By: Tatiana Yunadi
You've probably heard of the age-old question - do people perceive colors in the same way, or is their interpretation of "blue" secretly different? While this raises an interesting philosophical question on epistemology, the neurological condition of synesthesia may offer another insight into the underlying question at hand. This phenomenon could be described as an overlap of senses, where individuals perceive one input in multiple ways.
One of its most common forms is grapheme-color synesthesia: perceiving letters and numbers as being colored in consistent, specific ways. A grapheme-color synesthete could see the letter L as orange, for example. There are associators, who see affiliations in their “mind’s eye”, and projectors who see the colors directly on physical graphemes. Interestingly, individuals with this condition do not typically report seeing the same colors in letters and numbers, with most of the research revealing “random” associations between the two senses. Even within their own demographic, they perceive the external world in different shades and hues. To another synesthete, L could be obviously blue, instead.
Yet, Brang et al.’s study examines large groups of synesthetes, which reveal some commonalities in associations between individuals. They posit that the interaction arises from early perceptual mechanisms while learning alphabets and numbers, prior to the onset of literacy. This raises interesting questions on whether there are commonalities in how the human mind experiences features of graphemes (lines, curves, width) in association with colors – and what could cause these affiliations to differ.
Perceptory conditions are telling of the subjective nature of reality, as the human mind constructs it to be. In a paper studying how psychedelics affect brainwave patterns, Carhart-Harris offers evidence backing the Anarchic and REBUS brain models. These theories suggest that each individual's brain constructs a working model of the external world through 'shortcuts' that they have learned and are continuing to refine. The brain is the human body's most energy-extensive organ, so cognitive shortcuts are useful in limiting expenditure. The tendency towards cognitive biases are part of our biology; they are so ingrained that we may even subconsciously behave in ways that confirm our preexisting ideas.
It doesn't take a neurological condition to perceive the world differently from reality; we are easily deceived by optical illusions. Our brains simulate perceptions based on predictions, and errors help to recalibrate models. Bayesian theory suggests that the brain undergoes a calculation of strength of prior beliefs that may influence interpretations of external stimuli. The posterior, or your internal experience, is a result of the two interactions. We generate models of reality based on 'priors', and as such, our own internal experiences are inherently biased to some extent.
For some individuals who have sustained highly negative stimuli, such as abuse or other traumatic events, the strength of their priors are higher. Just as a synesthete's letters may differ from another's, your blue may not be my blue, and a hug could be interpreted as a hostile act. The gaps in between our understandings of the world is a palpable one, even if its full extent can never be captured; and there's something so human about our inclination to try and capture or express our experiences.
Brang, R. (2011). Similarly shaped letters evoke similar colors in grapheme–color synesthesia. Neuropsychologia, 49(5), 1355–1358.
Carhart-Harris, F. (2019). REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews, 71(3), 316–344.
By: Mary Beazely
One would assume that with all the medical technology and research we have, we should know everything there is to know about human anatomy by now. However, it appears we do not know our anatomy as well as one would think. On October 16 of this year, new research from the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Amsterdam was published in Radiotherapy and Oncology about the discovery of what now has the proposed name of the Tubarial Salivary Glands.
First of all, what do we already know about our salivary glands? In our bodies we have three pairs of major salivary glands: the parotid glands, the submandibular glands, and the sublingual glands. The parotid glands are the largest pair of the three and produces saliva which aids in starch digestion. These glands are located in front of our ears on the sides of our face. The submandibular glands are a bit smaller, located just under the jaw and produce the majority of our saliva. The sublingual glands are the third pair as well as the smallest, located just below the tongue. We also have thousands of minor glands in our mouths which are very small and not visible. Our glands are important as they produce saliva, which is imperative for dental hygiene, swallowing, keeping our mouth moist and helping with digestion.
This newly discovered pair of glands was found to be located in the nasopharynx, which is in the back of our nasal cavity. Wouter Vogel and Matthijs Valstar were the first to spot them. Vogel and Valstar were studying the effects of radiotherapy, specifically the new PSMA PET/CT scan and its side effects on the head and neck region. This new scan is believed to be more effective than the current methods for detecting prostate cancer. A recent study demonstrating the accuracy of this new PSMA PET/ CT scan was published this past March.
Antigens are foreign molecules in the body or toxins which cause an immune response to occur. PSMA is the acronym for Prostate Specific Membrane Antigen, which is located on prostate cancer cells. The PSMA PET / CT scan works by first injecting the patient with radioactive ligands. These ligands are molecules that bind to the cancer cell antigens. The patient then undergoes a combined PET/CT scan. A CT (Computer Tomography) scan uses x-rays and computers to generate an image of the patient’s organs, bones, and soft tissues. The PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan then detects the radioactive molecules in the patient for imaging. This allows doctors to see where the cancerous cells are and where they are spreading.
