Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Twinkie Diet or Caloric Restriction?

Earlier this year, a nutrition professor lost 27 pounds on a "Twinkie Diet." Media outlets were buzzing with the news that a steady diet of junk food resulted in weight loss. Of course, it sounded too good to be true, but it was a headline that was designed to catch your attention. I've learned to never trust headlines as most are gimmicks designed to lure viewers.

Dig Deeper
Whenever I hear something that's unbelievable, I dig deeper.

The nutrition professor in question wondered what would happen if he limited his diet to junk food and a few serving of canned vegetables. So as a part of a health experiment on himself, he limited his diet to 1800 calories a day (from junk food) and maintained his current level of activity. Keep in mind that the average man needs about 2500 calories a day.

Operating on a daily deficit of 700 calories a day, at the end of his experiment the net result was weight loss.  As a bonus, his LDL (bad cholesterol) was lower and HDL (good cholesterol) was higher than when he began the experiment.

I guess the moral of this story is three-fold:

1. If you want to lose weight, the quantity of calories matters more than the quality of the calories you consume.

2. Maintain or increase physical activity (burn the calories you eat)

3. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In other words, you'll never lose weight eating junk food unless you drastically limit how much you eat. (See #1)

Of course, before your go out an try this on your own, talk to your doctor. Drastically limiting your daily caloric intake requires a lot of will power and you'll probably feel lousy most of the time.

I maintain a healthy daily routine. Proper diet and exercise is better than severe dieting in my book.

Dr. Dave

Saturday, December 25, 2010

If I only had a plane...

My career involves frequent travel. As a pilot, I often dream of flying myself and team to and from important meetings. Imagine no flight schedules, no TSA, just go when you wish (and when weather permits).

Sure, flying my own plane invloves more work (flight planning, navigation, challenging weather, etc.) and cost (flying is not cheap), but the same holds true for a car. Think about it, driving your car is more expensive than taking public transportation, but you're able to go where you please whenever you want. Time is money.

What would I fly? Well, a jet or a turboprop would be too much plane for the job. Instead, I'd want something reliable and capable of carrying 4 people for 4 hours, like a Cirrus SR22.

Maybe some day my dream will become a reality. I enjoy my work and flying, so it would be great if I could do both.

If there's a will, there's a way. Now, if I only had the means...

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fussing and Feuding over Health Care

Pundits view last week's midterm election victory for the GOP as a sign of voters' discontent with the Democratic Party. Yes, the economy stinks and unemployment is high, but it appears that many voters are also against the "affordable health care" bill that was passed earlier this year. It's not a perfect bill, but I remind everyone that legislation is never perfect.

As the dust settles, newly elected GOP leaders are not wasting any time. First on the chopping block is the health care bill. Or so they say. Keep in mind that it's easy to say things on the campaign trail, but when reality hits they may have to eat their words. Let's wait and see.

My view

To anyone who wishes to make an informed opinion about health care, I suggest watching Frontline's Sick Around the World. After watching this Frontline episode, I wondered how is it that France, Germany, Taiwan, etc. can implement universal health coverage, and we can't?

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Monday, November 1, 2010

Alcohol more harmful than crack or heroin?

A recent and somewhat controversial study evaluating the classifications of various drugs (legal and illegal) in the UK was published in the medical journal The Lancet (you can also read a summary in the GuardianUK). The authors of the Lancet article claim that alcohol is more harmful than crack or heroin when evaluating for harm caused in three categories (physical, dependence, and social).

Wow! More harmful than crack or heroin? That's a bold statement.

My Opinion

Alcohol is a drug. And just because it is sold legally in stores does not make alcohol less of a drug.

I don't enjoy drinking alcohol. If had to have a drink, I much prefer heart-healthy red wine (half glass at most) and always with a meal.

Seeing others drunk and the consequences thereof was a major turn-off during my high-school and college years. My thoughts when I saw my first drunk person were something along the lines of--you must really not like yourself if you want to drink something that makes you suffer later or can kill you.

I'm not a teetotaler. If people want to drink to "have a good time" then more power to them. As long as the inebriated crowd stays off the roads and out of my house, I'm fine.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Museum of Science and Industry: Kate's Month at the Museum

This month Kate McGroarty is spending a month at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago and blogging about it. She's free to roam the museum and sleep where she likes. Last night, she slept in the U-505 submarine and woke up next to a torpedo. How cool!

I had a chance to meet Kate today (photo courtesy of my wife). She's super nice and thrilled to learn about science!

You can read Kate's blog at MSI's Month at the Museum site and follow her Twitter feed @msikate.

If you are visiting MSI, stop by, say "Hi", snap a picture and tell her Dr. Dave sent you!

