Health

Earthworms, soil, and… Mars?

According to ZME Science, two earthworms are the first animals to be born in Mars-like soil conditions.

There are three types of topsoil, at least on planet earth, which include sand, loam, and clay. On Mars, however, the soil conditions are a little bit different due to freezing temperatures and a lack of organic materials. But scientists are working hard to bridge the gap and learn more about the mysterious red planet.

In order to send humans to Mars, it’s essential that a sustainable agricultural system is developed. Thanks to these two earthworms, that task is no longer an impossibility.

“Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active,” said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University and Research. “However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant.”

Wageningen University and Research lead the revolutionary study by taking a look at how the earthworms could theoretically break down and recycle dead organic matter in a Mars-like environment. The Mars soil simulant has already been used to grow rucola, and the researchers simply added the fertilizer, the microorganisms, and the worms.

Thanks to the manure, the earthworms started to breed and the first ever offspring was contrived in this type of soil.

“The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected, but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand,” Wamelink added. “We added organic matter from earlier experiments to both sands. We added the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after germination of the rucola, we added the worms. We therefore ended up with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of organic matter which was added to all of the pots.”

Newsline reports that the research was part of NASA’s ongoing Food for Mars and Moon program. In the future, these marsworms could be the first step towards a sustainable human colon on the red planet.

Cancer has already touched my family once. When my oldest daughter was just 4 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, 8 years later, she is a healthy. She is a survivor. But this close brush with cancer has made all of us much more aware of the risk factors for all types of cancer — including breast cancer.

As a mother of two daughters, I am dedicated to doing everything I can to help us all lower our risk of developing breast cancer. And as a blogger who writes about green living, I am acutely aware of how environmental factors can influence our health. For me, protecting the health of my family is the number one reason to care about greener, safer products. It is the reason I am careful about the ingredients in the personal care and cleaning products we use in our home. Although it can be difficult to prove causal links, I think it is still wise to be cautious about what we use on, in and around our bodies.

Because there is still so much we don’t know about what causes cancer, I am always eager to learn about, and when possible, participate in efforts to study the disease.

Scientists, physicians, and community partners in the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), which is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), study the effects of environmental exposures on breast cancer risk later in life. They created a mother-daughter toolkit that mothers can use to talk to daughters about steps to take together to reduce risk.

4 Steps to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

These are good general health tips as well, and you can get even more guidance here on how to help your daughter reduce her breast cancer risk.

If you’d like to do more than just talk to your daughter, you also have a chance to participate in a study to help with the important work the BCERP is doing. Just click here to complete the study. We will all be better off once we better understand breast cancer and its causes, and how we can better protect ourselves from the environmental factors that could contribute to it.

Working in social care can be incredibly stressful. Many of the most popular careers for those who have graduated with a master’s degree in social work include working with the most vulnerable members of society. You could spend your days traveling between client’s homes, courtrooms, hostels, hospitals, and care centers, helping those who need it most. But when you spend your life helping others through unbearably difficult situations, sometimes dealing with aggressive or even
dangerous clients, as well as those who have been through horrifying experiences, it’s hard not to get stressed out. However, learning to manage your own stress is essential. Here are some helpful ways to cope with stress as a social worker.

Talk

While you should not confide the specifics of cases with your friends and family, you can let them know if you are feeling stressed out. You could also speak to your superiors or colleagues at work if things start to get you down or you are worried about a particular case.

Switch Off

When you get home, spend a little time reflecting on your day or talking about it. Then, do
something different. You may want to sit and watch some TV or read a book for a while, or you could go for a run. Just find something that helps you to switch off and leave work behind. Then you are free to enjoy the rest of your evening.

Do Your Best

One way to avoid stress is to know that you are doing your best. Be confident in your own abilities. A great way to boost your confidence is studying for an online masters in social work. Even if you’ve been in the field for a while, an M.S.W. online can refresh your knowledge and make sure it’s up to date.

Exercise

Exercise is a fantastic form of stress relief. Many people find repetitive exercises such as swimming or running help them to clear their mind as they can focus purely on the movements of their body and the sound of their feet hitting the floor or their breathing.

Self-Care

Looking after yourself will help you to maintain better physical and mental health. Do your best to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Drink plenty of water and get as much sleep as you can. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle also makes it easier to recognize the signs of stress and burnout if they come.

