Friday, August 19, 2016

Anti-Aging Skin Series Post 1: Skin -- Structure

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short little blog post explaining that I am going to break down into pieces a long post titled "Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?".   Since then, I have been planning the series in my head and on paper.  In order to understand whether science offers any real solutions to the problem of aging skin, we must understand what skin is all about.  To start off the series, I thought exploring the basics of 'skin structure' would be good.  For some readers the material might be too elementary in detail.  I would challenge you to think deeply about the simplicity of the descriptions and also I will include links for you too (on the side with greater detail).  With this in mind, lets explore the structure of the skin.

Structure Of Human Skin

The structure of the human skin can be broken down in many ways -- many layers of complexity.  In light of the subject matter, we will start simple and then work our way (through the series) into more detail.  Below is the classical structure of human skin taken from the 'Wikipedia' page on "human skin":

At first sight, the image might  be daunting.  No worries, unless you are a dermatologist or a medical school student, you will not be quizzed over the material.  The point of showing the image above is to illustrate that there are different layers of that make up skin.  Furthermore, each layer has a specific role to play in the overall function of skin (as we shall see).

In the description of the "structure" of skin, there are numerous facts disjointedly put together.  According the "Wikipedia" the structure of skin (section) should contain the following opening two paragraphs (overview) shown below:

Skin has mesodermal cells, pigmentation, such as melanin provided by melanocytes, which absorb some of the potentially dangerous ultraviolet radiation (UV) in sunlight. It also contains DNA repair enzymes that help reverse UV damage, such that people lacking the genes for these enzymes suffer high rates of skin cancer. One form predominantly produced by UV light, malignant melanoma, is particularly invasive, causing it to spread quickly, and can often be deadly. Human skin pigmentation varies among populations in a striking manner. This has led to the classification of people(s) on the basis of skin color.[7]
The skin is the largest organ in the human body. For the average adult human, the skin has a surface area of between 1.5-2.0 square metres (16.1-21.5 sq ft.). The thickness of the skin varies considerably over all parts of the body, and between men and women and the young and the old. An example is the skin on the forearm which is on average 1.3 mm in the male and 1.26 mm in the female.[8] The average square inch (6.5 cm²) of skin holds 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels, 60,000 melanocytes, and more than 1,000 nerve endings.[9][better source needed] The average human skin cell is about 30 micrometers in diameter, but there are variants. A skin cell usually ranges from 25-40 micrometers (squared), depending on a variety of factors.
Skin is composed of three primary layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis.[8]

The description of the structure above is fragmented to illustrate the far reaching parts of the structure of skin.  Although, there are good pieces of information and should not be dismissed in any manner.   In all fairness to the authors of the content on the page, the breakdown and descriptions go into greater detail as the reader progresses down the page (with a lot of information).

From the standpoint of the purpose of the series on science and aging skin, the following questions must be answered to tie the current blog post to the 'Anti-Aging Skin Series':

1) What is pertinent about structure to understand anti-aging of the skin?

2) What is the function of each pertinent element of the structure of skin?

While the two questions above are important to address in the context of the blog post series, the function of the skin is the basis for the structure of the skin.  Structure (of the skin) defines function!  That is a very important point to keep in mind.  Especially, when concerning oneself with the application of skin care products.  Not all skin care products are good for the skin -- in regards to the function of the skin.   Remember what the functions (purposes) skin serves for the human body:

1) keeping water in and chemicals out -- natural barrier toward infection

2) serves as padding for bones and other organs

3) serves as a temperature control system for the body


Obviously, as a scientist, I like to learn as much as possible.  Although, in the interest of brevity, I will stick to answering the two questions above.  As we move forward in future posts, I will refer back to this page and add to the stated information in greater detail as the information pertains to answering the global question: Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin? 

Starting off easy -- i.e., from a global perspective will give you a chance to think critically about the skin care products that are on the market that advertise any benefits in terms of 'anti-aging' properties.  If by chance I skip over any, please feel free to leave questions and comments in the comments section and I will try to incorporate them into the series.