In their study, Vogel and Valstar observed the scans of 100 prostate cancer patients. In these scans, the salivary glands lit up where expected, but there was also an unexpected region which lit up in the back of the nasopharynx, around the center of the head. This region was consistent in the scans of all 100 patients. More research was executed through a partnership with the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. In continuing the study, 732 patients with radiation treatment of various doses around the newly found glands were observed for symptoms to find a relationship between xerostomia (dry mouth) and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).
Patients with head and neck cancer often undergo radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is essentially a cancer treatment that uses high energy beams such as x-rays to kill cancerous cells. Although this process is effective, it can lead to uncomfortable side effects. The main side effects for patients being treated in the head and neck region are trouble swallowing, dry mouth, tooth decay, and other problems associated with poor salivary gland function.
This research from the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Amsterdam concluded that there was indeed an association between the radiotherapy dosage and expected salivary gland side effects often observed in radiotherapy patients. This is what confirmed that the newly identified glands in the PSMA PET/CT scan are in fact a pair of salivary glands in our bodies. Doctors do their best to avoid radiotherapy near the salivary glands as much as possible due to the aforementioned negative side effects. This new research will be beneficial to radiotherapy patients, specifically those getting treatment for head and neck cancer. As medical professionals will now be able to avoid the tubarial salivary gland region as they have been doing for the other previously known glands.
"Cancer Researchers Discover New Salivary Gland | Netherlands Cancer Institute". Nki.Nl, 2020, https://www.nki.nl/news-events/news/cancer-researchers-discover-new-salivary-gland/.
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By: Kayla Beren
At a recent family dinner, the topic of Indigenous peoples in Canada came up. A member of my family spoke up, stating, “I don’t understand why we need to constantly be apologizing for the past. I don’t know why once isn’t enough.” I was thoroughly appalled and attempted to explain the horrors of residential schools and other ways that Indigenous people have been wronged throughout colonization. The reply I got was, “I don’t know why they can’t just forget about it”. My answer was “you wouldn’t either if it was your family”.
One of the many horrors which Indigenous peoples have been forced to endure in Canada has been forced sterilization. This entails exactly what it sounds like. From 1928 until 1973, tubal ligations could be performed legally on individuals in Alberta and British Columbia who were deemed to be unfit [sic]. At a time when Indigenous peoples represented 2% of the Canadian population, they were subject to a disproportionate 25% of sterilizations. When tubal ligations are performed, the fallopian tubes are cauterized, leading to a permanent inability to conceive a child. Forced sterilizations are performed either when a female is sedated following pregnancy, or when the patient is unconscious. Therefore, many females were not aware that they had been sterilized or did not realize the full implications of their procedure until years later. `
When this procedure was legal, thousands of females were sterilized involuntarily. Although the numbers are hard to determine, there were over 2,000 documented cases in just Alberta when this procedure was legal. Furthermore, it is increasingly difficult to determine how many individuals were sterilized as this procedure also occurred in provinces where sterilization was illegal. For example, over 1,500 cases were linked to a single physician in Ontario, where the procedure wasn’t legal or promoted. Indigenous children could even be sterilized in residential schools at the discretion of the principal to avoid behavioural issues being replicated in future generations [sic]. For adults, it was not uncommon to be sterilized for simply not going to church and adhering to Western practices, although “eugenic laws were no prerequisite for involuntary sterilization” and many women underwent tubal ligation without a specific reason. Overall, it is estimated that several thousand Indigenous females have been inappropriately sterilized in Canada without their consent.
In 1973, all laws permitting the forced sterilization of Indigenous females in Canada were officially repealed. Unfortunately, this did not halt the occurrence of forced sterilization in Canada. In 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Canadian government in Saskatchewan, as 60+ Indigenous females who had been coerced or forced into sterilization by health providers in the last 30 years came forward. Since then, an increasing number of females have been coming forward, which may lead to more provinces being drawn in to the lawsuit. One woman has even come forward about an unwanted surgery that took place in 2018. Clearly, the forced sterilization of Indigenous females is not solely a topic to be read about in history books, but one that is harming people in contemporary healthcare.
Canada’s ill-treatment of Indigenous females in regard to forced sterilization has even gained international attention. In 2018, the United Nations (UN) called for Canada to criminalize forced sterilization in hopes of limiting the occurrence of the procedure involuntarily. The lack of repercussions as a result of sterilizing another individual without consent allows those to continue violent action with no punishment. Involuntary tubal ligation exhibits a direct violation of the United Nation’s Convention against Torture. Forced sterilization also violates the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To put things into perspective, it was the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture which recommended that Canada make legal changes to help stop the occurrence of forced sterilization. The international attention of Canada’s ill-treatment of Indigenous peoples exhibits how extreme the issue of forced sterilization is.
