• Infographic:

    Colors of the Eye

    From the famous lines of beloved songs to the stories of ancient legends, eye color has captivated audiences throughout time. The origins and genetic makeup associated with eye color makes the color of one’s eye more complex than a simple collection of aesthetic traits, however. Genes and pigment concentrations are two important factors in determining eye color. Some eye colors are more rare than others and can be linked to genetics or family origins and heritage.

    Hannah Scanga, MS, a genetic counselor at the UPMC Eye Center, explains, “The two primary genes that influence the color of the eye, primarily brown and blue eyes, are OCA2 and HERC2. Additional genes influence other eye colors and specific variations, including green or hazel eyes and gold rings.” The scale of eye color from most to least common is brown, blue, hazel, green, and silver.

    According to Ellen Mitchell, MD, “Concentrations of the pigment melanin in the iris of the eye is the primary determinant of eye color. Higher amounts of melanin lead to darker colors while lower amounts result in lighter eye colors.” Dr. Mitchell continues, “The pigment lipochrome also plays a role in determining eye color, specifically green eyes.”

    Eye color can also change due to factors like pupil size, emotions, and age. However, if these changes are drastic or only occur in one eye this may indicate a medical condition and you should discuss symptoms with a doctor.Eye Color Infographic

    Are you still curious about some of the fascinating facts behind blue (green, or brown) eyes? Visit the UPMC Eye Center website to learn more about the latest breakthroughs in the field of optometry and the different eye conditions we treat. Call 1-800-446-3797 to schedule an appointment today.

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  • 5 Ramen Noodle

    “Health Hacks”

    It’s that time of year again. The time when college students flock back to campus, ready to ace their tests, reunite with friends, and feast on the infamously unhealthy Ramen Noodles. Unfortunately, the beloved college-food was the subject of a recent health study, which linked it to series health issues. Even more disheartening? These issues were gender specific. Women who ate the noodles at least twice per week saw a 68 percent increase in their risk of cardiometabolic syndrome, while men saw no notable difference in their risk. But with all-nighters and deadlines looming, it’s not easy to toss the prepackaged delicacy into the trash for good. So what’s a busy college kid to do?

    Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, commented on the story and assured students that it doesn’t take much effort to make Ramen healthier. So next time late-night hunger strikes, try these simple steps to save your wallet and your health:

    Ramen Graphic

    1. Ditch the Seasoning

    The sky-high sodium content is the biggest health issue, so try adding flavor another way! Use water or broth and flavor it with garlic, ginger, herbs, chili, or sesame oil.

    2. Add Veggies

    If you live on campus, grab some vegetables from the salad bar to use in your Ramen. Otherwise, break out the frozen veggies to give your noodles an extra kick of nutrients!

    3. Pack in the Protein

    Chicken, shrimp, tuna, tofu, grilled salmon, eggs…the list goes on! Any protein you choose will make your Ramen healthier and keep you feeling full longer than Ramen alone.

    4. Use your Leftovers

    Have extra food from last night’s dinner? Combine it with ramen noodles (sans seasoning) for a delicious reworking that makes you forget you’re eating leftovers.

    5. Go Dry

    Cook the noodles, drain, and lightly toss in your favorite dressing or sauce! Think low-sodium soy sauce, Italian dressing, vinaigrette, or teriyaki sauce.

    6. Get Creative

    There are dozens (if not hundreds) of Ramen recipes for you to try. There are even Ramen Noodle cookbooks! So don’t settle for boring noodles, spice it up with a creative recipe.

    Eating habits tend to change when entering college mode, as campus life warrants an active and hectic lifestyle. Quick, convenient and unhealthy meals often take center stage, landing healthy eating and cooking in the bleachers. When you’re looking to get creative with regular old Ramen, check out some of our health hacks. Think of it as teaching an old dog new tricks, but this time you’re the dog and the tricks are disguised as noodles. Bring your dorm room dining to a new level while also becoming more conscious of the ingredients your putting in your body!

    How do you make your Ramen healthier? Share your ideas below!

