Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Upcycled Vertical Succulent Garden

I got inspired three years ago by a vertical garden that appeared to be constructed on a lab-frame. Since I am a chemist, this appealed to me.  I was also interested in the drip system that appeared to be integrated into the lab-frame.  Unfortunately, the cost of such a large lab-frame is about a thousand dollars.  What I happened to have laying around the house instead was a baby-gate that we used to train our dog to stay out of the kitchen.  I also had a neighbor that loved laundry soap because she was a seamstress and clothing-maker (fashion designer).  I started keeping the old detergent bottles and other jugs to be repurposed for my vertical container garden.

At first, I tried to grow herbs, but without the irrigation system I quickly learned that the herbs did not survive.  Also my dear husband said that he would NOT under any circumstances eat anything grown in an old detergent bottle.  He felt it would be unsafe for human consumption.

As the time passed, I added a bottom row of bleach bottles.  I started to put the little succulent cuttings that fell off my other plants into these containers and some took root.  I gave up on the vertical herb garden idea.  I have not addressed the water delivery system, with the exception that the bottles are lined up on top of each other so that if I water the top row, the water trickles down into the second row, and so on.

At first I used rope to tie the bottles to the gate, but now I use colorful neon zip-ties.  Either way, there are non-biodegradable petroleum-based materials involved (plastic, nylon) since using hemp rope in the back garden resulted in many plants falling down.  Too biodegradable.  Also, the milk containers were an unstable situation.  Over time, they started breaking off so severely that they no longer supported the plant(s) contained within them.

Now I have nearly every container with a different succulent:
  • Top row (left to right): Graptopetalum paraguayense, Crassula pellucida, Crassula argentea 'Variegata', Crassula argentea, Kalanchoe longiflora, Sedum clavatum
  • Middle row (left to right): Crassula argentea, Crassula tetragona, Echeveria compressicaulis, Sedum pachyphyllum, Crassula perforata
  • Bottom row (left to right): Sedum adolphii, Crassula tetragona, Echeveria subsessilis, Crassula argentea, and a Gasteria x Aloe hybrid called 'Green Gold'
I have learned so much about taxonomy and classification from working with these plants.  My best advice is to be patient.  It has taken 3 years to get to this point.  Every time I pass a beautiful succulent in someone else's garden, I'm tempted to break off a clone, but I know how upset it makes me when things disappear from my garden, so I walk on by appreciatively.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Civil Disobedience

I planted an indoor garden last year on September 18, 2015 in response to The California Seed Law (AB-2470).

Section 5 specifies eight requirements for a printed label or tag on agricultural seed that is for sale or sold for sowing purposes. The labeling of seeds with the kind and variety of each seed component is primary, and the percentage by weight must be reported if it is a mixture of seed varieties. If weeds are present, these must be identified and quantified. There is also a requirement to specify the percentage by weight of inert matter. The seed packet must have a lot number.  The percentage of germination as well as the calendar month and year in which the test was completed must be reported. There must be a name and address of the person who labeled or sold the seed.

The bill defines a "neighbor" as one who lives within 3 miles of you. So you could legally occasionally sell seeds to your neighbor (who fits the aforementioned distance requirement) without following this labeling, but if you are having a transaction with someone who lives greater than 3 miles from you, then you are currently required to follow the guidelines as of August 25, 2014.

As it turns out, there is a new bill going through the California Senate Appropriations called the Seed Exchange Democracy Act (AB-1810).  AB-1810 would exclude seed libraries from the labeling requirements defined in AB-2470.  A “seed library” is defined as a registered noncommercial entity that lends, receives, or gives away seed at a place or event without creating a contractual obligation or an expectation to receive anything of value in return.

Any person or organization that operates a seed library [must] provide notification of its operation on a form created by the secretary.  The notification form shall only include the entity’s name and address and the contact information of the responsible party.  No fee shall be assessed for submitting the notification form. 

I personally didn't have any problem adhering to the labeling requirements.  Coming from a background of scientific cataloguing of seed libraries, I understand the need for standardization and accurate reporting of the contents of a given seed packet.  I also appreciate the reporting of inert materials in the seeds I buy, for example some Poppy seeds I bought recently contain 66% walnut shells "to distribute the seeds evenly," which I think really means, "to make it look like you're getting more seeds."  I guess I wasn't paying attention when I bought them.

