Fainting and Blood Pressure

A while ago, my friend asked me if blood pressure had anything to do with fainting. I said, “Yup”, and she said, “Explain it to me later”. So welcome to Later, everyone!

What is fainting?

For the people who don’t know, fainting is the loss of consciousness due to a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Fainting also has a medical name, Syncope. It’s pronounced sing-co-pee (English is a strange language).

Why do people faint?

Biologically, people faint because they experience low blood pressure (though, there can be other cardiovascular problems). This isn’t necessarily of medical concern; you can have low blood pressure for several reasons. For example, if you are dehydrated, you have less fluid in your blood stream. This means that you have a lower blood volume in your blood vessels, which results in a lower blood pressure.

When you have low blood pressure, your blood vessels lose their tone and are unable to deliver blood cells to your brain as efficiently as it would if you had normal blood pressure. This results in your brain receiving less oxygen. The lack of oxygen is what makes you lose consciousness, since oxygen is required for the sustenance of your brain cells, not to mention your other cells!

So what can I do?

Stay hydrated folks! That’s one of the simplest ways to maintain a normal blood pressure 🙂

And that’s how blood pressure is related to fainting!


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Pins and Needles aka Parasthesia

Nowadays, it seems like my legs get a lot more sleep than I do. “#firstworldproblems, #universitywoes”. But, really, why do our limbs fall asleep and why do they tingle us so uncomfortably when they do?

Pins and Needles

The sleeping of our limbs, also termed ‘parasthesia’, is the result of our nerves acting abnormally due to an increased pressure on them for a prolonged period of time. Our nerves essentially act as little messengers between our limbs and our brain. So this prolonged pressure on the nerves results in the loss of communication between the limbs and our brain.

There is also a prolonged pressure placed on our blood vessels, which results in our nerves not receiving enough oxygen or nutrients.

So, in response to this pressure, nerves, much like how we respond to pressure, can react in to different ways: They can either become unresponsive and wait until the pressure has been removed, or they will essentially begin to spaz out and rapidly send signals in hopes of sending them in the right direction.

Now, the latter causes a problem because we have a lot of different nerves feeding our brains with a lot of different information: some inform us about temperature, some others about pressure on our skin and so forth. So when the nerves start spastically sending signals, the brain is unable to fully interpret what is happening and gets a mix of signals about warmth and numb sensations as well as conflicting signals about being cold and tingling sensations. This is why our sleeping limbs are described as having pins and needles. The mix of signals results in a mix of sensations, including an odd duality of numbness and tingling.

How to wake up your limbs

Many people try to hit their limbs that have fallen asleep. That doesn’t really do anything, unfortunately. The best we can do is to change our positions to remove the pressure and wait for the blood flow and nerve responses to return to normal.

And that’s all there is to know about pins and needles. Ironically, my foot has now fallen asleep so it’s time to practice what I preach.


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Keratin and its Bonds

Hi, hello! Last week, I promised to talk about Keratin’s role in hair types. This will, unfortunately, have to wait until next week because, before we can talk about keratin’s affect on hair type, we need to talk a little about keratin and a lot about its bonds!

Keratin is a protein

Keratin molecules, perhaps you recall, are fibrous proteins. Like all other proteins, it is made up of different subunits (called amino acids). Each of these subunits have atoms like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and, sometimes, sulfur. Long chains of these keratin molecules make up the shafts of our hair (and also our nails! Cool, right?).

Keratin likes bonding

When I say ‘bonding’, I don’t mean like, “Hey man, let’s be friends”-type bonding. When I say bonding, I’m actually referring to chemical bonds… but, actually, let’s run with the analogy. Let’s pretend that keratin molecules are like children in kindergarten and everyone in class is required to hold each others hand (and not let go) in order to form two separate lines. That means everyone, except for the two children at both ends of each line, are holding two hands. Now, the two lines are brought closer together, so that some of the children in one line can interact with others in the other line. Here are three interactions we want to focus on:

  1. Some children have one ribbon tied to their right feet, which can be tied to other children with ribbons. The only way to separate them after this is to cut the ribbon.
  2. Some of the children in the 2 lines have a few magnets on their hips. When 2 children have the opposite poles facing each other, they are brought closer together to let their magnets connect.
  3. Finally, a few of the remaining children are blowing bubble whistles, which some of the other children spend time popping.

These three interactions have some of the same qualities of the bonds that the keratin molecules in our hair are capable of, which are shown below:

The three types of bonds that keratin molecules are able to form.

