I had a wee holiday last weekend! I went up to Auckland with my very good friend, we drank wine, caught up, ate, drank more wine, went to Waiheke Island, drank more wine and also drank some wine. Long story short, we drank a lot of wine. Not to get too graphic about it, but on the first night we were there she started to feel a bit ill, which was strange considering we hadn’t had THAT much wine by then… anyway, she felt awful, puked, then felt better.
The next day she was like “Man it was weird that I felt so bad… I mean, I took a codeine to help with the headache but I guess I chucked it up…” at which point I punched her in the shoulder and proceeded to screech in shock “You took codeine while you were drinking you f***ing idiot!?” God love her.
So I’m gonna learn you in this post about the interaction between codeine and alcohol so that next time you think you’ll get rid of that dehydration headache with a wee pill leftover from your sprained ankle, you’ll think again.
First off, what is codeine? Actually, codeine is a derivative of morphine. Codeine is most commonly used to treat pain as it is an opiate, like morphine. Common side effects of taking codeine include itchiness, constipation, lightheadedness, drowsiness and (no surprises) vomiting. It gets converted to morphine in the liver, which acts directly on your central nervous system to help decrease feelings of pain. Ideal when you’ve got a broken bone or your wisdom teeth out and you’re in agony!
Hey interesting fact, some people can be intolerant to morphine (and as such, codeine too.) This can manifest as an allergic reaction, so if you have this problem, you probably can’t take morphine or its derivatives, and you’d have to find some other pain meds. (Pst, I am one of these people. I take tramadol instead :))
If you are over the age of about 15 and/or exist as a human being, you probably know the symptoms of being drunk, or overdosing on alcohol. They include impaired motor function, nausea, vomiting, slurring your words, forgetting things, regrettably texting your ex, not noticing your nip has been out the whole evening and dizziness.
Some crossover exists between these two effects, but basically what codeine does is it exacerbates or makes worse the effects of alcohol. It can make you feel drunk off of one beer. In my friends case, because she took the codeine AFTER ingesting alcohol, it exacerbated nausea and vomiting symptoms. Long story short, codeine and alcohol interact. Be aware of this.
Hey team thanks for reading about my dumb friend, stay tuned for the next one! Get Learned!
Okey dokey, I’m gonna talk a bit about statistics (yuck). I know, I bloody hate them too. But knowing a little bit about how to critically think about statistics that get presented will make it easier to sift the bullshit from the gold in terms of science.
A good example is this often repeated statistic, “The most common cause of food poisoning is not reheating rice properly!”
Now, you’d think food poisoning would mostly be caused by chicken or mussels or raw fish or something, but no, rice! But here we have a deceptive statistic. Rice is commonly eaten in third-world countries, who have poorer sanitation and hygiene, therefore they are more likely to get a food-borne infection. It’s hard to get a food-borne infection from chicken if you don’t eat chicken. Ya get me? So the deceit in this statistic lies in the “worldwide” part of it. For example, this is a cool map of the world that is coloured according to the number of deaths that are caused by diarrheal disease, which is often the outcome of food poisoning.
The ones that are closer to being red are the ones which have high rates of death due to diarrheal disease. Notice how they’re all clustered in Sub-Saharan Africa? Yeah, they basically throw out all the statistics for the rest of the world.
So lets talk about scientific studies, and the data that is generated from them. I’m gonna use the example of a study that I was a part of in 2016 which was a new medication to help Type 1 diabetics have better blood sugars. If we’re talking human disease studies, the gold standard is what we call a double-blind randomised control trial. In English: Double blind means neither the researchers nor the patient know what they are getting. The aim of this is two fold. The first aim is to look at the placebo effect in the patients. It’s been proven that if you think you’re getting treatment, you’ll see a positive effect even if you aren’t. The second aim is so that the researchers or doctors give exactly the same treatment to all patients regardless of whether they’re on the drug or not. In my trial, a computer generated a random number which was assigned to a bottle of pills; they were mine. They could have been placebo pills (aka have no active ingredient) or the pills with the potential medication in them. Neither I nor my doctor knew what was in the pill. The allocation to the group was random (which fulfills the “randomised” part of the type of study) and the control part means that for every person who was on the active pill, there was another person who was on the placebo drug.
Double blind randomised control trials are the best, but sometimes it’s impossible to do them. For example, a trial where one group of patients were given a jacket and the other (control) group were not; we know who got a jacket cos we can see it for ourselves. Sometimes it can’t be controlled; there are some ethical limitations on what you’re allowed to do. If you have evidence that your drug can miraculously cure cancer, you ethically are not allowed to deprive one group from the drug and give them a placebo instead.
If a scientific study is being undertaken, there are a few things you need to know to be able to critically acknowledge whether the study is good or not.
Size – that “vaccines cause autism” claim? Came from a study of 12 children, 11 of whom were boys. We would say this is a small (tiny) sample size, and it doesn’t reflect the population accurately.
Type of study – a study that looks back retrospectively at data isn’t as good as a study of a cohort of people that is ongoing isn’t as good as a randomised control trial.
Statistical significance – this is a way of measuring how likely it is that a result is due to chance. The more significant the result is, the more likely it is to be a true result.
Length of study – some things have short term effects, some things have long term effects. If you look at a group of people who have been smoking for one year, by the end of that year not many of them will have lung cancer. But if you look at that same group of people twenty years in the future compared to a control group, you might see an association. Not everything is instant.
Variables measured – people are difficult and complex. Often there are lots of factors that go into causing disease. For example, obesity increases your risk of heart disease. But also, a fatty diet, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise and genetic factors also increase your risk of heart disease. These are called confounding variables, because they confuse the message of obesity = heart disease. You have to control for these confounding variables. You do this by making sure they are all the same. Everything is the same except the thing that is different. You get me?
