Stop Smoking Arguileh, Now

2012-05-15T171258Z_01_JS03_RTRIDSP_0_LEBANONsource

I’m a smoker, and personally enjoy the occasional arguileh (shisha/hookah). But, intensive research on how bad it is for you is relatively new, and researchers are already confirming how exponentially worse arguilehs are compared to cigarettes. So, I’m officially stopping arguilehs, for good.

AUB has been doing some great research on how bad arguilehs are for your health, and I got a 50-slide presentation outlining the details and numbers. Here’s the source.

Of course, there are the usual disadvantages of smoking: cancer, hear disease, death and everything we’re very familiar with. In this post, I included the information that blew my mind most…

1- 1 Hour Arguileh = 100-200 Cigarettes Smoke

The volume of smoke you get into your lungs during one hour of arguileh, is equal to the volume to anywhere between a hundred or two hundred cigarettes… So, just in terms of sheer amount and volume, you’re already in deep trouble if you’re smoking arguilehs…

2- 25 Times the Tar and 10 Times the CO

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 3.41.00 PMsource

3- Disease Transmission

Most arguileh smokers don’t own one themselves, and just rent it out at cafes or restaurants, or even have them delivered to their homes (a rising fad in Lebanon). This means that dozens, hundreds if not thousands of people will use the same smoking instrument. Usually, we add that little piece of plastic on the tip to be “hygienic” ( yes, I realize how this might come off as a euphemism to condom use). But, the tube itself is rarely, if ever cleaned, making respiratory diseases such as Tuberculosis fairly easily transmittable, and a friend in AUB was diagnosed with TB after a hookah session.

So, if the health hazards aren’t enough, then let your germophobe side convince you to stop.

Read the full presentation here.

One Million Tranquilizers and 642,000 Anti-Depressants Sold in Lebanon in 2011 – 15% Increase in 2012

For a country of somewhere around 4 million, the fact that some 1.642 million anti-anxiety and anti-depressent drugs says a lot. The Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care (IDRAAC) estimates that 25.8% of Lebanese people have at least one mental disorder.

Now, when you see that big a number, more than 1 in 4, you think “of course not” But then again, most of our jokes and jibes these days involve the phrase “khidlak 7abbten xanax/valium” somewhere (similar to how “m7ashash” has also become a pillar of current jokes, reflecting the rise of marijuana usage in Lebanon)

When you think of it, living in Lebanon is very stressful. Apart from wars and bombings and other severely traumatic stuff, we are constantly angry at something. While going home, it’s traffic, if no traffic, an accident, if not an accident, a checkpoint, if not a checkpoint, asphalt being put down or removed, if not asphalt, someone burning tires or an asshole convoy passing through, if you take a shortcut, it’s clogged up worse than the freeway, etc. You get home, you wanna shower, there’s no electricity, no hot water, you freeze your ass off, walk out of the shower, the ishtirak comes, sometimes too strong, burning your TV, your router is still ok, but cuts on and off for no reason, and anyway, your ridiculously low bandwidth is past it’s limit and when you try to open a hotspot with your 3G-enabled phone, there’s no reception in your room, only on one corner of the balcony, etc. If you wanna watch a Chelse-Manchester United match, but the Egyptian guy you buy dish from decides he wants to watch a Classico, you end up running around to other people’s homes or places to catch the game you wanted to see. If you go to pay a fine, they direct you to another place, then another, then another, with line after line that is more often than not bypassed by some asshole with connections, bad employees, smoking indoors, bribery essential and so much more you’re all very used to. This could go on for a thousand more pages, but you get the idea…. Everyone knows a person who died unnecessarily, most of our families are divided over continents and most of our dreams are quashed by corruption, bad economics and unstable politics. OH! and let’s not forget religion and oppressive religious practices and ideologies, the kind where it’s ok to kill your sister to protect “your family’s honor” in certain sects. And, I’m gonna stop here!