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  • 7 Health Benefits of

    Lemon Juice

    There’s more to lemons than meets the eye. This fruit may pair well with some of your favorite dishes, but it also offers incredible health benefits. Lemons are packed with nutrients, promote weight loss, and have even been linked to kidney stone prevention and cancer treatment! This tangy fruit has also been known to possibly help halt bad breath and get rid of dandruff when applied to the scalp. In addition to its properties as a beauty treatment and health aid, there are a number of uses for lemons. Whether you enjoy the fruit alone or with your morning tea, here are just a few reasons to embrace lemons and their juice:

    1. Relieves a sore throat: Warm water mixed with honey and lemon can soothe a sore throat during cold season.
    2. Cancer-fighting benefits: Studies have shown lemons may have anticancer benefits.
    3. Prevents kidney stones: Lemon juice is shown to help prevent kidney stones by raising the urine’s citrate levels.
    4. Aid in digestion: Lemon promotes the production of digestive enzymes in the liver, which help eliminate waste from your body.
    5. High in essential nutrients: Lemons are high in many vitamins like Vitamin C (promotes immunity and battles infection), calcium (important for muscle function, intracellular signaling, and hormonal secretion), potassium (helps muscles and nerves work properly), and folate (Fights against spinal birth defects and helps red blood cell formation).
    6. Promotes weight loss: The pectin in lemons and their juice helps you feel fuller for longer, which will make your weight loss much more manageable.
    7. Helps clear skin: Lemons have natural antibacterial qualities and alpha hydroxyl acids, like many over-the-counter acne medications. It brightens, exfoliates, and helps remove blackheads!

    So how will you incorporate lemons and lemon juice into your life? Have you already seen the benefits of lemon in your daily diet or personal care regimen? Tell us in the comments below!

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  • Understanding

    Depression

    When you think of depression, you might think of being sad, or just down in the dumps. But in fact, it’s much more than that. It’s a clinical condition that can take control of your life and cause serious complications. According to the National Institute of Mental Health about 16 million people had at least one episode in the past year. To put that into perspective, that’s one out of every 10 people.

    depression graphic

    Symptoms of Depression and Treatment Options

    Depression symptoms may be different for everyone. One person may experience symptoms that seem to last for years, while others will only have moderate bouts and return to their normal life relatively quickly. However, depression can be treated, often with medication, psychological counseling or both. Other non-conventional treatments also may help. But before any type of treatment is initiated, the symptoms must be recognized. When people experience episodes of depression, they may suffer through:

    • Sadness, unhappiness, or an emptiness feeling
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Severe lack of energy where even the smallest tasks require extra effort
    • Loss of interest in hobbies or normal daily activities
    • Changes in appetite (some people may eat less and lose weight while some may overeat and gain weight)
    • Anxiety or restlessness
    • Fogginess, confusion, and slowed speaking or body movements
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide

    Causes of Depression

    Because depression is such a complex disease, the causes of it can greatly vary. One theory suggests that it may be caused from having too much or too little of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals communicate information throughout our brain and body. When the nerves that release these chemicals malfunction, too little or too much of these neurotransmitters may be released, which has been linked as a known cause of depression. Certain antidepressant medications work to control the release of these neurotransmitters.

    Yet, this information is not conclusive. Many researchers don’t agree that a simple increase or decrease of brain chemicals is the lone factor when determining that causes of depression. Rather, it’s a combination of factors, which may include:

    • Genetic vulnerability (depression may be more common in people whose relatives also suffer, or have suffered from depression)
    • Faulty mood regulation by the brain
    • Stressful life events (loss of a loved one, high stress, childhood trauma or recent trauma)
    • Medications or medical problems

    Depression Is Not Mental Weakness

    Often, people associate being depressed as a sign of weakness. In a recent study conducted by the National Mental Health Association, out of 1,022 adults interviewed by telephone, 43 percent said they believed depression is a personal weakness. However, this is far from the truth. Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone of any ethnicity. Whether, you’re rich or poor, or old or young, depression can affect you.

    If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, seek help. It’s never too late talk to someone about getting better. There are an array of hot lines and helpful information where you can seek the help of professionals 24 hours a day. There is also helpful information on suicide awareness and prevention.

    Related Articles

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  • Dont Get Beat By

    The Heat

    The temperatures are rising and the weather is warm! As with every season, the summer months bring a whole new set of health risks due to the changing weather. In the midst of all the summer fun, you may be too caught up in the excitement to recognize when your body has been negatively affected by the heat. We sat down with Matthew Synan, MD, of Pulmonary Consultants–UPMC to discuss two particular health risks that people encounter during the summer: heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

    While they are two different conditions, many people often get confused because of their similarities. Both conditions are on the spectrum of temperature related illnesses, but differ in severity.

    Heat Exhaustion

    Heat exhaustion occurs when the body temperature is less than or equal to 104 F (40 C).

    Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

    • Dizziness
    • Mild confusion (which normalizes within 30 minutes of treatment)
    • A faster heart rate with normal blood pressure
    • Mild to moderate dehydration.

