Blueberry Banana Smoothie

True or False: An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Blueberry Banana Smoothie | Johns Hopkins Medicine

While the health benefits of fruit are widely known and accepted, can an apple each day truly keep the doctor away? Is there something about the “forbidden fruit”—above and beyond other types of fruit and healthful foods—that is ideal for lowering your risk of poor health?

As part of a healthful diet and lifestyle, apples really can fight a number of diseases and help keep you healthy and away from the doctor.

Studies have long shown that diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of numerous chronic conditions. But more detailed studies show that apples, in particular, may be particularly protective of good health.

Apples, particularly their skins, are an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are believed to prevent damage to cells and tissues and help defend the body from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and possibly Alzheimer's disease.

Apple varieties vary in their antioxidant content, with Red Delicious having one of the highest levels. In addition, the flavonoids in apples, which possess antioxidant properties, are believed to protect the body against allergens and viral infections.

Apples may also improve lung function.

In a study conducted in Finland, researchers investigated the relationship between apple consumption and the risk of stroke in over 9,200 men and women.

Those individuals who consumed the highest number of apples showed a lower risk of stroke over a 28-year period compared to those who consumed the least number of apples.

The researchers suggest that this benefit may come from the “phytonutrients” contained in apples, possibly including flavonoids. Two other Finnish studies showed that apple consumption may also reduce the risk of heart disease and lung cancer.

There are many other foods—including other fruits—that contain the same antioxidants and offer the same benefits as apples. Beverages coffee and black tea, and fruits including blueberries, cranberries, red grapes, strawberries, and bananas, are all rich in antioxidant flavonoids. Cranberries, studies show, are even higher in antioxidants than apples.

Of note, most of the nutritional benefit of apples appears to come from their skin, so peeled apples, apple juice, and applesauce lack the rich levels of antioxidants that the whole fruit contains.

Apples alone can't keep anyone healthy, as no single food can, and apples can't be expected to reverse previous damage caused by poor diet and lifestyle. Diets rich in trans fats, salt, and sugar—even with an apple a day—don't lead to good health. Regular apple consumption, of course, is only beneficial as part of an overall healthful diet and exercise regimen.

Apples are a great choice for a healthful, low-fat, low-calorie snack. They're rich in fiber and antioxidants, both of which may be protective against a variety of chronic diseases. To receive the maximum health benefits from apples, eating the whole fruit—including the skin—is recommended.

But remember, apples are no substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise. And, even this is no guarantee.

People who live impeccable lifestyles still suffer from heart disease and cancer, and keeping your doctor completely away makes it difficult to receive preventive services, screening tests.

Seeing your doctor regularly (but not too often) will allow him to possibly uncover conditions that can harm you in the future, even if you feel perfectly well while munching on that Red Delicious.


Johns Hopkins Magazine

Blueberry Banana Smoothie | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Scientists Count 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Stars

Counting the stars in the sky has long been one of the most common comparisons when describing impossible tasks. But that didn't stop a group of astronomers that included a Hopkins researcher from taking a shot at it.

Their estimated total: 70 sextillion, or a 7 followed by 22 zeros. Or, by some estimates, more than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the Earth.

“The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald was, 'What astronomers do when they have too much time on their hands,'” Nicholas Cross, an associate physics and astronomy research scientist, notes with a laugh.

The estimated star count was more than a time-killer, though; it was a byproduct of a serious scientific investigation into the evolution and structure of the universe.

Cross and astronomers from various institutions in England, Scotland, and Australia were working on a project called the Millennium Galaxy Catalogue, a meticulous assessment of the number and brightness of galaxies in a patch of sky.

They wanted to use their data to improve astronomers' understanding of the universe. But they realized that a galaxy brightness measurement can also be used to estimate the number of stars in a galaxy.

Combining an estimate of the number of stars in the 10,000 galaxies they found with a few other estimated factors, such as the size of the universe, led them to the 70 sextillion figure.

-Michael Purdy

Learning From Past Mistakes

In a study published in Neuron, researchers in psychological and brain sciences at Hopkins have directly observed a long-suspected component of the brain's ability to use past experiences to guide decision making.

Using electrodes inserted into two brain regions, the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, Geoffrey Schoenbaum, an associate research scientist, and colleagues directly recorded brain cell activity as rats learned to associate an odor cue with desirable and undesirable drinking water. As the normal rats learned to avoid the bad water, they had changes in orbitofrontal cortex activity that didn't show up in the experimental group.

“This is the most direct evidence yet for how one brain system, the amygdala, controls the way representations are made in another directly connected system, the orbitofrontal cortex,” said Michela Gallagher, chairman of psychological and brain sciences and a co-author of the study.

Schoenbaum, who will become an assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine this month, wants to look at whether drug addiction may disrupt connections between the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, impairing an addict's ability to weigh the consequences of his or her actions. Gallagher will apply the data to studies of how aging can disrupt memory functions. -MP


It's common for scientists to guard their research. But a soldier posted at the door?

The warrior in question is Qin (pronounced “Chin”), named after the first Emperor of China. The scientists are John Groopman, the Anna M. Baetjer Professor and chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Tom Kensler, professor and director of the Division of Toxicological Sciences.

