Tag Archives: Biology

From the Sunshine State to the Windy City: An Interview with Cory Vogt

By Margo Ruter

A Florida native, Cory Vogt is spending is first winter in Chicago, and recently felt the first snow of the season. But for Cory, it was his first snow. Florida, the Sunshine State, has been home to him for twenty years. Although most of us are used to the decline of available Vitamin D from November to March, we took a minute to sit down with the rookie himself and see how things are going.

Occam’s Taser: What was your first reaction when you saw snow?
Cory Vogt: It was slightly surreal. I really didn’t know what to expect. Ever since I got here in March, people have been telling me horror stories about the winters here. It’s funny because it’s always “not last year, but the year before” that was the worst winter ever.

OT: What do most people say is the worst part?
CV: The short and gray days. I’m so used to long and sunny days in Florida, it didn’t make total sense to me. It was such a new thing to imagine. But now it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s so limiting. In Florida it stays sunny out until 7:00 all year round, so adjusting to the darkness has been a challenge.

OT: How have the gray days been on your psyche so far?
CV: Well it’s definitely been strange. Going from constant sun, to constant gray for a week or so is incredibly weird. I anticipate a few rough days in February, but I don’t think it will disrupt my life.

OT: Sunlight is one of the crucial providers of Vitamin D. Have you noticed any physiological effects with this climate change?
CV: I’m just very mellow. It almost feels like a slower pace, but that doesn’t make sense, it’s Chicago. I have noticed that my allergies are no longer a problem. I’m allergic to just about everything under the sun, so I moved somewhere with less sunlight, and bam – problem solved.

OT: A common effect of less Vitamin D in your diet is a weakened immune system. Have you been sick at all?
CV: I got sick when I first moved. I haven’t been sick since then, but I do feel fatigued more often. I have been sleeping a lot more. I’ll wake up and still be tired for a longer period of time. The sun has a natural way of waking you up to begin with, so without it, it’s pretty hard to shake it off in the morning.

OT: Do you take vitamins at all?
CV: I take a multi-vitamin. I like to make sure it has Vitamin D in it because I know that my source has been greatly diminished. I also take a lot of B Vitamins. They help pick up the slack the sun left behind.

OT: What are some of your concerns as the winter continues and the days get shorter?
CV: I think just staying active and productive. I’ve noticed that it’s really easy to get sucked into the grayness, especially if you don’t utilize what little day there is. I worry about the cold and snow in terms of transportation because it’s something I’ve never had to battle.

OT: You definitely need a legitimate set of winter gear. Are you prepared?
CV: I’m getting there. As the days get colder, I’m realizing the kind of things I need to buy. Thicker gloves are next.

OT: Have you considered fake baking to get that extra Vitamin D that you miss from Florida?
CV: No. But I’ll keep it in mind.

As you can see, Florida consistently has more hours of sunlight per day than Illinois. While Florida residents may not have to worry about a Vitamin D deficiency, Illinois residents should take special care from November to April while sunlight is grim.

Perhaps Cory will have a colder winter than most, but we can rest assured that Occam’s Taser reminded him of the dangers of Vitamin D deficiency. Being aware of the challenging differences from Florida to Chicago is the first step in overcoming the winter blues and staying healthy. Keep on your vitamins and stay warm kids.


Interview: An Insider’s Take On Tanning

By Daniella Lee

Vitamin D is the secret steroid that provides benefits such as a longer, healthier life and overall happiness. But when the sun sets and the winter cold creeps up, the recommended intake for Vitamin D might be a little difficult to reach. A possible solution: tanning salons. Now, we’re not suggesting you turn into Snooki, but she may be onto something. This week, we sat down with Melina Vincent, an employee at Halsted Tan and Spa to find out if tanning salons can provide you with that extra vitamin D you need to get through the winter.

Occam’s Taser: What tanning services are offered at Halsted Tan and Spa?
Melina Vincent: We offer UVA tanning (helps eliminate burning), UVB and UVA, and our spray tan which is called Versa.  All the UV beds we have include base level, mid level and high level and both stand ups and lay downs in each.

