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 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 Puberty—When a Transition to Adulthood Becomes Unavoidable

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For the sake of being completely honest with you, I don’t remember much of my puberty. Nonetheless, there is one particular element that will be forever in my mind, my first period. Being a girl, you know menstruation is taboo. We all know it exists, even boys, but for heaven’s sake, we should never mention it, ever. Well, sorry everyone, I cannot help but mention it. Yet, even though I don’t entirely remember the full extent of my puberty, I can recognize that I have gone through all of its associated symptoms, except for acne. My situation is really not that different from the experience shared by so many other girls. I started having breasts, developing hair in places where I had none before, growing taller and even more. This story is from my point of view, a girl’s point of view. As for the boys, despite not sharing entirely the same experiences, there are still some evident similarities. 

My first period happened about 18 years ago, and if my memory is anything reliable, that day started like any other day. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm summer day. It was during the weekend, and as such, my family and I had to do chores. Mowing the lawn seemed especially fun, but my parents would never agree to let me use the lawnmower. They told me that the machine was too dangerous for a young girl (it was probably a wise decision). However, after months of begging, they finally gave in. On that beautiful sunny day, my dad finally showed me how to use the lawnmower. My mom looked particularly pleased as she didn’t especially like completing this task. 

I proceeded to mow the entire front yard, and I had lots of fun. Only once I began to mow the backyard did I realize that I was feeling a bit different. I was feeling all grown up, adultlike. A moment later, as I was finishing up mowing under the only apple tree in my yard, I started feeling something wet in my panties. I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to the bathroom to have a look. If earlier, I just had the feeling of becoming an adult, then looking at the wet brownish-red spot at the bottom of my underwear was the confirmation. My body was violently agreeing with me.

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I didn’t particularly feel like sharing the news with anyone, not even my own family, including my mother or sisters. I was planning on padding my underwear with toilet paper. Then, my mom came and knocked on the bathroom door. She was wondering what was happening to me since I had stopped mowing. I was so close to being done with the task entirely. Also, the fact that I didn’t put away the lawnmower was decidedly out of character for me. From inside the bathroom, I proceeded to tell her what was happening to me. I knew perfectly what that blood was. I have had sex education classes in school before, and I knew that this was my first period. I don’t remember my mom saying much. She frankly made me feel okay about this whole situation. I cleaned up my underwear while my mom brought me another pair. I padded the clean underwear with toilet paper (my mom did not have any period supplies) and pursued on with my task. A couple of days later, my mom presented me with a humongous pack of menstrual pads. I didn’t know exactly how I was supposed to use them. 

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Too shy to ask, I tried figuring it out on my own. The basic concept was quite simple. You first remove the protective sheet. Then you stick the pad at the bottom of your panties. What I had the most trouble with was finding how high or low I had to place it. Any slight misplacement would mean a massive overspill, which would have to be cleaned. After a week or so, I had become adept. For years, I kept using pads that were working fine with me. Yet, one day going on a camping trip with my oldest sister, I got my period, and it was utterly unanticipated. My menstrual cycle was still pretty irregular at that point. I had no pads on me. I asked my sister to hook me up, but the only thing she had was tampons. I had to use them, but I did not know how to, and I was way too shy to ask for help yet again. I knew that I had to insert the tampon into my vagina, but I wasn’t sure how far. I was afraid, afraid it was going to stay stuck if I inserted it too deeply. Also, when I first started inserting the applicator in, I started feeling pain. I was only more worried about going too far. It turns out that, in the end, I didn’t insert it far enough. The tampon, after a few hours, started leaking down onto my underwear. Many tampons later, I figured out how they worked (the instructions on the box helped). Until recently, tampons were my preferred tool to use. 

Even though most people consider puberty to really start once you’ve had your first period, menstruation is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of other physiological changes are going on way before your first period. For instance, girls start to develop breasts which at first are called breast buds. Typically this development occurs around two years before the first menstruation. Although I am not sure about the exact moment when this all started, I can accept this timeline. My first menstruation occurred in the summer, just before I entered high school. However, I clearly remember having breast buds in elementary school. 