Dr. Dave

Friday, October 29, 2010

God Supports Stem Cell Research: The Power of Flawed Logic

Disclaimer: If you have don't have a sense of humor, then please stop reading.

Logically flawed arguments tend to find traction in a society that's too lazy to think for themselves. Throughout the course of history, politicians and religious leaders have used this unfortunate truth to drive their personal agendas. Does the term "death panel" ring a bell?

Sometimes science, logic and knowledge take a backseat when masses of misinformed mediocre minds mount protests. So rather than fighting this battle head-on, why not fight fire with fire and engage in guerrilla campaign of flawed logic to change minds?

On that note, here's a mix of science and religion to promote the "Religious Right's" support stem cell research:

FACT:Bone marrow contains stem cells.
Since Eve was born from Adam's rib, god must have manipulated Adam's stem cells to create Eve.
Therefore, god supports stem cell research.

Now that's logic a certain former Alaskan governor can understand!

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Monday, October 25, 2010

Graduate School Advice: Picking a professor? Know thyself first!

On a recent jaunt down memory lane, I reflected on how I selected my graduate program. Sure, factors like cost of living, proximity to loved ones, and of course, department reputation are very important and played a role in my decision making, but the most important factor was a potential professor's management style.

Management style? Really?
Yes, really. I had spent a few years between undergrad and grad school working in an infectious diseases/vaccine design lab where I learned a thing or two about the "real world." The most important lesson was that I hate being micro-managed or motivated by fear.

I spent 10% of my time working for a micro-manager supervisor. He treated everyone as if they were idiots, unless you had a PhD or MD. I did not like being told what to do, especially when I knew things were wrong. I rebelled and landed in hot water on several occasions.

Fortunately, I spent 90% of my time working with another supervisor who respected my intelligence. He would set goals and leave the problem solving (the fun part) to me, and always made himself available to discuss strategy. I flourished and was able to solve some of the toughest challenges in the lab.

What's the take-home message? Know yourself. Do you like to have the freedom to create and learn? Do you prefer to be told what to do? Figure it out now and find a professor who fits the bill.

Visiting Grad Programs
When interviewing with potential professors and their graduate students, I inquired about management styles. After visiting a few grad programs, I found a lab that did the kind of research I was interested in and where the students were truly managers of their own projects and destiny.

All in all, it was a great choice. I was truly free to take my project in any direction I wanted. I made mistakes and discoveries, and learned a lot about chemistry along the way. Imagine that!

Dr. Dave.

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do you work too much? I hope you are in shape! -- Study links heart disease and fitness to hours worked

In graduate school, my girlfriend (now wife) and I made yearly trips to mainland Europe for vacation. After visiting France, Spain and Italy, I was drawn to the people and their attitudes toward work, health, and life. In my eyes, it seems Europeans prioritize family and health over work, whereas work takes higher billing in America. It's my own generalization, so take from it what you will.

There's nothing wrong with working hard, but when should we draw the line? Is a 40 hour workweek to long? Too short?

Are you really productive at the end of a long work day? How about after working 60 hours in a week? I knew plenty of people who "worked" long hours but were not productive. What a waste of time! My benchmark is productivity, not hours worked.

Working too long for an extended period of time is harmful, at least that's what I believe. Now there's scientific data that supports what I've thought all along. Researchers in Denmark published an article in the journal Heart titled "Long work hours and physical fitness: 30-year risk of ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality among middle-aged Caucasian men."

You can read the abstract (below), but it basically says that men working long hours who have low physical fitness are at greater risk of dying from heart disease.

Here's a question: if you work long hours, do you even have time to be physically fit?

Background No previous long-term studies have examined if workers with low physical fitness have an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality due to long work hours. The aim of this study was to test this hypothesis. Methods The study comprised 30-year follow-up of a cohort of 5249 gainfully employed men aged 40-59 years in the Copenhagen Male Study. 274 men with cardiovascular disease were excluded from the follow-up. Physical fitness (maximal oxygen consumption, Vo(2)max) was estimated using the Astrand bicycle ergometer test, and number of work hours was obtained from questionnaire items; 4943 men were eligible for the incidence study. Results 587 men (11.9%) died because of ischaemic heart disease (IHD). Cox analyses adjusted for age, blood pressure, smoking, alcohol, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, physical work demands, and social class, showed that working more than 45 h/week was associated with an increased risk of IHD mortality in the least fit (Vo(2)max range 15-26; HR 2.28, 95% CI 1.10 to 4.73), but not intermediate (Vo(2)max range 27-38; HR 0.94, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.51) and most fit men (Vo(2)max range 39-78; HR 0.91, 95% CI 0.41 to 2.02) referencing men working less than 40 h/week. Conclusions: The findings indicate that men with low physical fitness are at increased risk for IHD mortality from working long hours. Men working long hours should be physically fit.