Remember, I am a chemist.  Skin care formulation is not my profession.  I am an instrument manager at a University.  Analysis of research is my area currently -- seeing that I maintain the usual army of instruments that you would find in any chemistry laboratory across the world.  One of the main reasons that I am writing this series is to demonstrate that the majority (98%) of my sources will be open source or information that is online.  I hope that in writing these posts, I pass on the confidence onto you to search and do research 'online' for yourself into the hazards associated with the chemicals found in consumer products.

Until next time, have a great weekend!!!!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Secret Life of Cacti

What I love about cacti is how they flower just at the time I need a reminder that even prickly things can be beautiful.  The plant on top might be a peanut cactus (Echinopsis chamaecereus) which I have had since college, possibly 20 years.

The plant on bottom is definitely crown cactus (Rebutia krainziana) that I got at a Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) annual show and sale at the Huntington Library 4 years ago.  When these plants bloom, I know the regular academic year has ended and summer is here!  Usually I get one or two flowers around my birthday (in July).  And these flowers aren't shrinking violets, they're vibrant in color, shocking pink or rich red-orange.  These two varieties of cactus are ideal for container gardening, since they are petite and would be easily overwhelmed among other plants in a large garden.

I'm hoping to visit the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA) Intercity Show at the LA County Arboretum happening next weekend, August 13-14, 2016.  I've always wanted to visit the arboretum, and this will give me an excuse to spend a day there.

Freaky Flowers: Echinopsis Cacti in Bloom
from EchinopsisFreak on Vimeo.

Flowering aside, what I admire about cacti is their ability to grow in arid environments.  With the drought in the Southwestern US, maybe more people should embrace the cactus (not literally, of course, due to their spikiness).  The graphic below from the National Weather Service uses a chocolate-brown color to depict areas in drought.  This assessment was issued July 21st.  The next seasonal drought outlook will be issued on August 18th.

Cacti produce food; ever heard of pitaya or nopal?  Nopal is from the Opuntia cactus (like the one pictured below).  This cactus was photographed at the CSUN Botanic Garden, which contains 1,200 different varieties of plants, including California native plants such as Opuntia littoralis. I wonder if cacti will become more popular out of necessity if we enter a period of megadrought, as predicted if climate change continues.

I feel like even cacti are feeling the drought.  The Opuntia (prickly pear) in the botanic garden are watered regularly (image above), but this massive momma (image below) is on a busy streetcorner.  It seemed like all the pads were dehydrated, like paper-thin.  I didn't see any sprinkler system here.  Maybe there's runoff from the yard behind that keeps the whole colony alive.

Cacti originated in the Americas from three main areas: Mexico/United States, Peru/Bolivia/Chile/Argentina, and Brazil.  Their habitat is shown in green in the map below.  The blue is the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) which is found in tropical regions.  In Australia, the Opuntia are considered Weeds of National Significance, since they are not native to the area.

Shoutout to the Cactus Store in Echo Park.  I saw an article about you in the Los Angeles Times.  We were in your neighborhood last weekend, but didn't realize it until the next day.  I'd love to come browse your diverse collection.  Until then, I will follow you on instagram.  Let's remind people how beautiful cacti can be and how appropriate for our climate.

An important function of plants is that they absorb carbon dioxide produced via combustion and respiration and turn it into sugar, releasing oxygen so that we can breathe.  Cacti are able to do this with lower requirements for water and a higher tolerance for heat.  For a description of metabolism in cacti, without breaking out the biology textbook, see here.  For a comparison of the adaptations in cacti versus "normal" plants, see here.

I like the above photo because it makes everything pretty simple.  All plants produce oxygen in the daytime and absorb carbon dioxide at night.  Cacti photosynthesize in their stems instead of leaves, in order to minimize their surface area-to-volume ratio, minimizing water loss via transpiration.  