  1. The ribbons here represent something called a disulfide bond. This is simply a chemical bond between two Sulfur atoms (remember, sulfur is found on some of the subunits in a protein). Like the children, it’s hard to separate molecules (in this case, keratin molecules) with this bond unless the equivalent of scissors cuts the bond. For disulfide bonds, its equivalent to scissors is heat. Heat disrupts the bonds between the sulfur atoms, which allows them to be separated and form new bonds with other sulfur atoms if they want. Just like the children’s ribbons, one sulfur atom can only bind with one other sulfur atom.
  2. In keratin molecules, the magnets are actually opposite charges. Much like magnets, where the North and South ends are attracted to each other, the attraction is there for molecules that have positive and negative charges. The bonds that result from the interaction of these charges are called salt bonds, or sometimes salt bridges. These bonds aren’t particularly strong; like children with magnets, it’s fairly easy to separate them. At the same time, it does offer some stability to the actual chain of proteins.
  3. The children blowing and popping bubbles represent molecules that are partaking in hydrogen bonding. This bonding actually involves no contact between the atoms; it is instead a general attraction between atoms with a slightly positive and slightly negative charge. Most commonly, hydrogen bonding occurs between oxygen and hydrogen molecules or nitrogen and hydrogen molecules. These bonds are really weak and temporary. In the analogy of the bubbles, the bubbles approaching the children represent the attractive force of hydrogen bonding; the child is happy that the other child blowing the bubble blew it her or his way. But once the bubble is popped, the child has no reason to be thankful to the bubble blower and the attraction is lost; the bubble blower will blow bubbles towards another unoccupied child while his or her first bubble popper will turn to a different bubble blower. Similarly, the atoms with slightly positive charges will be attracted to any atoms with slightly negative charges… but it will just be a fleeting crush, nothing dependable.

Finally, the hand-holding represents the bonds between the keratin molecules to make  the chain. These bonds are extremely strong, but can be broken (like when you cut your hair, or even burn it).

And those are the bonds that keratin molecules form! It’s a lot to take in, I know. But next week, we’ll go into the role that these bonds have in hair types!

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Flatulence aka Farting

Seeing as we touched on the topic of flatulence/farting a bit last week, I thought it would be best to further explore what it is and why it is released.

What is flatulence?

Okay, so flatulence is the release of a mixture of  gases from your intestine via your rectum (where your feces exits). This mixture of gases is referred to as flatus. Flatus can be a mixture of nitrogen gas, oxygen gas, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and/or methane gas. These gases do not cause an odour though; there are tiny quantities of other gases. such as hydrogen sulfide, in your flatus that causes the smell of a fart.

Normally, adults release between 200 and 2000mL of flatus per day in 14 spurts (‘spurt’ really paints a picture, doesn’t it?)

What causes the production of flatus?

Well, these gases are introduced into your body in three major ways:

1.) When you eat food, you also swallow air. Air contains a bunch of gases including nitrogen gas, oxygen gas, and small traces of other gases like methane gas and ozone gas. This air goes into your stomach, but most of it is expelled (usually by burping).

These gases form large bubbles, which make a loud sound when released but are odourless. All the embarrassment for none of the smell.

2.) Gases can be generated as byproducts for digestion by colonic bacteria. Methane gas and hydrogen gas are only produced by the bacterial digestion of foods in our intestines. Fruits and vegetables contain complex sugars that can only be digested by bacteria.

The gases released by the bacteria after breaking down the complex sugars form small bubbles. When these bubbles are released, they don’t make a sound but it does cause a smell. They’re the stealthy farts that you can get away with. No embarrassment but all of the smell (okay, maybe some embarrassment but quick, play it off! No one knows it’s you!)

This second way of introducing gas into your body also means that vegetarians pass gas a lot more than other people and it’s, well, smelly. They have more fruits and vegetables in their diet which means there is a higher concentration of complex sugars. This provides more food for the bacteria, who will in turn produce more gases.

And, like I mentioned last week, people who have a deficiency in a digestive enzyme (like lactose intolerance) will also require the bacteria in their intestines to digest certain sugars, producing more gas.

3.) Hydrogen sulfide can also be produced by the bacterial digestion of polysaccharides, which is why the small gas bubbles produced by bacteria are so smelly. Our cells also excrete hydrogen sulfide sometimes.

So, that’s all there is to say about flatulence. You can have embarrassingly loud, but completely harmless toots or stealthily silent and foul-smelling toots. It’s an awful trade-off in my opinion.