to their coffee, and I have tried. Although I like it very much, my fiancé isn’t exactly interested in its taste.

Despite my clear preference for filtered coffee, I find myself now routinely rejecting it. My sudden bouts of insomnia have recently justified my self-restraint toward its consumption. To reduce the gravity of this drastic and sudden change, I decided to replace my cup of filtered coffee with a cup of instant decaffeinated coffee. It is not quite the same, but it does the trick. Although, when you look back at the making of instant coffee, it doesn’t explain the noticeable taste difference between both coffee preparations. Its manufacturing process starts by brewing the coffee beans and then pouring the liquid through a filter to produce filtered coffee. So both instant and filtered coffee are brewed first. If there would be no other steps, then instant coffee and filtered coffee would be synonyms of each other, but this sadly is not the case. Contrary to instant coffee, we can serve filtered coffee immediately after brewing. As for instant coffee, it will need further processing of the brewed mixture to produce the soluble solid that is so characteristic of its instant nature.

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To produce instant coffee, we need to collect the brewed coffee and then desiccate (aka dry) it. We can do this dehydration step using two very different techniques: freeze-drying or spray drying. Freeze-drying or cryodesiccation is very expensive but is the best method to preserve the molecules’ structure and integrity. In other words, it is better at conserving the flavours and aromas of the coffee. This technique involves bringing the temperature of the brewed coffee below the water’s triple point. The triple point corresponds to the lowest temperature at which gas, liquid, and solid can coexist. For water, this triple point is near 0℃. After we reach the ideal temperature, we reduce the internal pressure of the container. The pressure drop allows the frozen water (solid form) to sublimate (straight to gas, bypassing its liquid form). We subsequently remove the water (gas form) to leave the final product devoid of water. 

Compared to freeze-drying, spray drying is much cheaper. The resulting savings can explain why a lot of food manufacturers will opt for this drying method. However, by choosing spray drying, they also sacrifice some of the flavours we can find in our dearly beloved filtered coffee. Instead of making use of cold temperature, spray drying involves the presence of heating. For spray drying, we atomize brewed coffee into a drying chamber which creates tiny droplets. Some heated gas is also projected into this chamber to evaporate any water present in the droplets. Since the droplets are not very large, the water inside them vaporizes almost instantaneously.

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The dried particles form what we know as instant coffee. After the particles are thoroughly devoid of any water, the final product is collected and packaged. Generally speaking, spray drying will produce more fine and round particles than freeze-drying, which typically makes larger fragments. The larger coffee flakes tend to be preferred since it is easier to use. Even though both these methods have their distinctions, they both have the same objectives. Instant coffee prolongs shelf life, doesn’t require any additional tools, and it’s super quick to make. Although these characteristics are certainly enough to justify their popularity, there have been recent claims that could motivate us further to switch products. Indeed, eco-friendly groups are insisting that instant coffee has a lower carbon footprint. This implication resides in the notion that instant coffee uses less space and is significantly lighter than its counterpart, the coffee beans. These characteristics would also indicate that shipping would require less gasoline consumption which means less carbon dioxide emission. Furthermore, not needing a processing machine to make our daily cup of coffee would also reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our waste. 

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Now that we know more about instant coffee, we can maybe investigate the secrets behind decaffeinated coffee. Essentially, we all know that coffee beans contain caffeine. Yet, before the beans get roasted, we can expose them to many processes which remove their caffeine content. Some methods require exposing the beans many times to an organic solvent like dichloromethane to extract the caffeine, and others will use water. In some cases, manufacturers will even utilize carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressure to remove caffeine. Carbon dioxide is a fascinating gas as it allows for caffeine to dissolve in it, yet it won’t allow the same for the compound responsible for flavours and aromas. This gas is thus an efficient solvent that can surprisingly conserve both of these desirable attributes. Yet, even though all these methods adequately remove most of the caffeine content, the result is still imperfect. Most decaffeinated coffee brands can accept the presence of up to 3% caffeine, depending on the country’s legal standards. Here in Canada, we tolerate no more than 0.3% of caffeine left in the final decaffeinated product.

So even though the concentration is so minute that you may even consider it null, it’s still not a great idea to consume it late at night. This statement is especially true if you suspect yourself of being highly sensitive to caffeine. During the past weeks, I found myself experiencing some sleep disturbances. These events seemed to correlate with my coffee consumption. And even though my coffees were decaffeinated, I decided to purge myself of it entirely. Surprisingly, I seem to experience fewer of these events than in the past months. Yet, I don’t really know if it is a coincidence or if there truly is a link. A way to find out would be to resume drinking coffee for a couple of days and then stop. Maybe my insomnia would have resolved itself on its own; we don’t know. 