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One day in elementary school, I decided to wear a new silky shirt that I positively adored. I remember my young self feeling truly stunning in that shirt. Regardless, while waiting for the bus to bring me back home when school was over, some boys cornered me. Earlier, the boys had seen my buds peaking through my shirt as I didn’t have a training bra yet. They felt as if it was their duty to point it out to me. They probably hoped to embarrass me, which it did. Once I got back home, I told my mom about this encounter. She told me that I was too young to need a bra and to ignore those boys. I remember at this point feeling weird and ugly. I wanted to hide, which is what I mostly ended up doing in the end. I started wearing a camisole under my shirt and a sweater on top. 

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I had learned to hide any changes that I was going through. My newly acquired armpit hair was no different. From this moment on, I had stopped wearing tank tops in school. My mom, with her best intention at heart, forbade me to shave before my 14th birthday. Even though this restriction was in effect for all of my sisters, I still felt like an outsider. All my friends had training bras, razors and parents that would throw them parties for their first periods. I could not wait long enough for me to be fully grown up. I believed that only then would I be able to buy myself anything I needed. And growing up happened, not necessarily in terms of maturity, but in terms of length. By the end of puberty, I was 165 cm (5’4’’) tall, which is right on the woman’s median average height. Also, my hips and thighs got wider, which I interpreted as a sign that I was finally becoming a woman. 

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At last, there was finally one change that occurred but didn’t need concealing. It was plenty invisible in itself. That change was the size of my uterus. It was becoming larger to make room for future offspring. Fortunately, the increase in the size of my reproductive organs is not unique to me. Most girls and boys will also experience similar alterations. Yet, for boys, it will be more apparent since their reproductive organs are essentially external. Their penises and testicles will grow bigger. From the moment their reproductive system matures, they get susceptible to having wet dreams. During wet dreams, boys will ejaculate in their bed, which can cause, in some cases, embarrassment. In the beginning, boys will also develop some breast buds, but they will disappear entirely by the end of puberty. They will gain muscle mass and also get taller. They, like the girls, will have an increase in body hair quantity. So, for both sexes, most changes are the same. However, for males, there is one main difference, the deepening of their voice. 

You can observe the change starting with voice cracking as if it couldn’t pick a tone. It is, in truth, pretty much what is happening. Once a boy reaches puberty, we can observe an enlargement of his larynx and his vocal folds getting thicker and longer. Meanwhile, before the change gets completed, the boys must learn to use a new instrument every day. This challenge can account for the weirdness of the sound they produce, and I can now fully understand how stressful this might be. However, this will never get as stressful as getting a massive burst of acne. I was fortunate enough as a teen to have avoided acne altogether, but I knew some friends who were not as lucky. They would go to extended lengths to hide the pimples away. Anyway, we can all agree that puberty is an awkward period, and as adults, we should all aim to be a bit more supportive and present for all teens around us. 

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 Alcohol—What We Can Expect From Drinking

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This week will mark the beginning of summer season, along with the general opening of beaches and pools. And I’m probably not the first one to associate pool and beach with parties and alcohol, am I right? For some reason, alcohol becomes the drink of choice, and it does not matter if it is beer, wine, coolers, cocktails or distilled spirits. Everyone has their pick; as for me, I will pick cocktails any day. The taste of alcohol under a decent splash of grapefruit juice can be particularly well camouflaged, but beware that this ruse can trick more than just your taste buds. Nonetheless, before we can explain what I mean by that, we have some grounds to cover. 

Alcohol, most commonly, emerges from the fermentation of sugars by yeasts. The source of sugars varies between spirits which grant each of them their stereotypical flavour. As a result, the type of sugar used may also differ, and it could be sucrose, fructose or glucose. For example, we produce ale via the fermentation of malt with hops and thus mainly consist of glucose. Ale, although similar, is different from beer. We make beer through the brewing and fermentation of malted cereal grains and then it is flavoured with hops. As for bourbon, we create it out of a mash composed mainly of corn. We then distill the mixture and age it in oak barrels for at least two years. Corn contains a large amount of fructose. Lastly, we produce rum from the sucrose provided by sugarcane products (typically molasses or sugarcane juice). There are plenty of other drinking alcohols, but their description will stop here. If you are interested in learning more, you need only to mention it in the comment box.