That’s why we’re all so depressed and anxious all the time, but the problem is, we feel it’s normal. No one, or very few, actually seek the help of a psychologist. We have gotten so used to living in conditions that should be unacceptable, that it’s part of who we are, part of our psyche. Also, even though are film producers and writers always point to the war and sectarianism as the main culprits for our deteriorating psyches, it’s not only those things. It’s all the millions of small, yet consistent things that tick us off, inching us bit by bit towards mental disease, if we aren’t already bipolar, manic depressive or generally anxious.

Read up on an awesome piece by Executive Magazine where I pulled off my numbers.

Chocolate, Weed and Gym Freaks

It’s been lifetimes since I went back to my roots: Biology and Neuroscience. So, here’s a post a good chunk of you guys will hopefully enjoy, especially if you’re one of the following; a stoner, about to get your period or one of the folks who checks into the gym and updates us on his or her progress minute-by-minute.

Anandamide: our very own THC

http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/anandamide/ananh.htm

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana/cannabis/hashish. It binds to receptors in the brain called CB-1 and CB-2. They were discovered in the 60s, but THC is not made by our bodies, so the search for the actual molecule that binds to these receptors took almost 30 years and was finally found to be Anandamide.

However, there is one major difference between THC and ANA: ANA gets very easily degraded and rendered inactive by an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Which of course makes sense, or else we would be high 24/7 forever. THC though, is not broken down by FAAH which lets its effects become more pronounced and more prolonged.

Chocolate

Studies have shown that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has a bit of ANA in it and chemicals that mimic the
effects of ANA. But that’s no big deal right? It’s not that much and would easily be degraded by the FAAH. Well, it turns out that other chemicals in chocolate inhibit FAAH, allowing the ANA from the chocolate, and our own bodies, to have a longer-lasting effect.

Meaning? It’s sort of the same thing when you smoke a joint or eat a lot of chocolate. On the molecular level, practically identical processes are occurring to make you high. Of course, the overall effect is not the same and that’s because with marijuana, it’s not just the THC at work, but something else called CBD which we won’t go into here (but mainly has to do with the sedation you feel when high).

So, the euphoria, feelings of lightness, perhaps even tingling and the overall change of mindset when you eat a lot of good chocolate, is practically a legal way to get high (and fat!)

Runner’s High

Well, if you plan on getting high off chocolate, you’re gonna gain the extra kilos in no time. So, you’re gonna have to hit the gym, and folks who exercise regularly and exert heavy physical effort will probably be very familiar with runner’s high.

I was extremely fortunate to study under the principal investigator into runner’s high, Dr. Arne Dietrich, who in a 2004 study discovered that after a 5-minute warmup, then 45 minutes at 70-80% of maximum heart rate, led to a dramatic increase of ANA in the test subjects’ blood.

“Exercise is good for the mind. For the millions of people who exercise, this is not a secret,” said Arne Dietrich, the study’s principal investigator and a former visiting professor at Georgia Tech. “It helps reduce stress, lowers anxiety, suppresses pain, produces a feeling of well-being and can even lead to a euphoric state. To scientists, however, the process that leads to this last phenomenon — popularly known as the ‘runner’s high’ — remains an elusive mystery.

Soure: CNN Health

As a heavy individual not really concerned with physical effort, this was just a myth to me, but one I was convinced of because the science was sound and the evolutionary logic infallible.

However, after my gastric sleeve operation in January 2012, I began exercising regularly and eventually, at the beginning of summer 2012, I experience my first-ever runner’s high: extremely happy, out-of-body experience and lightheadedness followed by a huge apetite (or munchies!) and am proud to say it’s perhaps not as prolonged as you’d hope, but the magnitude of happiness and euphoria is enough to make go for a swim and the come back to do another hour on the treadmill just to get that high again. Perhaps one day soon, folks would be able to take FAAH inhibitors and do sports, instead of rolling joints and using bongs!

Conclusion

The body and brain are amazing and we know so much we didn’t know 20 years ago. Never let popculture and silly magazines dictate how you see the world around you, the stuff in it and if and how it affects you. Keep an open mind and always trust the science, not the grandmothers or priests. Now you have a better idea of what it means to be high and legal (and healthy!) ways of getting there. Which makes you wonder, if the real crime was being high, anyone who likes chocolate or exercises, or both, would be locked up today. BUT, it also means you don’t need to be stupid and break the law (even if the law itself is stupid) because there are alternative ways of feeling the exact same things, safely and without anyone calling the cops on you.