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Drinking coffee is undoubtedly something that I miss and would unquestionably like to reintegrate into my routine. Not only did the taste feel incredible, but just a sip of it seemed sufficient to keep going. Being an entrepreneur in charge of writing, reading, and researching makes me desperately crave my daily cup of coffee. Nonetheless, until I can unquestionably revoke all my suspicion towards it, I must resist the temptation to succumb to its striking appeal.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…

Bring Up Perspiration—How I Am Regulating My Temperature

If you have read my post from two weeks ago, then you would know almost everything there is to know about water (See Bring Up Water). Water is really important and is essential for the good functioning of many biological processes. With the arrival of summer and its associated high temperature, you will need a lot of it. You will especially need water to ward off any potential heatstroke that may affect you. Its cooling-down action is due to perspiration. Water is such a powerful ally, so much so that it prevents us from being found burnt to a crisp, like earthworms in the street after a massive rainfall. However, its cooling mechanism might not be so well understood by everyone. It is not like putting out a fire, where we just hose down the heat we are emitting. However, it sure is as effective, if not more.

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I love playing Beach Volleyball, especially during the summer. I am not personally too fond of cold weather. The heat emitted by the sun feels wonderful on my skin. It seems to get immediately absorbed, even though the transfer is more gradual than immediate. This heat makes me want to have more, and physical activity is a nice way to fulfil this desire. During strenuous activities, our muscles work so hard that they produce heat as a byproduct. They produce, in fact, an enormous amount of heat. Both our physical heat and the ambient heat can work in synergy to provoke alarming body heat levels. To survive, we must get rid of a great amount of it and fast.

This is where perspiration comes into play. As easy as it would seem, water doesn’t just passively pass through our skin. This permeability is quite impossible since the outer layer of our skin prevents such crossing. Our outer skin layer, the epidermis, is actually responsible for the prevention of dehydration. Our body needs to keep as much water as possible because of its use for more functions than just sweat. Also, perspiration needs to be a controlled process. It should only be active when our body heat levels get above our basal thresholds. This is where sweating glands become highly relevant. In humans, we can find two kinds: eccrine and apocrine glands.

So, where do we sweat? The armpits, for sure. Where else? The feet, OK! I can see that. Our back? Yeah! That happens quite often to me after long walks. The inner thighs? Ouch! And yes! The chafing can get pretty bad sometimes. If it may seem like there is not a single area spared from sweating, you are completely right. We sweat everywhere on the body, and this is mostly thanks to our eccrine glands. They can release a saline solution that is mostly composed of water. Even though we can find eccrine glands anywhere on our body, their distribution is denser on our feet and our hands, followed closely by our heads.

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Eccrine glands, sometimes called merocrine glands, are releasing this solution through sweat pores. You may already know what sweat pores are, but in case you didn’t: they are holes found in the epidermis where we can find our dear eccrine glands. Here, given the very high concentration of eccrine glands on our palms and soles, you may be wondering why we don’t sweat much there when we get too hot. The answer resides in how they get activated. Most eccrine cells connect to cholinergic nerve fibres activating, in turn, the glands for heat regulation. However, the glands found in our palms and soles are connected to adrenergic fibres. These fibres can activate the glands in the presence of high physical and emotional stress.

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Apocrine glands are different from the eccrine glands by both their secretion and how they deliver it. Contrary to eccrine glands, apocrine glands release an oily and opaque substance containing proteins, lipids, and steroids. Instead of delivering their secretion through sweat pores, they deliver it through hair follicles. Hence, the substance usually ends up being mixed with sebum as the hair follicles also host sebaceous glands. You most probably know sebaceous glands from the substance they release, particularly on your face. They produce an oily substance responsible for the waxy finish you get on your skin after a long day. 

Now we can’t talk about perspiration without mentioning the infamous odours it seems to carry. The odours, however, are not caused by the sweat itself but by the bacteria that feed off the sweat. It is the waste products, resulting from its metabolism, that produce distinct repulsive smells. There are three main prominent populations of bacteria on our armpits: Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium and Propionibacterium. The resulting metabolite produces a molecule called thioalcohol. Alcohols are highly volatile compounds that can be quickly diffused in the air. Thus, not only do thioalcohols smell horrendous, but also the smells get carried to our nose very quickly. 