The seed packet posted here is the result of my germination experiment where the labeling requirements were met, with the exception of a lot number.  Unfortunately, this was the last of my beautiful Easter Egg Radish seeds that I had been propagating for awhile, my seed stock was exhausted.  I assumed I would be able to bring these seeds full circle to making more seed, as I had always been successful in the past, however it was more difficult to grow the plants indoors.  They dried out extremely quickly and in the course of one weekend, I lost all of them.

The seeds I had of Romaine Lettuce, and Bonnie Spinach were distributed to a group of schoolchildren from Patrick Henry middle school during our outreach event called "I (heart) Science Day."  The kids played botanical bingo and the prizes were seeds.  Even though I don't sell my seeds, I went ahead and followed the labeling requirements.  I gave away all my Spinach seeds, but I still have some Lettuce left.  I have given away all my Chard seeds also, but hopefully the plants in my garden now will restock the library.

I want to show my students (left in the photo above) how to be official in the tracking and distribution of seed stocks.  I hope the kids from Patrick Henry (right in the photo above) have planted the seeds they won either at their house or at a School Garden.

I'm glad that the labeling requirements for small seed libraries (like mine) are changing since the germination experiment ended up using up some of my precious seeds.  I do think it's important to quantify whether there is an inert material in the seed, as well as whether there are noxious weed seeds contaminating the stock.

I'm not currently registered as a seed library, but I will look into doing that when AB-1810 is enacted.  I like that the language specifies that there will be no fee for registering.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Can Science Really Reverse Aging Skin?

Given the fast pace of developments in both the pharmaceutical world coupled with the fast-paced realizations of the natural skin care products world, the question in the title is not totally out of the ordinary.  Don't you agree (you -- the reader -- participant)?  Recently, work has emerged from the scientific community that has been advertised as such.  Below, I will briefly introduce the idea published and the results -- which to me are surprising.

Anti-aging Products?

Seems almost contradictory from the standpoint of a chemist.  Although, when the subject is put into context, the developments seems positive.  At the same time, there is a strange part of listing a product as "anti-aging" in my mind that has never really resonated over the years.  Why?

Because, we are all born with the idea that from emerging from the womb, destruction is all down hill from there.  Our bodies being exposed to the environment spurs our immune systems along with every other defense mechanism available to signal the army -- "game on" -- lets get to work.

What do I mean by the phrase "game on" in the last sentence?

In the context of skin care products, the goal is to preserve the skin.  Really, the goal is to prevent degradation of the skin (or the top few layers of skin).  The three most destructive properties that contribute to the aging process are:

1) Exposure to the environment (chemical, irradiation, physical, etc.).

2) Aging, the natural process of skin shedding.

3) Treating the skin to prevent aging with skin care products.

Am I against skin care products?  Not at all.  But the natural process of aging is that over time, the exposure of the outermost layer of skin (or few layers) is going to cause aging -- which appears in the following visual manners:

1) Dry skin, flaky skin,

2) Saggy skin

3) pale looking skin

Should each of us be afraid of the inevitable appearance of skin?  No.

Should we try our best to preserve our skin from harm?

Of course.  That is unless the treatment is harmful itself.  In this blog post, I want to talk about a potentially harmful treatment that is being touted as a scientifically valid form of anti-aging treatment for our skin.  In the future, I will consult my colleague Sepi to discuss skin care treatment from the perspective of using her company's natural skin care product line -- "CT Organic."  First, lets look at the objective of reversing anti-aging skin.

Reversing The Aging Process Of Skin

In order to reverse the process of aging skin, from a scientists standpoint, a person would have to perform a procedure that involves programming genes in a patients body.  Since we are nowhere near that point, is there anything in the near future that can be done to restore or preserve our skin?  Yes, there are methods that can preserve (or prevent the aging process).

What are these methods?

First, lets look at the appearance of skin and the objective toward keeping the "young" skin active.  There are three main characteristics in skin appearance:

1) Skin tightness

2) Skin body (fullness)

3) Skin health (appearance -- dry or moist)

Am I right?