A Closer Look at KONY 2012

If you haven’t watched this yet, stop being a cheapskate and use up some of your megabytes. I’m saying this not because I’m necessarily a humanitarian or a believer in the cause it promotes (actually, I sorta am), but because to know what all the fuss is about, you have to watch the movie. But, I know many of you people are too lazy to watch a 30 minute YouTube flick, so I’m gonna sum it up nicely below and then pick up from there.

What’s it about?

Jason Russel is an extremely smart man. He is one of those people who does something so grand, that in retrospect, you’d think “how didn’t anyone think of that before?!” What he did was choose a cause and actually make people care enough to want to activate with it. It’s making armchair activists cry at night because I assume they got offended that someone’s online campaign actually worked, that people actually listened, that so many were genuinely interested in the message being delivered, that apart from retweeting, sharing and changing display pictures, people wanted to actually do something, in the real world. Now, my dearest ADD-stricken armchair activists, take a minute to compose yourselves and continue reading on (while of course keeping a vigilant eye out for those naughty valets and the super-racist MTV).

Jason Russel’s cause is thousands of children kidnaped by the causeless Ugandan rebel warlord, Joseph Kony. Kony forces boys to become child soldiers and girls to become sex slaves. His list of abhorred crimes landed him on the ICC’s number 1 wanted spot, even beating monsters like Gaddafi. This sickening scenario though is one we have seen repeatedly in Africa, and the reaction it warranted from the rest of the world was a 10-second news clip and a few dozen good-for-nothing peace keepers here and there.

But, Russel’s Invisible Children NGO kept up the pressure on US lawmakers. The world might not give a damn about Ugandan children being raped, killed or even forced to kill their own parents. But, when a representative gets nagged on by the people who will reelect him or her, they’ll definitely listen and act. Which is exactly what happened when after years of lobbying, US President Barrack Obama sent 100 military “advisors” to help the Ugandan “army.”

The efforts were not enough though, and Kony remains at large. Perhaps because a drone strike would cost too may children their lives, or perhaps because the Ugandan army is just as bad and barbaric as Kony, just with nicer uniforms. So, the idea is to make the people of the entire world pressure their governments and that that will eventually build up enough momentum to arrest Kony and bring him to justice. Problem is, no one knows who the hell Joseph Kony is. That’s where KONY 2012 comes in. It is a campaign to make the tyrant ultra-famous, but for all the wrong reasons. The idea is, with enough people activating against him, governments will listen and the international community will be compelled to act and act harder to bring him to justice.

Why did it work so well?

Jason Russel is a fantabulous marketer. I know many of you cringed at the sight of the word “marketer.” To most of us, marketing is just a fancy word for lies. Unfortunately, most marketers are indeed big, fat liars. But, that is besides the point. Marketing shapes our modern world, whether we like it or not. A marketer’s job is knowing what people like and don’t like, what interests them and what bores them, and using that to create the ultimate product, campaign or service. So, in reality, we consumers are the boss, and marketers toil away trying to understand how we function and make us stuff and ads that we like.

Whether we like it or not, Invisible Children is a multi-million dollar business. It might have a cause it fights for, but lack of external auditing and the 69% of its funds that don’t go to Uganda’s kids, makes it more of a massive marketing agency than a charitable NGO. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, people who are sharing the “we got trouble” post everywhere. Bravo, you found holes in the NGO. But, that doesn’t change the fact that almost 50 million people have already watched the movie in a matter of days. That doesn’t change the fact that friends of mine who know I’m in the US are asking me to get them “action packs” instead of iPads or souvenirs. That doesn’t change the fact that Invisible Children (IC) has created an extremely successful meme.

Meme?!