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Always Respect Your Research

In the course of graduate research, most students will encounter agents or materials that can cause serious injury or even death. In my experience as a researcher in the fields of infectious diseases and natural products chemistry, this was especially true.

The risks involved in infectious diseases research are obvious. Even the name sounds bad-- infectious diseases. Who wants that? No one, I hope.

My research involved working with bacteria that, if I were unknowingly infected, could kill me within 24 hours. And I did this everyday. Our lab had special antibiotics and a protocol to follow in case we suspected exposure.

Yes, it sounds bad, but be thankful that there are scientists who are willing do this day-to-day. They are the ones putting themselves into harms way so we can live a healthy life free of strange and exotic illnesses.

Lab Safety

I was thinking about lab safety after reading the articles in the links provided above. For me a quote from the movie "The Rock" starring Nicholas Cage (playing a biochemical weapons expert) and Sean Connery (playing former British agent) best summarizes my approach to lab work. In a scene where Cage's character was disarming a missile containing VX nerve agent, he says, "The second you don't respect this, it kills you."

Respect, that's what it boils down to.

I respected what I was working with and took the proper precautions: coat, gloves, mask, goggles. But there was always a few people who became complacent and occasionally forgot to bring a piece of safety equipment. Yes, there were minor accidents, and these often scared people straight, but it didn't always last.

After a few years of cautious research, I had enough and decided to pursue graduate studies in chemistry. I though it would be safer. In some ways it was (no killer bacteria) and in others it wasn't (flammable agents and explosions). But this is a story for my next post.

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Power of a Lifestyle Change: Part 2

Following up on my previous post, it seems that actor John Goodman lost 100 pounds through diet and exercise. Thanks again CNN and People Magazine!

Is eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise really such a hard thing to do? I don't think so.

For a laugh, watch this "Infomercial" clip from MAD TV.

Eat less, move more. It simple and it works!

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Power of a Lifestyle Change

According to a recent article in the Entertainment section of CNN (courtesy of the fine folks at People Magazine), comedian Drew Carey lost 80 pounds since January by following a strict (some would say fanatical) diet and exercise regimen. While I applaud Mr. Carey for his dramatic weight loss, to me the most striking point of the article is that he no longer requires diabetes medication. (He had type-2 diabetes prior to his weight loss.)

Is this a hint that diet and exercise can lead to better health and fewer medications?


Most people don't realize (or simply wish to ignore) that being overweight has additional health consequences that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type-2 diabetes. In medical-speak this concept is called comorbidity.

Logically, if an obese patient lost weight, it's very likely that the comorbid conditions (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type-2 diabetes) would also come under control without the use of medication.

What about an anti-obesity pill?

Currently, there is no FDA-approved pill on the market to treat obesity. If ever such a pill were to come to market, I would imagine it would be a super-blockbuster drug. Until then, the only guaranteed way to lose weight and maintain health is through proper diet and regular exercise (but perhaps not as fanatical a regimen as Mr. Carey's).

Don't fall into the supplement trap. Until supplement manufacturers provide rigorous scientific evidence that proves efficacy (does it work?) and safety (what are the side-effects?), stay away from them!

Of course, you should never start a new diet or intense exercise regimen, or even think about stopping your medication without consulting your doctor first. Blogs (like this one), dieting trends, and anecdotal evidence (like Mr. Carey's example) are no substitute for the sound medical advice of a trained medical professional.

But if you want to lose weight to make a change, bravo. The road to good health will be tough at first, but remember the old adage: anything worth doing is never easy.

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's wrong with this picture

My wife and I visited friends over the July 4th weekend. On our way home on I-65 (somewhere between Indianapolis and Chicago) we exited the interstate to fill our car's gas tank. That's when I noticed something odd about the first gas station we passed (see the picture above).

Can you guess what's wrong?

Hint #1: Gasoline burns when exposed to fire

Hint #2: Fireworks are small explosives

Not wanting to risk our safety, we returned to the interstate to fill-up at a gas station 10 miles away. Why? It takes one idiot with a lighter to trigger an explosion at a combination fireworks/gas station and we did not want to be around for the show.

Did anyone else question the safety of the combination fireworks/gas station or was common sense also on holiday over the July 4th weekend?

-Dr. Dave

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Expanding concrete! Really?!?

A portion of Chicago's famous Lake Shore Drive (LSD in local parlance) was closed due to buckled concrete (see the photo from the Chicago Tribune).

Why did this occur? It's simple: the heat.

In grade school science class, kids are taught the concept of thermal expansion: the phenomenon where high temperatures cause materials to expand and cold temperatures cause materials to contract.