It's easy to propagate cacti.  Echinopsis and Opuntia have offsets or "pups" and "ears" or segments that can be easily detached.  I have not used a rooting hormone on these, just set them or slightly bury them upright in soil and voilà!  The Rebutia offsets will be a bit more tricky since they need to be cut with a sterile knife, and I have many that are growing larger by the day.  I tried shaking them loose recently when I repotted it, but the pups wouldn't fall away from the parent with just gentile shaking.

Maybe you can appreciate cacti for their utility (food), beauty (flowers), or metabolic efficiency.  Or maybe all of these qualities appeal to you.  If so, consider bringing home a cactus from a CSSA Show or the Cactus Store.  It will reward you sparingly for caring for it sparingly.  The most common way to kill a cactus is overwatering.  Consider purchasing leather gloves for when you need to transplant your cacti.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Can You Please Break Down Into Bits Your Anti-aging Article?

Back in June, I wrote an article on titled "Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?" -- which was well read -- thank you for your interest in the topic.  After writing the article, Kayla, another author on Kaiserwellnesscenter expressed her views on the article - to say the least.  The first remark was an immediate -- "break down the article."

After 24 hours, the comment was revised to the following: "Out of the blog post, Mike, you could easily get 20 blog posts (short posts) in order for the rest of us to understand."  That was the overarching comment of the blog.  Is that far off the beaten path?  I will let you comment below?

After listening and thinking about her comment (for a month), I have decided to revisit that blog topic.  In the following series titled "Science and Anti-aging," I will simplify the "long-drawn out blog" which I wrote.  I thought that the blog post was good personally.  I will admit the post was lengthy and would be difficult for some people to digest it is one sitting.  Which is why I have decided to break the subject down further into easily digestible parts.

What do I need from you the reader?

A little help would be great in the form of comments.  If you are having difficulty with any of the subject matter contained in the series of blog posts, will you please leave a comment below and let me know?  Then I can address the subject.  If you feel uncomfortable having your comment published, just list in the comment "Please do not post this comment" and I will respect your request.

Alright, that is all I wanted to say for now.  In the next couple of weeks, I will role out the first post.  I am still planning the "bite size" content of each.  Again, if you would like to help in the planning process, please do not hesitate to leave a comment.  I hope that you have a wonderful day and I look forward to explaining further a complicated subject (even for me) in due time.  Cheers!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Benefits of Gardening

Works Cited:

Armstrong, D. A survey of community gardens in upstate New York: Implications for health promotion and community development. Health & Place (2000) Vol 6 pp 319-327.

Galluzzi, G.; Eyzaguirre, P.; Negri, V. Home gardens: Neglected hotspots of agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity. Biodiversity and Conservation (2010) Vol 19 pp 3635-3654.

Hale, J.; Knapp, C.; Bardwell, L.; Buchenau, M.; Marshall, J.; Sancar, F.; Litt, J. S. Connecting food environments and health through the relational nature of aesthetics: Gaining insight through the community gardening experience. Social Science & Medicine (2011) Vol 72 pp 1853-1863.

Hartig, T.; Mitchell, R.; de Vries, D.; Frumkin, H. Nature and Health. Annual Review of Public Health (2014) Vol 35 pp 207-228.

Maller, C.; Townsend, M.; Pryor, A.; Brown, P.; St Leger, L. Healthy nature healthy people: ‘contact with nature as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health Promotion International (2005) Vol 21 pp 45-54.

Milligan, C.; Gatrell, A.; Bingley, A. ‘Cultivating health’: Therapeutic landscapes and older people in northern England. Social Science & Medicine (2004) Vol 58 pp 1781-1793.

Shinew, K. J. Leisure spaces as potential sites for interracial interaction: Community gardens in urban areas. Journal of Leisure Research (2004) Vol 36 pp 336-355.

Twiss, J.; Dickinson, J.; Duma, S.; Kleinman, T.; Paulsen, H.; Rilveria, L. Community gardens: Lessons learned from California healthy cities and communities. American Journal of Public Health (2003) Vol 93 pp 1435-1438.

Wannamethee, S. G.; Gerald Shaper, A.; Walker, M. Physical activity and mortality in older men with diagnosed coronary heart disease. Circulation (2000) Vol 102 pp 1358-1363.