The goal is to have skin that appears healthy -- meaning has "body" and is moisturized along with the appropriate "tension"(not too tight or too loose).

How is this achieved with skin care products?

In order to back these assertions up, I thought that a good reference would be to look toward two sources: 1) the "Beauty Brains"  and 2) American Dermatology Association.

1) "Beauty Brains":

First, the "Beauty Brains" is a podcast hosted by two cosmetic chemists -- Dr. Perry Romanowski and Dr. Randy Schuller.  The purpose of the podcast is to analyze beauty products in the same fashion as the infamous "mythbusters" do with science.  How does this work?

Recently, there was a podcast specifically devoted to "anti-aging" skin care products.  In that show, the hosts discussed a new technology that involved a skin care patch that supposedly reversed the age of skin.  Fortunately, the Beauty Brains shot down the product and save the community the waste of time and effort.

What was interesting about the podcast in relation to the current blog post was the description of the aging skin and anti-aging products.  Here is an excerpt from the show - shown below:

  Crepey skin gets its name because it looks like tissue paper or crepe paper – the skin is loose and saggy and may have little bumps or ridges. It’s thought to be caused by a reduction in the collagen bundles that exist in dermis. Collagen loss occurs through the natural aging process but crepey skin can also be caused by massive weight loss or topical steroid use which thins the skin. There is no topical cure for this condition although if you can boost collagen production it could certainly help.

Crepey skin is equivalent to dry and loose skin.  I guess that the community likens this to crepe paper found in craft stores.  From the show hosts perspectives, there are products that give skin the appearance of younger skin.  There are some concerns associated with those products and should be reviewed before using them on your skin.  Why -- you might ask?

2) Academy of American Dermatology:

To answer the last question of consulting a physician or a skin care specialist about certain products, I will turn now to the Academy of American Dermatology for resources.  Both the "Beauty Brains" website and the Academy of American Dermatology websites are filled with a wealth of information regarding skin care products.

Collagen loss seems to be a large contributor to the aging of skin.  Although, up until a few years ago, the phenomenon was not known exactly.  There are still a large amount of unknowns associated with aging skin.  I found an article on the AAD website titled "New glycan creams, micronutrient creams hold promise for reducing the signs of aging skin" that discussed the popular use of glycan and micronutrient creams.  The article was an interview with Dr. Zoe Draelos, who is a Board-certified dermatologist, MD, FAAD, a consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. Here is an excerpt regarding the theory behind the use of such creams:

What is the theory behind glycans and anti-aging, and how do glycan creams work?
Dr. Draelos said a person’s glycan levels change during their lifetime. For example, one of the body’s most common glycans is glucose, and Dr. Draelos said glucose levels fall by about 50 percent from age 30 to age 60. In addition, existing glycans may not work as well as they once did.

“The theory is that glycan change and loss that occur with aging lead skin cells to not recognize or communicate with each other with the same vigor they did in their youth,” said Dr. Draelos. “This may be why aging skin doesn’t heal as well or make collagen as readily as it once did,” said Dr. Draelos.

Dr. Draelos said the goal of glycan creams is to provide sugars or transform existing sugars to allow older cells to behave like younger cells. In theory, this would allow the skin to produce more collagen and heal better after injuries, including burns and cuts. Dr. Draelos notes one added benefit of glycan creams is that they are considered safe to apply to the skin because sugars are the body’s fuel.

However, Dr. Draelos notes current research has not shown if glycan creams can impact the skin to the extent that skin cell glycans begin to act more youthful. “The theory behind glycans’ impact on anti-aging is very much in its infancy,” said Dr. Draelos. “Currently there are other more proven treatments on the market, such as retinoids, but new research will provide additional targets for anti-aging strategies.”

Furthermore, Dr. Draelos goes onto comment on the use of "micro-nutrients" to prevent aging skin:

What are the most promising micronutrients for anti-aging?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are essential for human survival. While necessary in our diet, Dr. Draelos said micronutrients are also popular additives in anti-aging skin care products because micronutrients play an important role in the body for healthy skin by preventing oxidative damage. There are recommended daily allowances for each of these micronutrients, but no evidence exists that increased consumption has anti-aging benefits. While vitamins A, C and E are commonly included in anti-aging products as antioxidants, Dr. Draelos said some anti-aging creams now include metals, such as copper, which is necessary in collagen production, or selenium, which functions as an antioxidant through an alternative pathway.