Say No

Social workers are often amazingly compassionate individuals who want to help as many people as they can. But, sometimes you need to accept that you can’t always help. Say no to doing extra or helping with other cases if you feel like you have too much on. Learning how to say no without feeling guilty is an important skill many of us need to learn.

Learning how to manage your stress levels will help you to be a better social worker and thereby help more people. But, it will also help you to be able to separate work and home and find a better work-life balance.

Summer is quickly approaching, and although many take the warm weather and emerging sunshine as good news, severe allergy sufferers can probably feel their eyes watering up and itching already, especially since experts are warning that the allergy season could start earlier and last longer this year, according to DNA Info.

“What’s happening is we have a warming climate, which means the allergy season is starting two to three weeks earlier this year,” said allergist Dr. Clifford Bassett, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York. “And it’s going longer into the fall, into October, so we have a longer period of time for people to be exposed to pollen.”

The average child catches between six and 10 colds a year, and both colds and allergies are infamous for emerging with the start of the warmer months. Luckily, there are many small steps you can take around your home to limit the effects of those irritating and debilitating allergies and illnesses.

First, to make spring cleaning a more manageable endeavor, mark each task with an estimated time — 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. Each day do only one thing. Within 30 days, your whole home will be uncluttered and clean. Basset recommends starting spring and summer cleaning with the kitchen.

“Whenever you smell mildew, you’ve got a mold problem,” he said, recommending homeowners check refrigerators for possible leaks. He also suggests keeping an eye out for cockroaches, and the best way to do that is to keep the kitchen as clean as possible in general. But when it comes to cleaning and organizing, try to recycle all that you can. On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash and $50 per ton to send it to a landfill.

The living room can also harbor dust and other allergens. For a permanent reduction, Basset suggests investing in furniture with easy-to-clean materials such as leather, metal, plastic, and wood.

“Things that can be more easily cleaned are less of a source for indoor allergens,” he said, mentioning that this rule applies to carpets and flooring as well.

Finally, the bedroom is “the most important room to keep allergen-free, because all of us spend the most time at once in the bedroom while we’re sleeping eight to ten hours a night,” according to Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Associates of Murray Hill and a spokesperson for the nonprofit Allergy and Asthma Network.

Parikh suggests three main ways to keep the bedroom clean. Clean the room often, keep pets out, and shower before bed. For those with severe or unusual allergies, such as to dust mite feces, experts recommend investing in a mattress cover in addition to other protective bedding.

“Dust-mite covers that zip around your mattress and box spring, as well as your pillow, have been the only thing in research data that has shown to reduce exposure to dust mites for people who suffer from dust-mite induced allergies and asthma,” Parikh said.

If these allergy-fighting cleaning methods aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other natural remedies to try. Vitamin C, isotonic saline nasal rinse, and aromatherapy are just a few methods suggested by experts. Still, keeping a clean home is the best way to keep spring and summer allergens at bay.

A healthy, beautiful smile is important to most adults. In fact, 32% of people say they’re concerned about the look of their teeth. Many folks aren’t so fond of the dentist though either, but there are things parents can do to encourage good dental habits in their children. When these practices are developed at an early age, it’s much easier to reduce the risk of cavities, gingivitis, and other tooth problems.

Research also shows that around 60% of children will have some type of tooth decay by the time they turn five. In fact, tooth decay is one of the most prevalent childhood diseases in America. Parents can help combat tooth decay by helping their children floss daily and brush twice per day. Brushing should last for two minutes every time. Some electric toothbrushes come equipped with built-in timers, but parents can also use a small hourglass or the timer on their iPhone to help them keep track. They can help the time go by faster by turning on some music and wiggling along — as long as the kids do a thorough job. When they’re young, parents should make sure to check their work and make sure they’re really getting their teeth clean.

It’s important to focus on diet, too. While it’s a bit of a myth that sugar consumption directly causes cavities, a balanced diet is important for healthy teeth and gums. Parents should also limit how much natural and added sugar they eat and drink. This certainly applies to energy and sports drink consumption. Actually, popular energy drinks resulted in twice as much enamel loss in adults as compared to sugary sports drinks. In general, parents need to limit their children’s consumption of sports drinks, and energy drinks should rarely — if ever — be consumed.

