Stop Nutella! Not because of Cancer Risk…

“Nutella causing cancer” is now trending worldwide, although it was known for few years that some studies are suggesting the risk. So I thought, maybe new studies actually got published backing-up these hypotheses. I started checking the literature and no single study was conclusive regarding the risk of cancer, hence more studies are needed. So with evidence base science we cannot say that Nutella directly causes cancer.

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On the other hand, I stopped eating it for few years now for two main reasons. The first reason, you should always take into consideration the bias, I’m a pharmacist and I know how the big companies lobby their studies. The second reason, Nutella’s main component, Palm oil, has many evidence base health risks other than cancer that are already well established.
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Palm oil is composed mainly of Palmitic Acid, which is a saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association and the World Heart Federation, the high intake of such fat can increase the bad cholesterol in the blood and decrease the good one. On the other hand, sugar makes up tp to 55% of Nutella’s content, so eating  it without monitoring the intake can directly affect and modify the sugar control system in the bodies and specially in kids.

“Nutella is more sugar and fat than hazelnuts.”
Catherine Saxelby Via Food watch 

Finally, this post is not intended against Nutella per se, but the diseases are striking high in the last few years in our societies, which is mainly due to the big changes in our lifestyles including our diets. So as a start, we can decrease the intake of processed food in general, specially when it comes to refined sugars and processed fat. It’s easier than you think! For example here is a simple recipe for some homemade tasty “Nutella” :

Better Than Nutella (Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread)
via bon appetit:

Ingredient:

  • cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until deep brown, 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely. (If nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove.)

Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute.

Place chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water; stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over saucepan; add butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste.

Pour gianduja into jars, dividing equally. Let cool. (Gianduja will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools.) Screw on lids. DO AHEAD Gianduja can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.

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How Common is Your Password?

After the security breach in Yahoo e-mails last week, a lot of people start panicking about their passwords and data. As a Yahoo user and non-IT scientist, I started wondering how do passwords work? What does encrypted mean? And how does hacking work anyways?

Well as usual, the answers came from DNews, they published a video yesterday, where they answered those questions and more.

And also, for a good laugh, check this other video, it’s a TED talk where James Veitch from Mashable responded to a spam email and shared his funny experience.

Enjoy those videos while I’m off to change all my passwords … Cheers!

 

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Antibiotic Resistance Re-challenged !

We are living in the era of antibiotics resistance… and even the thought of it should scare you and make you think, what alternative do we, as a species have?! Are we loosing the war against those microorganisms?!

Well those questions were partially answered, two decades ago… yep you read right.

The Soviets started working, before the fall of their power, on the concept of selective Bacteriophage treatment of bacterial infection. Bacteriophages are viruses that only kill bacteria; so imagine your doctor prescribing you a virus for the treatment of pneumonia!

Unfortunately the Soviets did not do their studies with respect to our modern evidence base concept, but those files are being revisited and some studies will start soon.

DNews details the idea in this awesome video… Cheers to such genius ideas!

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This Will Bring Tears To Your Eyes

No major drama is anticipated in this post, but I’m gonna talk about onions … yep that bastard veggie that will make you cry every time you cut it and will make your breath stink every time you eat it… Evolution at its best!

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Via: Joy Reactor

While chopping an onion, we are destroying the cell walls and releasing their content. This  is when Sulfenic Acid comes in contact with Lachrymatory Factor Synthase enzyme and gives a volatile end-product named Propanethiol s-oxide. When the latter sulfur-containing volatile compound comes in contact with your eyeballs it will be transformed to Sulphiric Acid, better known as BATTERY ACID!

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Via: Joy Reactor

This acid will burn your eyes, which will cause the brain to signal and induce tears drop to wash it off. hence, the waterworks start and  everyone around start with the never-ending crying-baby jokes.

The key to avoid those unnecessary tears is decreasing the volatility of those Sulphuric compounds released from the onion, so here are few tips from a chef on how to chop onions without crying Via Chowhound:

I’m not sure about the bread thing, and how much it’s effective, but the ice will definitely hinder the escape of sulfur compound from the onion.