When I say meme, I use its actual meaning, which is not the lame-ass comics that have sprouted up on your Facebook timelines the past few weeks for every university in Lebanon. The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1989. It was meant to be similar to a gene. Memes, like genes, are transmitted through a species when they are successful at survival. Unlike genes however, memes can spread very fast, and horizontally (in real-time to all society, not just in offspring over time). To give you an example of what a successful meme is, I’m going to say religious beliefs. It’s a bouquet of thoughts and concepts passed down to children, but also spread by missionaries to their peers with no or different faiths. The false-hope it brings and the obedience it demands made it very a very successful set of memes and has helped religion survive and linger despite advancements in human thought and understanding.

IC has created a meme with this campaign. You might say Kony is close to death, and that his LRA is no longer really active. But, who the fuck cares about Kony anyway? What IC has done is create a precedent that has the potential to change our world. IC has made activism effective and appealing to normal people. Activism is no longer limited to people directly concerned, people with ulterior motives or people who have way too much issues and time on their hands. IC has made all of us believe that if we come together via online channels, and manifest that in real life, we have a chance of changing something in the world, be it Kony’s head on a silver platter, or other causes in the future.

IC has succeeded where almost everyone else has miserably failed. Usually, when you see activists group, like the ever-growing, uninformed armchair activist movement in Lebanon, you get grunts of annoyance or outright resistance (from people like me for example). But, for a few minutes there, I was going to order my very own KONY 2012 action kit. The elusive simplicity of the concept as well as its “so-crazy-it-might-as-well-work” appeal has reshaped what activism means and who can become an activist. It has shown us how to use democracy (where it exists) for good, and not allow those in power to twist and mangle it so it no longer serves its original purpose.

Conclusion?

KONY 2012 has changed the world. Whether Kony stays or goes is irrelevant. What matters is that people care again. The apathetic world which hides behind their keyboards and headphones, wants to plaster photos on the streets. Regardless of whether or not IC is legit, and why it lacks transparency, they should get a lot of credit for their society-changing campaign. Perhaps we should give them a taste of their own medicine and demand 100% transparency from their part… Then, I, and millions like me would gladly go down and support people we would’ve probably never met or whose lives we would’ve never heard of or interacted it with had it not been for the Internet and social networking.

What’s funny is that the campaign’s tagline “Nothing is more powerful than an idea who’s time is now” aptly describes the meme-creating initiative IC has done, and that was indeed well-played from their part.

P.S. One thing I didn’t like is their poster, which depicts the Republican Party elephant and Democratic Party donkey. What about the rest of the world guys? Or non-partisan peeps?

and I found this funny, and just so you don’t say I ruined your false concept of what a meme is. Let’s hope we prove the below Kony internet meme wrong…

MUST WATCH – Arne Dietrich’s TEDxBeirut Talk

Professor Arne Dietrich is the foremost reason I want to dedicate my life to Neuroscience. I have taken almost every course he gives at the American University of Beirut and he has been the source of inspiration and insight for many of my Biology and Neuroscience posts on this blog.

I took Cognitive Neuroscience with Arne when my questions about our existence and life’s purpose and the presence of a higher being where at their peak. You could say I was at the cliff’s edge, but Arne’s deep insight on the brain based on empirical evidence combined with his eloquent and somewhat irreverent method of delivering it pushed me way over that cliff.

Life made sense, became understandable, and when it didn’t, you at least had some sense on how you’re going to make it understandable with time and research. Mysticism and faith might seem fascinating, but what’s truly magical is how the brain develops and functions, how nature is so much more beautiful, interesting and unbelievable than putting your paws up and worshiping some divine being.

This 17-minute talk does not do justice to the wealth of knowledge and experience this man has. It does coax you though into rethinking several concepts you hold true about the brain, such as the stupid “we use 10% of our brain” myth and what consciousness and altered states of consciousness really are. If you broaden your horizons a bit more, you might also agree that the gods you believe in are, as Arne puts it, “pixies”

The reactions from the crowd says it all, and Arne’s statements got standing ovations and cheers by die-hard subscribers to the theories he supports (such as myself, who went straight from the airport to TEDxBeirut, ran down to the stage to say hello to Arne before even saying hello to my beloved Lori =P)

So, I really, really, really encourage you to watch the video above, and be sure I will be expanding on the topics Arne skimmed through in those 15 or so minutes.

