Friday, April 18, 2014

nopal = antioxidant

Not bragging, but I totally called it!  Nopal seems to be taking off as a neutraceutical and health food.  No sooner did I write about it, then I found a podcast from my favorite cooking show The Splendid Table has done a feature on Nopal.  There's a recipe for how to prepare them here.

Not only that, but I was shopping at Von's the other day and I saw that they are stocking fresh nopalitos in the produce aisle.  Maybe this is not new, but maybe it is.
Antioxidant molecules from plants

And finally, I was at the American Chemical Society Southern California Undergraduate Research Conference in Chemistry and Biochemistry and I heard a student from California State University, Dominguez Hills speak about the anti-oxidant properties of aloe compared with cactus and a traditional burn creme.  Based on the DPPH-free radical scavenging assay, Nopal (lyophilized powder form) had about 40% higher antioxidant activity than Vitamin C, Aloe Vera, and an over the counter burn creme.

Kenneth R. Rodriguez and his colleagues Anthony Jones and Barbara Belmont at California State University, Dominguez Hills measured gallic acid equivalents in the Aloe Vera, Nopal and Burn Creme. Gallic acid is the building block of tannins, a fundamental unit of the polymers responsible for the astringency of drinks like tea, wine, and pomagranate juice. Tannins are also prominent in persimmons, berries, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, cloves, tarragon, cumin, thyme, vanilla, cinnamon, red kidney beans, and chocolate.

Familes of plants that are rich in tannins
In tissue-cultured cell assays tannins have shown antiviral, antibacterial and antiparasitic effects. In planta, tannins are stored in vesicles because they also have the ability to precipitate proteins, which would wreak havoc on plant cells.  Instead, these compounds are released when there has been damage to the plant or cell death has occured.  Tannins are also found in soils around growing trees, and may play a role in growth regulation.

Nopales are in the Caryophyllales family, not marked on the diagram at left, right across from Saxifragales. Caryophyllales is a family comprising two other superfoods: spinach and chard. They are all members of the Basal Eudicots.

In conclusion, I've lost track of why and what I meant to write about.  This is another "molecular story" brought to you by the American Chemical Society and the California State University System.  I've written before about the benefits of sour cherry juice, and this post is an extension of that discussion.  Cyanidin (a molecule, C15H11O6+, similar in structure to Rutin) found in sour cherry juice reduces the levels of an inflammation marker (interleukin-6) in long-distance runners.  Cheers to your health!

  • Howatson, G., et al. "Influence of tart cherry juice in indices of recovery following marathon running." Scandanavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports (2010) vol 20, pp 843-852.
  • Vogt, T. "Phenylpropanoid biosynthesis." Molecular Plant (2010) vol 3, pp 2-20.
  • Elumalai, S., et al. "Epigallocatechin gallate incorporation into lignin enhances the alkaline delignification and enzymatic saccharification of cell walls." Biotechnology for Biofuels (2012) vol 5, pp 59.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

H.O.P.E. #tbt

Acronyms have power:

Have Only Positive Expectations

Hang On, Peace Exists

Hearing Other Peoples' Experience

Heart Open; Please Enter

Help Open People's Eyes

Helping Other People Everyday

Honest Open Positive Environment

Honoring Our Professors Excellence

Helping Others by Providing Encouragement

Human Objective to Protect the Environment

Why read fiction and watch Hollywood movies?  Because they tap into the human experience.  They aren't written by aliens or robots, but fellow human beings.  Movies and books are designed to make money and may therefore follow certain formulae, but the movie Hope Floats was one of my all-time favorites.  Take Harry Connick Jr. for example.  I had his album Come by Me on heavy rotation and I would watch Hope Floats every time I needed a good cry to restore the idea that someday my prince would come.  No matter how bad life gets there's a handsome man to bring you flowers.

I also identified with the character Bernice.  I had to start wearing glasses just after kindergarden, a pair pretty close to these in style.  I remember being inquisitive bordering on annoying.  Now tell me you don't see the resemblence #throwbackthursday

Mae Whitman
I like the idea of starting over.  Every time I went to a new school, it was like I had the chance to begin at the beginning again.  I don't have a problem with making new friends.  I was a brownie girl scout at one time "Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold."  But I also like the idea of hope.  I like the idea that hope floats because nothing is more troubling than that feeling that you are like a turd at the bottom of a puddle of toilet water.  At least if you float up to the top, you can catch some sun.