“While research has shown that metals such as selenium and copper have skin benefits when included in our diet, effectively adding these metals to a skin care cream can be a challenge because applying micronutrients to the skin may not be as effective as when consumed,” said Dr. Draelos.

Dr. Draelos recommends people see a board-certified dermatologist if they have questions about choosing anti-aging products. “I tell all my patients that protecting your skin from the sun is the best way to prevent the signs of aging – wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, seek shade and cover up,” said Dr. Draelos. “There is as much diversity in anti-aging products as there is in people’s skin. A dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations.”

Reading the excerpts above should drive home the point of taking care of your skin with natural products.  Be careful of products that advertise too much in too short of time.  Contact a dermatologist for further information.  Understand the type of skin (oily, dry, rash, etc.) that you have to ensure that the product is good for you.

A large amount of products claim to replenish your skin with nutrients that your body is deficient in.  Beware of such claims.  Consult the Academy of American Dermatologists website links for further information on the following topics:

How to create an anti-aging skin care plan

How to select anti-aging skin care products

How to maximize results from anti-aging skin care products

The "Beauty Brains podcast series located here!

Last but not least, I want to discuss a new scientific finding that might claim to be "anti-aging" but could in fact be dangerous to your health.

Elastic Skin

Recently, I was surprise to open up the prestigious scientific journal Nature to see a "News & Commentary" brief article titled "Transparent film smoothes sagging skin back into shape" in the current issue (now a few weeks old).  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Materials scientists working with cosmetics firms have developed a transparent film that, for the first time, mimics the skin’s youthful elasticity. The silicone-based coating can be smeared onto the face or other areas of the body through two gel applications. Once hardened, it clings closely to the skin for more than 16 hours, says Robert Langer, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-led development of the material.

The film — which Langer’s team dubs ‘second skin’ — can reduce the appearance of bags under the eyes and wrinkles, and can increase the elastic recoil of skin when it is pinched, he and colleagues report in a paper published in Nature Materials1. It also acts as a barrier that prevents water loss from dry skin, they report, suggesting that besides its cosmetic use, the film might offer an alternative to greasy ointments for people with skin complaints such as eczema, although it hasn't yet been trialled for that idea.

 After reading the brief commentary, I decided to go look at the article in the research section of the journal myself.   Sure enough, here is the research article titled "An Elastic Second Skin" with the following abstract shown below:

The invention is real.  If you read the introduction, the authors list several reasons why a person would be interested in using elastic skin.  The most important is to have healthy looking (not dehydrated) skin that gives off the appearance of health and wellness.

The above comments are not to suggest that the new product or invention is of no use.  Elastic skin could be of use to the film industry, cosmetic industry for modeling, the health industry for burn victims or patients with persistent skin diseases.  What I worry about is the fact that the average person will come along and use the product without thinking about possible cautions that could turn into disasters.  What might those be?  Take a look at the product shown below from in the picture from the article:

Source: Melanie Gonick

Elastic skin might be good for a patient with the listed conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.  What the consumer should understand is that the skin is a major pathway for the body to excrete toxins through sweating.  The invention could claim that the product might help dry skin or help moisturize a person with persistently dry skin or flaky skin.  True, but also, if the elastic skin is worn over the old skin, there is no room to breathe and release toxins.

Conclusion . . .

Skin care is a multibillion dollar business.  Who would not like to look great with healthy and non-aging skin? The inevitable aspect of aging is that our bodies do get exposed to the environment.  As I suggested above, through the links to various websites with comments, there are pathways to reduce the damage to your skin.  Contact your dermatologist.  Or just practice simple measures such as hydrating your body enough.  Keep your skin moisturized.  Consult a skin care specialist to save yourself money by not over spending on skin care products that have outrageous claims.

Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What Did I Learn From Writing About Mental Health?

