AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Lifestyle

Stress and your Gut Microbiota

Stress. It’s something all people deal with- whether in large or small amounts- we all know what it feels like. Stress doesn’t always mean staying up to pull an all-nighter and barely making the deadline for a paper, it can be just the anxiousness of flying and getting all your things packed before a trip. In general, stress messes with our immune systems in a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of research on the different ways that stress can affect our bodies ranging from our brains to our hearts. New research has shown another way that stress affects our immune systems: through our gut microbiota. What is our gut microbiota? Formally called gut flora, our gut microbiota is the microbe population living in our intestine. Research has revealed that this microbe population is extremely sensitive to any change in our lifestyles, stress included.

The number one thing that affects our gut flora is our diet. Our bodies are very sensitive to what we eat and how active we are. Problems in giving our bodies proper nutrition and exercise can result in mental health problems, diabetes, obesity, or cancer. Stress, however, has been shown to have a very big impact on our gut. An article reported in Medical Daily described a study done on wild squirrels. The researchers examined squirrel microbiomes and their stress hormone levels. They found that the more stressed a squirrel was, the less variety of bacteria in their gut. They concluded that a healthier squirrel would have more diverse gut bacteria. They assume the same is true for humans, but will have to test to verify. On a side note, they also conducted a test where they found that pregnant women under stress were found to transfer negative effects of stress to their children through vaginal microbiota.


Here is a possibly stressed squirrel  (although he seems happy eating the nuts).

Yet another study was conducted and published through The Atlantic on gut microbiota- specifically on “traveler’s constipation.” You might be wondering why I’m mentioning this because, let’s face it- who wouldn’t want to be traveling on a flight to the Bahamas right about now? For our gut, however, this can pose a lot of stresses we wouldn’t think about. About 40% of people say they suffer from travelers constipation, so let’s find out what this is all about. Firstly, on vacation our eating habits change. Whether this means coming home for the holidays and binge eating cookies, or eating a lot less than you normally eat, your gut is sensitive to both. Another, more surprising effect is the change of scenery- your gut is extremely sensitive to change of setting. Anytime you leave your general habitat, in fact, it throws your gut flora off balance- especially if the time zone changes because it messes up routine. For some, the mere thought of traveling can cause difficulty with their bowel movements. Sitting on planes or in a car for long periods of time can also really mess with your gut because part of what helps us “go” is moving around. This is why exercise can actually help you to go to the bathroom. All of these things are things we might not really think about because we don’t understand why it happens or we might not even realize it’s happening sometimes.

Our gut is often called the “second brain”, because millions of neurons line the intestines so it really does play a role in your mental state. Diet and exercise are extremely important in maintaining a healthy gut. Doctors and researchers have have recommended sleep, a lot of water, yogurt, probiotics or other fermented foods, foods high in fiber and meditation and mindfulness. These two might be surprising, but it makes sense. If our gut really is our “second brain” we should take really good care of our mental health through meditation, being mindful, and even therapy.

Head Start is the way to “Start”


Eat healthily, sleep well, breathe deeply, move harmoniously,” said Jean-Pierre Barral*

The good health and well-being of Americans is something that matters to me.

Head Start is a United States Department of Health and Human Services program that helps low income families achieve the goal of living a healthy lifestyle. This program occurs during the transition from preschool to elementary school. Its mission is to foster stable family relationships, enhance children’s physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills.

According to an article by Kathryn Doyle, “Obese kids in Head Start get healthier during the year.” This conclusion was determined through a study by Reuters Health on pre-schoolers in Michigan. From the study, they concluded that the kids who were underweight or overweight at the start of the program were healthier than the other kids in their community when they all entered kindergarten.

In the article, Dr. Julie C. Lumeng of the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor states that she was “watching their weight get better.”  The researchers involved in the study used children’s height and weight data, which was provided by Michigan Head Start programs for 19,000 kids to calculate their BMIs. They compared these BMIs to what would be considered the average for other children of the same age in Michigan. It was found that within the first academic year, the overweight kids who started Head Start lost weight and the underweight kids gained weight.