I started off this post wanting to write about my plants (garden) but the acronym for H.O.P.E. inspired me to write about other things.  I also like the one about professor's excellence.  My sister sent me a "hey girl" message which really brightened my day.

I like the hidden message to take your time.  When you are in a new or frustrating situation, if you can breathe and take your time with it, eventually good things will come to pass.  If you spend time on educating your students, maybe somehow, some way, you will connect with at least one or two of them.  I'm not sure I connected with every single one of my professors, in fact I'm sure I didn't.  But the most insane ones really reached me.  A more informal definition of insanity is "highly unique, passionate or extreme, including in a positive sense." I saw their passion and their enthusiasm for their beloved subject and it made me try harder to impress them.

I also like the message about open heart and hearing other people's experiences.  That's the way to learn.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April Fools

Spring (break) is here! My garden is sprouting and my students are growing in confidence. Life is good.

I had a whirlwind trip to the Bay Area, traveling by Amtrak. I learned that it is necessary to remove pedals when checking your bicycle and turning handlebars is also a must. Two tools are required for the job: an allen wrench and an open end wrench. I brought neither. Luckily the attendants at LA Union Station and Emeryville came to my aid. Also, Amtrak no longer suggests removing the front tire since the forks have been found to penetrate cardboard bike boxes.  The cost for this service is $15 for the box and $10 for the handling.  A waiver must be signed in case the bicycle is damaged.  The weight limit is 50 lbs. It is also necessary to arrive plenty early, this trip I budgeted 2 hours which was quite comfortable.

Coast Starlight 11
It was well worth taking the bike, we rode Sunday morning up Twin Peaks (6 miles). We also did 2 city walks (total 6 miles).  We also hiked White's Hill which offered stunning views of the bay and the mountain bike trail called Repack.  I must return for that.  As for Spring Break, I am planning to take in as many Zumba classes as I can.  Considering new footwear.  My shoes are breaking down with 66.4 mi of logged activity and countless amounts of teaching, dancing, running, walking, and hiking.

Girls' Grade School Nike Dual Fusion Running Shoes
I bought these Nike shoes for the Color Run Saturday, February 2, 2013 so they're only a year old but when I dance in them, it feels like my pinky toes are going to slide right off the edge of the shoe.  I try to keep a pair of dedicated running shoes, but I use the old ones for teaching.  The current dedicated shoes are Brooks Ghost, purchased in preparation for my trip to Death Valley this year.  They only have 20.6 mi of logged activity so far but I hope to get more use out of them in the next week and coming months.
Asics Gel DS Trainer 15
These Asics are also totally broken down with 53.1 mi of logged activity. The heels are all shredded on the inside.  Both of these shoes have a hole where my big toe hits the top of the mesh part.  I am sad to say that my favorite running shoes of all time (Nike Zoom Nucleus MC+) are also pretty broken down, but I still wear them with 289.1 mi of logged activity.  Again it seems like my pinky toes are about to bust through the sides of the shoes.

We've registered for the Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (June 7, 2014) as well as a crazy activity called 5k Foam Fest (July 19, 2014).  The only obstacle I'm worried about is the Electrified Mud Crawl.  I've said in the past that people who do these extreme 5k events must be crazy, but here I am, prepared to wade through it.  I'll be 34 years old by then, so for whatever that's worth, it will be a new way to celebrate my birthmonth.

To close this post, I'm glad none of my students played an April Fools prank on me.  The day passed without much drama.  I especially enjoyed this article from the Highlander.  And also a new show on Netflix called Rotisserie Chicken.  In all seriousness, I've been watching SNL best of the 2010s for comedic relief and it's been a great way to break up the tension of the semester.  Especially loved "The Californians" episode with Christina Applegate.  Funny things help keep a spring in my step, even when wearing old shoes.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Today I want to tell you about CAS Registry Number: 50-23-7, also known as cortisol.  I first started thinking about cortisol in 2011, but I didn't follow up on it then.  There seems to be a link between cortisol, stress, metabolism, eating behavior, obesity, circadian rhythms, and wellness (feelings of well being) or lack thereof (depression).

