Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Science - A Short List of Important and Trivial Halloween Figures, Fallacies and Horrific Facts

You better watch your treat-intake, if you want to wear this "costume" another year ;-)
I know you probably expected "healthy Halloween recipes" in this special, but you know that this is not exactly my area of expertise.

Ok, ok... Honestly, Halloween per se is not exactly my specialty either. Despite the desperate efforts of the industry to import your not so holy holiday festivities to Germany, the whole idea of dressing up like monsters, vampires, zombies and skeletons to avoid being recognized when you get drunk and laid is something we do in February, in the carneval season, not the night before All Hallow's day.

In view of the fact that the majority of you are from the US or the UK and thus probably just trying to squeeze their astral bodies into last year's Halloween costume, I thought it may still be worth to compile a couple of more or less random pieces of "Halloween research". So, here you go:
  • A Playstation is as welcome as a bag of sweets: I am not sure if that's a real improvement (and it certainly is not surprising), but Schwartz et al. suggest that "nutrition professionals should encourage adults to create holiday traditions that do not rely on unhealthful foods" (Schwartz. 2003) . I guess, though, a football or skates or whatever "pro-kinetic" toy would probably actually qualify as a healthy alternative to the junkfood. But let's be honest: Would you have needed a study to know that "children will not be disappointed by toy treats on Halloween" (Schwartz. 2003)?
  • Random Halloween stats (data from statista.com): With 65.8% the majority of US citizens is going to celebrate today (question was posed in September 2013) - more women than men, by the way (67.1% vs. 64.3%). 
    • Figure 1: How will you celebrate Halloween this year? (September 2013, by gender)
      The $75.03 budged every US citizen is about to spend this year is probably going to be slightly smaller than 2012, where the average spending was still $79.82. The estimated total spending on Halloween festivities for 2013 is ~7 billion US dollars - not bad, but more than 1 billion less than last year. Still, 75% of the respondends of a survey from September 2013 said the economy would not have any influence on the amount of money they planned to spend.
    • Among the adults, participating in the festivities is a prerogative of the younger ones. More than 82% of the US citizens in the group of 18-24 and 25-34 year olds is going to party tonight. In the 50+ age group more than half of the adults are halloween refusineks.
  • Pumpkin & pumpkin seeds - the healthy oddment of the halloween festivities: I know you have been waiting for this, so here they are - the established health benefits of pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and extracts (P & PE)
    • Figure 2:They are best known for prostate protection but a high pumpkin intake protects against gastric and lung cancer, as well - note: the breast and colorectal cancer protective effects, on the other hand, were non-significant (Huang. 2004)
      anti-diabetic - P & PE protect the pancreas against hyperglycemia (Zhang. 2013), lowers blood sugar, inihit b-glucosidase alpha-amylase to inhibit carbohydrate digestion (Yadav. 2012)
    • anti-oxidant - P & PE are a significant source of natural forms of vitamin E, increase hepatic
      activities of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase in mice, reduce the concentration of malonaldehyde (Yadav. 2012),  protect sperm against oxidative assaults (Aghaei. 2013)
    • anti-carcinogenic - P & PE protect against androgen induced prostate growth (Gossell-Williams. 2006; Tsai. 2006), have proven anti-cancer effects for other types of cancer, as well (see data from Huang. 2004 in Figure 2)
    • Figure 3: Important bioactive compounds from pumpkin and their biological activities (Yadav. 2012).
      anti-microbial - P & PE kill or inhibit the proliferation of about every bug you know, Acinetobacter baumanii, Aeromonas veroniibiogroup sobria, Candida albicans, Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serotype typhimurium, Serratia marcescens and Staphylococcus aureus (essential oil; Hammer. 1999)
    • incontinence - PE reduce bladder pressure in rabbit model (works only with oil preparations (!); Zhang. 1994), but reliable evidence from human trials is lacking despite the fact that you can and million people actually do buy corresponding supplements at every pharmacy
    • good source of potassium - P have a high potassium content (300mg/100g; seeds contain more than 1,000mg per 100g; Lazos. 1986), certainly something to remember in view of the low potassium content of the Standard Western Diet (SAD)
  • Halloween is "more fertile" than Valentine's day: It may sound as if this was related to "financial fertility", but it isn't a 2011 Yales study (Levy. 2011) found that the number of children that are born in the "Halloween window" is 8% (=133,087) higher than during the Valentine's-Day window.
    Still, compared to non-holidays the number of spontaneous births was 5.3% and the number of cesareans even -16.9% lower on Halloween. Reason enough for the scientists to come up with a conspiracy theory: "Our findings raise the possibility that pregnant women may be able to control the timing of spontaneous births" (Levy. 2011) - it that's not far fetched, it's imho at least pretty irrelevant, don't you think so?
Rollmops is an obligatory part of the German version of "Tom's breakfast"
About to get drunk? Maybe this brief history of anti-hangover cures can help you avoid the worst side effects. The ancient Assyrians swore by Ground birds' beaks and myrrh. Raw eel and bitter almonds is a recipe from Europe that was popular during the Middle Ages. The Mongolians were more into sheeps' eyes, while the Chinese went with green tea. Us Germans like it traditional (not me though) and eat "Tom's breakfast" (Katerfrühstück), a postbinge breakfast with Bismark Herring, pickles, rollmops (see image to the left) and/or sauerkraut (this stuff does work, by the way, 'cause it helps replenish the lost electrolytes).
  • Your alcohol consumption last year was lower than you think - If you are like the majority of students, Patrick & Lee questioned in their 2010 study you overestimate the amount of alcohol you've been consuming on Halloween significantly. If you still need a hangover cure, I'd suggest you take a another look at what people from all the world do, whenever they have had a drop too much.
  • Drunken or not you better watch out your kids are run over by car - It's a very sad statistic, but according to CDC data from the late 1990 10% of the yearly deaths among pedestrians aged 5-14 years occurs on October, 31 - in the hours between 4pm and 10pm. 
  • "Halloween diarrhea" is a term by which Breitenbach refers in a 1992 paper to the sorbitol induced diarrhea that strikes some patients with a surprising regularity (Breitenbach. 1992 ;-)
Learn from scrapies how you can identify a real zombie tonight (image from Nasiruddin. 2013); learn from the CDC how to "promote awareness" w/ zombie comics.
Boring? Not exciting? What did you expect? Zombie science? Well, I guess I have some pretty crazy infection / vaccine related zombie science for you.