Monday, July 25, 2016

If PokemonGo Can Inspire Walking, Can Bike Share Inspire Active (Bicycle) Transportation?

The wildly popular game Pokemon Go has been out for nearly two weeks and has been getting people to moving around (walking) in order to capture 'Pokemon' treasures.  I read an article recently in which the author speculated if there would be an indirect positive impact (elevation) of the player's health as a result  of playing "Pokemon Go."  Along the same line of reasoning, I have to ask if the new Bike Share program unveiled in downtown Los Angeles will have the same effect -- that is to inspire more people to transition toward bicycle commuting?  Below are a few initial thoughts.

Pokemon-Go Has People Moving For Treasures

There is no doubt that the new release of the version of the Pokemon Go game has inspired people to start moving around.  According to an article on the website "" titled "‘Pokémon Go’ Number of Downloads: How Many People Are Playing It?" the number of users engaged in playing the game is already reaching into the millions -- WOW.  Here is an excerpt describing the results from two independent surveys:

According to The USA Today, earlier in the week, Pokémon Go was reported to have been downloaded at least 15 million times. But other recent data suggests the number is even higher than that.

As of Monday, July 11th, the game was seeing about 21 million daily active users, according to Survey Monkey. This means that in terms of daily users, it is the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. For comparison, at its peak Candy Crush reportedly had about 20 million daily active users in the United States.

That is amazing.  These numbers are aligned with a common statement that I tell my friends -- which is that if you want to make a movement in the world -- make a video game that motivates that movement.  Which is to say that, if a person was interested in making more people interested in science, then producing an "engaging" game that motivates people to learn science is the way to go.

Further, the results (the numbers) show that if the game is popular enough, people will engage in playing for a long time.  Again, here is an excerpt highlighting the time spent thus far by players compared to other popular games:

Another impressive piece of data is the fact that many users are spending significantly more time in their Pokémon Go app than they are on Facebook or Twitter. According to Sensor Tower, on Monday, July 11th, the average iPhone user spent 33 minutes in the Pokémon Go app, whereas they only spent 28 minutes in the Facebook app, 18 minutes in the Snapchat app, 17 minutes in the Twitter app, and 15 minutes in the Instagram app.

 According to the amount of time reported that have players engaged (walking for a large portion) in the game, players are reaching the minimal amount of exercise needed in a week's duration.  Meaning, if a player is engaged in the game for at least 33 minutes a day and plays 7 days a week, counting stopping and capturing "treasures" -- most likely the player is achieving the minimal amount of exercise needed.

Additionally, despite the reported negative effects of the game (distraction, robbery, etc.), there are reports of the game having a positive effect on mental health (depression and anxiety).  Tallying up the disadvantages and advantages on a person's health, as of now, the game appears to be beneficial to society thus far.

Here is a picture of one our board members (for our nonprofit organization -- Bikecar101) playing Pokemon Go on the train shown below:

He swears that since the game has come out, he has walked extra laps around his house in order to capture more "treasures".  Additionally, the game has captured him while engaging in active transportation (for him, train + bicycle).  This is motivating.

Hopefully, more people see such positive benefits to their health as those already playing have.  Furthermore, if the game dies out, hopefully, the players will see the benefits of increased physical activity and continue on engaging in more outdoor activities.  Stay tuned.

Having a game or a new system motivate indirectly active living is wonderful.  As shown above, millions of people are moving.  Some of whom probably were inactive before the new game emerged.  Another form of indirect motivation that will engage more people into using active modes of transportation is the newly unveiled 'Bike Share' program in downtown Los Angeles by Metro.

Bike Share Indirectly Motivates Active Transportation!

Some readers might not agree with the title of this section.  Why would a bikeshare program "indirectly" motivate people to become engaged in active transportation?  Let me explain briefly below.