In my research this morning, there were some ties between cortisol and anxiety, which I have written about previously.

This blog was prompted by the recent article in Psychology Today which suggested that waiting 20 minutes when you feel a moment of panic is long enough for your body to excrete cortisol via your urine so you will cease to feel the "fight-or-flight" response.

This post gave me a pause to think about how our own minds create problems that our own minds can solve if we just give ourselves a minute to breathe and let go.  Some great illustrations about self-care can be found here.  Another great set of ideas is in the graphic posted in this blog (below).  There are some other great pictures here, especially the series about "feeling overwhelmed."

The infographic posted above actually has a firm foundation in the scientific literature.  Many studies suggest that people turn to calorie-dense foods (like ice cream) when faced with a stressful life event.  Acutally, I'm giving a talk next month on the science of ice cream, and I have to get cracking on that outreach project.

Being that it's the 100th Anniversary of X-ray Crystallography, I wanted to also show the peptide called "1AX8," also known as leptin.  It seems that lepin has a lot to do with metabolic control.  Leptin is secreted by adipose tissue.  It is part of the mechanism to maintain a particular body weight.  Individuals who are obese are said to be leptin-insensitive.  Leptin produces feelings of satiety (satisfaction after eating) in normal individuals.  Without crystallography, we wouldn't have the understanding of protein, peptide, and small molecule structures to create models for understanding the energetic considerations in ligand-target interactions.  Although aptamer generation is carried out via a combinatorial approach, maybe someday we will be able to approach the creation of biological drugs from a purely structural understanding.

At this point, we can chemically prepare analogues for small molecules like cortisol, but leptin and leptin-mimics are probably classified as biologic medical products, meaning that they must be made by a living organism.  I don't know whether aptamers are classified as biologics or if they are considered purely synthetic ligands.  I'm sure peptoids are not considered biologics since they are non-native structures.

I don't know if we understand the equilibria involved in cortisol and leptin in vivo well enough yet to interfere with the body's natural biorhythms.  Much of the published work is based on the phenotpyes associated with human diseases (Cushing's syndrome is a result of prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol) or animal models of genetic mutation (a new 'fat gene' has been reported, IRX3).  I have written about genetic factors linked to obesity elsewhere.  I wonder if eventually we will become a race of 'perfect humans' via biologics which target all genetic mistakes.  Probably not since we're ~15 years away from a total collapse of our civilization, according to NASA-funded research that points to our unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution as factors leading to our demise.

In other news, we've been biking like crazy.  I have also been going to Zumba 2x per week.  I've noticed a pain in my ankle/foot but more muscle tone in my arms and better posture.  We're planning to ride from Ventura to Santa Barbara and back (60 miles) so wish me luck on that adventure.  I think the music and group riding are lowering my cortisol levels and the shedding of body fat is lowering my leptin levels.  I also hope my immune system is thriving, I've been doing more singing (while riding my bike) and feeling more positive.


Torres, S. J.; Nowson, C. A. "Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity" Nutrition (2007) 23, 887-894.

Herbert, J. "Cortisol and depression: three questions for psychiatry" Psychological Medicine (2013) 43, 449-469.

Parrott, A. C. "Human psychobiology of MDMA or 'Ecstasy': an overview of 25 years of empirical research" Human Psychopharmacology (2013) 28, 289-307.

Chanda M. L.; Levitin, D. J. "The neurochemistry of music" Trends in cognitive sciences (2013), 17, 179-193.

Kandasamy, K; et al. "Cortisol shifts financial risk preferences" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2014) 111, 3608-3613.

Neff, K. "The Physiology of Self-Compassion" The Power of Self-Compassion via Psychology Today (2012)

Breuning, L. G. "Awareness of Death Makes Us Human" Your Neurochemical Self via Psychology Today (2014)

Friday, March 14, 2014

bike-related news

There are some bike happenings coming up!  The days are getting longer and my legs are getting stronger!

First I have to give a SHOUT OUT to the next CicLAvia which is April 6th From 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., along Iconic Wilshire Boulevard.  We might get a group together and ride from Glendale.  Cost: FREE.