Mary Cunningham Deluca, director of children services at Community Action Agency in Jackson, Michigan, believes nutrition is the most important part and I could not agree more. I chose this article because I like to be extremely health conscious. I try to fuel my body with the best food for me and maintain an active lifestyle. Personally, I have found that  living a healthy lifestyle builds confidence, opens your mind, and teaches you to break through boundaries and overcome obstacles you never thought possible. It opens up opportunities and that is exactly what we need to do for children; It’s time to give them a “head start!”


*”Jean-Pierre Barral is an Osteopath and Registered Physical Therapist, who serves as Director and Faculty of the Department of Osteopathic Manipulation at the University of Paris School of Medicine in Paris, France. He earned his diploma in Osteopathic Medicine in 1974 from the European School of Osteopathy in Maidstone, England, and went on to teach spinal biomechanics at the institution from 1975-1982.”


Finding Motivation Amongst Senioritis

It’s the time of year when senioritis really hits–second semester of senior year! Although most students have already found out about where they’ll e spending the next four years, there are some of us who are still suffering through the “wonderful” college process.

Whatever our situation may be at the moment, we all want the same thing: success. Success can be defined in hundreds of ways, but what contributes to attaining what we define as success? According the the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, a professor from Florida State University, “motivation is the most significant predictor of success.” Whether it be in sports, music, business or education, those who succeed and become experts are usually those who put in the most hours and effort into their area of interest.

Research has shown that the longer someone is in a career, the less important innate ability, like knowledge becomes, and the more important motivation becomes. Why? “Because high motivation will ensure total preparation, which will, in turn, ensure maximum performance and results.

So why is it that some people are more motivated than others? There are asic biological forces that contribute to the existing difference, but some others seem to be a bit more abstract. There are a few major theories of motivation, one being the Drive Reduction Theory.  According to Clark Hull, humans have the internal need which motivates us to perform in certain ways. There are needs within us that drive us to act in ways to satisfy what what we want–when we’re hungry, we’re driven to eat. According to this, we’re driven to reduce drives so that we maintain a feeling of personal calmness and satisfaction.

Perhaps the most well know theory of motivation is the Humanistic Theory which states that humans are driven to achieve their maximum potential and will always try to do so unless there are obstacles in their way. According to the Hierarchy Pyramid developed by Abraham Maslow, we always strive to reach the top: the need for self actualization, or the need to realize our fullest potential, and right below that is the need for achievement, education, competence and respect. According to Maslow, no one has ever reached the absolute top of the pyramid–we all may strive for it, but no one has ever actually achieved full self-actualization. Self actualization being a complete understanding of who you are, a sense of completeness, and of being the best person you could possibly be.

So where does that leave us if we know that no one has ever reached the top of the pyramid? Well, we should strive even more to get as close as possible to the top.

What do you do if you’ve already become a victim of senioritis?

Well, believe it or not, it is possible to change!

The impact of motivation is actually quite string. It’s so important because it impacts every aspect of your efforts at change–it allows for preparation to make changes, provides patience in giving

Edited by Yasmin Kibria

yourself time for changes to actually occur, allows for perseverance in overcoming obstacles and setbacks and eventually develops a lifestyle that supports change which leads to ultimate achievement of the desired changes.

We’re not all the same, so there’s obviously different motivations that drive us to our goals. There are two parts to the “motivation matrix:” internal vs. external and positive vs. negative.

Internal-positive=challenge, desire, passion, satisfaction (Probable outcome? Successful change and fulfillment)

External-positive=recognition and appreciation from others, financial rewards. (Probable outcome? Some change, but dependent on others for continued change)

Internal-negative=fear of failure, inadequacy. (Probable outcome? SOme change, but possible relapse)

External-negative=unstable life, insufficient respect from others, fear of loss of job or relationship. (Probable outcome? some success, but very high risk of relapse)

Finding it the Motivation Within You

It means maintaining your efforts, especially in times when it’d be easy t ogive up. It includes doing everything possible to attain your goals.

There are three Ds that lead to change in motivation:

Direction: You need to know where you can go.

Decision: You need to know where you want to go.

Dedication: It’s kind of obvious.

Second semester is here…now you decide where you want to go.

If you want to read the rest of the article, feel free to do so:

Here are some more articles on the psychology of motivation:

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