Recently, I took a weekend trip to Nebraska, specifically, visiting family in downtown Omaha.  I arrived on a Friday afternoon to meet up with my wife (who had flown in earlier in the week) and my father-in-law.  After picking me up from the airport, they notified me that we had a few hours to spare until the next event.  Further, they suggested that we walk down by the river that separates Nebraska and Iowa as shown in the picture below:

The walk was great as usual.  I needed to stretch my legs after sitting on a rather long flight (I do not fly very often).  Of course, I am being silly when I say a long flight from California.  Back in my military days, we would fly from South Carolina to Saudi Arabia on a direct flight for 24 hours (very fun) -- with earplugs in and a dark plane.  Yeah!

Anyways, on this particular Friday, the weather was great and the walk was too.  Along the walk, we noticed that the newly installed Bike Share was installed at various points along the river and dotted throughout the downtown area -- which was super cool.  Here is a picture of the Bike Share station in Omaha Nebraska shown below:

I was immediately attracted to the message written on the sign -- which reads "Imagine Better Health" -- super cool.  In the future, I imagine more healthcare organizations will utilize Bike Share programs for there "at risk" heart patients (discussions are underway currently).  We could not help but try it out.  Here are pictures of each of us on bicycles below:


Me -- Mike:

And Steve:

The experience was great.  We used the bicycles to return to the car.  Ironically, we parked in front of a train museum (an old train station) that had a bikeshare hub just outside.  We were able to ride back to the museum and return the bicycles nearly in front of the parking lot where the car was parked.

On a side note: I am frequently asked about my position on the future of bikeshare programs in the Southern California region.  Specifically, because I am a co-founder of Bikecar101 -- whose mission is to advocate and educate the public about bicycles on public transit trains.  A bikeshare program might seem contradictory to our mission.  Let me clear the air now.

We believe that all modes of active transportation are the solution to the future of motivating the public to engage in active transportation.  Not any single one outpaces any other.  Each will work in concert with one another along parallel lines to motivate active living.  There is a time and a place for each mode to be used by each of us.

The trip to Nebraska was a perfect example of a great time for us to try out the bikeshare system.  We had a ball riding around.  The bicycles were heavier and noticeably different from those that we ride on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, having the opportunity to ride around on a bicycle then conveniently return it was great.  That was Nebraska, what about downtown Los Angeles?

Bike Share Inspires Active Transportation

After reading the initial account from the LA Times upon the unveiling by Metro of the new Bike Share program downtown on the 7th of July, I was super happy to see how much press the LA Times was giving the program over the next week.  Of course, this coverage was on top of the usual stellar coverage of the unveiling by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.  We need the popular news to help us out with spreading the word about the new program.  Further, the opportunity to engage in active modes of transportation for tourists, businesses, consumers, etc.

Similar to the release of the PokemonGo game, the new program has the potential to motivate people to engage in active transportation.  Additionally, the program has the potential to turn a non-bicycle commuter into a person who chooses to use a bicycle in addition to other modes of transportation to get around town.  Why do I believe that to be true?

At first upon hearing the unveiling of the Bike Share program, I was hoping that the program would be successful -- for the purpose of investment into the initial program.  Although, after having a weekly conversation with my father (who was born in Santa Monica and is 74 years old), I have a new optimism about the program turning over more people to active transportation.

He was mentioning that the amount of press is great to spread awareness of the program.  This he states has been a great problem with motivating all modes of public transportation since he was a child.  Awareness is key.   Second, he believes that he would jump on a bicycle and try it out if he finds himself near a hub sometime in the future.  Additionally, he can easily see himself motivated after riding a Bike Share bicycle to go out and purchase a bicycle to add to his daily routine.  Why?

He stated that if he had the opportunity to ride around town and build up a mental library of the amount of time spent traveling from place to place, he would be motivated to try alternative transportation instead of driving.  Especially, in hope of relieving stress and elevating his health.  Not to mention, coupling a "workout with his commute" (as he stated).

After talking with him, I am convinced that the program could very well result in more residents engaging in active modes of transportation on top of the tourists who choose to try the new system.


I hope that you will share our optimism and try the system out.  At the very least, spread the word about our experiences and motivate others to try to engage in active transportation.  Right about now, the advocates of the active transportation world are appreciative of any efforts to motivate residents to engage in a healthier lifestyle -- even if that entails supporting Pokemon Go.