Second, the Amgen Tour de California is rolling through SoCal. Stage 6 - Santa Clarita to Mountain High Friday, May 16, 2014.  Riders will roll out of Santa Clarita at 11:35am and bike 94.4 mi to finish at Mt. Baldy.  Elev Gain: 11,700ft.  That's a Friday and I might see the riders somewhere along that course.  Stage 7 (May 17) starts at 11:40 am again from Santa Clarita finishing with laps around Pasadena.  It will be great to ride over there and watch some real professionals.  This is a Saturday and is FREE for spectators.

Third, want to discuss the Jewel City Fun & Fitness Ride.  Happening May 18, 2014 in Glendale, CA  This should be a great LOCAL community event.  I've never done it before but I found it on  I will look into this as a way to learn new routes and connect with other people here in Glendale that care about bicycle issues.  Cost: $15-40. 

I read in the News-Press (Saturday-Sunday March, 8-9) that about $138,000 is slated to pay for improvements in Glendale to cover markings and signage along segments including Broadway between San Fernando Road and the eastern city limits.  Glendale's bicycle plan includes 100 miles of bike lanes, roughly five times that which currently exists.  About $2 million has been spent since 2004 on bike lanes, bike racks, and street improvements near schools.  Thank you City Council!  Keep approving bike projects, please.

Lastly, I wanted to share this awesome "Mini Medical School for the Public" video I saw on YouTube. Registered dietitian Heather Schwartz Garza discusses advice for cyclists (both amateur and competitive) which really helped us understand why we got headaches after our most recent bike ride to Hollywood (due to dehydration most likely).  We learned that if you ride for longer than 1 hour, you must pay careful attention to your nutritional needs to avoid feeling crabby for 2-3 days afterwards.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Nopaltilla Homestyle Cactus Tortilla Chips are the best thing since sliced bread.  I am a total push-over for tortilla chips and it's a classic sabotage for any diet.  Some chips are overly salted and loaded with carbs.  I found these chips at the Burbank Farmer's Market.  The first day I binged on them, I suffered some dear consequences.  Now when I eat them in moderation, they are a perfect gentile laxative.

You might say, eew, but health gurus such as Dr. Oz don't shy away from talking about poop.

How are "diet and weight loss secrets" supposed to help other people if we keep them to ourselves?  I'm not saying everything on the Dr. Oz show is the honest truth.  The hype about Garcinia cambogia (a.k.a. Garcinia gummi-gutta) for example didn't live up in a clinical trial.

Garcinia gummi-gutta is a fad diet trick
I found the Nopaltilla chips to be such a god-send that I couldn't help writing about it here.  We've been eating a lot of fast food lately.  I've been out of the habit of cooking and into the habit of letting other people cook for me.  This has not been good for my weight.  The training we did over the Winter Break seems to have been counterbalanced by my disordered eating.  I have been skipping lunch.

Death Valley was such a great detox for me.  When I got back, I didn't crave sugar or soda.  Now I'm back to drinking at least 2 x 20 oz coffee in the morning and 32 oz diet soda in the afternoon.  Sheesh.  But I can say that after I eat a spinach salad or a couple (no more than 10) Nopaltilla chips, I feel green and great!

We're planning to run in the Glendale Downtown Dash (March 30th) which is a 5k run.  I'm REALLY looking forward to that.  We're also planning to run the Corona del Mar Scenic 5k (June 7).  I know it's a long way off, but it gives me that motivation that I need to keep training.  It's no fun being a runner when your nutrition is out of whack or you haven't pooped in 5 days.  Just saying.

Based on a quick read about Nopal (prickly pear cactus, a.k.a. Opuntia ficus-indica), it provides an ample supply of Vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, and manganese.  I love eating things rather than taking vitamins in pill form.  Not just because I love eating, but because I have a feeling that minerals from foods are already in the form we have evolved to extract them from and it's not so long (in evolutionary time) that we have been taking minerals in pill (capsule) form.

I'm sure there's more to learn about both these plants (Garcinia cambogia and Opuntia ficus-indica) especially in the way of organic acids, amino acids, sugars, minerals, and dietary fiber.  According to folk medicine, dietary Nopal may affect the glycemic index and be useful in diabetes management.  I have noticed this in my own body and I just wanted to post about it since it seems to be working for me.