The fermentation of sugars can produce ethanol and other types of alcohol, such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol. Do not be alarmed by these technical terms since you have all come across these types of alcohol before. Ethanol, in our daily life, is called drinking alcohol. We can find methanol in antifreeze products and gasoline. As for isopropyl alcohol, you may already be aware that it most commonly runs under the name of rubbing alcohol. Each of us has probably at least one bottle at home; I know I do. 

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All these alcohols share mostly the same properties. They are potent antiseptics and disinfectants. Hence, their incorporation in many medical products aimed at eliminating microbes and fungi. Hand sanitizer gels and disinfecting pads are excellent examples of this. Hand sanitizer gels are mainly composed of ethanol or rubbing alcohol (60–70%), while the rest is mostly water. Also, all these alcohols have some well-sought psychoactive properties. They are drugs that cause an inhibition of the activity in the central nervous system. This depressant effect can produce sedation, decreased anxiety, muscle relaxation, pain relief, physical euphoria, appetite enhancement, and this list is far from exhaustive. 

Although this list seems quite attractive, let’s not be fooled; all good things come at a cost. The cost of overindulging here is the infamous hangover. We can all remember our last hangover; it is not a pleasant affair. There is a cascade of side effects such as fatigue, weakness, thirst, headache, and muscle ache. These are all related to the dehydrating effects of alcohol, further enhanced by increased sweating and more frequent urination (pee). However, if your consumption was even greater, you probably remember other things happening like nausea, stomach aches and maybe vertigo. These were all warnings; if you do not know this yet, well! News flash, ethanol is toxic. When our liver breaks down alcohol, it creates toxic metabolites. In a moderate amount, the liver can manage the breakdown of these metabolites even further, reducing their overall toxicity until their removal. 

Yet, in excessive amounts, the liver is overworked. Thus, it can no longer provide for the total amount of work it is given. It becomes forced to prioritize the breaking down of alcohol, thus letting metabolites roam free. Only when we stop our alcohol consumption—and finish processing all the consumed alcohol—can the liver be available again to break down metabolites. And while metabolites reign free, our body wants to eliminate them, so we pee and sweat.

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Nonetheless, drinking alcohol is far from the only one that we designate as toxic. Methanol and isopropyl alcohol are unquestionably more toxic and can lead to some serious, potentially lethal, health problems. Since methanol can also produce desirable effects like anesthesia, people who cannot afford ethanol products will be prone to buy methane-containing products for their high. Thus, to prevent people from drinking methanol, the EU has banned in May 2018, the use of methanol in windshield washing and defrosting products. 

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Although the risk for fatality is a sufficient enough reason to restrict methanol’s availability, there still exist more reasons to support similar efforts. Methanol use comes with an additional lot of danger, particularly to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Some side effects related to its excessive or routinely consumption can appear from damages to the optic nerve. These injuries can lead to irreversible blindness. It can also be damaging to some critical regions of the brain responsible for movement. These damages can cause parkinsonism. Beware that parkinsonism is not Parkinson’s disease, yet some of their symptoms are the same. More damage to the brain may also lead to the development of encephalopathy. Encephalopathies display a series of cognitive symptoms like memory loss, confusion and personality change. Lastly, damages that extend to the peripheral nervous system may cause muscle weakness, numbness and pain.