Here’s a thing that you might hear people say in the science community; correlation does not equal causation. Since the 1950’s carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing. Also since the 1950’s, the divorce rate has been increasing. Therefore, carbon dioxide causes divorce? Nah. Just because two things are correlated, does not mean one causes the other.
So there’s some wee tidbits to hopefully help you out next time you read a clickbait article. Bullshit detectors on! Thanks for reading friends, GET LEARNED!
Here at Get Learned, I’m all about dispelling myths and demystifying the world of science for ya’ll. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of microbes, and I’m also a big fan of sexual education. So it naturally follows that I’ma do a series about sexually transmitted infections, starting with herpes!
Note: Previously, STIs were called STDs; sexually transmitted diseases. We moved to calling them STIs because “disease” implies there are symptoms of illness; a lot of sexually transmitted infections don’t actually have any symptoms, they are asymptomatic.
Great, herpa derpa herpes. Herpes is a viral disease caused by a tiny wee virus called herpes simplex virus. Now, there are two types of this virus. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 commonly infects the mouth area, causing cold sores, however it can infect other areas too. HSV-2 is the type of virus more commonly associated with genital infection.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m also a big fan of the etymology of words, especially in science. Often where the word is rooted tells us a lot about what the actual thing does. Case and point, herpes in Latin means “to creep.” No, it’s not a white-van candy virus, this refers to the fact that herpes virus infection is what we call latent. This means once you’re infected, you remain infected for life, but you don’t always display symptoms. One of my favourite first year lecturers was this jolly Irishman who declared at the beginning of a lecture,
“I have herpes, and you’ll see it later in the semester!”
What he meant was that he was infected with HSV-1, which causes cold sores around the mouth. Later in the semester when he got more stressed, he would get symptoms of this infection in the form of visible cold sores on his face. This is what it means to be latently infected with a virus; the virus is constantly chillin’ in your body, just hangin’, not doing much, kept at bay by your immune system. When you get stressed out or you get a cold or get run down, the virus takes the opportunity when your immune system isn’t working so well or is distracted, and causes cold sores.
Same deal with HSV-2, if you have an infection around your genitals. Generally it’s asymptomatic, but sometimes you might have an outbreak, which manifests as blisters around the genital areas. Here’s the sexual side of things; HSV spreads through bodily fluid contact or contact with herpes blisters. It’s why you shouldn’t kiss someone with a cold sore. Women are more susceptible to herpes virus infection, which makes the advertising image later in the post super dumb and a classic example of misogyny 🙂
Some statistics for ya. 90% of the world are infected with either HSV-1 or HSV-2. 90%. That’s like, most people. That’s a clear majority. 16% of the world is infected with HSV-2, and between 60-95% of the world is infected with HSV-1, depending on where/which socio-economic class you’re in.
In terms of transmission, there is a 30% reduction in risk when condoms are used during sex between an infected and non-infected person. Which is a pretty crappy reduction, but it’s because herpes is a skin infection. Generally other bits of skin touch when sexytimes are had, so condoms don’t do a great job of preventing spread. It’s easier to transmit from an infected male to an infected female. But still the likelyhood of a male transmitting HSV-2 to a female is only 8-11%. And female to male is only 4-5%. So an infected female is less likely to transmit the infection to a male, than an infected male to a female.
Guys. Infection with herpes ISN’T A BIG DEAL. It wasn’t until the 1970s that people started to stigmatise herpes. What happened was, this anti-viral drug was made, and people were like “great, but we don’t need it.” And then the people who made it were like “YES YOU DO WHAT ABOUT THE HERPES YOU HAVE OOO IT’S BAD EVEN THOUGH IT’S LARGELY ASYMPTOMIATIC AND CAUSES VERY LITTLE HARM AND BASICALLY NO DEATHS BUT STILL OOOO BUGS ARE BAD KILL THEM ALL BUY OUR DRUG” and people were like “Oh ok” because they hadn’t read my blog about herpes because I wasn’t born yet.
Then there’s the whole “sexually pure virgin until marriage sex is bad the clitoris is a button put onto women by the devil to send you straight to hell” thing that also helped stigmatise herpes infection as REALLY REALLY BAD when it isn’t. Historically, herpes has been known for at least 2000 years. In fact, it was considered a “vocational disease of women” in the 18th century, for ladies of the night. It’s only since that drug company figured out they could make money out of stigmatising herpes that it became a big deal. It ain’t. Most people have it, it doesn’t cause many issues when you have an outbreak, and the rest of the time it’s not symptomatic. Just chill.
Okay cool thanks for reading friends. Any ideas on posts feel free to message me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/getlearnedweb/ , I wanna know what you wanna know!
A very good friend of mine messaged me the other day with a very concise and thought provoking question. He said, “Hey, science. Thoughts on marijuana?” And here we are.
Disclaimers follow. There is a lot of debate about if marijuana is bad or good for you. These are legal debates to do with the law and stuff. I am not a lawyer. I am a scientist. Therefore in this post I will discuss the science surrounding marijuana use, and it’s effects on the body. I am neither condoning nor condemning marijuana use. U do U.
Wheee! Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is the dried flowers of the Cannabis plant. It has been used historically as a medical treatment and also as a psychoactive drug. In fact, records going way back suggest marijuana was used 4000 years ago in China as a medicine. Marijuana was registered as a medication in the United States of America until the 1940s. Marijuana was made illegal in the USA in 1937. This is a great College Humour video about the history of marijuana in the US. It’s not very long!
But you’re not here for a history lesson. You wanna know about the SCIENCE behind weed. So let’s dive right in.