OT: Tell us about the different levels of tanning?
MV: Base level is equivalent to a level 3 or level 4, it will give you a good base color tan without making you too dark.  Mid-level is the next up and includes more intense face and shoulder tanners.  It’s a stronger voltage and has more bulbs in the bed so you get a deeper tan and after a few visits you look like you came back from vacation.  Our high-level beds are a good way to get color right away that stays for a few days without doing the versa spa.  It’s a higher voltage than both the base level and mid level and has more beds than all of them.  We have two beds imported from Italy that are Strictly UVA so if someone who is fairer complected and wanted to go in a high level bed they can go in one of these beds and still receive all the benefits of the high level bed without burning.

OT: How does your salon offer Vitamin D?
MV: Because each bed is the newest technology it makes sure to give you a safe tan with your daily amount of Vitamin D.  We also offer deals like $2 tan coupons, $5 tans every Tuesday, and $10 on any bed (including our $32 high level bed) after 9pm Tues-Thurs. to promote UV tanning and Vitamin D Nutrition.

OT: What are the major side effects of tanning?
MV: To much exposure or burning is something we see very often, people will come in and want to do a strong bed for the full time and they haven’t been in the sun so their melanin is still “sleeping” and although we warn them they still tend to burn.  Also, a side effect could be wrinkles at an early age ONLY if you abuse your tanning privileges and have been doing it for many many years.

OT: What are the benefits of tanning?
MV: Vitamin D is the biggest benefit because studies have shown that people who have the required amount of vitamin D daily and or weekly are healthier than those who are not.  Also, you get a nice color and look healthy.

OT: What do you recommend at your salon?
MV: I recommend trying the UVA bed because it’s very uncommon for a salon to have it. If you have an upcoming special event, try the Versa Spa Spray because it is the newest spray tan technology. It’s a sugar based solution, not an iodine base,  so it won’t turn your skin orange.

OT: How does Halsted Tan and Spa promote tanning?
MV: We promote tanning in the safest way possible, we make sure every client goes into the room with eye-wear and we encourage them to have lotion to moisturize their skin. We also have many many options, so between packages and specials and beds a customer can really come in and customize exactly what they want to do. We advertise a healthy glow during the winter and promote Vitamin D benefits.

Tanning salons can be your resource for that healthy glow and your vitamin D fix. Now, we aren’t recommending that you turn into an Oompa-Loompa, but the occasional drop-in won’t hurt. Before you head into any salon, get to know all the facts. Melina and the tanning world like to look at the benefits of the tanning bed, but there is a dark side. UVA rays go deep into the skin creating that nice golden brown tan, but provide no Vitamin D production. UVB rays are the ones that stimulate the vitamin D production, but also burns your skin easily. And we all know that tanning increases your risk for skin cancer. Halsted Tan and Spa does offers great deals, if the tanning bed is suddenly calling your name, so you can glow even in the winter snow.

New Vitamin D Intake Recommendations Released By Medical Panel

By Lizzy Sebuck

What a coincidence! During our weekly topic focusing on Vitamin D and health, new recommendations for Vitamin D intake have been reviewed and released by The Institute of Medicine Panel. As of November 30th, the institute’s research states that many people already get sufficient levels of Vitamin D intake from their usual diets. The new Vitamin D recommendation is based off of how much Vitamin D people need to support their calcium levels. While maintaining sufficient levels of Vitamin D can do wonders for your overall health, the panel concluded the newly released intake levels will specifically benefit bone health. Below are the new levels of Vitamin D intake recommended by the panel to support calcium levels in the body:

Infants – 400 units
Children/Adults – 600 units

Translation? 600 IU (units) of Vitamin D amounts to 5 cups of milk, or 5 oz of salmon. The reports say that this is a large improvement over previous years of Vitamin D diet regulations. So if you’re not much of a pill popper and want to steer clear of the supplements we previously referred you to, then try salmon for spin to get your Vitamin D. This research claims that taking too many Vitamin D supplements can have a negative effect on your health. According to this research, a healthy diet and some sunlight could just do the trick.