Actually it's rather an idea than solid data though - an idea Melissa Nasiruddin, Monique Halabi, Alexander Dao, Kyle Chen, and Brandon Brown developed in a recent paper (Nasiruddin. 2013) and that revolves around the use of zombies to "raise the awareness", some people may even say "promote" the risk of infectious diseases... sounds hilarious and like the stupid idea of a couple of grad students? If you believe that, I'd suggest you check out the CDC's attempt to exploit this idea before you head off into this unholy night ;-)

References:
  • Aghaei S, Nikzad H, Taghizadeh M, Tameh AA, Taherian A, Moravveji A. Protective effect of Pumpkin seed extract on sperm characteristics, biochemical parameters and epididymal histology in adult male rats treated with Cyclophosphamide. Andrologia. 2013 Oct 11. 
  • Breitenbach RA. 'Halloween diarrhea'. An unexpected trick of sorbitol-containing candy. Postgrad Med. 1992 Oct;92(5):63-6.
  • Gossell-Williams M, Davis A, O'Connor N. Inhibition of testosterone-induced hyperplasia of the prostate of sprague-dawley rats by pumpkin seed oil. J Med Food. 2006 Summer;9(2):284-6.
  • Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and other plant extracts. J Appl Microbiol. 1999 Jun;86(6):985-90.
  • Huang XE, Hirose K, Wakai K, Matsuo K, Ito H, Xiang J, Takezaki T, Tajima K. Comparison of lifestyle risk factors by family history for gastric, breast, lung and colorectal cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2004 Oct-Dec;5(4):419-27.
  • Lazos E. Nutritional, Fatty Acid, and Oil Characteristics of Pumpkin and Melon Seeds. Journal of Food Science. 1986. 21(5):1382–1383
  • Levy BR, Chung PH, Slade MD. Influence of Valentine's Day and Halloween on birth timing. Soc Sci Med. 2011 Oct;73(8):1246-8. 
  • Schwartz MB, Chen E, Brownell KD. Trick, treat, or toy: children are just as likely to choose toys as candy on halloween. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2003 Jul-Aug;35(4):207-9.
  • Tsai YS, Tong YC, Cheng JT, Lee CH, Yang FS, Lee HY. Pumpkin seed oil and phytosterol-F can block testosterone/prazosin-induced prostate growth in rats. Urol Int. 2006;77(3):269-74.
  • Yadav M, Jain S, Tomar R, Prasad GB, Yadav H. Medicinal and biological potential of pumpkin: an updated review. Nutr Res Rev. 2010 Dec;23(2):184-90.
  • Zhang X, Ouyang JZ, Zhang YS, Tayalla B, Zhou XC, Zhou SW. Effect of the extracts of pumpkin seeds on the urodynamics of rabbits: an experimental study. J Tongji Med Univ. 1994;14(4):235-8.
  • Zhang Y, Chen P, Zhang Y, Jin H, Zhu L, Li J, Yao H. Effects of polysaccharide from pumpkin on biochemical indicator and pancreatic tissue of the diabetic rabbits. Int J Biol Macromol. 2013 Oct 1.