3 Reasons Why Mother Nature is the World’s Economy’s Biggest Investor

Mother Nature is awesome. If you ask me, we should be busy worshiping her for giving us life and sustaining us throughout the ages. But, we will leave that what-to-worship issue for another post! Today, I’m gonna spare you the usual environmentalist hippie-ranting and speak in economical terms.

We tend to think that the economy and the environment are at war, with corporations cutting down trees, burning fossil fuels and raping baby dolphins in the oceans. Unfortunately, this leftist-anarchist fodder is somewhat right and business often interferes with Mother Nature.

In reality though, Mother Nature is the biggest investor in every major market and industry. It is the main driving force of the world’s economies, regardless of the policies they are governed by. This is because Nature provides essential goods and services for life itself to survive, much less businesses and the economy. If that doesn’t really sink in, perhaps you should consider how much it would cost us to do the following three things.

1- Air Filtration and Conditioning

All the arguileh smoke, car fumes and of course natural gases we all emit (I was talking about exhaling CO2 you pervs) are taken up by plants and other photosynthetic organisms, which we call autotrophs. Photosynthetic means they make their own food via light (photo-synthesis) and a few other ingredients like water and carbon dioxide.

Of course, too much CO2 kills us animals because we need Oxygen to stay alive. Here’s where “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” metaphor works perfectly. What we throw out (CO2), autotrophs take in. And what autotrophs throw out (O2), we take in! Apart from that, many airborne toxins get trapped inside the plant. So, we’re not just recycling our CO2 emissions into O2, we’re also filtering out all the nasty stuff from it.

Imagine if Nature didn’t filter and recycle our air. Imagine we had to convert CO2 into O2, moisten our air and filter it from toxins… It would be like living in the International Space Station after it crash-landed into the Sahara desert. Apart from that being extremely annoying, it took the entire world’s space programs decades and hundreds of billions to build a craft that can accommodate a handful of astronauts crammed like sardines for only a few days. Imagine the entire human race living like that.

ACs won’t solve it, cause ACs dont convert CO2 to O2, so all you people living in the Gulf can stop feeling comfortable now.

2- Water Filtration

Again, I will give the Gulf as an example here. Much of the GCC countries’ potable water comes from desalination plants. They extract seawater, remove the salt (desalination). This is of course, super-expensive and inefficient compared to natural spring water and river sources. Of course, the GCC people are forced to do this because they have no other alternative. Most other nations though depend on water which becomes potable through the water cycle. The animation says it all, so I won’t add anything.

Imagine the whole world had to desalinate their water… Most countries can’t even afford to reroute their river water to homes. How can we expect them to build state-of-the-art, high-maintenance desalination plants with the capacity to let everyone drink, bathe and irrigate their crops.

3- Pollination

The first two were obvious. This issue though, is just as integral to our survival.

Plants don’t have sex directly. The poor souls don’t enjoy the process at all. Instead, they enlist animals like you and me to help them mate. However, I’m sure you dont run around in fields of flowers all day. That’s why, the world’s most important pollinators are insects, and more specifically, bees.

You’ve probably seen the mass-deaths of bees in places like Australia. Although the reasons are yet unclear, and scientists haven’t pinpointed the exact cause, it probably is our fault. If it isn’t, it still serves as a reminder to us that we shouldn’t only not kill these insects, but should make sure they survive and thrive!

Pollination is when an animal or wind or water, scoops up pollen (plant sperm) from a male plant (or male part of a plant) and inadvertently transfers it to the female part of another plant. This is how fruits and crops are made, the result of the pollination is the apple for example.

And since all our food ultimately comes from plants: no bees = no plants = no yumyums.

Imagine having to pollinate each and every flower, manually. How much time, money and effort would be spent…

Conclusion

These services would cost us trillions of dollars every year if we want to reproduce them ourselves. It takes a few million to help preserve nature’s built-in mechanisms and machinery.

In other words, with no eco-friendliness, we’d just hav a Nomy with no Eco.

TED Video Series: The Intelligence of Crows

For those of you who don’t know what TED is, it is basically a place where people with awesome ideas share them with other people with awesome ideas, or with people who just want to hear awesome ideas! It began some two decades ago in California, and has since grown immensely, featuring thousands of speakers and many TED events across the globe.