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Via: quick meme

Likewise, several sulfur-containing compounds are also behind that foul smell that the onion will leave in your breath… I have say that those sulfur-containing compounds are just nasty bastards!

Those chemicals are readily absorbed from the GI tract to the blood stream and eliminated in the lungs, sweat, urine… The latter is the same as the “Sulfur Gang” that we discussed in our pervious post about Garlic Breath where we also tackled the best ways to eliminate or at least decrease the absorption of those smell-producing compounds.

 

Finally, onions are an essential component of our diet with tons of health benefits, but my advice to you is: Eat it “responsibly!” and that’s to avoid uncalled-for crying and social rejection because of your “aroma”. Cheers!

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Coffee Breath: Not My Cup Of Tea

The smell of coffee grind in the morning is one of my favorite scents, and if you’re coffee fanatics as we are, you will enjoy this aromatic drink several times a day; but nothing comes without a price.

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Knowing that it’s very beneficial for the nervous and cardiovascular system in addition to its antioxidant effect, we can easily dismiss Coffee breath as a minor “side effects” of java. But the question is why does it stink your breath?

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We discussed in a previous post Garlic breath, explaining how difficult it is to enjoy the cloves without the scent…unlike our current aroma, which can be eliminated ! 😀

Caffeine is the main component in coffee; 200 mg of caffeine in a 240 ml of American coffee or it can go up to 1 mg in each 1 ml of espresso or Turkish coffee. The more concentrated, the worse the aftermath breath will be.

bad-breathCaffeine will drastically decrease saliva production in the mouth; which will cause a Xerostomia or simply dry mouth. Knowing that saliva has an antimicrobial effect, its scarcity will allow bacteria to multiply more freely. Making things worse is the acidity of caffeine; it decreases the PH of the mouth and transforms it into a perfect incubator for those smell-producing bugs. Furthermore, if you’re a “creamer”, you’re out of luck because those bacteria will actually feed on those sugar and cream that you added and multiply at an even higher rate. Finally, the more aromatic your drink is, the more residues it will leave in your mouth, hence more of that “side effect”.

Knowing that, the “cure” to coffee breath becomes simple hydration…

  • Drinking water and washing your mouth directly after a cup of java can hydrate your mouth and ease you from this burden.
  • Brushing your tongue after a cup of Joe is always beneficial, this way you will get rid of the pH altering aroma-causing molecules.
  • Finally, you can always switch to drinking tea, which also contains caffeine, but they are less aromatic and non-acidic. Disclaimer: Elia doesn’t agree this is a solution 🙂 “Tea has its own time and set of challenges…”

Sorry to interrupt but my cup of cardamom-infused coffee just dried, let me replenish it. In the mean time, let us know in the comments if you would like to know about more how food can affect the body odour. CHEERS!

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Pancreatic Cancer: Some Good (pre-clinical) News

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers that can hit the body; it’s aggressive enough that studies are even difficult to conduct, which makes new treatment discoveries a very hard task.

getty_rm_illustration_of_pancreas

Consequently campaigns are being made to increase awareness of the disease, its symptoms and maybe push scientists to work more to find new treatments. Some of the campaigns were even so provocative to the extend of being controversial. One of the latter campaigns is the Pancreatic Cancer Action ad back in 2014, where Pancreatic cancer patient wished they had breast or testicular cancer:

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Via DailyMail

(Click on the captioned link for the full video of the campaign)

October 2015 was a good day for pancreatic cancer, where a drug Iriotecan (already in the market) was successfully inserted in a Liposome, which can decrease the side effects and increase the efficacy of the medications (news via FDA). But frankly no major change in the treatment was due just yet.

BUT the good news is that someone is now thinking outside the box! Laura Indolfi a biomedical engineer and her team came up with a new drug delivery system. It basically looks like a patch and it’s now being tested in pre-clinical studies. It can deliver medication directly into the tumour while bypassing all the other organs even the blood, and it is inserted with minimal invasiveness and applied directly on the tumour. The latter, will drastically decrease the side effects, toxicities and definitely will increases the efficacy of the drug.