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There exist many approaches we adopt to achieve neutralizing the smell. One of them might be to keep our armpit hair as short as possible. However, shaving might be more culturally acceptable for women than men. If, despite our convention, you decide to part ways with your underarm hair, then you may help to decrease the production of horrid smells. While shaving won’t stop you from sweating (fortunately), it will help reduce bad smells. The presence of hair may help create odours in two ways. First, it helps trap moisture, diminishing heat elimination. This excess heat stimulates the production of even greater amounts of sweat, which provides even more food for the bacteria. Secondly, the hair increases the area where bacteria can accumulate. More bacteria mean even more smelly molecules. Moreover, shaving might not only help in reducing smell, but also help to make the antiperspirant and deodorant products adhere better. This enhanced adhesion can help to curb those nasty smells for good. Yet, even though you finally decided to keep your dear armpit hair intact, using antiperspirants and deodorants can still prove themselves powerful allies.

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At this point, you probably realize the importance of keeping the amount of sweat we produced in check in order to keep these odours at bay. Simple strategies can be implemented in our daily routine to help us in that regard. You can start by showering every day to remove excess debris and bacteria on your skin causing the odours. You should also pay extra attention to especially clean the area where you tend to sweat more. If you want to amplify even more the impact of your shower, then you could use an antibacterial soap to wash away as many bacteria as possible. Beware that I am not very fond of this strategy as it may strip away the good bacteria too, leaving your immune system potentially damaged. After your shower, make sure to dry every area, especially your armpits, as humidity makes for the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. 

Certain foods and drinks might also induce some bad smells. For instance, spicy foods cause stress on your body and increase perspiration as a result. The aroma of foods, such as onion and garlic, can also be carried in your sweat. Drinking alcohol and coffee also increases perspiration. Intense physical or emotional stress will also intensify sweating. If you think this might be an issue, you might contemplate adopting activities like yoga or meditation to release some of this anxiety. Studies are indicating that these relaxing activities, in some cases, can effectively reduce sweating.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Cryptography—How to Hide your Messages

To ensure our privacy, we must be careful about what we share and how we share it. Most often, your personal information, like your passwords, we’ll be hiding from everyone. But that only happens if we transmit the data through a secured channel. Unfortunately, you can be as careful as possible, some people can still…

Bring Up Fireworks—How Do We Make Colours Explode

Summer festivals are not only fun for all the foods they’re providing and the activities they’re offering, but also because of their well-anticipated fireworks. Those orchestrated explosions are so grandiose that most can’t help but feel moved by the spectacle. Some may even start wondering what makes those magical displays, and I am for sure…

Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

Staying active is hard, and we may very well feel tempted to give it up entirely. However, there are some good reasons why health professionals advocate adopting a more active lifestyle. Beyond the most apparent argument, weight loss, there are other advantages to moving out of your couch and grabbing those neglected sneakers for a…

Bring Up Water—What is Behind Hydration

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Living in Canada, I can probably say that there is nothing here that we take more for granted than water. Bottled water is just one example of this. I love regular tap water; I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where tap water is not only drinkable but also tastes great. However, some people would preferably opt for bottled water. They can swear that the taste is different. Somehow, the only difference between the bottled water made in Quebec and our tap water is the plastic bottle. The water source is customarily identical. Yet, bottled water is not our only problem. When given the opportunity between water and other drinks, people would typically choose any alternative options. 

I must confess that I am guilty of making this choice, and I am embarrassed by it. Hence, for the last few months, I have been trying my best to remedy the situation. Choosing to adopt intermittent fasting has made this task much easier, but drinking water is still far from enjoyable. When it comes to drinking water, my main bother is the taste, or more precisely, its lack of taste. Yet, over the last months, I have been able to appreciate the subtle taste of tap water. The many minerals found in tap water are responsible for the hints of flavour we can perceive when drinking it. I can definitely say that water from Sherbrooke (my hometown) and Montreal (where I was until recently residing) has a different flavour. This variation is most often credited to their respective filtration and sanitization processes. 

Whereas Montreal still uses a system relying on multiple screens and a bed of sand to filtrate the water, Sherbrooke relies on a new system that involves making use of membranes to filter out unwanted particles and microbes. The system Montreal is using hardly clears out 85% of bacteria, which leaves the water undrinkable. To decontaminate it, the city of Montreal must chlorinate and ozonate its water. Sherbrooke’s newer system allows for the elimination of virtually all contaminants without further need for extra sanitization. When added to water, chlorine can add a bitter or metallic taste that can be undesirable. Sherbrooke does not have to use chlorine, and thus its taste relies uniquely on its mineral content. I also have to mention that both cities are not getting their water from the same source. Montreal’s water reservoir is the St-Lawrence River, whereas Sherbrooke is the Memphremagog Lake; hence, they both have two different mineral content profiles.

