Saturday, November 6, 2021

What We Got Wrong with the U.S. COVID Response

Photo by CDC from Pexels

I have held an unpopular opinion since early in the coronavirus pandemic — the United States should have locked down completely. I have added more unpopular opinions on top of that in the past year and a half in criticism of the health agencies, both American and international. Though whether it’s unpopular really depends on the audience, as I know a lot of scientific and medical professionals would agree with me. 

With bad public messaging, unmitigated viral spread, lack of testing and quarantines, and inherent issues in the health care system, read my commentary at Medium on what the U.S. got wrong about COVID-19


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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Hyper-responsibility Syndrome and Anxiety

A man disturbed from sleep by visions caused by guilt. Etching by Brocas. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark


I often feel responsible for others’ actions when I play no role in what they've done. Even if they’re only working off information I provided, my brain latches on to how I played a role and have to take responsibility. But I'm not alone in this. It's a phenomenon called hyper-responsibility syndrome. I wrote about the psychology and neurology underlying inflated responsibility and guilt elsewhere. In this post, I talk about the personal aspects of this mental health issue.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Morbid about mortality

You'll notice a new link over in the sidebar. I now have a publication at Medium that collates my health type articles that aren't in other publications. The most recent stories there have been about death. 

The past almost 2 years have been a very introspective time for me. Partly because in my editing job, I've been knee-deep in depressing data. Another part is my own health and the health of those close to me. It would have been a hard time period even without the pandemic.

I took part in the Medium Writers' Challenge last month and, though I hadn't originally planned on it, ended up writing on the topic of death. Specifically, that we need to Respect Death as a Natural Phenomenon. Even if we don't like it, the truth of the matter is that it's going to happen. To everyone. 

To get my mind off that morbid topic I delved into a bookcase in my house and pulled out a random book to read. About the plague. Because of course I did. 

Turns out, the Black Death has a lot in common with the COVID-19 pandemic. We haven't learned much from history, probably because we don't actually learn history. We just hear the parts people want to remember.


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Sunday, November 8, 2020

A little help with fact-checking

Now is a good time to direct you to an article I wrote a few months ago - Just in case you're having trouble with deciding which "news" to trust.

How to Tell Truth from Fiction: Fact-checking 101

1. Check your biases

2. Check for sources

3. Consider the messenger (i.e., check their biases)

4. Look for independent confirmation

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Zinc and treating the common cold



Since 1974, when a study titled “Zinc ions inhibit replication of rhinoviruses” by Korant, Kauer, and Butterworth was published in the journal Nature, the idea that zinc can prevent or cure the common cold has circulated. Many studies have looked at different zinc ionophores and lozenge formulas and their effect on the course of cold symptoms, as well as the potential biochemical mechanism at work. Though the exact mechanism of action is still unknown, there is some consensus that ionized zinc affects picornaviruses.


Zinc Against Cold Viruses


Rhinoviruses, of the family Picornaviridae, are only one type of almost 200 viruses that cause the acute respiratory infection symptoms known as the common cold. However, rhinoviruses are estimated to cause one-third to half of all colds, and preventing rhinovirus infections would severely limit the most common human infection.

Since the 1970s, studies have found that zinc ions may inhibit rhinovirus replication. Viral replication plays an important role in infection; inhibiting replication would prevent progression of the disease and ease symptoms. In addition, zinc ions have an affinity for the ICAM-1 receptor, which is bound by rhinovirus when infecting cells in the respiratory tract. Zinc binding the ICAM-1, or the rhinovirus-ICAM complex, would prevent infection of the nasal epithelium, preventing the duration of the common cold.

What Type of Zinc Reduces Cold Symptoms?

In the 1980s and 1990s, zinc gluconate lozenges were shown in some studies to decrease the duration of cold symptoms if taken within 24 hours of symptom onset, whereas other studies had no success. Zinc acetate lozenges appeared to have a better success rate, likely because of their formulation. The problem seems to lie in the concentration of ionic zinc in commercially available lozenges. The ionic zinc concentration is not measurable by the label on a package, it is dependent on what is released as the lozenge dissolves in the mouth over a period of time.

Zinc gluconate gels and nasal sprays have had experimental success in alleviating rhinovirus infection. Some formulations were even marketed, such as Zicam. However, these products were recently warned against due to users losing their sense of smell.

Potential Problems with Zinc Products

Though zinc lozenges have repeatedly been found to exert no side effects or create any problems, beyond the chalky taste, zinc nasal sprays have been shown to irreversibly damage the nasal lining. In particular, Zicam (zinc gluconate nasal spray from Matrixx Initiatives) was shown in an October 2009 study to have cytotoxic effects on both mouse and human olfactory sensory neurons, as well as a near complete loss of the nasal epithelium and submucosa. Sprays not containing zinc did not have this significant effect, indicating that the zinc was cytotoxic to the nasal mucosa.

Using Zinc to Stop a Cold

Though it is far from being a cure, there is evidence to suggest that zinc lozenges may help reduce cold symptoms, cutting the duration of the illness in half and alleviating symptoms more fully after the duration of the illness. A 2011 Cochrane Review concluded that zinc supplementation can reduce the duration and severity of a cold, though the change in duration is mostly by just 1 day. However, the exact mechanism of action is not known, and the exact dosage will differ by product. The guidance is to start with lozenges or tablets within 24 hours of the onset of a cold. In a 2017 meta-analysis, zinc acetate and zinc gluconate were shown to have similar effectiveness.

More studies are needed to better quantify zinc’s effect on rhinovirus and other cold viruses in order to reap the full benefit of this element.

Additional References:

Eby. Zinc lozenges as cure for the common cold: A review and hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses. 2009; doi 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.10.017

Hulisz. Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: An overview. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. 2004; 44(5). Available on the Medscape website.

Lim et al. Zicam-induced damage to mouse and human nasal tissue. Public Library of Science (PLoS) One. 2009; 4(10), e7647.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Proof that counting calories works for weight loss

It's pretty clear that energy in-energy out dictates weight loss and gain, with the exception of medication side effects and certain pathological conditions. But I lived in denial for a long time that I was the reason for my inability to lose weight, or to maintain any weight loss I did achieve. 

I wrote about my own struggles with weight and how I lost 75 pounds on a calorie restriction diet at Medium. 

It hasn't been easy, and I am still struggling to make the changes permanent. But for those who are struggling, I hope my journey gives you a little hope that it is possible to succeed.

I did a lot of reading about calorie restriction diets before jumping in a few years ago and the exercise regimen I used was, and is, light - walking and simple yoga stretches. Be sure to discuss any potential heart, joint, or muscle problems with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, as well as any supplements you may need for whatever diet you choose to adapt.

Dieting is only temporary, but lifestyle changes in how you approach nutrition can make any gains permanent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Advice for uncertainty

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash


I have been writing over at various Medium publications about my freelancing career, particularly the scientific editing aspect. 

If you're currently in graduate school or working as a postdoc, you should know that skipping a postdoc isn't wrong. If you're looking for a way to stay in academics without relying on academia, you can read about how I freelanced between jobs and made it a career at The Innovation. I also offer The Beginner's Guide to Academic Freelancing at The Faculty to help you decide what may work for you.

If you've already made a step towards working in scientific, or other, editing, I offer Eight Simple Tips for Being a Reliable Proofreader at The Startup.

You can stay in science by pursuing a non-traditional career, whether in a supportive capacity (e.g., editor) or forging your own way. Expertise is earned only by trying. Use your strengths to get where you want to be rather than worry about pre-determined routes. 

If 2020 is any indication, there's a new normal. Why stay stuck in the old one?