In her TED Talk (shared below) Indolfi explains why it’s hard to treat pancreatic cancer and how her invention can bypass all those difficulties.

Cheers to such inventions! Cheers to such innovators!

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Garlic Breath: The Why and The How

Garlic_Press_and_GarlicThe Mediterranean and especially the Lebanese cuisine is centered around that tasty white clove named Garlic. In addition, if you share with me the low self-control when it comes to the food you love and especially garlic, you will definitely know the feel of being busted with Garlic breath before a meeting or even a date. Consequently, you will start brushing, chewing, flossing… and wishing for a time travel just to undo eating that garlic melted chicken sandwich. Why does garlic give you that stinky breath and where the clove itself doesn’t even have a smell?!

The answer lies in the chemistry … more specifically those four compounds: Diallyl Sulphide, Allyl Methyl Sulfide, Allyl Methyl Disulfide and Allyl Mercaptan or as I like to refer to them as “The Sulfur Gang”.

How-To-Get-Rid-Of-Garlic-Breath-1

Ironically, none of these compounds exists in the intact cloves. It is after crushing the garlic that cellular enzymes are released and transform the compound Allin to Allicin that then gets transformed to The Sulfur Gang. Additionally, knowing that Allyl Methyl Sufide is broken down the slowest in the body means that it’s the “devilish” molecule behind that persisting garlic breath. On the other hand, it is worth noting that most of garlic’s health benefits come from this Sulfur Gang.

Now what happens next is the biggest issue, the Sulfur Gang gets absorbed to the blood stream and is eliminated in the lungs, sweat, urine … hence every excreted bodily fluid.

Interestingly, this was first described in 1936 when two doctors were testing the effect of garlic on esophageal cancer, and due to the disease they fed there patients garlic soup through the intestinal wall hence bypassing the mouth, where even then the patients “suffered” from garlic breath few hours after the soup.

Now, is there a way to eliminate that garlic breath?
Well the short answer is NO … all we can do is decrease it, but we can never eliminate it.

Here are few ways to do it:'Tim, honey, I don't know how to say this...But...It's...It's your breath...It reeks of mint.'

  • Brushing your teeth, gargle and floss hence physically remove The Sulfur Gang available in the mouth; although this method makes you feel fresh right away but the Gang is already in your stomach being absorbed and distributed to “the world”! so this method is not that effective
  • Eating lemon, which can partly neutralize The Sulfur Gang; partially is not a good enough
  • Eating any source of Chlorophyll, meaning any green herb, like for example: parsley, mint, cilantro… is the most efficient way to decrease acute and delayed garlic breath. The latter makes the oriental dish: baked/fried garlic chicken wings dipped in lemon and cilantro the best tasty combination ever

In fact, the way chlorophyll works in this case is very interesting, because studies have shown that its absorption to the body is not that significant. Chlorophyll actually chelates the sulfur Gang making it less available for absorption, and hence making it the most effective way in decreasing the acute and delayed garlic breath.

So if you got busted with garlic breath and realise you have a meeting coming,the key would be eating and chewing any source of chlorophyll right after eating garlic and hoping for a perfect chelation of The Sulfur Gang, or you know…. Cancel your meeting and enjoy your garlic!

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Poisonous Beauties

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Plants are a cornerstone when decorating a house, garden or backyard. They will add colour and life to your setting especially if you are using natural and non-synthetic ones.

Additionally, watering a plant, looking after it and giving it the best condition to live in will actually add that fine touch that will make a house your home, in particular flowering plants.

If you share with me this passion towards plants in decoration, then this post is for you; a lot of the household plants are actually poisonous beauties and can be very toxic when digested. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be around the house, but those plants should be displayed carefully with regards to your children or even your pets.

Here is a list of the mostly common household plants particularly in Lebanon that can be toxic, in addition to their photo and the symptoms of their toxicities.