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If asked to choose between Sherbrooke’s water or Montreal’s, I would pick the former. Although, It would still be hard for me to pick between water or something else entirely, something with more taste. The delicious taste of these drinks (sodas and juices) typically comes from the presence of sugars or sweeteners. So, despite the reasonable amount of water it contains, it is unquestionably an option that’s best avoided. It may succeed in hydrating you, but in the process, it also delivers a toxic dose of sugar to your body. Over time, the elevated consumption of sugar can lead to the development of obesity and diabetes. In drinking tap water, you absolve any of those risks. However, this statement is not valid for bottled water.  The generic plastic used to make these bottles is not typically strong enough to sustain the repeated stress it has to endure. 

The splashing and sploshing of the water inside the bottle and the mechanical stress we create can liberate microplastics in the water. Yet, given that there is now a total of 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste globally, there is already an enormous number of microplastic created and ingested. Indeed, some newspapers have reported that we usually inhale or ingest 5 g of microplastic in no more than a week. If you wondered what 5 g is, well, it weighs the same as one of your credit cards. If you think that this figure is scary, then you might think again before grabbing your next bottle of water. Some scientists may have found hints that consumers of bottled water could ingest twice this amount each week. 

If you are still not scared at this point, you may like to know that we presently consider the presence of microplastic in our body to trigger DNA damage, cellular damage, and inflammation. Now, we may all vow to stop drinking water forever, but this is not an option, and we know it. We are all composed of 60% water, and as such, we must all drink around 2 litres of water a day to maintain this body composition. This water serves an immense variety of functions, from digestion to lubrification. 

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Knowing its importance might be more apparent to us once we are dehydrated. Since I do not particularly like drinking water, I often forget to drink. This behaviour has repeatedly led me towards dehydration. In this state, I realize that my eyes and mouth are considerably dry, my urine becomes dark yellow, and sometimes I even get a headache. Our eyes here become dry since there are no longer enough tears to lubricate them. Tears are composed of water. As for our mouth, it is dry because there is no longer enough saliva, also composed of water. Our pee adopts a darker coloration since there is not enough water diluting it. Our kidneys must reabsorb the water to keep filtering out any waste products created. This process creates extra stress on the kidneys, which we should all aim to avoid. The headaches may come from the shrinking of our brain, which may temporarily pull away from our skull, causing pain.

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Water is also responsible for digestion by carrying digesting enzymes to the nutrients. It is also a medium used for the fabrication of hormones and neurotransmitters. It creates a shock-protective bubble around the brain called the blood-brain barrier (often referred to as the BBB). It helps to regulate our body temperature through perspiration. Moreover, our blood needs water to carry its red blood cells in charge of delivering oxygen throughout our body. And you may suspect here that the list is even longer, but here I will add only one last one. Water is necessary for the survival and reproduction of our cells. 

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This little piece of information is the sole reason supporting the fact that there is unmistakably something such as drinking too much water, especially non-mineralized water. There are even names for it, overhydration or water poisoning.  When there is excess water outside the cells, they will absorb water to even out the ions present inside and outside of them. Indeed, the water moves in since the sodium ion concentration is higher within than outside. Absorbing too much water may induce the cell membrane to rupture, causing irreparable damage, which could then lead to cellular death. Once it reaches this stage, it can be fatal. However, before it reaches this stage, our brain sends us a signal warning us about the danger. When they start swelling, the brain cells increase their volume, which also increases the intracranial pressure. 

This swelling can create a vast range of cognitive dysfunction that we should all keep in mind. The risk associated with ignoring early signs of these dysfunctions might lead to seizures, coma, brain damage and death. Avoiding overhydration is quite simple. It is not about how much you drink but how fast you drink. The kidney can eliminate no more than 1 litre of water per hour, so you should never drink more than that. I realize that reading through this article may have scared you, but be confident that those catastrophic scenarios are pretty unlikely. Just remember to drink enough, not too much, and to drink less sugary drinks and more tap water 😉

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

The most enduring morning staple is probably coffee. Most people may even swear that their ritual cup of coffee is the only thing that keeps them going. Without coffee, some people might feel lost or incomplete. And even though we can all agree that heaps of people drink coffee, they do not all drink it…

Bring Up Perspiration—How I Am Regulating My Temperature

It is no secret that water is a vital component for life on Earth. For instance, us humans need water for more than one physiological process. Water is used by our kidneys to help filter out waste products, by our blood to help transport products to different parts of our body and by our sweat…

Bring Up Flowers—How do these beautiful blossoms emerge

It is now mid-April; we are well into Spring at this point. Looking outside, I am completely astonished by the beautiful and ostentatious colours displayed by the flowers peeking through the ground. Also, I cannot overlook the smell; it is truly incredible. Nature has finally come back to life. Even though I will have to wait until well over mid-May for the first sign of leaves in the tree, I can momentarily rejoice in the early present that Mother Nature is giving us.