So grab that grocery list off the fridge and jot down milk and salmon, we know what you’ll be eating for dinner this week.

Good Morning America

The Sunshine Vitamin

By Katie Gangloff

Feel the winter blues creeping up? Most of us are aware of the physical and mental numbing of the winter cold. The sun doesn’t shine as long as it does in warmer months. To escape the cold we spend most of our time hibernating indoors snuggled up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and the first season of Glee. Studies show that we should be getting as much sunlight as possible during winter months because the sun doesn’t shine as long and isn’t as warm as it is in June and July. Having sufficient levels of Vitamin D can prevent depression, muscle and bone weakness, certain types of cancer, and much more. Kennel, Drake, and Hurley find that many people are Vitamin D deficient and may not even know it. Adequate levels of Vitamin D are measured from the 25-hydroxyvitamin D, (also known as 25(OH)D), concentration in the blood.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the percentage of adults achieving vitamin D sufficiency as defined by 25(OH)D of as least 30 ng/mL [nanograms per milliliter] has declined from about 60% in 1988-1994 to approximately 30% in 2001-2004 in whites and from about 10% to approximately 5% in African Americans during this same time.”

First of all, what is Vitamin D? It’s not technically a vitamin, but an extremely powerful steroid hormone in our bodies. The easiest (and free) way to obtain Vitamin D is via sun exposure. way. Cholesterol is absorbed by your skin and eventually converted into Vitamin D by the liver. The only way to get it is from the sun, not through food. The cholesterol in the skin is gradually lost as our bodies age, which in turn creates an inability to synthesize the Vitamin D.

Another way to gain the essential ‘vitamin’ is through a supplement. “Since 1997, the Food and Nutrition Board has advised an AI [all individuals] of Vitamin D of 200 to 600 IU/d[International Units].” In relation to other medicines, this is like taking two Tylenol for a headache, only this stuff is much better. This dosage was recommended to be taken and used to fortify foods.

What do you do if you have a Vitamin D deficiency? By taking a “loading dose” you can jump start the production of Vitamin D in your body. A loading dose is almost like pumping a whole butt load of adrenaline or steroids at one time in order to get a better result in the end. One way to load a dose is to take 50,000 IU (or 1.25 milligrams) of Vitamin D once weekly for a designated amount of time prescribed by your doctor. Of course Vitamin D comes in a variety of doses, from 200 IU up to 5000 IU. Below are a few reasons why you should care about your Vitamin D level.

Kennel, Drake, and Hurley suggest that having enough Vitamin D can prevent the following:

  • rickets
  • 17 types of cancer including pancreatic, colon/rectal, stomach, prostate, lung, breast, bladder, uterine, espousal, kidney, ovarian, multiple melanoma, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve immune system function (prevents colds and flu), autoimmune function, inflammation
  • multiple sclerosis
  • autism
  • allergies
  • preeclampsia
  • both type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • depression
  • muscle and bone weakness
  • generalized pain

A common misconception is that Vitamin D will ‘cure’ all of the above, but really if you had sufficient levels of Vitamin D most of these things wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

“So Vitamin D simply allows our bodies to work the way they were designed to “

Now, you’re thinking, “how am I supposed to get sun when the days are becoming shorter and shorter?” A few suggestions include to take a walk during your lunch break, stand in the sun so your face is exposed, take supplements, and definitely talk to your doctor to find out if you are Vitamin D deficient. For those of you that hit the tanning beds, you’ll get your Vitamin D fix but be weary of the side-affects. Ever heard of skin cancer? Play it safe and stick to supplements.

We are reading your mind once again, why should you care if you’re getting enough Vitamin D? The benefits are tremendous, Vitamin D can keep you healthy, strong, alive longer, and overall happier. And who doesn’t want to be happier?