Organized sports can pose other hazards to kids’ teeth, too. Children who participate in contact sports or other types of recreation, including football, hockey, baseball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, martial arts, and more, should always wear a mouthguard during practice and games. This can prevent significant dental damage. Parents should make sure that mouth guards are always included in their child’s protective gear.

Ultimately, the best way to protect a child’s smile is to schedule regular dental appointments. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17.5% of kids aged five to 19 have untreated dental issues. Kids should receive a dental checkup and professional cleaning every six months, just like adults. These regular visits can catch those small issues before they turn into big, expensive problems.

Dental work is notoriously expensive, so enforcing these positive habits can help reduce your spending. That being said, you still may have to drop a bit more cash when your child loses their baby teeth. Research has found that the Tooth Fairy is having to pay much more than in the past. The current going rate for a baby tooth actually mirrors inflation and growing incomes. In the 1990s, a baby tooth was worth $1 or so. Now, kids may find $5 under their pillows. Still, that might be a small price to pay for a child’s healthy teeth and gums.

In the end, it’s up to the parents to inspire their children to keep up with good dental care so that healthy, lifelong habits can form. Consider your child’s bright, beautiful smile as a “thank you” for your efforts.

January 8, 2010 was easily one of the worst days of my life. It was the day my family found out that my then 4-year-old daughter had leukemia. The day started with a trip to the pediatrician to check out some swollen lymph nodes that just would not go away, and ended with an ambulance ride to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with a warning that my daughter probably had cancer.

Unfortunately, her pediatrician was right. My daughter spent the next several years in treatment, first to push the leukemia into remission, then to keep it there.

All things considered, we were lucky. That may sound strange in a story about cancer, but we really were. My daughter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, which is one of the most common forms of childhood cancer, and which had a 85-90% cure rate at the time. That meant there was a well-established treatment protocol, plus lots of research for new treatments. That, coupled with the fact that my daughter responded well to chemotherapy and went into remission early on, meant her chances for surviving — and thriving — were great.

More than seven years later, I am happy to say that she has done just that — survived and thrived. And I am reminded of how easily her story could’ve unfolded in a much more tragic way.

When we first learned she had leukemia, what little I knew about the disease led me to believe that she would need a bone marrow transplant. So before we got to speak to her team of doctors, I started researching the procedure. What I learned scared me.

Bone marrow transplants quite literally can save the lives of people with more than 70 diseases including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell. The scary part? A whopping 70 percent of patients don’t have a fully matched donor in their family. In other words, the odds are pretty slim that there is a familial match. So how does a person find a match when that happens?

They depend on the Be The Match Registry®.

Be The Match is the world’s largest and most diverse donor registry. But even with those numbers, there still thousands of patients who don’t have a match currently available. That means more of us — yes, that means you and me — need to register to ensure that many more patients have access to life-saving treatment.

The younger a person is, the healthier their bone marrow is – which means that more young adults are especially needed to join. And because ethnic background does factor into matching as well, more people of color are needed to join the registry. Joining the marrow registry is pretty simple — all it takes is a cheek swab. You can visit join4kami.org for more information.

But what happens when you’re actually a match with someone?

Well, donating bone marrow is a lot less painful than you (and I) are probably imagining it is. Most people donate through a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation, during which a machine draws blood from one arm, extracts the necessary cells, and returns the remaining blood to your body through your other arm. Donors are fully awake during the procedure and can chat with family and friends or binge on Netflix.

For some donors, a doctor will need to extract marrow directly from the back of your pelvic bone with a needle. If this is necessary, you’ll receive anesthesia and feel no pain during the procedure. Most donors recover completely within a few weeks.

Kamryn, 11, is an example of a patient who currently has no donors available on the marrow registry. She has sickle cell anemia and needs a match. Learn more about Kamryn’s story and sign up to join the registry at join4kami.org.

The saddest part? Kamryn actually had five matches on the registry. They all turned out to be either unwilling or medically unable to donate. What patients really need is donor registry members who are truly committed to donating if the need arises. But too often, registry members who are called upon as a match then say they are “not interested,” which as you can imagine is heartbreaking for patients and their families.

Like I said, my family was lucky. My daughter did not end up needing a bone marrow transplant and chemo alone was enough to save her life. But there are so many families out there who can’t say the same, and who really need the kindness of strangers to keep themselves or their loved ones alive.