Marijuana can be ingested in many ways, common ones include smoking and cooking into edible foods. There are a buttload of chemical compounds in marijuana, around 450. 60 of these are called cannabinoids. Two of the active ones are tetrahydrocannibinol (THC) and cannabidol (CBD) which we will discuss soon, but these cannabinoids are the things that make weed have it’s signature effects.
Let’s start in humans. Humans have receptors all over the body for cannabinoids, called the cannabinoid receptors (unsurprisingly). This is normal. When scientists were researching the effects of cannabinoids in marijuana on the body they found these receptors and were like “Holy shit we make weed inside our bodies?!” Kinda.
These receptors respond to products made inside the human body which look a bit similar to those cannabinoids in marijuana. Which is how marijuana affects our bodies, the cannabinoids that are ingested through using marijuana have effects on these receptors in the body. These receptors affect areas such as cognition (thinking), coordination, memory, appetite, pain perception, heart rate, gastrointestinal function, and the immune response. Some of these may sound familiar to effects seen in people who have ingested marijuana. Here is a handy dandy table that I have helpfully annotated to be less science. On the left is the effects that the normal cannabinoid system has on our body. On the right is the potential effects of marijuana.
So let’s start with THC, the most well known part of marijuana. What do it do!?
THC is the psychoactive substance in marijuana, and it stimulates those cannabinoid receptors in humans. THC is actually FDA approved to use as a medication, which is cool. It’s used to help HIV/AIDS patients who lose too much weight, because it makes you hungry. It is also used to suppress vomiting and nausea in patients going through cancer treatment. There are also potential effects for multiple sclerosis patients, people with chronic pain, chronic cancer, sleep disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome, psychosis and maybe even depression. Overdose on THC involves lethargy (tiredness), motor issues, and slurred speech…. which kinda just sounds like being drunk. There is no evidence that overdosing on THC can be fatal. Here is the second (annotated) table that describes studies of medical disorders in which cannabinoid use may help.
Cannabinoid number 2, CBD. This works in a similar way to THC but is less good at stimulating those receptors. It is not FDA approved, although trials are going on with it because it might have some really cool therapeutic uses. It is non-addictive! It has been shown to be a good anti-anxiety medication, and an anti-psychosis medication. It may also have some benefit for epileptics as an anti-convulsant. It is also super safe and well tolerated in the body, it’s really really really hard to have too much of it.
Now lets talk about actual weed, not just the substances in it. Obviously there are a whole bunch of other things in there, which is why physicians are reluctant to say “Yeah bro, light up a bowl” when you’re having issues which might be helped by cannabinoids. It’s really hard to regulate, and some other chemicals in weed might be harmful to you. Sometimes weed is laced with tobacco, and you’d have to be living under a rock to not know that tobacco is bad for you. What we do know for sure is that there is NO benefit of marijuana use on the developing brain. A note, your brain continues to develop until your early 20’s. In fact, chronic marijuana users who started smoking in their teens have been found to have decreased IQs, memory loss, and be more at risk for schizophrenia and psychosis. Smoking marijuana has a similar effect on the lungs as smoking tobacco cigarettes, but there is no increased risk of lung cancer in chronic weed smokers. Symptoms experienced when marijuana has been ingested include dry mouth, diziness, irregular heartbeat, hunger, relaxation and changes in behaviour.
So addiction. This is an issue with all kinds of drugs. You can become physically dependent on drugs and form a physical addiction, or a mental addiction where you feel like you need the drug to get through the day. So let’s look at the facts. 9% of adult marijuana users will develop an addiction, and this rises to 17% when use begins in teen years. However studies have shown that 50% of the risk of getting addicted to marijuana comes from genes. So if you have a family history of addiction, you’re more likely to get addicted to weed. THC has some effect on the dopamine receptors in the brain, much like other drugs. Dopamine is the happy yay fun time neurotransmitter which makes you feel good, which is why it is addictive.
And obviously, there are the social issues around marijuana use. It can result in anti-social behaviour, laziness, inability to concentrate hence issues in education, a bunch of other things. But hey, that’s not the sciencey science so I’m not gonna comment too much on that.
So conclusions. As a scientist, I have to leave my personal beliefs out of the equation. There are positive effects of cannabinoid use for some illnesses, and some people find the effects of cannabinoids pleasant and they enjoy using it recreationally. Weed is becoming legalised/decriminalised in a few places, and to be honest, I think once we get data from those places on how it has effected them, other places will soon follow on to make marijuana legal. But hey, like I said, I am science, not law. I asked a medical professional his thoughts on marijuana use. He is an expert in drug and alcohol abuse, and this is what he said.
Except that prescribed for medical use, it can be hard to know exactly how much THC or other compounds found in marijuana you’re ingesting, so the effects can be unpredictable. You don’t know what else you are smoking.
I hope you feel a bit more informed about the kinds of effects marijuana has. I might keep going on this illicit substances track, you guys seem to like controversy. Thanks for reading friends, stay tuned and GET LEARNED!
Look, while we are on the topic of “down there” I feel like it’s time for me to learn you about what actually IS down there, how it was made and how it works. Again, I will say PENIS VAGINA VULVA SPERM TESTICLES and a bunch of other funny words. Try not to squirm. Real talk, when we learned about this kind of stuff in high school my teacher (who I know reads this blog, hi Mrs W!) was like “Okay guys, we’re all gonna say the word penis then laugh, then we will say it again and not laugh, cos we just need to get over it.” I was the only person who laughed the second time. So immature. Without getting too political about it, lack of knowledge and open frank discussion about your bits can result in a bunch of issues, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, illnesses, not to mention issues around consent and sex. So it’s super important to talk about. Second wee caveat, I have somewhat of an issue referring to these systems as the reproductive organs cos they’re not only for reproduction, they’re also for waste disposal (pee) and pleasure dare I say. I’ll call them the male and female sex organs instead. So let’s dive right in and get learned about male and female sex organs!