Kennel, Kurt A., Matthew T. Drake, and Daniel L. Hurley. “Vitamin D Deficiency in Adults: When to Test and How to Treat.” Mayo Clinic. 85.8 (2010): 752-758.

Slim Down And Brain Up: How To Keep Your Mind And Body Running

by Peter Muller

Fact: cardiovascular exercise is integral to staying in-shape and healthy.  We all know this.  Whether it’s your doctor harping on the subject or just that reflection in the mirror serving as a constant reminder, without a steady regiment of cardio, our bodies just grow rounder and each flight of stairs gets tougher to scale.  Keeping a steady workout routine is tough, especially when work, school, recreation, and entertainment get thrown into the mix.

Struggling to put down that cheeseburger?  You’re in good company.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in America has seen a dramatic increase over the last twenty years.  Furthermore, it has more than doubled in the last 30 years!

No matter which group you belong to; those who eat, breathe, and sleep at the gym or those who just eat; we all think of exercise in the same terms: work out, stay healthy, look good, be confident.  Even recent research on cardiovascular exercise continues to reiterate these points.  Now, there’s a new reason to get on board with exercise:  According to a 2006 study at the University of Illinois – Urbana, cardiovascular aerobic exercise helps keep your brain healthy as you age, too.  Add that to the list of reasons to start a running regiment tomorrow.

In the study, researchers looked at the brain activity of fifty-nine adults aged 60-79 via MRI scans over the course of six months; with half the group participating in regular aerobic exercise and the other half not.  To their surprise, the group that participated in a regular aerobic routine had a significant increase in brain volume in only those six months!  Although this study concentrated on older adults, the message is clear: there is a direct connection between a cardiovascular workout and the health of your brain.

“Our results suggest that brain volume loss is not an inevitable effect of advancing age and that relatively minor interventions can go a long way in offsetting and minimizing brain volume loss.”

In an earlier study, researchers had found that the brains of adults active in cardiovascular exercise throughout their lives were better preserved than the brains of those who did not.  Although this fact may no longer seem significant given the newer research above, it’s important to know that the benefits associated with sudden increases in brain volume are still unknown.  So, in essence, it’s still better to start exercising early in life, ensuring you keep the brains you already have.

Loss in brain volume as you age is associated with many common disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, long-term memory loss, and decrease in general intelligence and cognitive ability; all symptoms I’d prefer to do without.

In the end, your doctor and your reflection’s nagging urge to get rid of those few extra pounds have been correct; you’re better off making time for that workout in your daily schedule.  Except now, it’s your brain urging you to workout and save the gray matter in addition to your butt telling you to lose the “gravy matter.”  Bikini season may be over, but there’s never a season for muffin top.  Use whatever reasoning gets your ass in the gym.

“Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume In Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Paige E. Scalf, Jenny S. Kim, Ruchika Prakash, Edward McAuley, Steriani Elavsky, David X. Marquez, Liang Hu, and Arthur F. Kramer.
Beckman Institute & Department of Psychology and Department of Kinesiology
University of Illinois, Urbana.
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2006, Vol. 61A, No. 11, 1166–1170

“Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans”
by: Stanley J. Colcombe, Kirk I. Erickson, Naftali Raz, Andrew G. Webb, Neal J. Cohen, Edward McAuley, and Arthur F. Kramer
Beckman Institute – University of Illinois, Urbana
Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
2003, Vol. 58A, No. 2, 176–180

Not Your Granny’s Apple

by Lizzy Sebuck

As the temperature drops and the leaves begin to change color, it’s time to put away that pitcher of lemonade or that mango concoction you came up with over the summer and embrace the fruits of the season.  Fall is the season for pumpkins, candy corn, and taffy, but nothing beats the apple explosion.  Let me be blunt: apples are the shit.  Off of the top of my head I can think of at least three reasons why: apples make delicious pies, they are the reason we have apple pie flavored shots, you can eat apples after you scrape out all the resin (don’t act like that doesn’t bring back your college days); all-in-all, apples rule.  We’ve learned that the scent of apples can help reduce the intensity of a migraine and this week it’s our mission to fill you in on some information about apples that everyone can use. Let’s explore some other ways apples can heighten your other senses, such as sight and sound, or hinder all of your senses through taste.

