Chemotherapy is Poison. No, Literally.

In 2018, an estimated 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and most of these patients, at some point, will likely receive chemotherapy as part of their treatment plan. This anti-cancer therapy is not one drug, but a category of drugs: All of them work by entering cells and stopping them from dividing into new cells, with the hope that they will stop tumors from growing until they fall apart and go away. Chemotherapy drugs cause considerable damage to any cells that are actively dividing in the body, leading to severe side effects including nausea, hair loss, and immunosuppression.

For that reason, we often call these drugs poisons. But there’s more truth to this designation than you might think: the oldest class of chemotherapy drugs actually derived from mustard gas, a poison the Germans used as a chemical weapon during World War I.

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Should I Eat MSG?

Sometimes I hate grocery shopping. Every time I wander down one of the aisles, I am visually assaulted with a barrage of various claims: Low Sodium! Heart Healthy! No fat! After a point, foods are laying claim to any appealing phrase they can use to convince you that their food should be purchased, and the most confusing and misleading of all is the claim ‘MSG Free!’ because so few of us actually know what MSG is. If the companies proclaim they don’t have it, it must be bad, right? Right?

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The History of the American Eugenics Movement

Conservationists. Nobel Peace Prize winners. College professors. All these roles have a distinctive honorable, humanistic atmosphere around them. When you consider this group, you probably don’t think of “racial purists.” But the truth is, many who held these titles were also supporters of the American Eugenics movement, a social and political movement that focused on advancing the human race through selective reproduction.

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The Strange History of Antidepressants

Ironically, despite the horrors of war, armed conflict has a way of advancing medicine. Gruesome injuries sustained on the battlefield provide opportunities for surgeons to experiment and test new approaches for treatment. During World War II for example, blood poisoning, bronchitis, and other infectious diseases contracted by soldiers created a demand for broad spectrum antibiotics, which encouraged British scientists to find new ways to produce penicillin on a mass scale.

Sometimes, weapons of war themselves have applications other than mass destruction. Consider hydrazine (N2H4), a chemical compound that received renewed recognition by the military-industrial complex in 1937 Germany. Continue reading “The Strange History of Antidepressants”

Dr. Alice Hamilton: a Hoosier Woman Who Established an Entirely New Field of Life-Saving Science in Early 1900s America

Here in the 21st century, we take for granted some pretty amazing achievements in public health that make our lives safer and better.  These modern miracles of science, technology, and public health include vaccines, car safety, food safety, the strides we’ve made in decreasing infant and maternal mortality, infectious disease control, cavity prevention using fluoride, and more.    Continue reading “Dr. Alice Hamilton: a Hoosier Woman Who Established an Entirely New Field of Life-Saving Science in Early 1900s America”

How a Pile of Uranium Changed the World

On December 3rd, 1942,  under the stands at the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, scientists produced a breakthrough that would change the course of history. There, on that day, physicist Enrico Fermi and his team from the university achieved the primary objective of the top secret Mahattan Project: they initiated the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction, bringing forth the dawn of the nuclear age.

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