Ladies first, because (SUPER EXCITING FACT) did you know that in the womb during development, ALL BABIES START OFF WITH FEMALE BITS!? Yeah, and as development goes on, if the baby is meant to be genetically male (aka has one X and one Y chromosome), the sex organs morph into the male ones! I’ll go into more detail about this when we talk about male sex organs, but this is basically the reason why men have nipples even though they serve no evolutionary function.
Right, back on track, lady bits. Here are Tara’s bad drawings of them female sex organs.
This first drawing is of all the inside bits. The ovaries, where the eggs are held and released! The fallopian tubes, that the egg travels down! If an egg accidentally gets fertilised in the fallopian tube and implants there, this is called an ectopic pregnancy. They usually result in spontaneous miscarriage 😦 The uterus is where the egg is aiming to get fertilised. In preparation for “maybe baby?” time, the uterus gets a lovely bloody rich lining to cushion the egg. No fertilisation? No problem, shed the lining and start making a new one! Shed lining = period. Moving on down from the uterus is the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. It creates the false end of the vagina, which is below it. The vagina is where stuff goes in (including but not limited to penises, fingers and tampons) and babies come out. Good one 🙂
More graphic! Ladies have inside bits and outside bits! Let’s look at the outside bits.
We found the entrance to the vagina! Above the entrance to the vagina is the urethra where pee comes out. Below the entrance to the vagina is the anus where poo comes out. They’re pretty close together in ladies, and sometimes infectious bacteria that come out in your poo (which is normal) can get into the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection, which can hurt lots and you need antibiotics to fix it. There’s also the labia which are the lips which encase all the bits.
Guys! Guess what! I found the magical clitoris. Its at the top of the labia, kinda where the left and right ones meet. Sometimes they can be covered by a hood of skin. Fear not, pull the skin back to find the magical clitoris. But wait, there’s more! Not only is the magical clitoris (the pleasure organ) on the outside, it’s much like an iceberg! The majority of it is underwater aka inside the body. Which is why putting things inside the vagina can feel pleasurable too, because the nerves all around the inside bits of the clitoris get stimulated through the vaginal walls. The more you know! Lots of people get confused and us the incorrect term for what this is. Outside sexy bits of the lady = vulva, the vagina refers to the canal that stuff goes in and out of.
Yay lady bits! Moving on, here’s a drawing of the male sex organs!
Much harder to anthropomorphise. Haha. Harder. I included the kidneys in this drawing because from the kidneys come the ureters, which connect to the bladder. From the bladder down the penis is the urethra where pee comes out. But wait! The seminal vesicles get involved here! Semen hitches a ride down the uretha during ejaculation, same tube! Sperm is made in the testicles, sent up through the vas deferens and mixed with some other lovely stuff to make ejaculate, aka semen, in the seminal vesicles. When a man gets a vasectomy (for if he doesn’t want to get a woman preggo) they cut the vas deferens. Spermies got nowhere to go, no preggo. And you may think “…so…. the dude just ejaculates puffs of air then?” Not so my friend. Sperm make up only 5% of the ejaculate. You’ve still got 95% of the fluid in the seminal vesicles to ejaculate.
Now the cool part. Here is an awesome video depicting how the male and female bits are formed in the womb, from the same starting point.
What ends up being the clitoris in the female makes up the penis in the male (specifically the head of the penis)
What ends up being the labia majora (outer labia) in the female makes up the scrotum in the male. (Real talk right now I forgot the word “scrotum” so googled “anatomical name for ballsack” hahahhahaha)
What ends up being the labia minora in the female makes up the shaft of the penis in the male.
What ends up being the ovaries in the female ends up being the testicles in the male.
What ends up being the fallopian tubes in the female, makes the vas deferens in the male.
Super cool huh!? Now here’s a question. What’s a prostate, and do women have them?
Short answer, no, women don’t have a prostate. The prostate in a male is the gland that secretes about 30% of the fluid that makes up semen. It’s an alkaline fluid, which helps neutralise some of the acidity of the vagina. (Yes, vaginas have an acidic pH.) The prostate sits behind the bladder, and is a sensitive gland. Some men can experience pleasure from stimulation of this gland, which is reached through the anal passages. I don’t think I need to spell this out for you.
Hopefully by this point you’re not cowering in the corner wishing you’d never clicked on that weird link. But if you are, grow a pair of ovaries! This is the shit you gotta know! I’ll probably talk about something equally as controversial next time, just cos I like to. Thanks for reading team. GET LEARNED!
Let’s get a bit controversial today and have a chat about birth control and STD prevention, the two downsides of sexy-times. Just letting you know, I’m probably gonna say the words PENIS and VAGINA a lot. Get used to it, information is power. Not saying the words which are anatomical names for body parts increases the taboo of discussing safe sex. This leads to unwanted pregnancy and STD spread. As a wise wizard once said, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Yes I just quoted Dumbledore in a birth control post.
And here I’m mostly gonna talk about heterosexual penis + vagina kinda sex that can result in fertilisation of an egg. There are other types of sex, and other risk factors to do with those types of sex. We’ll get to that later. Sorry Mum ❤
Righto then, there are a bloody myriad of ways to prevent pregnancy, and I’m gonna list them here and talk about them in order of effectiveness. Starting from the worst ways to prevent pregnancy.
Abstinence. Technically, this is 100% effective. 99.999999999% if you believe the Virgin Mary thing. But lets be real, you’re reading about birth control because you want to have sex, so this probs won’t work. But technically yes, if you don’t have sex you can’t get preggo. Also works against preventing STDs (if abstaining from P in V sex also means abstaining from all sex. STDs can spread in many ways other than just penetrative sex! We’ll get to that soon.)