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Flowers, peeking through the soil, seem to exist as both fragile and tenacious entities. Although we could not see them for most of Fall and the entire Winter, parts of them have survived. The surviving part will, yet, vary depending on the kind of plant they are. Annuals will die every year but will leave behind their fertilized seeds to replant and grow sprouts. As for perennials, when freezing hits, some of their parts will begin a decaying process, yet their root network will survive even through the harshest of times. As soon as the warmth—typically brought by Spring—makes its first appearance, the roots will awaken and contribute to the renewal of all lost parts.

Thinking about flowers, often enough, evokes the image of gardens in our mind. They are so glorious that it is not surprising at all to have people willing to spend good money just for their mere sight. Two options lay in front of us to gain access to such treats. We could opt to build a personal garden, our very own little piece of paradise, or we could easily book a visit to our local botanical garden. If you decide to proceed in creating your very own tiny patch, you’ll certainly have to spend a lot of elbow grease to structure it. Yet, there are no set rules which define the perfect constitution of a garden. Still, with some advice, we can certainly create a fair-looking one.

If there is one thing you must keep in mind when dealing with flowers is the advantages offered by each of the two kinds presented before, perennials and annuals. To avoid headaches, use both: it will cut down planting time while maximizing blossoming time. Perennials will not need replanting every year. However, you will have to exert patience before seeing the fruit of all your labour. Perennials are reputed to take up to three years to reach their full potential. You will also have to remember after a few years to divide the plant. Failure to split the plants often enough could cause their flowers to acquire a dull colouring, parts could stop flowering entirely (especially at their centre), and they could also outgrow their designated spot. Spring is typically the preferred time to do the maintenance, but if you could not complete it within that period, you can still proceed to divide them safely at any other time. They are, decidedly, gifts that keep on giving.

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As for annual flowers, they are quite interesting too. They, indeed, sadly require more effort to implement in our gardens, but they have honestly no parallel in terms of either blooming period or colourfulness. If you decide to make your garden entirely out of annual flowers, it would surely be a sight for sore eyes. However, that decision would imply that the work would need to be totally redone from scratch every year. The work that it involves would be, for me at least, an insufferable burden. The solution resides in supplementation. Have beautiful perennials that keep on coming back and, every Spring, invest in some extra annuals. This alternative will not only save your hand from being overtaxed, but it will also cause your eyes to be thoroughly delighted.

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While building our next garden, we will also need to consider different combinations of colours, sizes, and shapes. Clearly, placing the small plants far behind should be avoided. They then risk being hidden by other larger plants. We need to put the smaller plants at the forefront, where we can see them. It is also worth noting that accessibility is also important. We want all of your annuals to have an easily accessible spot where we can replant them every year. As for the colours, we can explore different colour schemes. It really does not matter how many colours we want to include: let us only make sure that the combination makes sense (do they actually work well together?) The shapes of the petals and the flowers could also benefit from our attention. Aside from tulip gardens, having the same flowers repeated can be pretty dull. That’s why varying them can be a good idea. They, additionally, don’t blossom simultaneously, which would provide you with a colourful garden for much longer.

Despite the apparent appeal of having a pleasant and attractive garden, varying the sort of plants to be used is also a good idea to encourage and support diverse pollinators. The great majority of pollinators are flying insects such as bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths and flies. The bees, which are famously renowned for their currently alarming decline, require our assistance. Their main sustenance is the honey produced from their collected pollen. The flowers are providing the bees with this pollen. Usually, pollen serves to produce male gametes (male sperms). Increasing pollen supplies for the bee is a good start in a way to help them.

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We can find the pollen on the anther at the filaments’ tip. Both, the stamen and the filaments, form what we call the stamen. The filaments are thin cylindrical structures popping out of the centre of the flower. Aside from the filaments, flowers have many other parts. They have a stem that serves as a support for both their leaves and the flower itself. They also possess numerous leaves that will provide energy for the plant through photosynthesis. The pistil, found at the very centre of the flower, will collect pollen for the prospective fertilization of the ovules residing inside it. Lastly, the petals will provide protection for the reproductive organs. They will also serve to repel or even attract particular pollinators.

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When gazing upon a garden that has been carefully conceived to all of its subtlest detail, it is of no wonder that one must be marvelled. Yet, it is equally, or even more, fascinating to observe a random patch of flower composite in the forest or on the side of the road. Nature has a marvellous taste in design when it comes to arranging her decor. Every summer, during my regular hikes, I become incredibly aware of the inner beauty of the nature surrounding us.