Will you sign up to Be The Match?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Access to green spaces may have significant neurological benefits for aging populations. This is according to researchers at the Universities of York and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who investigated the effect that walking between urban and green environment has on the brain.

The study involved eight volunteers from a larger sample of 95 people aged 65 and older. The subjects wore a headset while walking between busy areas of the city and more tranquil green spaces. The headset recorded brain activity and recorded video of the participants describing their state of mind.

Researchers eventually concluded that switching between these two spaces changes the brain’s excitement, engagement, and frustration levels. They also found that the subjects generally preferred the natural atmosphere.

“There are concerns about mental well-being as the global population becomes older and more urbanized,” Research fellow Dr. Chris Neale, of the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a press release. “Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built-up settings.”

These are the latest findings on the psychological benefits of nature, adding to a multitude of other studies looking into how natural environments impact human health. For instance, a 2016 report found that women living closer to major highways are more likely to experience fertility problems. As one in eight couples, or 12% of married women, have difficulty getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy in the United States, women who live within a tenth of a mile of a highway are 11% more likely to struggle with their fertility.

The World Health Organization also warns of other, more common ailments caused by air pollution, including heart disease and lung cancer. They also point out that both chronic and acute respiratory conditions, including asthma, can be direct results of poor air quality. A large portion of the global population suffers from these conditions regularly, and upper respiratory conditions were the most common condition diagnosed at urgent care clinics in 2012.

With new evidence of the direct link between clean, green spaces and human health, especially for older adults, the York and Edinburgh University researchers are urging citizens and world governments to prioritize the protection of natural lands. Click here for more information.

“In a time of austerity, when greens spaces are possibly under threat due to pressure on council funding, we have demonstrated that these areas are important to people’s health,” researchers wrote in the press release. “We have an aging population which places challenges on the government. As the cost of looking after an aging population continues to rise, maintaining access to green space could be a relatively low cost option for improving mental well-being.”

Recent studies indicate that more than 99% of American women voluntarily remove hair, and more than 85% do so regularly, even daily. But, Mckenzi Middlebrooks’ haircut wasn’t an ordinary procedure. This teen recently went viral on social media for her courageous decision to shave her head while receiving chemotherapy.

Mckenzi is currently in the midst of an ongoing battle with both ovarian cancer and neuroblastoma. Yet she decided to “take control” of the situation, and knowing that hair loss due to chemotherapy was inevitable, she decided to get rid of it on her own terms.

“I had a perspective where cancer and chemo kind of control your life,” Mckenzi told ABC News. “I wanted to take control and basically say chemo and cancer can’t decide when I lose my hair. I want to. At least that was one thing I could have control over.”

When Mckenzi was finally ready, a video was taken while her father shaved her head in front of her mother, siblings, and close friends. Mckenzi said she didn’t originally intend to post the video to social media, but she reconsidered upon remembering that it may help others who are going through something similar.

Approximately 21 million women in the U.S. are experiencing hair loss right now, many times due to chemotherapy. Since the video was posted on Twitter, the tweet has reached more than 26,000 retweets in addition to eliciting encouraging responses from both strangers and friends.

“People were like, ‘You helped my cousin be brave enough to shave her head,’” Mckenzi said to ABC News. “I was happy I could help them.”

Mckenzi was initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was just 14, a major blow for a young woman just beginning her teenage years. After stem cell transplants, chemotherapy, and various surgeries, she was in remission for about two years. But right after last Christmas, a scan showed traces of re-emerging ovarian cancer in addition to a new type of cancer, neuroblastoma. Now, Middlebrooks is set to undergo five chemotherapy treatments every 21 days. To help her recover, the MIddlebrooks family has also set up a Facebook page for people who are interested in following her story, progress, and recovery.

While Mckenzi was reluctant to post the video online, the teen has achieved viral fame in an inspiring way. Today, an estimated 23% of Facebook users check their account at least five times a day, but many teens are practically attached to their smartphones.

“Her video is not only giving somebody else the courage to take control of their situation, but it’s bringing awareness to child cancer, and especially that children can get ovarian cancer,” said Middlebrooks’ mother, Janice Middlebrooks, to ABC News. “The response has just been overwhelming. We never expected it…it’s just amazing.”