Withdrawal – This involves pulling the penis out of the vagina before the male ejaculates. This is 73% effective because there can be sperm in pre-cum, which leaks out of the penis before ejaculation. Don’t use this as your only birth control method, dumb dumbs.
Spermicide! Spermicide is 71% effective at preventing pregnancy. It works in two ways. The first is that it’s an actual physical barrier to your cervix; it’s a gel or foam or liquid that you insert right up the top of your vagina, so it’s basically a rock slide that blocks the tunnel to Babytown. There’s a bunch of different chemicals that can be in spermicide, but the general idea is to slow down the sperm/stop them from moving so they can’t swim up to the egg and fertilise it. Spermicide needs to be used in combination with one of the next two methods….
Cervical cap. This is exactly what it sounds like, it’s a little plastic rubbery ring thing that you use to cover your cervix . It is between 71% and 86% effective at preventing pregnancy. They describe this as looking like a sailor hat to contrast it with….
A diaphragm. This works in the same way as a cervical cap but is a slightly different shape, more like a dish, and it is 88% effective. A big benefit of these two contraceptive methods is that they are non-hormonal. Some women have issues with hormonal birth control methods, so this could work for them. However, these have side effects. You might outgrow your cap or diaphragm if you lose or gain weight, and it’s not the most effective.
The contraceptive sponge is basically a diaphragm made out of spongy plastic which had spermicide embedded into it, so it works like those two things put together. However it’s only 76-88% effective depending on if you’ve given birth or not. You pop it at the very top of your vagina in front of your cervix, The downside is that you can only keep one in for 24 hours, then you have to throw it away, so if you forget to put it in or take it out too quickly, there’s a chance you could get pregnant.
The female condom is 79% effective. It works like a male condom but instead of rolling it onto the penis you insert it into the vagina before sex. These don’t fit as snuggly as male condoms, so there is more risk of pregnancy with these.
The good old male condom, which works by catching all the spermies so they can’t swim to your egg. 82% effective because they break and can slide off and also people hate using them cos they’re a bit of a pain. Super cool news though, these are the only type of birth control that will protect against STDs! And they can be used in combination with almost every other type of birth control to prevent STDs! And you can buy them at the supermarket, no prescription required!
A contraceptive patch. Much like a nicotine patch delivers nicotine into the bloodstream to help quit smoking, contraceptive patches deliver estrogen and progestin into the blood stream to help prevent fertilisation. They work by sticking a patch onto the skin and changing it every week. This hormone combination is common in all types of hormonal birth control, and it works like this. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus so spermies can’t swim through (think swimming in mud compared to swimming in water), and it also stops the egg releasing from the ovaries so it won’t be in a position to get fertilised. Estrogen works to prevent ovulation too. A lot of hormonal birth control is the same hormones, just different delivery systems. The patch is 91% effective because it’s easy to misuse it. Benefits though, some people notice reduced acne, lighter cramping and lighter periods, and more regular periods.
The contraceptive ring, also called the NuvaRing, is a mix between the patch and the diaphragm. It’s a rubber ring thing that you insert into your vagina which releases estrogen and progestin, to do the same hormonal stuff as the patch. It’s like a patch inside your vag. A vagpatch. It’s about 91% effective and has similar benefits and drawbacks as all other hormonal contraceptives. You have to change it every month, it’s three weeks in, one week out for your period, then you insert a new one. You don’t have to take it out to have sex, which is a plus too!
The contraceptive pill, the beginning of many young ladies contraceptive journey. It works the same way as the patch with estrogen and progestin (although some kinds have only progestin) and is also 91% effective cos it is also easy to misuse (forget a pill, get too drunk and vom it up, etc). The pill has been used for over 50 years as a contraceptive and has shown no significant negative effect on fertility or health of women who take it. However there is evidence linking use of the contraceptive pill to depression and mood issues. Some, not all women will experience this. They also might experience it with other types of hormonal birth control. It’s important to shop around and see what works for you.
The contraceptive shot – this involves getting an injection of progestin in your bum bum once every three months to do the whole mucus stop releasing eggs thing. This is 94% effective, but there are some downsides. Once you stop taking the shot it can take up to 10 months to become fertile again. Some people experience symptoms such as changes in periods, nausea, weight gain, headaches and depression. But this does mean it’s only four visits to the doctor a year, and it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of birth control, which means if you’re bad at remembering to take pills this could be good for you!
The birth control implant – this is the most effective type of birth control on the market today, it’s more than 99% effective and a super easy set-it-and-forget-it method. The implant is a rod about the size of a matchstick that gets implanted into the underside of your arm, just below your armpit. It works by using progestin, and is reversible. It lasts for up to four years. But you do have to get a minor surgery to get it, which involves numbing your arm and cutting a little hole to put the implant in, which should be done by a doctor or nurse. Bonus, a third of women who use this method stop getting their periods altogether within a year, and experience decreased period cramps. This is a pretty A1 method ladies!
IUDs or intrauterine devices. There are two forms of these, hormonal and non-hormonal. They sit right at the stop of your cervix, and have to be inserted by a doctor or nurse. The hormonal one works by releasing progestin to do the whole mucus egg thing. The non-hormonal IUD has a little copper wire around it, which is toxic to sperm, so they die and can’t fertilise the egg. Downside though, the copper can make your periods heavier and cause pain, cramping, spotting, and irregular periods. BUT this is also over 99% effective, and long term protection (up to 5 years.) They can be expensive though, if it’s not subsidised by the government. All kinds of hormonal birth control carries risks such as risk of heart attack and stroke due to high blood pressure. Always discuss with your doctor the best type of birth control for you based on your family history.