They really weren’t kidding about “an apple-a-day.”
According to natural cures website LaceToLeather.com , Apple Cider Vinegar can work wonders for many bodily ailments.

Amongst other things, cider vinegar is very effective in detoxicating [sic] various organs in the body together with the blood stream. Hence it is a purifier, as it has a means of breaking down fatty, mucous and phlegm deposits within the body. It therefore, promotes the health of the vital organs of the body e.g. kidneys, bladder, liver etc., by preventing an excessively alkaline urine. Cider vinegar also helps oxidate [sic] the blood which consequently prevents the blood from becoming too thick and gluey, which gives rise to a strained heart and blood vessels resulting in high blood pressure. Cider vinegar also promotes digestion, assimilation and elimination and it neutralizes any toxic substance taken into the body.

Tired and Sore Eyes

For tired, sore eyes, don’t listen to Ben Stein, use cider vinegar!  According to LaceToLeather.com, drinking the cider vinegar will relieve some eye pain.

The cider vinegar therapy together with honey is the essential ingredients here. Two teaspoons of each taken in a glassful of water, three times a day. This mixture retards the onset of tired and sore eyes which are usually apparent in later life, as it supplies them with those vital elements essential to their health and functioning.

Even though you won’t immediately feel the effects of the cider, your eyes will thank you later in life.

Impaired Hearing

Starting to wonder why your aging parents always ask “huh” or “what” these days?  Maybe they didn’t treat themselves to the apple cider vinegar therapy in their earlier years.

The treatment of impaired hearing has had excellent results on the apple cider vinegar therapy. Take the normal dosage three times daily and notice the improvement.

And now for the most enjoyable of the senses…

Spiked Apple Cider

This treat will keep your insides warm and fuzzy no matter how cold it is at this season’s tailgate.  If you’re looking for a drink that will knock your socks off and warm your belly, this is it.


  • 1 gallon of apple cider
  • At least a fifth of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum (or any spiced rum)
  • At least 2 apples per batch (green or red is up to you)


  • Pour half gallon of Apple Cider in heated pot on stove, let contents steam.
  • Add half the rum to the pot.  (Or more, depending on how loosey goosey you want to get.)
  • Cut up at least 2 full apples into one-inch chunks and add to the mixture.  These pieces will absorb the spiked cider and serve as an intoxicating snack as you drink.
  • Lightly boil contents for about 10 minutes and ENJOY.

The sooner you lap up this alcoholic apple cider, the sooner the pot will be empty and you can throw it on your head and pretend to be Johnny Appleseed.

Turns out there are a few more useful functions for apples aside from using them to smoke the happy herb or sucking up to the hot teacher.  The smell of apples can be used to ease a migraine and can benefit sight, hearing, and taste as well.
By this point I’m sure many of you are convinced that we’re alcoholics, in reality, we just know how to make a party out of any topic, whether it’s wine, sushi, or apples.
Remember, “An apple-a-day keeps the doctor away” (but it may invite a hangover).

An Interview With No Hot Air

by Peter Muller

Physician's Assistant, Army Medic
With all of these digestion issues, we felt it was time to speak to someone more knowledgeable on the subject.  To get more information on the subjects of digestion and indigestion, we spoke with Cary Malczewski, a certified U.S. Army Combat Medic.  Army medics are a soldier’s first line of aid in the field, and in addition to combat related roles, they also man the military’s field hospitals and clinics, giving them a plethora of experience on common ailments and injuries.  Outside of the military, Mr. Malczewski has a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and is currently finishing a master’s degree in Medical Science within a Physician’s Assistant (PA) program.