As a white woman in Canada, I will be forever grateful for the privilege that I have. I am never worried about speaking with my physician, undergoing surgery or receiving healthcare in general. This article only summarizes the damage caused by forced sterilization of Indigenous females in Canada, which solely scratches the surface of what Indigenous peoples in our country have dealt with. It is difficult for me to fathom going through something as terrible as forced sterilization, and the physical, mental, and social implications of a procedure as invasive and inappropriate as this may cause/provoke.
The next time someone asks, “why are we still apologizing?” I implore you to think critically about the thousands of women who had their right to procreate stolen, whose bodily autonomy was disregarded, and who were considered unfit to create a family because of their culture and perceived race. This is solely one issue that has affected Indigenous peoples. The Canadian healthcare system has proven to be an institution that embodies systemic racism, and for that, we need change.
International Justice Resource Center. 2019. “FORCED STERILIZATION OF INDIGENOUS WOMEN IN CANADA.” Retrieved March 10, 2020 (https://ijrcenter.org/forced-sterilization-of-indigenous-women-in-canada/)
Jean-Jacques, Amy and Sam Rowlands. 2018. “Legalised non-consensual sterilisation – eugenics put into practice before 1945, and the aftermath. Part 1: USA, Japan, Canada and Mexico.” The European Journal of Contraception & Reproductive Health Care23(2): 121-129. doi: 10.1080/13625187.2018.1450973
M.R.L.P. v. The Attorney General of Canada, 1485 (2017).
Pegoraro, Leonardo. 2015. “Second-rate victims: the forced sterilization of Indigenous peoples in the USA and Canada.” Settler Colonial Studies 5(2): 161-173. doi: 10.1080/14623528.2015.1096589
Stote, Karen. 2012. “The Coercive Sterilization of Aboriginal Women in Canada.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 36(2): 117-150.
United Nations. 1984. “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” Retrieved November 5, 2020 (https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cat.pdf)
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China’s crackdown on its Uighur Muslim minority, the ‘health’ component of its genocide and what it means for you
By: Anwar Subhani
“They were given drugs and a liquid that caused bleeding.”
“I never thought I would come out of Cell 210 alive.”
“I was drugged, interrogated for days without sleep, and strapped in a chair and jolted with electricity.”
“They tube-fed my three children and they underwent surgeries. Only two made it out alive.”
“We were chained for days in a small cell with 67 other women.”
“Villages are empty.”
These horrifying accounts aren’t retrospective of the Holocaust. They are the living tragedies of 3 million Uighur Muslims in Chinese concentration camps right now. These camps are situated in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in Western China. Due to rising ethnic tensions, The Communist Party has enacted a brutal high-tech crackdown on its Uighur minority in the aftermath of the 2008 Ürümqi Riots. This suppression is further reinforced by China’s need to strengthen its grip on the region that is at the heart of its economic masterplan; the Belt and Road Initiative. China launched repressive policies starting in 2016 that curbed religious freedoms, increased surveillance, and at the core of it all, sent millions to what it calls ‘re-education camps’, all under the guise of combatting Uighur separatism and terrorism. In addition to political indoctrination, escapees from these camps have given accounts of torture, starvation, abuse, rape, forced sterilization, medical experiments, and deaths, all of which amount to genocide. As the world stays silent, the remnants of this torture make their way into our lives and maybe even play a role in the mask you’re wearing.
‘Health’ measures have been a core component of this genocide. Many question whether the world would take action in the aftermath of a death toll in the millions, but the reality is that perhaps a million of those lives were prevented in the first place. Uighur women and their unborn children bear the brunt of state-sponsored mandatory pregnancy checks, forced intrauterine devices (IUDs), sterilization and hundreds of thousands of abortions. According to Chinese government statistics, birth rates in Uighur areas plunged 60 percent in the past four years. Xinjiang, which was once one of the fastest-growing regions of China, is now one of the slowest. Even more horrific is the live-organ harvesting that some Uighurs are subjected to— especially those to be executed. China has a long history of harvesting live organs from political prisoners, but ones from Uighurs are marketed as ‘halal organs’ which have no basis in Islamic jurisprudence. These are marketed to wealthy Saudi Arabian transplant recipients but have also found their way into the black market. Moreover, leaked databases have uncovered detailed accounts of prisoner blood samples to be matched to blood types of potential organ transplant recipients. Escapees often give accounts of unconsented medical and surgical operations. Prisoners have been injected with substances and forced to take unknown pills. Some have reported cognitive decline, impotence, pauses in menstruation, pain and death as a result of these experiments.