My favourite kinds are flowers with small petals and vivid colours. Still, I cannot ignore the appeal of all the others. The first flower that caught my breath was the lilac. This perennial was a flower that was introduced to me by a long-time admirer, my mother. She loves them so much that she bought two lilacs to plant around our courtyard. When they became big enough, we could enjoy both the colours and the odours they were presenting. A second flower that I particularly love is the violet. I remember finding one of them piercing through the asphalt (bitumen) on the side of the road, and I could not stop pondering about their strength. Lastly, I included bleeding hearts on my list. These are the most recent flowers I encountered and instantly charmed me. From my mother-in-law’s garden, I caught myself gazing at those flowers and thinking about how they reminded me of both protection and love.

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I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Water—What is Behind Hydration

Most people don’t drink enough. We don’t drink because water doesn’t taste like much, we don’t drink because we forget, we don’t drink because we overeat. Whatever the reason is, we must change our habits, if only for the wellbeing of our brain cells, our kidney cells and any other living cells in our body.…

Bring Up Alcohol—What We Can Expect From Drinking

Some people would believe that there is no Summer without alcohol and others would prefer to abstain from consuming it entirely. However, it really doesn’t matter what your relationship is with alcohol. In the end, we all came in contact with alcohol in one form or another. That’s right! I am not talking here about…

Bring Up Breathing—How We Get This Precious Oxygen in Our Blood

Fortunately for us, when we stop breathing consciously, our autonomous respiratory system kicks in. This alternative system allows us to entirely refocus our attention on other tasks, which can be truly beneficial. However, when left unchecked for too long, our breathing can change so much that our gas exchange can be impaired. It may be…

Bring Up Sleep – How can I increase my overall well-being

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Today sitting in front of my laptop writing to you, I can think of only one thing, sleep. It’s been on my mind for the mere reason that over the last few weeks I’ve had bouts of insomnia. When people say things like “We don’t truly appreciate what we have until it’s gone”, for insomnia, you can really take a moment to acknowledge how accurate this is. Every day we sleep, as we should. If this does not apply to you, I’m compelling you to reconsider your life habits. Since sleeping happens on a regular basis, we tend to disregard giving it the particular attention it deserves. For as far as I can remember, I’ve always loved sleeping, and thus I’ve continuously pursued a good night’s sleep of at least  8 hours. However, generally, I need well over 8 hours of sleep to be completely refreshed. Personal factors are at play and it’s important to consider individual differences. We have to be open to listen and adapt to what our bodies are trying to tell us.

What happens during sleep is a question that many scientists have dedicated most of their lives trying to answer. For the longest time, research was fruitless. Scientists had barely any clues as to its function, but everyone had at least a hypothesis as to its purpose. Researchers, despite their visible lack of results on the nature of sleep, knew that it was at the very least essential for our survival. We didn’t have to stretch our thinking to its limit to accept this. Simply looking at data, people who tended to neglect their sleep, aged faster than those who pursued a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Also, you may already be aware that being completely sleep deprived for more than a couple of days may lead to the development of psychological disturbances like paranoia and hallucinations. In comparison, good sleepers may seem to benefit from more resilient metabolisms which provides a lower risk for obesity, cardiovascular diseases, anxiety, depression and much more.

Knowing about its importance is still not sufficient to have everyone adjusting their sleeping habits. Many of us have reasons supporting our systematic neglect against fulfilling the required amount of shut-eye hours. Those reasons could range anywhere from having young children to the affliction of sleeping disorders. As such, at different moments in our lives, we may notice our sleeping habits beginning to change. In fact, the changes that we undergo are not always conscious. As a baby, for example, we have to sleep for a hefty total of 18 hours. Luckily for us, it doesn’t remain as such for too long, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get anything done. Gradually as we age, the sleeping requirements decrease and come to a plateau at 18, to an acceptable 7-9 hours of sleep. It only seems to slightly fall again after 65 years old at a requirement of 7-8hours. 

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Even though we robustly half the amount of sleep needed by the time we reach adulthood, many people won’t follow the guidelines and will find themselves sleep-deprived. One issue could be that we typically find that sleep is a waste of time and that it is solely meant to make us feel rested. However, researchers have been able to come up with theories supporting other importance of sleep. Amongst many theories, four of them seem to stand out: inactivity theory, energy conservation theory, restorative theories and brain plasticity theory. For the moment, none of them are proven to be the unique explanation for the role of sleep. Moreover, researchers are currently agreeing that the answer is more likely to involve many of these theories and not only one. 

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Considering sleep as a survival mechanism, we can easily do a parallel with other survival mechanisms. Anxiety is there as a warning sign to alert us and enable the use of flight or fight when danger is detected. In most situations, we tend to use flight, in other words, we prefer avoidance. If we are able to fight, then the situation is of no corporeal danger. This reasoning supports the implication that anxiety serves to avoid danger. The same reasoning can also be transposed to pain; pain serves to avoid physical harm. Hunger, another survival mechanism, serves to avoid the lack of nutrients. Similarly, all survival mechanisms can be reduced to such basic instruction: to avoid. This is exactly what the theory of inactivity used to justify the need for sleep. The theory states that through many generations, we developed sleep to keep us out of harm’s-way during our most vulnerable time, at least that’s the essence behind this theory. However, some might say that being totally unconscious would render us more vulnerable, not less. 