Cairo, Amman and Beirut are among several Arab cities to host a TEDx event. Beirut though is organizing a massive one that will culminate in September 2011. Oh, and for those of you wondering who the hell is “Ted”, there is no Ted. TED stands for Technology, Design, Entertainment. That’s what is started out as, but today encompasses everything from Biology to Economics, and of course the T, E and D.

Here’s a video the great philosopher-biologist, Daniel Dennett, shared in a class with us at AUB this Spring. I must say, it blew my mind and made me appreciate the dynamics of Evolutionary Biology even more than I used to (which was a lot)

Check out TED for more videos, and don’t worry lazy people, I’ll be choosing some of the best and posting them every now and then.

5 Reasons Why E.coli Are Our Friend

The recent E.coli epidemic was nothing short of a godsend for all of us carnivores out there! We finally had a legitimate reason to not eat our greens and veggies, for fear mean old E.coli would make us crap ourselves to death. But the tiny, rod-shaped bacterium is a vital part of our existence and a pillar for modern-day genetic engineering and biotechnology

1- They’re the Intestine’s Corleone Family

A Beautiful E.coli Ballet Dancer

E. coli set up shop in your large intestine in the first few hours after birth, and from then on they’re basically an inseparable part of you. Now, before you hysterically guzzle down your antibacterial hand wash bottles (or inject into your rectum, which would be considerably faster and more enjoyable for some of you out there), consider this: The E. coli have been flourishing in your innards for years, and in return for some of your metabolic energy and a blind eye from your corrupt immune system, they’ll be very useful throughout your life

Think of them as the mob, you pay them some “insurance” and they do you certain “favors”. Apart from absorbing the stuff your weak-ass intestine misses, E.coli are more territorial than that Jacob-dog from everyone’s favorite girl-porn: Twilight. This means that whatever new, foreign bacteria your delightful waiter introduces into your food or drinks, you can rest assured the new pathogens will have caps busted up in their ass by the E.colione crime family you harbor.

So, E.coli is your guts’ very own private police force, making sure no one else butts in on their turf and keeping you safe in the process. Corruption is not unknown in the bacterial world though, and every once in a while, a mutation lives up to its name and mutiny arises, making the E.coli mutant zombies naughty and diarrhea-inducing.

2- E.coli are Insulin Sweatshops

People with type 1 diabetes have the cooler type of diabetes. They’re the ones you often mistake for heroine junkies because they’re always injecting needles into their arms and butts. When you eat sugary stuff, the sugar is stored by Mr. Insulin. When there is no insulin there, you’re practically on a sugar-rush 24/7 and will eventually go blind and die.

Some people can’t make insulin, and in keeping true to our outsourcing philosophy, we forced other organisms to make insulin for us. E. coli are readily available, why each you guys creates several samples while sitting on the toilet every day. They’re also simple genetically, allowing us to add and remove stuff in their DNA like legos.

What do you get when you have a diabetic bioengineer, a stool sample and a cool mad-scientist outfit? Why, tiny insulin sweatshops of course! So, E. coli are to diabetics is what the glorious state of Colombia is to crack heads.

3- Special K Dealers

When we’re not modifying the very fabric of these poor little bacteria, they’re busy churning out other stuff we need to survive. Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting. Clotting is when the bleeding stops if you’ve slit your wrists the wrong way, emo. Not enough vitamin K won’t kill you, but, it will make you bleed profusely out of every orifice in your body.

Bruising, bleeding gums, noses, cuts that won’t stop bleeding, osteoporosis and heart disease are the standard package, with ladies getting a bonus: heavy menstrual bleeding.

So, even though 60% of our fecal matter is gut-bacteria, they earn that right valiantly.

4- They Make Genetics Lab Smell Funky

These organisms are simple enough for the average biology student to cut up into tiny pieces and pretend to be CSI for a few hours. It’s important to note here, that DNA fingerprinting and sequencing doesn’t take 5 minutes until Horatio gets out of the elevator and removes his sexy glasses and says something that makes cheese cringe. But hours of repetitive tasks you don’t quite fully grasp, with the lab smelling like sewage pipes at the Karantina river.