  1. Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane:

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    Dumb Cane

    The perfect condition for its survival is low-light setting, hence inside the house. All its parts contain oxalate crystals which will cause irritation of the mouth, swelling of the tongue, lips and throat; at high doses it can be fatal because of airway blockage caused by the swelling.

    Here are some additional plants that contain oxalate crystals and can cause the same toxicities of Dumb Cane if ingested:

    anthurium_flamingo_flower_orange_mississippi_
    Flamingo Flower
    Caladium-hortulanum-400x225.jpg
    Caladium
    51m+G4G6LxL
    Heart-Leaf Philodendron
    syngonium-podophyllum
    Arrowhead Vine

     

  2. English Ivy:
    VCGS-FLOWER-34-2.jpg
    English Ivy

    It contain Hederin (a crystalline antibiotic) and Falcarinol (a topical allergen). Touching the plant will cause irritation of the skin and rash formation, whereas, Ingestion will cause a burning sensation in the throat, and high doses can cause seizure and loss of consciousness.

  3.   Clivia:
    Clivia_miniata2
    Clivia

    All parts of it contain Lycorine (a crystalline alkaloid), and its ingestion will cause nausea and vomiting.

  4. Poinsettia also know as the Christmas Star Plant:

    Poinsettias.jpg
    Christmas Star Plant

    Its milky sap contains natural Latex that can cause skin irritation and rash if touched. and will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.

  5. Oleander:
    nerium-oleander-nana
    Oleander

    This is an extremely toxic plant, because all its parts contain glycosides. If ingested, glycosides can cause heart arrhythmias and dysfunction even at low doses, consequently, it can be fatal at high doses.

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They Think It Might Go Bad Around This Date

How many times did you open the fridge, took that expired cup of yogurt, sniff it, made sure in your head that it’s still palatable and ate it? Also, how many times did you panic over a sealed, well conserved can of tuna you just ate, that turned out to be few hours post its expiration date? expired_stamp.pngWhen it comes to food production and consumption, the 20th century had a huge game changer; processed food started to gain popularity. When people started buying from grocery stores and not growing their own food, they had no idea what it contains (not that we fully know today) and they were clueless about its freshness and shelf life before it spoiled.spoiled_food.jpgThe latter wasn’t an issue until, as usual, someone famous got hurt, and that someone wasn’t anyone, he was a close family member of Al Capone (yes, the Mafioso). That guy got sick after drinking from a spoiled bottle of processed milk. So Al Capone decided to go into the milk business, he acquired a milk production company named Meadowmoor Dairies, and he lobbied the Chicago City Council to pass a law requiring a stamped expiration date on the milk; and that is how the “Expiration Date” label was born!

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I’m sure he wasn’t talking about milk, but this quotes fits perfectly here 

Nowadays we have a lot labels like “Sell By”, “Best Consumed Before”, “Expiration Date” and many others. Those labels are definitely not interchangeable; here are the definitions according to WebMD:

  • Sell by date: this tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • Best if used by (or before) date: This refers strictly to quality, not safety. This date is recommended for best flavor or quality.
  • Expiration Date or Use by date: This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality.

So basically an expiration date is like saying: We THINK that the product MIGHT go bad AROUND this date; which has three words that are insulting to any scientific reasoning.

In Addition to that, and compiled from WebMDLifehacker and 99%Invisible, here are few more reasons that proves that those made-up dates are meaningless:

  • No one actually regulates any expiration date, and there is no protocol to follow when it comes to this matter, hence a company can label the product with whatever it thinks suits its own benefits
  • It is physically impossible to predict the exact expiration date of a processed food, because of a huge variable, and that is the storage conditions it was studied in (if studied)
  • Relying on that “magical number” is a huge mistake, because definitely the product can spoil before its expiration date

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  • Finally, of course the food companies want you to consume or toss their product as soon as possible. They use these dates and the different confusing labels in their own favour. That is because chances are that this product wont spoil within the specified period, and at the same time they make sure that you wont be late at buying their product again

Lastly, John Oliver, host of the talk show Last Week Tonight, compiles all these fact in a funny yet informative monologue that summarises the nonsense of these food labels and their impact on the food consumption and waste.