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Despite having objections to this theory, there still exists some advantages to being almost completely still. By limiting movement, thinking, and perception, you are significantly reducing your individual energy demand and expenditure. In fact, compared to our awakened state, we consume 10% less energy than when asleep. This has led to the energy conservation theory, which some consider a branch of the inactivity theory, and in some cases, the same. However, the explanation is different. Energy conservation means that we need fewer nutrients to survive, which is an essential advantage when living in a world where access to food is limited. It did not only prolong our supply but allowed us to share the supply with more people. However, nowadays we live in a world where food supplies seem endless, and simultaneously people are sleeping less. Meanwhile, researchers are coming to terms with accepting that sleep deprivation, as well as overeating, are both factors contributing to the development of obesity.

Major and noticeable consequences of sleep deprivation are diminished mental acuity, memory and learning capacity. These consequences lead us to ponder over the significance of such findings. One interpretation supports the idea that sleep has restorative functions, conveniently called restorative theories. Interestingly, while looking closely at different restorative mechanisms such as muscle growth, protein synthesis, growth hormone release and tissue repair, we can observe that these seem to happen mostly, and sometimes uniquely, at night. Like adenosine, which accumulates progressively in the body directly following awakening, which seems to promote sleep after a certain concentration has been reached. Every night, an adenosine clean-up is known to take place, restoring the initial level observed in the morning. 

At last, in the last few years, a new theory has been emerging: the brain plasticity theory. This theory seems to hit the nail on the head when trying to explain the influence of sleep on human cognition. Brain plasticity is known to be responsible for brain structural and organizational changes. Intriguingly, brain plasticity seems to be halted, or at least slowed, when sleep duration becomes insufficient. Lower brain plasticity is linked to reduced memory and learning. 

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Sleep is such an important tool that we must come to respect in order to remain healthy, and for a longer period. In sum, it helps us fight off our daily stress, supports our immune system, promotes better cognition and stabilizes our mood. To significantly ameliorate your sleep, we don’t need to sacrifice anything more than a round or two of your favourite game.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.


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Bring Up Inflammation – How does it help

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This summer something happened to me. As I was walking down a scenery path, something hit me. It happened so quickly that I felt as if I had been hit by a drop of burning oil that I could not manage to wipe away. Turns out that the culprit responsible for my pain was a bee, or a wasp, I never actually saw it so it could really be either one. What I was certain of, however, was the amount of pain I was experiencing. My body didn’t like it one slightly bit. I was also very confused, why did this insect decide to sting me? Why me? Why on my hand? I had to find answers. I actually had never been stung before. That was my very first encounter and I really didn’t know what to do. 

My fiancé, having been stung many times before, was kind enough to inform me to raise my hand above my heart line until we reached home. Once there we would finally be able to put some ice to soothe the pain. Thinking about it now, I realize there were actually two actors at play in this scenario: pain and inflammation. They were interrelated. Inflammation caused pain and pain caused inflammation. It’s a truly terrific vicious cycle we got there. As previously mentioned in the Bring Up Pain article, pain is an adaptative mechanism that forces us to take an adequate action to free us from danger or from something the body interprets as potentially harmful. Where inflammation, also an adaptive mechanism, is there in contrast to provide an ideal environment for healing. One way it achieves this is by sending chemicals to the skin to increase sensitivity. This is the component responsible for the pain we feel when dealing with an inflamed body part. This is also why just the mere rubbing of our clothes after a sunburn is nearly unbearable. We call this increased sensitivity, allodynia. This is meant as a way to keep us from making the injury worse.  

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Apart from the aforementioned insect sting and sunburns, there are many more events that can lead to development of inflammation. Think about blemishes (pimples), injuries, headaches, arthritis, only to name a few. All of us at one point or another has, or definitely will, experience inflammation. There is absolutely no way around it. Well, not naturally at least. So I believe it’s essential to know how to recognize it. To do this, experts rely on a principle called the five cardinal signs of inflammation. Here, even though you might not know them in terms of their names, you know them at least from experience. So there is really no need to get scared!