In other news, I got a 21 class package with Bella Fitness and I am now doing Zumba among other people right in Downtown Glendale.  No more trying to get fit in the 372 sq. ft. house we are renting via a YouTube Playlist.  I am loving the atmosphere of working out with other people.  Not so much loving the giant mirrors but I'm getting used to it.  Love the clapping and shouting "Hey!" together.  Love the heart-pumping, ear-drum thumping, world music.  It reminds me of how multicultural Glendale is and I love getting Jiggy.  In my #adidas.  

And I have no idea what #farmersmarketflow means, I just know other people use it.  And more random stuff about hashtags here.  
When you are a real nerd, you make flowers out of twitter conversations.  Jealous?  Make your own by following the instructions here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

big appetite

Valentine's day was AWESOME!  We put on a three-part hands-on day at the University for a group of ninety sixth-graders.  I was feeling particularly romantic since I was in my best friend's wedding last weekend (Feb 8).  The only downer is that I've had the flu that's going around and it's still sitting in my ears.

January was a great month.  We logged 182 miles between running, hiking, and cycling.  February has not been as good since I've been sick.  I even lost my voice.  I titled this post "big appetite" since I am realizing that I often 'bite off more than I can chew' both literally and metaphorically.  I get overextended and think that magically via some superhuman force, I will be able to do everything I agree to do with gusto and perfection.

Where did this attitude come from?  “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” I think I latched onto this misguided quote at some young age and have been living that way ever since.  It's no accident I live within driving distance (~35 minutes) from the Hollywood walk of fame.  I have so much on my mind that I can't even compose a coherent blog post.  Also, I have too many tags.  When I tell my husband the day's TO DO list, he's like "I don't think it's realistic to get all that done in one day." I'm like, "I'm going to try anyway."

What I am realizing is that moderation is key even in one's career and daily life.  Not just in diet and not just in exercise (see 10% rule) but in all facets of life.  I'm kind of at a career fork.  I went to a job fair and as a result I am kind of bulldozing in two different directions and it's wearing my brain out.  I guess I'm going to have to take my own advice here and stop shooting for the moon.  This shuttle is running out of jet fuel and I don't want to have to improvise a crash landing.

But I'm really enjoying starting to run again.  The Brooks Ghost 6 have 20.6 mi on them and they feel great!  We haven't done any races this year, but I'm hoping we can do something next weekend (Feb 23) or the following one (Mar 2).  We're coming up on our 6th wedding anniversary.  The internet says that's either Iron or Wood.  Does that mean we should take up golf?

Daucus carota (carrot)

I haven't planted any crops for the summer garden.  It's silly since it takes virtually no time and produces ultra-local food all summer long and I can't find one day to get it done.  If I plant too late, the seedlings won't survive the summer heat.  We've had, like, no rain this winter.  There was a wildfire here in Glendale today.  I refuse to water twice a day when it's this dry.  It doesn't seem right.  I did make the labels though (and look up the suggested planting dates in the Farmer's Almanac): carrot (Jan 25), corn (Mar 1), lettuce (Jan 30), beans (Mar 8), squash (Feb 15).  I guess it's nothing fancy.  So I missed carrot, but the others are still a possibility.  Lettuce reseeded itself already.

My student got our abstract accepted to a big conference that I'd really like to go to, but it's over $700 for the registration fee.  Dang-nab-it.  At least we can say that after this year, we will have reached financial equilibrium (or maybe not) but at least we're moving towards it.  Running (and cycling) are definitely helping me manage my posture, self-esteem, and the ups-and-downs of this emotional rollercoaster we call life.  Also coming up is the UNK Alumni Reunion (Mar 1).  Rather than at Knotts Berry Farm where it usually is, there's a new location.  Haven't RSVP'd yet but it would be nice to connect with some Lopers.

Watched this documentary last night about the history and the science of the bicycle.  Maybe we can just ride our Iron bikes and get a Wooden basket for our anniversary.  Wondering if I'll ever take that cross country bike trip.  It seems so close a possibility and yet so improbable.  I turned in my availability to teach summer classes at CSUN last week. Guess we'll see where the career fork takes us.