Occam’s Taser: What makes people hungry?
Cary Malczewski: There are many components of hunger, including two counterbalanced hormones secreted by the stomach that control the feeling of hunger in the brain.  One tells your brain that you’re hungry, the other tells it that you’re full.  Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates appetite and Leptin works inversely with Ghrelin to let your brain know you’ve had enough food.  It takes a little while for Leptin to alert the brain, so the key is to eat slowly, giving your brain enough time to learn that it’s full.  This is also why eating quickly leads to overeating.

OT: Can you fill us in on the biological basics of digestion?
CM: There are three basic phases of digestion, or gastric stimulation.  The first phase is the cephalic phase where the central nervous system is activated by the thought, smell, and sight of food.  Your body primes itself for digestion by producing saliva in the mouth and acid in the stomach.  Next, in the gastric phase, food is swallowed and enters the stomach where it’s broken down mechanically and chemically through stomach compression and lowering pH levels (increasing acidity).  Finally, in the intestinal phase, the broken down food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine where nutrients from the food are absorbed.  Later, in the large intestine, liquids are absorbed and the rest is expelled as waste.

OT: What are the most common causes of indigestion?
CM: Again, there are many factors that can cause indigestion.  Some of the most common are gastroesophageal reflux (acid reflux/heartburn), peptic ulcers, and gallbladder disease.
Acid reflux is caused by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)(see diagram above) being too loose, and allowing stomach acids to back up and enter the esophagus.  The LES can become loosened up from a variety of factors including heredity, anatomical variation, obesity, overeating, smoking, and alcohol consumption.  Certain foods like chocolate, peppermint, and coffee tend to relax the LES, also causing reflux.
Peptic ulcers are caused by a breakdown in the stomach’s protective lining, allowing the acids from digestion to eat away at the walls of the stomach.  Kind of like a bad rug burn on the inside of your stomach, ulcers can be very painful.
Gallbladder disease, as the name implies, occurs in the gallbladder (see diagram below).  The gallbladder stores bile, a fluid necessary in the digestion of fats, before it moves to the small intestine.  If too much bile builds up, it can harden into a gallstone, blocking the secretion of the bile and forcing the gallbladder to expand, causing extreme pain.

OT: What’s the best thing someone can do for indigestion?
CM: Eating small meals throughout the day can help.  Each person will have different symptoms with different foods, so keeping track of problematic foods and avoiding them is helpful. Greasy foods should be avoided with gallbladder attacks.  It’s common for reflux to be worse at night when laying down in bed; gravity will allow the acids to creep up into the esophagus.  A common mistake is to prop a pillow or two under the head, however, this makes things worse by putting a bend in the waist which increases pressure on the stomach.  A quick fix is to raise the head of the bed 6-8 inches with an old book or a block.  This will keep the body straight and use gravity to keep the acid in the stomach where it belongs.  You can also sleep in a chair.
Gas and bloating can be treated by avoiding foods that bring on those symptoms.  The bacteria in our colon differs slightly from person to person, so certain foods may be worse for some than for others.  If you have to have that second helping of Pad Thai from Thai Bowl try taking an over-the-counter anti-gas pill (Simethicone), and for diarrhea try Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, or Imodium.  Overall, indigestion is a fact of life, sometimes you just have to deal with it.

OT: What are the worst foods to be eating in terms of indigestion?
CM: Anything high in acidity is going to cause problems.  Primarily citrus, hot peppers, ground beef, onions, chili, etc. (See the complete list)  This is just another reason people are always told to stick with healthy, natural foods.  If you absolutely must have that third cup of rocket fuel coffee in the morning, be sure to eat some food to buffer the stomach and help absorb some of that extra acid, e.g., toast, bagels, a donut (if you must).

Remember: If you have consistent pain in your stomach, pain that is gnawing or shooting to your back while eating, vomiting blood, or blood in the stool, be sure to immediately contact your physician or go to the nearest emergency department for an evaluation.

So, all-in-all this week, we’ve covered the different aspects of digestion, showing you the effects of different foods, how to take digestion to a new level, traditional methods of easing the process, a sport centered around gluttony, and the basics holding it all together.  Keeping the belly in good health is important for everyone and we hope you can incorporate some of these suggestions into your daily life.