All this may seem so distant, but we are on the receiving end of the products of forced labour. As within these internment camps, Uighurs are subjected to brutal working conditions as well as forcefully relocated to other parts of China as part of labour exchange programs. A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) uncovered that 83 multinational corporations and brands such as Nike and Adidas have either directly or indirectly utilized forced labour from Uighur workers in factories across China. Many of these products end up in domestic use, but reports have suggested that they have ended up in international markets, including Canada and the United States. Some companies have launched investigations, with H&M particularly uncovering forced labour with some of their Chinese suppliers and have since terminated those relationships. Furthermore, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many Uighur labourers are part of the international PPE supply chain and reports have uncovered masks made by such workers ending up in the United States and other western nations.
Ultimately, a genocide is happening as the world watches in silence. It may be happening thousands of miles away, but human compassion is never limited. It may not make the headlines every day, but the daily life of those in concentration camps is grim and destitute while many on the other end unknowingly use their products. Inevitably, it is crucial to spread awareness, call on government leaders to take action, and make mindful purchases, because, at the end of it all, we don’t want to mourn the deaths of millions when we knew it could easily have been prevented.
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By: Ken He
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland and can be found in various types of foods, such as tart cherries. It regulates the circadian system and establishes sleep-wake cycles. Darkness stimulates melatonin production, preparing the body for sleep. Light reduces its production, preparing the body for awakening. In Canada, anywhere from 0.3 mg to 5 mg of melatonin, the active ingredient, can be found in melatonin supplements. Melatonin is claimed to protect the body from oxidative damage (excess free radicals) by acting as an antioxidant. Another health claim is that it can treat sleep disorders that prevent an individual from falling and staying asleep, which disturbs diurnal stability. These include insomnia, delayed sleep phase disorder, shift-work disorder, and jet-lag. For example, people who have insomnia often suffer from low levels of melatonin. Supplementing with melatonin is thought to help them fall asleep faster. Melatonin is reported to increase the propensity for sleep and regulate the circadian rhythm. The mechanism of action by which melatonin induces sleepiness is unknown. It is believed that melatonin advances circadian rhythm after evening administration, which acts on the somnogenic structures of the brain and promotes sleepiness. In Canada, anywhere from 0.3 mg to 5 mg of melatonin, the active ingredient, can be found in melatonin supplements. These supplements can be found over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores.
Numerous randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and meta-analyses have documented the safety of melatonin for diurnal stability and maintaining the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is determined to be safe for short-term use, even at high doses. No studies have shown the presence of serious adverse effects of administering melatonin in any medical setting. In a short-term placebo-controlled clinical study conducted on adolescents, a daily dosage of 10 mg of melatonin was administered orally for 12 weeks to study its role in improving sleep quality. The side effects reported were agitation, dizziness, headache, nausea, and sleepiness. The distribution of these adverse events did not differ in frequency between the melatonin and placebo groups. Furthermore, a meta-analysis looked into the safety of melatonin for primary sleep disorders in the short-term. 17 RCTs with 651 participants showed no evidence of severe adverse effects of melatonin with short-term use of three months or less. Again, the most commonly reported adverse events were headaches, dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. There was no significant difference in the occurrence of these outcomes compared to the placebo. Several of these studies did not report on the details of the RCTs, such as the formulation of the melatonin product and the methodology. Therefore, there may be discrepancies in the results reported depending on the contents of the melatonin supplement and the dosage administered.
In conclusion, I would not advocate for the use of melatonin for diurnal stability. Several meta-analyses and clinical trial reports have reported that melatonin is ineffective in treating primary sleep disorders and regulating the circadian system. In studies that showed its effectiveness in reducing the time required to fall asleep and total sleep time, the outcomes were modest compared to proven pharmacological treatments. There are minimal effects of exogenous melatonin in treating desynchronization and regulating sleep-wake cycles as they are governed by many internal autonomic neurological pathways. In many of the aforementioned studies, the sample size is too small to draw firm conclusions. The short time frame of these studies means the long-term efficacy and safety of melatonin are unknown. For the treatment of primary sleep disorders and sleep-wake cycles, melatonin use in the short term is determined to be safe. Few mild adverse events have been reported, and they typically include tiredness, headaches, gastrointestinal upset, and nausea. In Canada, melatonin is available over-the-counter in the form of capsules, tablets, and liquids. Since 2011, two natural health products containing melatonin have been licensed for use in Canada for children 12 years and older. Melatonin-containing products are not authorized in products for children under 12 years old. Future research should look into varying the dose, time of administration, and age groups to identify whether melatonin is effective for diurnal stability in the long-term.
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