Groopman and Kensler have been working together for three decades, studying and ultimately trying to prevent liver cancer in China. About three years ago, they decided to merge their laboratories. That's when Qin came on board. Posted outside their new lab, Qin stands about five feet tall, weighs in at several hundred pounds, and has a faraway look about him.

He's also made of clay. Qin is a reproduction of one of the terra cotta warriors that 2,200 years ago guarded the emperor's mausoleum.

“We thought it would be fun to see if we could track down a reproduction warrior to sort of provide some dominating figurehead or stoic figure that represented us and our interests and our collaborations,” says Kensler.

Kensler found Qin at the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses, located at the emperor's burial site in Xi'an. The museum store sells reproductions made from clay found at the site.

Qin has become a beloved part of the department. The soldier is decorated seasonally, with lights at Christmastime, a flag on the 4th of July, and a gown for graduation. He's even dusted at night.

He also provides the department with a certain distinction. “It's hard around this place to introduce any individuality,” says Kensler. “So this is our small way of saying, this is who we are and what we are about.” -CP


8 Foods for Your Vagina’s Fertility, Lubrication, and pH Balance

Blueberry Banana Smoothie | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Unbalanced pH. Sounds chemistry class, right? Add the word vaginal, and then it’s enough to make us squirm. Literally — because when you feel different down there, with a new odor or more-than-usual discharge, it could be a sign that your vaginal pH is off.

A balanced vaginal pH needs to stay in the range of 3.8 to 4.5. The moment it strays balance for too long, bacteria has a chance to thrive and cause discomfort — or UTIs. This doesn’t mean everyone should start home testing their pH every day. (But if you do have symptoms of possible bacterial vaginosis, home testing may help you get diagnosed and treated more quickly.)

But don’t worry, ladies. Your vagina is pretty good at protecting and cleaning itself. Proper vaginal care, such as good hygiene, safe sex, and regular gynecological visits, all play a role in keeping your pH in check.

But the easiest ways to promote health below the belt? Food. Here are eight eats that work in favor of your vagina, walls and all.

We’ve all heard or heeded the popular advice: Drink cranberry juice to treat UTIs. But is there any evidence to that?

Fresh cranberries or 100 percent cranberry juice (not the sweetened stuff) are full of antioxidants and acidic compounds, which are powerful infection fighters that can help bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.

Studies show that cranberries can be especially beneficial in preventing UTIs in women with recurrent or recent UTI issues.

Just make sure you stay away from the sugar-loaded cranberry juice varieties, which can actually make things worse down there.

Probiotic-rich food, such as fermented foods kimchi and yogurt, are good for more than just your gut. They balance your pH level and help ward off infections.

The live and active cultures in these foods provide our bodies with a boost of good bacteria, which is particularly helpful in preventing yeast infections. Even better, calcium (greatly present in yogurt) has been shown to help with PMS symptoms.

Omega-3 fatty acids help with circulation and blood flow, which is good news for your sex drive. These essential fatty acids, as well as others found in sea buckthorn oil, palmitoleic, linoleic, oleic, and palmitic, were shown in a 2014 study to help with vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.

Menstrual cramping getting you down? Studies have also shown that fish oil can ease severe dysmenorrhea more effectively than ibuprofen.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away… and keeps things more interesting in bed apparently! A study in 2014 suggested that women who ate an apple once a day had better sex lives. One phytoestrogen phloridzin found in apples is thought to promote better sexual function, arousal, lubrication, and ability to orgasm.

Bonus: Women who consume two or more servings of citrus fruit per day are less ly to develop uterine fibroids.

Soy can be a bit of a controversial topic. But the phytoestrogens — compounds that mimic estrogen in the body — found in soy are good news for vaginal health, especially in people with reduced estrogen levels. There are many different reasons for decreased estrogen levels in the body, from medications to menopause, but one of the symptoms is vaginal dryness.

So here’s how soy helps: Minimally-processed soy products are hydrophilic (which allows your muscles to retain more water) and contain isoflavones (a plant-derived phytoestrogen) that have been studied to be beneficial for the skin in postmenopausal women.

Your favorite toast topper is also great for your sex life — who knew? Avocados are ample in healthy fats, vitamin B-6, and potassium — all of which have positive effects on your libido.

This libido-boosting fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) can enhance lubrication and estrogen levels, strengthen vaginal walls, and may even increase IVF success due to its unsaturated fats.

Funny enough, the avocado tree was actually loosely named the “testicle tree” by the Aztecs.

What are leafy greens not good for?! Add vaginal health to their long list of health benefits. Dark leafy greens are blood-purifying and enhance circulation due to their many nutrients, including dietary nitrates. This can help prevent vaginal dryness and increase stimulation, which is never a bad thing.

These greens are also rich in vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium, all of which are beneficial to muscle health — including vaginal muscles.

As to what not to eat? The general rule of thumb is to skip foods with added sugars and trans fats, as well as any processed foods.

If you’re planning on having sex (especially oral), you may want to avoid eating asparagus, a common culprit for temporarily altering the scent of your pee.

With these eight bites for your bits, it’s easy to put your vagina (and yourself) as a priority. Better yet, try creating recipes that incorporate several of these foods! This healthy vegetarian lentil stew, for example, contains half of them: sweet potatoes, leafy greens, probiotic-rich Greek yogurt, and avocado.

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.