Vasectomy and sterilisation – these involve essentially cutting the tubes in the male or female to physically prevent the sperm getting inside the vagina, or the egg releasing. These are super effective, over 99%, but they are irreversible. Don’t get this done unless you are 250% sure you don’t want (more) babies.
So there you have it, the 15 ways to prevent pregnancy! Obviously chat to your doctor about your options, but I hope this helped demystify birth control, especially to you dudes out there. Let’s be honest, if a baby is accidentally made, it’s 50% yours, lads! Birth control should be as important to you as it is to women.
Thanks for reading friends, stay tuned for the next post, I might talk about something controversial again. 🙂 GET LEARNED!
The first time a young woman uses a tampon can be a pretty scary experience, and a lot of them will refer to the little instruction leaflet inside the box to figure out how to use it exactly. Emblazoned across these sheets will be the note “WARNING: RISK OF TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. Which scared the shit out of 13 year old me. I don’t want a syndrome, I just wanna be able to go swimming with my period!? What do I do!?
So let’s dive in, what is toxic shock syndrome, and why does using tampons mean I could get it?
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS for short) describes a variety of symptoms that can occur when you get an infection with a particular bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus or in rare cases, a group A Streptococcus.Now let me tell you this; 30% of the entire world population have S. aureus in their nasal passages. And about 100% of the world have S. aureus living on their skin. In general, it is not a harmful bacteria. BUT. S. aureus is what we call an opportunistic pathogen; given the right opportunity, it will multiply and do stuff to cause infection and make you sick. In the case of TSS, the opportunity comes in the form of a vagina, as many opportunities do.
Lemme paint you a picture. A young woman has just played the first half of the school semi-final in football. It’s half-time, and she rushes to the loo to change her tampon before the second half of the match begins. She’s been stopped on the way to the bathroom by a teammate to discuss tactics, hence she has to hustle to get back to the game on time. She goes into the loo, and without thinking, changes her tampon without washing her hands first. In the meantime, a nasty little S. aureus bug called Lionel has been hanging out on her hands. When she touches the tampon and inserts it into her vagina, Lionel seizes the opportunity and jumps from her hand to the tampon. Now he’s all up close and person with her cervix, and he’s like “OMG! It’s so warm in here! There’s lots of moisture! And delicious food (in the form of menstrual blood)! I think I’ll set up camp here and make some babies.” And so Lionel does, and an infection begins.
Now here’s where we get a bit complicated. You remember how you have that immune system thing? Okay, so what Lionel the S. aureus bug does, is he releases a bacterial toxin called the toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST). This toxin activates those T cells in your immune system, which then go, “Hey, we’re under attack! Let’s kick some ass!” Except the toxin non-specifically activates those T cells. And this is bad because the TSST doesn’t just activate a few T cells to take down the bugs, it activates a whole buttload of them. It basically runs around the body knocking on every door going “HEY WAKE UP” and it wakes up the whole town instead of just the sheriff. Around 20% of the T cells in the body actually (that’s ~50,000 times more than needed). This makes TSST a superantigen.
So we have 20% of the T cells in the body working, which means we should clear the infection quickly and be on our way right?
Well here’s the thing, T cells do kill bugs, but they do it in a way which could actually kill you. By activating this much of the immune system the body essentially shuts down all non-essential functions (or so it thinks). Symptoms of TSS include high fever, low blood pressure, inflammation and redness of the skin, rashes, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, kidney failure, liver inflammation, confusion, dizziness, neurological symptoms; basically everything goes to shit. The thing that kills most people with TSS is the drop in blood pressure which means the heart and lungs stop working. In the initial stages of TSS it sort of seems like a flu, but it gets worse and worse and has no respiratory symptoms.
And you may think “Oh, that’s just scaremongering, people don’t get TSS, I leave my tampon in for hours overnight and I’ve never had it!” But I, me, this author typing right now, I have known one person who has actually had TSS. She had to go into hospital, spent a week vomiting, a bunch of her hair fell out, sheets of her skin on her hands and feet were coming off, and she couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs. So yeah, TSS is no joke.
If you suspect you have TSS, go to the emergency room. This is not a drill, this is not something that can be fixed with some oral antibiotics, this is not gonna get better on it’s own. Go directly to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
TSS is not contagious, and using tampons isn’t the only way to get it, it’s just the most common. Some women can leave their tampons in for 12 hours without getting TSS, some for only a couple of hours and they might get it. It’s rare but dangerous. So do me a favour; change your tampon regularly just in case? Don’t take the risk.
You know what, just keeping on this women’s health train, I’ma talk about contraception next. We all gotta know about it, dudes included.
Thanks for reading about periods and vaginas and stuff! GET LEARNED!
It has taken a good minute for my blood to cool enough to be able to write this post. Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about public health and disease prevention, and they also know I don’t suffer fools easily. Which has made the recent flare-up in the vaccines debate all the more frustrating to me. I didn’t even want to write this post; in my first discussion of vaccines I focused on the science behind them, not wanting to waste my breath on the ridiculous falsified data and media hype around vaccination. But here we are. Misinformation, paranoia, fear mongering and downright ignorance have been key factors in allowing this debate to even become an issue, so lets get informed.
First off, we’ll start with what caused the debate to get heated again. A film was made called VAXXED: FROM COVER UP TO CATASTROPHE. It’s directed by “Doctor” Andrew Wakefield. The same Andrew Wakefield who falsified data linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, and hence got disbarred from practicing medicine. The film alleges that the Center for Disease Control in the USA omitted data linking the MMR vaccine to autism, calling it “the most catastrophic epidemic of our time.”