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Let’s add that, although the toxicity of ethanol is much lower than that of methanol, we should overlook the long-term adverse effects that its overconsumption has on health. The excess and constant stress created by the high demand for the metabolism of alcohol competes with the metabolism of fats and can lead to irreparable liver damage. The liver, in each case, is often forced to store fat in the liver cells, which can cause tissue death. The dead hepatic cells become replaced by scar tissue, which leads to cirrhosis. Excess drinking may also cause damage to the brain, which may lead to amnesia or memory loss. Overindulging is also strongly correlated with the appearance of cancer. One of the metabolites created from the alcohol breakdown is acetaldehyde, which is a well-established carcinogen. Yet, if you thought that it could not get worse, think again. Alcohol usage is strongly proscribed for pregnant women, as its ingestion leads to the formation of certain birth defects. Indeed, consuming alcohol while having unprotected sex will dramatically increase the risk for the baby to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. 

Lastly, although ethanol must be taken in moderation—to avoid, at least, hangovers or, worst, severe health issues—, it can be a valuable tool to treat some conditions. In addition to its typical use in hand sanitizer gels and antiseptic wipes, ethanol can also be an antidote for methanol poisoning. One of the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohols, alcohol dehydrogenase, has a stronger affinity to ethanol than methanol. This affinity to ethanol means that this enzyme will prefer metabolizing the ethanol leaving methanol intact in the presence of both products. Methanol is mostly entirely eliminated intact, which efficiently reduces toxicity.

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 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 Ageing—What We Can Expect With Growing Older

It’s hard to accept, but every year we are getting older. There seems to be no way around this. Well, that was until very recently. More and more age-related researchers are coming up with new observations suggesting that it could actually be possible. Still, I wouldn’t get too excited as those studies are still in…

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.

Bring Up Hair – What you have to know about your mane

I have them, and probably you do too. Anyhow, always knowing what to do with them day in, day out, can be a hassle. They certainly seem to have a mind of their own. We spend so much time with them, and yet we still can’t figure out most of their secrets. And yes! You probably guessed it by the title, I’m talking about hair. I don’t even know what’s up with my own hair. I can even go as far as saying that it grew a totally different personality over the last few years. Without going through any artificial treatment that may affect its structure, it went from being ultra-straight to being wavy. I find this particularly weird. What do you think? The change was very subtle and as previously stated happened gradually over the last few years. I didn’t give much thought to it. It’s only when my family asked me what I’ve done with my hair that I was forced to notice that it really did change. No apparent clue as to why, and no! I don’t braid it; it simply happens on its own.

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This got me interested in the science behind hair. What makes them? Is it alive? Why the different colours? Why does it constantly fall, and is it normal? I had more questions, but you get my point. Lucky me, I didn’t have to dig very deep to find the answers. Hair is such a popular theme on the internet, which is probably driven by the continuous pursuit for a silky mane. Still a symbol of beauty, many people will go the extra mile to make it as fantastic as possible, spending a good portion of their budget on hair products or visits to hair stylists. Now before moving on to the nitty-gritty bits, I just want to mention that all hair is different and thus they hold their very specific secret. There is not going to be any holy grail recipe here. To decipher the mystery of your own hair might take a lifetime, but if you are willing to try and experiment with different approaches you are almost certain to figure out your very own way to discipline those unruly locks.

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Hair is made up of many parts, but I won’t introduce them all to keep it short. So, all hair, and it doesn’t matter the structure, are made up of the same fundamental element, namely keratin. It may sound familiar, maybe you’ve heard that nails are also made up of keratin, maybe you’ve never heard of such things before and that’s also fine. Keratin is a strong and fibrous protein, which makes up the shaft of the hair, the visible part, the one that always annoyingly gets in your mouth or your eyes. What can precisely account for its strength, or resistance, are the bonds between the fibres. The bonds are the same as links. In this case, the links involve two sulphur, which brings us the term disulphide bonds. The way keratin proteins link together is one, even if lesser, component responsible for hair structure. The protein has the tendency to gather in the curve of curly hair thus enhancing the curls. Yet, what really makes for the hair structure is our hair follicle and its tunnel.