In the future though, we would hope that the seed has been planted and sprouts organically through a responsive engagement on part of the public to utilize these programs that precious tax dollars have been spent on -- for the better of society.  Additionally, the influence of friends and family is contagious in making (motivating) changes to our society which result in a more healthier and environmentally friendlier world.  Join us and spread the word!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gardening Experiments

Biodiversity in the garden is something that I value.  When I am planning my garden, I definitely consider each branch of the evolutionary tree and try to include members from each family.  Some things, like fruit trees, are out of the question because I don't have enough room.

I try to think about what goes (grows) well together.  This concept is called "companion planting" and it is interesting to think that a small organic garden (using no pesticides) can be grown when plants that help each other are planted together, in nearby containers.  Some plants are grown to be a "trap" or "sacrificial" crop.  These plants attract predators away from your crop plants.  I use marigold.

Another way to scare pests is to use pinwheels as scarecrows.  The pinwheels I made are much prettier than some fake bird.  I got a pattern (shown at left), some colored straws, some corsage pins, and some gels that are used for stage lighting.  They are easy to assemble.  I mounted the straws on bamboo kebab skewers and stuck them in the ground throughout my garden.

I got the idea when we were planning an activity around Earth Day a few years ago.  I thought it would be great to talk about capturing wind energy.  It was perfect since the day we did the activity was really windy.  A year or so later, we were talking about color and light so I went to a DJ store and bought a bunch of light gels in all different colors.  These made pretty durable pinwheels.  The thing that actually degraded first was the straw, in particular the red one.  Maybe it was in the most direct sunlight.

What are your ideas for organic gardening?  How do you deter pests?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fun Fitness Events

Griffith Park Trail Relay Marathon & 8K
July 17, 2016 @ 7:00am
$49.00 Registration - through 7/13 for individual 8K
Team registration is currently closed
2016 is the inaugural year for this event

Tour de Laemmle
Sunday, July 24th @ 6:00am
Registration is FREE
ALL LEGS: The Whole Enchilada! (125 miles)
LEG 1: Monica Film Center in Santa Monica to Claremont 5 (55 miles)
LEG 2: Claremont 5 to Playhouse 7 in Pasadena (30 miles)
LEG 3: Playhouse 7 to Glendale 5 and on to NoHo 7 in North Hollywood (15 miles)
LEG 4: NoHo 7 to Town Center 5 in Encino and back to Monica Film Center (25 miles)

August 6, 2016 @ 8:00am
$35 individual ~ $30 student/military
Hilly, varied terrain (asphalt, dirt, grass), finisher's medal
Packet pick-up starts at 6:30am

Pride of the Valley 5K
August 6, 2016 @ 8:00am
$25 registration, $30 with T-shirt
$15 team category, goes up to $20 in 52 days
Esther Snyder Community Center • 4100 Baldwin Park Blvd Baldwin Park, CA 91706

August 13, 2016 @ 7:30am
Flat course, sunglasses, T-shirt, medal.
$35 individual, goes up to $40 in 3 days
Packet pick-up at A Runner's Circle on Friday, August 12 from 10am-6pm

August 14, 2016 from 9am - 4pm
Car-free streets for 3.5 miles
Completely FREE and no cost

Bikecar101 & Softball Junkies CoEd Tournament
September 3, 2016
Santa Clarita Central Park
$350 per team

Summer Breeze 5k, 10k, 15k, Half Marathon
September 10, 2016 @ 7:30am
$20 for individual 5k
$25 for individual 10k
$35 for individual half-marathon

October 2015, ride schedule coming soon

CicLAvia ~ Heart of LA
October 9, 2016

39th Annual Mission Inn Run
Sunday, November 13, 2016
$40 for 5k, $50 for 10k, $70 for half marathon
December 4, 2016
Bib Pick-Up Saturday December 3rd at Fleet Feet Sports, Burbank
$60 for 10k and $85 for the half-marathon