Right, to start off with, the film VAXXED is directed by and entirely reliant on the word of Andrew Wakefield, a man who hasn’t been allowed to practice medicine in the UK since he was disbarred in 2010. He also is not allowed to get a license to practice in the USA, where he now lives. Also, he is not a trained immunologist, vaccinologist, bacteriologist, virologist or even a clinical infectious disease physician, he is (was) a gastroenterologist. He looked at guts. That’s like saying a computer engineer could also fix a car with that training, because they’re both machines. He has been proven to be a liar, a bad scientist, and a fear-monger. No one in the medical profession believes his claims. If your car broke down, and 100 mechanics looked at it, would you believe the 99 who said “it’s the engine” or the one who said “it’s the brake?”
And just to make you sure he’s a bullshitting charlatan, here’s everything wrong with his research paper from 1998. To start with, it’s been redacted by The Lancet. It has since been proven that he falsified the data.The study was undertaken by an inflammatory bowel disease research group, who are not experts on vaccination nor autism. Only 12 children were studied, 11 of whom were boys. 12 is not a very big sample size at all, and the gender imbalance already throws up warning flags. If all children are getting vaccinated equally, and 50% of children are boys and 50% girls, in order for the study to properly replicate the population, they should have 50% boys and 50% girls in the study. Fact: more boys have autism than girls, and this is proven to be a genetic factor. How convenient for Wankfield’s study that it had more boys that girls. (P.S. at this point I’m on sentence two of the paper. Yikes.) The children who were studied were referred to the gastroenterology department because of abdominal pain and diarrhoea. The developmental delay some of them experienced was noticed later. The symptoms of the supposed autism included self-injury, disinterest in play, repetitive behaviour, and gaze avoidance. These “symptoms” were all observed in children from 12 months to 21 months of age. One could quite confidently argue that these are not symptoms of autism, but symptoms of being a one year old. Normal. To cap it all off, this is a direct quote from that 1998 paper.
“We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described [autism].”
Now a big issue I have with this movement is calling it “the most catastrophic epidemic of our time.” To begin with, an epidemic is defined as a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. Autism isn’t an infectious disease, so there’s some incorrect science for you right in the blurb of the film, let alone in the actual footage. But, to call autism a “catastrophic epidemic” is, I think, a huge insult to those people who are diagnosed as having autism. Autism is on a spectrum, people can be “mildly” autistic and have some issues, others can be severely autistic which can manifest in non-verbalisation, child-like behaviour, reliance on parents etc. Yes, autism is incredibly hard to deal with, but how insulting is it to those people who have dealt with autism all their lives to call them part of a “catastrophic epidemic”!? People with autism can be incredibly intelligent, have exceptional memory, be honest, hard working, straight forward, non-judgemental, passionate, funny, and kind. I don’t know about you, but those are traits I’d love for my child to have.
Regardless of the question “does the MMR vaccine cause autism,” (WHICH IT DOESN’T) Andrew Wankfield cannot deny that the MMR vaccine protects children against the deadly diseases that are measles, mumps, and rubella.
In fact, here is a nice graph from the WHO vaccine preventable diseases monitoring system which tells us how measles rates have changed with the introduction of the vaccine.
I don’t know about you, but that looks like a pretty significant drop to me! And this is probably a difficult question, but would you rather your child die from one of three preventable diseases, or display autistic traits? I am not a mother, but I think autism is a far better option, so if getting the vaccine might cause my child to get autism (WHICH IT DOESN’T), I’d take the risk.
Right, now the autism stuff is out of the way, let’s discuss the other antivax ideas.
You can’t trust big pharmaceutical companies. Look, I am not denying that corporate greed is an issue. Some people are evil and will do anything to get your money. But, most people are good. Most people care about humanity. Most people will do anything to help. Many people have dedicated their lives to helping rid the world of vaccine-preventable diseases. To say you can’t trust a whole industry because of the greed of a few select people breaks down the foundations of the society we are living in today. Also, hand back your vitamins, your paracetamol, you antibiotics, you antidepressants, your insulin, your antihistamines, your inhaler, and your birth control. That’s all big pharma baby.
Vaccines are loaded with heavy chemicals and metals. This is the standard argument from the organic-eating toxin-removing freegan gluten-free GMO-free homemade-soap-using herbalists that has time and time again been broken down, to prove that the “heavy chemicals and metals” make the vaccine work better and are not harmful to humans. A big one they discuss is formaldehyde, which is used to embalm bodies. Did you know that formaldehyde is also produced by your own metabolism? In higher quantities every day than are in a vaccine? And “metals” like mercury and aluminium are not toxic to humans unless at high doses, which they aren’t in vaccines. Also, remember that great organ you have called your liver? The magic detoxifier, it’ll clean all that stuff right up.
Vaccinated children are the most unhealthy, chronically sick children. Yeah. All the other children are dead from vaccine-preventable diseases, so they can’t get chronically ill. They are dead.
Some vaccines have been removed from the market, proving they weren’t safe. Here’s the great thing about science; we are always learning. Scientists are constantly gathering data, trying new things, tweaking and editing in order to produce the best results at the lowest possible cost. Yes some vaccines have been taken off the market; to replace them with better more effective cheaper less risky options.
Okay. Okay I think I’m done. Man. I full on word vomited there didn’t I? I’m just very passionate about not being an idiot. Vaccination is an incredibly powerful tool. I implore you to listen, think critically, and believe in evidence.
Thanks for reading folks. Please stay tuned for next post where I will call other people out on their bullshit and probably get pissed off again. GET LEARNED!