Why does it smell so funky? Well, it hopefully isn’t anyone in your lab section… Recall that bacteria make up a fair amount of fecal matter. Well, they also make a fair amount of the stinkiness.

Gunky smell aside, these creepy crawlies provide a model organism in Biology, or in other words, disposable, cheap and easy-to-use stuff to take advantage of and betray God’s original plan in the process (which I will leave to the more religious amongst you).

5- They’re the Perfect Alibi

We all hate vegetables. They taste like bitter water (otherwise known as Perrier), smell like that nerd that sits in front of you in class and are classified as diet foods (tsk tsk tsk).

Every now and then, some careless vegetable-picker inspects his self-made fertilizer and spreads the wealth of his butt-flora to us all. Unfortunately, this new strain is resistant to fourteen types of antibiotics, and here, the threat of death due to dehydration seems to outweigh the benefits of an all-tasty carnivorous meal.

Considering we don’t import veggies from Europe (or at least can’t afford them) and that our water supplies and farmer hygiene protocols are infested with plenty of specimens, developing our acute immune system to defend us against stuff that would kill people in countries where rules, regulations and safety inspections exist, we’re pretty safe. But, that doesn’t mean we can use the E.coli alibi to have a nice meal three times a day.

Words of wisdom?
(even though it’s just as transmissible via meat =P)

Mish Ghinej – Panic Attacks Explained

Note on the title: Mish ghinej is a Lebanese coloquial phrase. Ghinej means spoiled or drama queen in this scenario. Mish means not or isn’t. Hence: Not Being a Drama Queen, which I hope will be series on the blog to shed some light about psychological phenomena we often mistake for being a sissy.

We all know someone who is like that poor girl to the right. Irrational reactions to a mild stimulus, or maybe even none at all, that have a sudden onset and don’t usually last beyond 10-15 minutes, are called panic attacks.

People who are more prone to these attacks are so because of several different reasons. One of the reasons is having other psychological disorders, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and phobias. It can also have purely biological causes, such as low blood-sugar (hypoglycemia).

Those are obvious reasons, but one cause I found truly enlightening on what it must mean to experience a panic attack, is people who have over-active chemoreceptors in their medullas.

These chemoreceptors are there to monitor levels of carbon dioxide in your blood. They do that by keeping track of the pH levels of your blood, which is slightly basic at 7.40 ±0.05. Carbon dioxide is packaged into Bicarbonate (HCO3) in the blood, which is a weak acid. Thus, when the pH levels goes somewhere below 7.35, the alarm sounds and your body does its best to compensate for the increased CO2 levels (and thus decreased O2 levels). How? By gasping wildly for air.

Most of you, hopefully, have not experienced this feeling of hyperventilation.

That is not entirely true though. I’m sure as itsy bitsy children, you were taught how to swim. The pinnacle of this experience, is diving underwater, and frantically swimming up for that gasp of air you desperately need. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a delightful sibling or relative who will force your head to stay underwater before you manage to squeeze in that breath. Horrible feeling, right? The fear of death, the frantic need to get out and other behaviors bordering on the insane, are exactly the same feelings someone having a panic attack has…

The reason you need that air so frantically, is that your chemoreceptors detect a rise in CO2 levels and force you to do everything possible to get to that yummy Oxygen. Imagine having that, in the middle of a party, with no big body of water in sight (except maybe the beer kegs). Yup, that’s exactly what people who have panic attacks and subsequently hyperventilate, feel.

A common thing we see being done is a bag handed to the afflicted individual, which they breathe into and out of repeatedly for a few minutes. This is because as a result of high CO2, they breathe in too much, raising the O2 levels in the blood. And like everything, too much of it is bad. So, to restore calm and composure, rebreathing O2-poor and CO2-rich exhaled air eventually restores the O2/CO2 blood balance.