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Making Lebanon a Safer Place!

2000px-Skull_and_crossbones.svgWhat does arsenic, cyanide and polonium have in common? Yes, you guessed it they all are poisons and pretty lethal ones. Now what does perfume, rubbing alcohol and acetone have in common? Well from the point of view of a toxicologist, it’s the same thing… they are poisons.

The dose makes the poison. 
Paracelsus the “father of toxicology”

Therefore, if introduced in your body beyond their safety cut-point doses, even the things that we think are safe are in reality poisonous. Hence, everything around you is trying to poison you; Households (Javel water, bleach, dishsoap…) plants (Belladonna, foxglove…) animals (snakes, spiders, wasps…)  and the list goes on to even include your Ex!

Basically we live in a poison-full world, but what should we do if we got poisoned? What if your kid swallows pills from that bottle you hide from your wife? Or what if you drink from the empty water bottle you filled with turpentine and were sure you wouldn’t forget? What if you accepted that stupid bet and drank that bottle of dish soap? …

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Illustration By Marc Freiha, great friend and our blog’s artwork designer.

The answer is pretty simple… call the poison center!
(contact number for the USJ Poison Center is provided at the end of this post)

When I decided to write about what to do in case of intoxication, the first person that came to my head is definitely Pr. Hayat Azouri. Among other qualifications she is:

  • A pharmacist
  • A toxicology specialist
  • Faculty member in Université Saint Joseph de Beyrouth (USJ) school of pharmacy
  • Chief of the toxicology laboratory and the manager of the USJ poison center.

In addition, she was my Master’s program coordinator at USJ, so I picked up the phone, called her and set up an appointment to visit her on campus.

The conversation between us was extremely interesting… It turns out that the USJ poison center is a personal project of hers, she’s actually the one who came up the idea and proposed it to the university. She accepts phone calls anywhere and anytime 24/7, even when she’s out of the country, and yes it’s pro bono! She’s well known by her sharp, fast and accurate answers; so here’s are the highlights from our ChitChat:

Chris: What’s the scope of the USJ poison center and who is the team behind it?

Pr. Azouri: The center provides phone assistance in case of poisoning. I accept phone calls from the community or the healthcare professionals. Along with Dr. Diane Antonios (immuno-toxicology specialist and USJ faculty member) and the database provided by the university, we can give fast and life saving assistance to the caller. The fast response is always key, because such cases are extremely time sensitive.

Chris: Who should call the poison center?

download.jpegPr. Azouri: Although we accept calls from anyone, being called by healthcare professionals (Medical Doctor, Pharmacist…) makes it easier to communicate the assistance, antidotes and interventions, because they are somehow familiar with the process. On the other hand, the latter should not stop anyone from calling the center, because the least we can do is assess the situation and evaluate whether the intoxicated patient needs hospitalization or can be managed at home.

Chris: What are the main complaints that you receive?

Pr. Azouri: The main complaints in Lebanon are the same worldwide and mainly are related to kids accidentally swallowing medications, alcohol or any other toxin.

Chris: Now talking about the specifics, how do you manage snakebites, knowing that anti-venom is not available in most of the country’s hospitals?snake-155258_960_720

Pr. Azouri: The Lebanese ministry of health is the one providing the anti-venom. So when we are contacted with snakebite cases, we provide the first-aid instructions and then we give the directives to obtain the anti-venom from the Lebanese Ministry of Health.

Chris: Knowing that all these services are free with no personal monetary revenue, why did you do it and still doing it?

Pr. Azouri: The answer again is pretty simple, and might come as a shocker to you. This is my way of giving back to the community… even the thought of me saving just one kid from dying because of an intoxication gives me the push and the alibi to continue doing what I’m doing.

I left the campus after this ChitChat, not only informed about the USJ poison center, but also learning a lesson about how to give back to the community, which can be by putting your knowledge and what you know into practice of helping others with only moral satisfaction in return… and most importantly, making a difference!

You can contact the USJ Poison Center by calling: 03-332246

Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.
Kathy Calvin – president and CEO of UN Foundation.

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