I promised I’d tell you what scary sepsis is, so here I am to learn you about possibly the worst thing that can happen from an infection. *storm clouds cross the sky and hand sanitiser appears in the middle distance*
Sepsis is when your body responds to infection in such a way that it actually causes injury to the tissues and organs. It is a complication of an infection. Sepsis doesn’t discriminate; the primary infection can be anywhere, with anything. Most commonly it’s a bacterial infection in the lung, abdomen, kidney, or urinary tract. And it is bad. Sepsis is generalised, hard to diagnose, rare, and very very fatal. It can happen to anyone, but it is more common in those with pre-existing immune conditions like diabetes, or cancer, or patients who have seen major trauma, like burns. This isn’t having a flu kind of sick, this is Greys Anatomy tubes sticking out crash cart defib kinda sick.
Symptoms of sepsis are increased heart rate, fever, increased breath rate, and confusion. Which are super general symptoms and pretty hard to diagnose, but early diagnosis of sepsis is the key. Sepsis goes up in steps, from sepsis, to severe sepsis, to septic shock (which is caused by low blood pressure), to multi organ dysfunction syndrome. Sepsis has a 30% mortality rate, severe sepsis has a 50% mortality rate, and septic shock – 80%. This some serious shit.
Treatment involves admission into the ICU, antibiotics, IV fluids, and sometimes various aspects of life support for organs that are failing e.g. dialysis for failing kidneys, mechanical ventilation for failing lungs.
I know someone who got sepsis. The above chart indicates how many organ systems have failed and on what day of illness, and those correlate to a mortality rate. The person I know who got sepsis was one of my lecturers, and he was off the scale on both ends of this chart. He didn’t die though (obviously), luck was on his side that day. And good medicine.
I don’t want you to be scared of sepsis and think you have it every time you get a cold, but it is important for people to know about it so that they can recognise the symptoms and get admitted quicker. As is clear from the above chart, the earlier the illness is caught, the better the chances are of recovery. So now you know what to look out for!
Keeping in the ~body responds inappropriately to infection~ vein, I’m gonna chat to you next about toxic shock syndrome! Stay tuned and GET LEARNED!
So last night, just as I had turned the light off to go to sleep, I heard a light tap tap tap on my bedroom door. It was my flatmate, on the phone to my lovely friend, let’s call her “Becky”. So Becky had tried to call me, but I hadn’t picked up. Apparently Becky had dropped a knife on her finger while cooking and was concerned about infection. In true student style, she’d doused the wound in vodka, and was ringing her favorite microbiologist to ask what else she should do. So Becky, this post is for you.
Let’s start from the beginning. You drop a knife on your finger (idiot). It breaks a blood vessel, and you start bleeding. What happens then?
Well, first thing is first, that blood vessel will spasm and close up a bit, using the muscle around the vessel. Next, chemicals released from the injured cells will recruit a cool part of your blood to the site, called platelets. Platelets form a kind of plug or clot, to stop blood loss. The final step is converting a protein in your blood called fibrinogen to fibrin which basically acts like a mesh and traps more platelets, forming the final clot. Think of it like this, you’ve got a bath full of water. The plug gets accidentally pulled out, and suddenly all the water starts draining from your lovely fragrant bath. But yay, you put flower petals in the bath to make it more romantic, and all those rush to the plughole and clog it up; less water drains (these are the platelets). Also, you washed your long hair and there are strands of it getting tangled up in the plughole stopping it from draining (fibrin). Success, you save most of the bathwater and get to enjoy your soak.
In terms of what you should do while your body plugs it all up, apply pressure to the wound (to hold the blood in) and if possible, elevate it. This basically uses gravity to make it harder for the blood to escape. Logic. If you can’t get the wound to stop bleeding, or it’s on a part of your body that moves lots or has a major vessel, you might need to get stitches. If the blood looks bright red, this means you’ve hit an artery full of lovely oxygenate blood. If its dark and kinda blue looking, it means you’ve hit a vein which was transporting deoxygenated blood back to the lungs to get reoxygenated.
*So my cut finger has stopped bleeding, great. But Tara, what about infection?!*
Well my uncoordinated and probably still hungry friend, you’re right to be concerned. Bacteria live aaaaaaaaall over your skin, and usually that’s fine, but if one gets into your nice warm wet (moist) wound it can cause infection which ain’t what we want. So what do you do?
First thing is first, you can wash and disinfect the area. There are a myriad of disinfectants you can use. Dettol is a good one, if you have an alcohol wipe or an iodine wipe that’s good too. If you’re desperate and living in a student flat where the most abundant resource is alcohol, that will do too, in a pinch. Just make sure it’s a white spirit, like vodka or gin. Anything else will have sugar in it which will actually promote bacterial growth. Once it’s been disinfected, pop a plaster or gauze or something on the wound and leave it there for a bit, but not forever. An issue that you’ve probably seen if you have accidentally chopped a finger is that once you’ve had the plaster on for a while the skin underneath kinda goes all wrinkly and wet and pale? Yeah, this is what happens when you don’t get air to the wound. Make sure to alternate keeping the wound covered and giving it time to breathe.
On that note, there are three things bacteria LOVE when they are trying to grow. Give them a warm home, lots of moisture and some sugar, and they will be happy as Larry. So keep your wound clean and dry and you should be fine.
If you’re still worried about infection, the things you should look for are as follows.
This real clever guy called Celcus identified these signs as signs of inflammation, which could indicate infection. They are (in Latin) calor, rubor, tumor, dolor. In English, that’s heat, redness, swelling, and pain. If you notice these signs, hit the wound with some more alcohol disinfectant, and if you’re super worried, go to the doctor. Other things to look for are smells coming from the wound, and excess pus. Some pus is normal, cos all pus is is dead cells from the immune system which have cleaned up the wound and died, but too much pus might indicate that the wound isn’t healing. Tbh better safe than sorry, if it’s not healing go to the doctor. Cos if you’re sorry, you might get sepsis. Which is what the next post will be about.
Thanks for reading guys, I hope this was helpful! Tune in next time, and GET LEARNED!