I had the pleasure of meeting several individuals having panic attacks, and understanding that phenomenon has been very rewarding for me. After all, knowledge is always sexy. So, now you know =P

As always, inspired by lectures by Dr. Arne Dietrich, Behavioral Neuroscientist at the American University of Beirut

Further reading: Carbon Dioxide Sensitivity in Panic Anxiety

Schizophrenia Explained

The image to the right, is completely false. Schizophrenia does in fact mean split-brain, but what is meant by split here is not that the brain or mind is split into several minds or personalities, instead, it means a mind which has split from reality. People who suffer from multiple personalities, have Dissociative Identity Disorder.

In terms of pop culture, “Schizo” is often used to tease someone who had a sudden change of heart or mood, helping fuel the misconception that I myself fell victim too before embarking on my Psychology minor at AUB.

What’s even more interesting, is that the general attitude towards the disorder is that it is an exotic and rare, and mostly just textbook and horror movie fodder versus what it really is: an immensely widespread and prolific brain disorder.

The actual figures though, are much, much more shocking. A whopping 1.1% of the human population suffer from schizophrenia. 1.1% might seem a feeble number at first, but think about it, over 1 in every 100 people have it, that’s some 80 people in a population the size of AUB’s 8000 students.

The cost of schizophrenia is also very heavy, with hundreds of billions of dollars spent every year for care, treatment and research around the world. What is unfortunate though, is that even though the prevalence of schizophrenia is twelve times higher than multiple sclerosis, the money spent on MS research per person is almost 4 times the amount spent on schizophrenia research (NHIH 1999).

But, despite this contrast between prevalence of the disease, and the general public’s familiarity with it, many types of schizophrenia are fairly treatable. Antipsychotic drugs like Chlorpromazine traditionally, and the more recent and widely used Clozapine today, are very affective at allaying the symptoms of schizophrenia that are referred to as “positive” symptoms.

Which brings us to the types of schizophrenia and the positive and negative symptoms. Schizophrenia can be thought of as a spectrum of mental diseases that can range from a frozen catatonic state in contorted positions for days, to believing you are the son of God. The easiest way to determine which symptoms are positive and which are negative is to see if schizophrenic behavior is adding (positive) or removing (negative) elements to normal behavior. For example, a paranoid schizophrenic will feel that everyone and everything might be out to get him or her, this is a behavior added to normal behavior. A catatonic state, where people freeze for hours or even days, have something removed from their normal behavior.

I will shamelessly copy paste the categorization from wikipedia now

Paranoid type: Where delusions and hallucinations are present but thought disorder, disorganized behavior, and affective flattening are absent.

Disorganized type: Named hebephrenic schizophrenia in the ICD. Where thought disorder and flat affect are present together.

Catatonic type: The subject may be almost immobile or exhibit agitated, purposeless movement. Symptoms can include catatonic stupor andwaxy flexibility.

Undifferentiated type: Psychotic symptoms are present but the criteria for paranoid, disorganized, or catatonic types have not been met.

Residual type: Where positive symptoms are present at a low intensity only.

The reason I felt this post was in order is because aside from the gross misconceptions I used to share with a sizable portion of the world, is that I recently met a person who fit the symptoms perfectly.

He is a 22-year-old Syrian national, who following the unrest in Syria in recent weeks, became increasingly paranoid. Mediocre tasks such as driving and watching TV, were nightmarish. He perceived the other cars were driven by people who want to do him harm, and were thus closing in on him. His reactions to the popular TV show, LOL on Otv, were of hurt, that they were saying all those jokes about him.

His age, behavior and delusions are a textbook description of paranoid schizophrenia. So is the emotional trigger, which most likely was the traumatic thoughts of his family still in Syria amidst the turmoil.

This assumption, later confirmed, had a profound impact on me personally. That’s when I realized that schizophrenia wasn’t just another rare occurrence that you’ll probably never see except in your exams or books, but very much real and present everywhere, across all socioeconomic, ethnic and racial barriers.

Another popular belief is that schizophrenic people hear voices. This is true, and the hallucinations are mostly usually auditory. They are usually vile, hurtful and inappropriate words and thoughts, which are so distressing and depressing for the patient.

I hope this made some sense, I tried to be as brief and informative as possible. Many thanks to Professor Arne Dietrich for his constant guidance in all things Neuroscientific.