The follicle is commonly referred to as the root of our hair, but they are in reality two things entirely. The follicle is found deeper in your hair scalp than the root. The root is part of the shaft. The shape and size of the follicle are the main factor deciding on the final structure of the hair. Straight hair has a circular follicle whereas curlier hair is flatter. As for the size of your follicle, it determines if you have a thick or thin mane. The larger the follicle the thicker your collective hair appears. The follicle is also what nourishes your roots and once your hair makes it out of your scalp, it dies. Hence, we can say that the visible part of the shaft is dead or more accurately made of dead cells. So, it really doesn’t matter what you do with it, even if you try to nourish the Hella of it, it will never come back to life. 

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This brings me back to my hair. It was straight but now is wavy, which means that the shape of my follicles has changed from a round shape to a slightly more elliptic shape. I found few possible triggers for such events. One possibility that was brought up was chemotherapy. I had to dismiss this possibility for me considering I never had such treatment. The other possibility is broader, hormonal changes. A large variety of hormones might be linked to hair changes. When I consider the timing that I first could notice the changes, I doubt that puberty had anything to do with it. As for other big hormonal changes, like pregnancy or menopause, I have not gone through these yet. Hormonal changes could also be linked to some illnesses, but I prefer not letting myself think down that road. As far as I know, I am healthy. It’s probably still worth mentioning that change next time I get to see my family physician. Other than now being on the wavier side, my hair is what I would call thin. It certainly is not as thin as you might see in the worst examples, but it is still not that gorgeously full mane you can see on the supermodels in hair ads.

As for another descriptive for my hair, I would say it is dry and brittle. I barely produce any oil, this grants me the ability to go days before having to wash them. Along with dry hair are very frequent flyaways, dry scalp and dandruff. The latter is the most unpleasant part. Those tiny white dead skin flakes are enough to ruin a perfect look. This problem is newer than all the other changes, I must say. Usually, I only have dandruff during winter, but in the last year, it has been the most loyal and unwanted companion. It really doesn’t matter what I do. I tried using dandruff treatment shampoo and other home-made concoction, but nothing worked. As a last attempt, I tried to get rid of the dandruff by means of scalps exfoliation and it did absolutely nothing. So, I am now at a decisive point where I chose to surrender and accept them as part of me.

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I may have already given up on the dandruff’s situation, but I didn’t give up yet on the flyaway’s situation. I learnt that hydration truly helped manage those bad boys. We may not be able to feed them once they’re dead, but we are still able to keep them well hydrated. This is due to the nature of keratin, which, as well as the disulphide bonds, has hydrogen bonds. That bond is definitely weaker, but as the saying goes: “We’re stronger together” and those bonds make no exception to this rule. They are much more prevalent than the previously mentioned bonds which make for it one of the principal sources of hair strength. It is for this exact reason that hair is weaker when wet. Since there is hydrogen in water, the hydrogen competes with the already-formed hydrogen bonds and almost instantly breaks them upon slight injury. That is the reason why you really shouldn’t brush your hair when it’s wet. 

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Another last thing you must definitely consider doing for your hair is check at what you eat. As another saying goes: “You are what you eat” and this couldn’t be truer for your hair. Eating too much junk food can prevent them from accessing sufficient and required levels of certain nutrients which will directly and negatively reflect on the appearance and state of your hair. If you want your hair to look as healthy as possible, make sure to ingest enough proteins and vitamins. You can get them from fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts and more. 

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Are you worried that you are losing too much hair? You probably aren’t. Your hair maturation is produced in three distinct phases. First, there is the anagen phase when your hair grows. It will do as such for a time that can reach up to 7 years, but more often would last only 3–5 years for most people. Secondly, your hair enters the catagen phase, which is an intermediary step where your hair stops growing. This phase only lasts around 10 days. At last, there is the telogen phase when your hair falls out. After this cycle is completed, the follicle (or your hair bulb) will stay inactive for up to 3 months and then will begin the anagen phase again. Each hair cycle is not synced with one another, which prevents your hair from falling out all at the same time. On average we lose 80 hairs a day.

PS: Hair colour like skin colour is induced by a pigment called melanin, the more melanin the darker your hair will be.

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.