    Heat Stroke

    Heat stroke can be the more serious of the two conditions. It occurs when the body’s core temperature is greater than 104 F (40 C), and is characterized by:

    • Abnormal mental status (such as delirium, hallucinations, or slurred speech),
    • A faster heart rate coupled with low blood pressure
    • Moderate to severe dehydration

    There are two distinct types of heat stroke and heat exhaustion: classic and exertional. Classic heat stroke and exhaustion can occur without any activity or physical exertion and is more common in individuals age 70 or older, or those who have a chronic medical condition. Exertional heat stroke and exhaustion occurs as a result of physical activity and is most common in young individuals who engage in heavy exercise during high temperatures such as athletes and military recruits.

    Some medications, such as allergy, heart, or psychiatric prescriptions can put you at an increased risk because these medications may limit the body’s ability to sweat.

    In the event that you should develop any symptoms of heat exhaustion, take actions quickly to cool yourself down by:

    • Removing clothing
    • Spraying yourself with cool water or taking a cool bath
    • Using fans
    • Applying ice packs to the armpit, neck, and groin.

    If not taken care of quickly, both of these conditions may evolve and result in:

    • Kidney, respiratory, and liver failure
    • Muscle breakdown
    • Blood disorders
    • Death

    Some ways to prevent the onset of these conditions is to limit your physical activity outside when the temperatures are highest or perform them in the evening when it is coolest. Also, wear loose clothing and take frequent breaks. Dr. Synan stresses that by far the most important thing to do is to drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated!

    If you or someone you know has been hit with a heat-related illness, please follow these tips to help them recover. Do not hesitate to pay a visit to the Emergency Medicine at UPMC center for immediate treatment.

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Brain Cancer vs. Benign Tumors

by CancerCenter

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May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month, a time to brush up on the facts. Here’s what you should know about brain tumors:

What Are Brain Tumors?

When you hear of a brain tumor, you may automatically think of brain cancer. While brain tumors are scary, they are not always malignant. There are two types of brain tumors:

  • Benign tumors:
    • Noncancerous
    • Slow growing
    • Grow locally in the region they originated from
    • Are often cured if they can be surgically removed
  • Malignant tumors:
    • Cancerous
    • More difficult to treat
    • Grow rapidly
    • Usually invade surrounding brain and nervous tissue

Brain tumors are classified as primary or secondary tumor. Secondary brain tumors originate from another part of the body. They most often occur in people who have a history of cancer. But in rare cases, a metastatic brain tumor may be the first sign of cancer that started elsewhere. Any cancer can spread to the brain, the most common ones being breast cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma.

Primary brain tumors originate in the brain and are named according to the type of cell they originate from. The most common primary brain tumors are astrocytomas, also known as gliomas (these tumors come in different grades according to their aggressiveness) and meningioma (a most often benign tumor arising from the coating of the brain).

Treatment

There are several standard treatments for brain tumors, depending on the type:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy including stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Anti-angiogenic therapy targeting tumor blood vessels leading to tumor starvation

Many new cutting-edge treatments are currently being studied, including vaccines, and other personalized, targeted therapies that are directed at the molecular changes of one’s individual brain tumor.


Risk Factors

  • Occupation: some types of brain tumors are more frequent among workers in certain industries, such as oil refining and rubber manufacturing and workers exposed to ionizing radiation.
  • Age: The risk of a brain tumor increases with age. Brain tumors are most common in older adults. However, a brain tumor can occur at any age. Certain types of brain tumors occur almost exclusively in children.
  • Radiation exposure: there has been some connection between ionizing radiation and brain tumors. This type of radiation typically comes from cancer treatment. Survivors of childhood cancer who have received radiation therapy involving the brain or spine are at an increased risk of brain or spine tumors.
  • Family History: While most brain tumors are not familial, a small percentage of tumors occur in patients with certain genetic syndromes that increase the risk of brain cancer.

Currently, it is not believed that head injuries cause brain tumors to develop. There is also no conclusive evidence linking cell phone use, microwaves or electromagnetic fields related to power lines to brain tumor development.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of brain or spinal cord tumor can happen suddenly, or may become worse over time, which include:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting/Nausea
  • Balance problems
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures

These symptoms are not always caused by brain tumors. However, if any of these increase over time or become unbearable, or concern you consult your doctor.

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At UPMC CancerCenter, we are your doctors, caregivers, teachers, and support system. You are not alone in your fight against cancer, and we are committed to providing you the knowledge, inspiration, and specialty cancer care you need so you can face your diagnosis with confidence. We’re here for you – as part of the community – and that’s something cancer can never take away.

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