9 THINGS I’VE LEARNED STUDYING BIOLOGY FROM TEXTBOOKS INSTEAD OF THE INTERNET
As a triathlete, it’s important to me to keep my body healthy. I invest a lot of time, energy, and money in fueling my body correctly, understanding the rest it needs, and generally learning more about how it works.
I’m a strong believer in education, and in learning about the world. I also believe in questioning sources, and reading conflicting studies to try to understand the truth. The endless amount of misinformation on the internet frustrates me because it often leads people to waste money on things that (at best) don’t work or (at worst) actually cause harm.
I am not a health expert or a doctor, so please don’t use this information in place of advice from your health care professional. But these are some pretty basic things that have come up in my biology and chemistry classes over the past 8 months….things that I believe deserve some cyberspace.
9. You can’t “Alkalize Your Body” nor do you want to.
The pH of human blood is buffered to remain in the range of 7.35 to 7.44. Should the pH fall outside these limits for any reason, the blood loses its ability to transport oxygen from the lungs to the body cells.
8. Every cell in your body needs fat to keep it alive and healthy.
Lipids make up part of every cell membrane (the outer skin that holds each cell together). Without this layer, your cell can’t keep in what they need and out what they don’t. Lipids also make up a component of myelin, the material that sheathes nerve cells and makes it possible for them to fire the electrical messages that enable you to think, see, speak and move.
7. Your liver and kidneys provide a great detox.
There’s this bizarre conflict out there between people that explain that your liver and kidneys detoxify your body (they do) and people that explain that you need to clean out your body by eating more healthy foods (also true). The conflict comes from the fact that healthy foods do not detoxify your body. They allow your to get the nutrients you need to let your body do what it does – naturally. If your kidney and/or liver aren’t functioning properly – you need serious medical attention. But eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables does support these organs. As for “detox” supplements? They sounds good, but there’s no evidence that actually do anything except create expensive contents for your toilet.
6. Antioxidants actually DO help you stay healthy
This one needs a bit of chemistry to explain, so bear with me. If you prefer to skip the chemistry, the bare bones of this one is: you can get what you need from a daily regimen of fruits, veggies, and proteins.Any molecule that can neutralize a free radical by donating excess electrons can be classified as an antioxidant. Free radicals are extremely reactive molecules, and are capable of destroying proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids. Free radicals occur naturally in cells as a result of normal chemical reactions, and are destructive because they produce oxidative damage to cells, causing DNA mutations and disease. Adequate consumption of antioxidants counters this process by neutralizing free radicals.
Eating antioxidants every day can improve cardiovascular health, help manage diabetes, decrease body mass index. Antioxidants also have antibacterial and antiviral properties. While antioxidant consumption as part of diet is unquestionably necessary for cell health in humans, the value of supplement intake remains dubious. In fact, a recent study by Pereira-Panza, et. al, (2015) suggests that whole food sources provide greater benefits than supplements. In a nutshell? Antioxidants counter the free radicals caused by everyday stress, but food sources are more than enough.
5. Genetically modified crops are good for helping the poor and the environment.
This dude said it better than I ever could:
Most of the push back comes from those in western nations who “take what they believe to be a virtuous position on the issue, but since they are not poor farmers, and may have never even met a poor farmer, they fail to appreciate the advantages GMOs can give to the poor who need better ways to protect their crops against disease, insects, weeds, and drought” (Paarlberg, 2014).
GMO crops are considered by the Royal Society in London, the British Medical Association, the French Academy of Sciences and Medicine, and the German Academies of Science and Humanities and the Research Directorate of the European Union to be as safe for human consumption as conventional crops. GMO crops have shown to produce between 20-80% more yield than non-GMO crops, meaning than less land is required to grow the same amount of food, or the same amount of land can be used to produce additional food. Thus, less environmental damage occurs to the area, as less herbicides and insecticides are needed. In a recent survey conducted in Burkina Faso, the use of similar technology in GMO was shown to improve the crop yield by an average of 18%, resulting in a 19% gain in household income in the first season (Vitale, et al., 2010). Consequently, economic benefits for farmers are created as they can obtain greater yield in the same plot of land. The benefits of GMO crops are two-fold: first, increased crop yield over a smaller area, and secondly, reducing chemical insecticide use.
Opponents say that the issues listed above can be solved through better aid programs, such as better access to supplements. While aid programs are certainly a necessity in the wake of disasters, they are unsustainable as a permanent method of feeding the world’s population. Instead, planting genetically modified crops allows locals to feed themselves, providing a stable source of nutrition.
4. Roughly 20% of humans today can’t digest milk.
An enzyme called lactase is used to digest lactose in dairy products by breaking it into glucose and galactose. Most children of European and Asian descent make sufficient lactase to digest normal amounts of lactose, however adults generally produce less lactase than children, and are therefore unable to properly metabolize lactose, which causes intestinal discomfort. The LCT gene controls the production of lactase. In some cultures (such as in Burma) where dairy products are not normally consumed, people have evolved to the point where the LCT gene is no longer functional in any members of the population, and all members are therefore lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance can generally be managed by avoiding dairy products, or by consuming a lactase enzyme supplement (such as lacteeze) with a lactose-containing product. It is important to recognize that lactose intolerance is distinct from an allergy to milk, which is an immune disorder.
3. Viruses can’t be killed by antibiotics because they aren’t alive.
This one blew my mind when I first learned it. Viruses aren’t alive. They are obligatory intracellular parasites that cannot reproduce without the presence of a host cell, animal, plant, or bacterium. Cool, eh?
2. There is one thing everyone agrees on: Artificial trans fats are terrible for you.
There is a lot of disagreement in nutrition. But one of the few things people actually agree on is the unhealthy nature of artificial trans fats. Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat. Trans fats are chemically altered to extend their shelf life, and they are super cheap to produce. Hydrogenated vegetable oils (the most common trans fats) are found in all sorts of processed foods. And they do a ton of damage to your cells. Their “trans” chemical structure is unrecognizable by the human body, so we can’t digest them properly or get any nutrition from them. Eating trans fats significantly increases your risk of heart disease. A recent study found that those who consumed the most trans fats had a 40% higher risk of diabetes. Trans fats can also damage the inner lining of your blood vessels.The best thing you can do to avoid trans fats is to stop eating processed foods. Choose real butter instead of margarine, and olive oil or coconut oil instead of harmful vegetable oils… and eat home-cooked meals as much as possible.
1. Hemp is really, really good for you.
Hemp is one of the most nutritious foods available; it represents an ideal breakdown of macronutrients, containing approximately 24% protein, 30% fat and 46% carbohydrate. In addition, hemp contains all eight essential amino acids in the correct proportions for human requirements, in a more digestible form than soybeans. Moreover, hemp contains a variety of minerals and vitamins, including 2300 iu of Vitamin D per 100g. The high content of Vitamin D is noteworthy as it is not naturally abundant in any other food source. Hempseed oil represents an exceptionally healthy combination of fatty acids, (3g saturated fat / 6g monounsaturated fat / 36g polyunsaturated fat per 100g) making it an ideal candidate for managing high blood pressure and heart disease through diet. Evidence shows a positive correlation between increased hempseed oil intake and cardiovascular fitness.
Have a healthy and happy January!