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The first sign, you guessed it, is pain. This is a necessary step, but still a dreadful step. This is the most obvious sign. It’s a major warning that signals us to pay attention to what’s actually going on. Without it, we would probably carry on with our days with absolutely no knowledge that something wrong is happening. This is also the main, if not only the only sign that transpires when we get a headache. Not that all headaches are signs of inflammation, it’s still a common source. We often get them when we don’t get enough oxygen to our brain cells. That could be caused from a bad sitting position, anxiety or even other health problems. You can discover that the only act of massaging the back of your neck can prove itself sufficient to relieve a headache. This happens because you are restoring blood flow by relaxing muscles that can compress the blood vessel walls. By putting a stop to the compression, enough blood can finally reach your neurons and deliver the oxygen it so dearly wants. Now that your brain cells get enough oxygen, there is no more need for inflammation and thus no need for pain.

The second sign is redness. This is a visual cue that you probably got to experience last time you got pimples. I’m talking about the one that hurts, the one that seems all perky and purulent. They are not only painful, they are also obviously visible by their coloration, red. If you want an additional example of this, think about sunburns. The lobster shade that you adopt after taking that extended sunbath is definitely a manifestation of inflammation. This should be taken as an unquestionable warning sign to get the Fick out of the sun, or pursue at your own peril. Taking in too much ultraviolet rays (mostly from the UVB type) will cause damage to your outer skin layer which will lead to inflammation. To avoid this, it’s really easy, use a proper sunscreen. This tiny bit of advice is so well known that I don’t even know why I bother repeating it here. We know that we should do it, but we don’t. Thus, I am here taking a pledge that I will, from now on, use sunscreen before lengthened sun exposure. Are you brave enough to join me?

Now if you fail to protect your skin after it has turned red, by running away from the sun to the shade, you will probably see soon enough blisters appearing. These are also called edema, which is the third cardinal sign. They contain something we call the inflammatory soup. That soup contains pain mediators, hormones, chemicals, and immune cells. They all contribute to different functions of inflammation, which some of them were mentioned earlier. The immune cells are the one responsible for protecting and defending the affected site against outside invaders, think about that venom from the insect bite I spoke of at the beginning. Some chemicals and hormones will be involved in stimulating cell reproduction (or multiplication). This will help heal wounds, like the skin you damage with the sunburn. 

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As a fourth sign, we get increased heat. This is not only really obvious when we touch ourselves after a sunburn, it is also really evident when we get a fever. That fever appears because the body, or more precisely your immune cells, perceived a widespread infection with an external agent. It could be from toxins, bacteria, parasites or viruses. By itself, a slight fever is often sufficient to kill living organisms like bacteria and parasites, but it’s completely useless against things that are not alive, like toxins and viruses. This is why fever that gets really intense is frequently associated with viral infection or toxin exposure. If we fail to care for the fever in these cases, it might cause us harm and this is why medical experts give us medication to quench the fever. In most cases, it actually targets inflammation directly which ends up also alleviating pain.

At last there is the loss of function that marks the final signs. This takes the longest to settle in but is, nonetheless, one of the major drivers for hospital visits. This is the less evident sign, as it bears somewhat of a very confusing title. Don’t worry this will be made very clear with examples. If you consider sunburn, the skin is so damaged that it can’t serve as the ultimate barrier anymore; therefore it has lost function. The hypersensitivity we experience is actually a testimonial to that. It is screaming to you that you have to keep all things away from it as it can no longer protect you by itself. Now if you consider a twisted ankle, the loss of function manifests itself through the near inability to walk over it. Your ankle which normally allows you to perform a walk, now pains you anytime you use it. This pain prevents you from performing the exact action it was meant to accomplish. 

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Now that you’re familiar with the five cardinal signs of inflammation, you may feel comforted in knowing that there exist some ways to help reduce the inflammation responses. Probably none of them will come as a surprise to you. When the inflammation is localized (only in your foot, for example), external (not in your airway or other internal organs) and acute (not a long-termed response), you can refer to the acronym RICE for treatment. “R” stands for rest. Reducing movement will prevent more stress from damaging the tissues further and help the healing process. “I” is for ice, placing ice indirectly (not straight on your skin) on the affected area will slow down the immune response. This will reduce swelling and pain. “C” corresponds to compression, by exerting pressure on the skin you are reducing the volume available for the inflammatory soup to occupy. This should lead to reduced swelling and increase mobility. Finally, the “E” refers to elevation, by lifting your body part slightly above your heart you are improving blood circulation in the area, leading perhaps in the loss of swelling and increased mobility as well.

If ever you are faced with a situation that is so bad that none of these helps, you may require medication. Ibuprofen, commonly known in North America as Advil, is an over-the-counter openly available anti-inflammatory medication that you may want to use or at least keep in your cabinet. If Ibuprofen fails to help, there are more anti-inflammatory medications, some of them even stronger, that require a prescription for procurement. In these cases, you will need to set a visit with your family physician or go through an emergency clinic to obtain the prescription.

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I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.