I promise that this post will be brief.  Really, do you believe me?  Well, lets get on with this and you will see.  Over the past month, or should I say in the month of May, I wrote two blog posts regarding mental awareness.  The first was about the realization of the physiological responses and the consequences of not responding to them.  While the second was about the role that mental dialogue plays in the success of reducing stress while elevating the health and wellness of ourself and others around us on a daily basis.

I decided to update my "mike's mental awareness journey" page with two posts regarding the process of writing the two posts for this site.  Specifically, what did I learn from these two blog posts -- research, watching, reading the content to assembling them for you to read.  Here is the first post -- click here -- which is brief.  

Really, I have over the last few years really started to understand the importance of noticing when I am stressed and the physiological responses -- my response toward it.  Further, how to deal with stress is centered around getting control of your mind.  I have learned that the best way for me to do so is to start doing job or chore around the house.  That is:  take the stress and the physiological response and utilize that energy to complete a job that I dislike doing -- taking out the trash, dishes, laundry, etc.

These methods work well when you are at home or at work for diffusing stress.  But what about if you are on vacation?  Or at a family event?

On these occasions, the role of forming a positive mental dialogue is critical.   In fact, for me this played out in reality last weekend while on vacation.  You can read about that experience here.  My wife and I were able to turn a terrible situation into a positive one by changing our mindset -- our mental dialogues.

I hope that these two blog posts help encourage you to look within yourself for the signs of stress.  Further, toward changing the self-defeating thoughts into positive constructive thoughts to create a mental dialogue which allows you to accomplish goals that have been obstacles since.

Until next time, Have a great day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Benefits of Yoga

Works Cited:

Bhasin, M. K.; Dusek, J. A.; Chang, B.-H.; Joseph, M. G.; Denninger, J. W.; Fricchione, G. L.; Benson, H.; and Libermann, T. A. "Relaxation Response Induces Temporal Transcriptome Changes in Energy Metabolism, Insulin Secretion and Inflammatory Pathways" PLOS One, Volume 8, Issue 5, 2013, e62817.

Chaya, M. S.; Kurpad, A. V.; Nagendra, H. R.; and Nagarathna, R. "The Effect of Long Term Combined Yoga Practice on the Basal Metabolic Rate of Healthy Adults" BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 6, Number 28, 2006, 6 pages.

Clay, C. C.; Lloyd, L. K.; Walker, J. L.; Sharp, K. R.; and Pankey, R. B. "The Metabolic Cost of Hatha Yoga" Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 19, Issue 3, 2005, p6 04-610.

Cohen, D. L.; Bloedon, L. T.; Rothman, R. L.; Farrar, J. T.; Galantino, M. L.; Volger, S.; Mayor, C.; Szapary, P. O.; and Townsend, R. R. "Iyengar Yoga versus Enhanced Usual Care on Blood Pressure in Patients with Prehypertension to Stage I Hypertension: a Randomized Controlled Trial" Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Volume 2011, Article ID 546428, 8 pages.

Danucalov, M. A. D.; Simoea, R. S.; Kozasa, E. H.; and Leite, J. R. "Cardirespiratory and Metabolic Changes during Yoga Sessions: The Effects of Respiratory Exercises and Meditation Practices" Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Volume 33, 2008, p 77-81.

Li, Q.-Z.; Li, P.; Garcia, G. E.; Johnson, R. J.; and Feng, L. "Genomic Profiling of Neutrophil Transcripts in Asian Qigong Practitioners: A Pilot Study in Gene Regulation by Mind-Body Interaction"  The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 11, Number 1, 2005, p 29-39.

Nidhi, R.; Padmalatha, V.; Nagarthna, R.; and Ram, A. "Effect of a Yoga Program on Glucose Metabolism and Blood Lipid Levels in Adolescent Girls with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Volume 118, 2012, p 37-41.

Smith, C.; Hancock, H.; Blake-Martimer, J.; and Eckert, K. "A Randomised Comparative Trial of Yoga and Relaxation to Reduce Stress and Anxiety" Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 15, 2007, p 77-83.

Yadav, R. K.; Magan, D.; Mehta, N.; Sharma, R.; and Mahapatra, S. C. "Efficacy of a Short-Term Yoga-Based Lifestyle Intervention in Reducing Stress and Inflammation: Preliminary Results" The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 18, Number 12, 2012, p 662-667.