Everything undergoes thermal expansion. In fact, some materials noticeably expand or contract with only a small change in temperature. Engineers must factor in thermal expansion of different materials when constructing roads, bridges, and buildings.

Why? Let's take the buckled LSD concrete as an example:

Under normal circumstances, roadways are designed to accommodate thermal expansion and contraction to certain design limits.

The weather over the past few days in Chicago has been anything but normal and likely exceeded the design limits. Unusual warmth both day and night, prevented the concrete sections from cooling and contracting sufficiently. While the concrete was able to withstand several warm days and nights in a row, the intense heat on Monday was the final straw for the section in question. As the concrete expanded beyond engineering limits, several slabs pushed against the other with great force. The only way to relieve strain was to move in the direction with the least resistance (upwards), which is what happened.

Considering the length of Lake Shore Drive, I'm impressed only one section buckled.

Some may ask, why not construct the roadway with greater high temperature tolerances? Since the road way must be used year-round, engineers must also consider the opposite problem of thermal contraction during the winter. If the roadway was only designed with tolerances for the heat of summer, it is likely there would be gaping cracks in the concrete during the cold winter temperatures.

Oh, I forgot to mention that temporary repairs were made overnight to the section of buckled concrete. Thank you City of Chicago Department of Transportation road repair crew!

-Dr. Dave

Friday, July 2, 2010

Time for a change

I started www.drdavescience.com for my then 10 year-old cousin. He'd always ask me how everyday things work (e.g., airplanes, microwave ovens) and I would do my best to explain so he could understand. I must have done something right because I received requests from kids and adults around the world a few months later.  And so I wrote. And wrote.

Writing simple and accurate responses to complicated questions is both challenging and time consuming. In the beginning, blogging was a welcome distraction from the monotony of chemistry graduate school. Yes, the science was fascinating but the daily routine of experimentation and failure wore me down. Blogging kept my spirits up and my mind sharp.

After graduating with my Ph.D. in chemistry, blogging also helped me land a job as a science writer! Amazingly I used the same skills I developed while blogging to write and review scientific documents for pharma companies. Unfortunately my job leaves little time to think about blogging about how things work. But I still want to write! What to do?

Well, I finally decided that this blog will no longer be a how-does-it-work site. Rather, I will write about things I've learned, thoughts about whatever is on my mind, and funny and not-so-funny incidents I've experienced while trying to navigate the worlds of science and business.

And with that, I start new.

Dr. Dave

Thursday, May 20, 2010

See a Shuttle Launch, Check!

I crossed two major items off my bucket list last month!

First, I married my best friend at Disney World in Florida. My wife and I have known each other since we were teenagers and over the years we became the best of friends. We had a spectacular wedding with family and friends in attendance. (We're both kids at heart, so Disney was an obvious choice.)

As part of our wedding package, we were able to take pictures in the Magic Kingdom. For those of you unfamiliar with the parks, it's the one with the castle. We were taking pictures very early in the morning while the Disney team was prepping the park for the day's guests.

Coincidentally, shuttle Discovery was set to make the final nighttime launch of the space shuttle program during our photo shoot. So, while standing on a balcony in the castle we saw the shuttle ascend into the dark sky. It was a spectacular sight!

Unfortunately, my pictures didn't turn out so well, but the image of the shuttle blasting off will forever be ingrained in my memory.

As daylight broke, our photographer took this photo of my wife and I with the shuttle's contrail refracting sunlight in the early morning sky. What an amazing experience!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Monday, May 17, 2010

ADHD and Pesticides: A Link?

There's been plenty of "everyday science" in the news ranging from volcanic ash, to oil spills, to this CNN article regarding a link between ADHD and a certain kind of pesticide called organophosphates.

ADHD? Organophosphates? Help!
Acronyms and confusing names are an easy way to turn off readers, so please allow me to lay it out for you.

ADHD: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (a behavior disorder)
Organophosphates: pesticides that kill by poisoning an insect's nervous system.

Note that the prefix 'organo-' has nothing to do with the organic farming/living movement. In chemistry 'organo-' simply means 'made of carbon or with carbon.' So the term organophosphates means phosphates with carbon. (My PhD is in organic chemistry. This means I am a chemist that specializes in the chemistry of carbon; I'm not a 'hippie' chemist.)

What's the big deal?

The CNN article cites a scientific study published in the journal Pediatrics states that children (between the ages of 8 and 15 years) with higher levels of organophosphates in their urine are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. That's a scary thought!

To be fair the findings in this study don't outline a direct link between organophosphates and ADHD. There's no evidence of cause-and-effect.

Wait, just because there's no evidence, does it mean I'd feel OK feeding kids foods with trace amounts of pesticides? Heck no!!

My thinking is, we don't know what the link is between organophosphates and ADHD so we should stop using them until we understand it. What do you think?

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science