This is your brain, boiled
Well, not yours obviously, but someone’s.
In its alive and healthy state, the human brain is roughly three pounds of tissue with the reported consistency of oatmeal, though more fun-loving folks might prefer the Jell-O analogy. Men have slightly larger brains than women, but no one suggests that’s any correlation to actual intelligence.
In composition, a whole human brain is almost 80 percent water, with the remainder made up of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, soluble organic substances and inorganic salts.
So the natural presumption might be that, say, boiling a brain would render it, well, non-existent. Wouldn’t it just dissolve? Not necessarily.
The image above depicts one of four brains found in human skeletons unearthed from a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mound near the city of Kutahya in western Turkey. The bodies had been burned and buried (possibly victims of a long-ago earthquake and fire), but circumstances and chemistry strangely preserved the brains.
The New Scientist explained:
“The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment helped prevent tissue breakdown.”
Soil chemistry also helped. Potassium, magnesium and aluminum in the dirt reacted with fatty acids in brain tissue to help maintain the brains’ original shapes.
You can dig further into the story here.

This is your brain, boiled

Well, not yours obviously, but someone’s.

In its alive and healthy state, the human brain is roughly three pounds of tissue with the reported consistency of oatmeal, though more fun-loving folks might prefer the Jell-O analogy. Men have slightly larger brains than women, but no one suggests that’s any correlation to actual intelligence.

In composition, a whole human brain is almost 80 percent water, with the remainder made up of lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, soluble organic substances and inorganic salts.

So the natural presumption might be that, say, boiling a brain would render it, well, non-existent. Wouldn’t it just dissolve? Not necessarily.

The image above depicts one of four brains found in human skeletons unearthed from a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age burial mound near the city of Kutahya in western Turkey. The bodies had been burned and buried (possibly victims of a long-ago earthquake and fire), but circumstances and chemistry strangely preserved the brains.

The New Scientist explained:

“The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment helped prevent tissue breakdown.”

Soil chemistry also helped. Potassium, magnesium and aluminum in the dirt reacted with fatty acids in brain tissue to help maintain the brains’ original shapes.

You can dig further into the story here.

The awe of similars

Nature is famously conservative. If it does something right, it repeats the plan.

Sometimes, it’s obvious: The fractal patterns of river deltas, human kidneys and trees or the camouflaged stripes of tigers and chameleons.

Sometimes, technology reveals less obvious or unseen similarities. More fanciful, perhaps, but stunning nonetheless. Above are two images: One is a bright-field micrograph of a meadow buttercup floral bud, taken by Stephen S. Nagy, an honorable mention winner in the 2006 Nikon Small World microscopy contest. The other is a multi-photon fluorescence micrograph depicting intestinal villi of a mouse, taken by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, which took 8th place in Nikon’s 2005 contest.

Which is which? Answer below.

Answer: Flower bud top; intestine below.

Image courtesy of Mariela Loschi, Nikon Small World photomicrography competition
If you guessed nest…
Nature is famously misleading. Think, for example, about all of those insects whose camouflage is so fantastic you’re often not sure you’re actually looking at an insect. Or fractals – those remarkable self-similar patterns found in nature at every scale, from river deltas to lightning bolts to leaves.
All of which is only a slightly misleading introduction to the image above – a confocal micrograph produced by Mariela Loschi, a Pfizer analyst based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What looks remarkably like a robin’s egg in a nest is, in fact, a much magnified image of a cultured kidney cell from a grivet, a species of Old World monkey. The blue center is the stained nucleus of the cell. It’s surrounded by microtubules, tiny filaments of protein that help maintain the physical structure of the cell, serve as internal transport highways and are involved in fundamental processes like mitosis.

Image courtesy of Mariela Loschi, Nikon Small World photomicrography competition

If you guessed nest…

Nature is famously misleading. Think, for example, about all of those insects whose camouflage is so fantastic you’re often not sure you’re actually looking at an insect. Or fractals – those remarkable self-similar patterns found in nature at every scale, from river deltas to lightning bolts to leaves.

All of which is only a slightly misleading introduction to the image above – a confocal micrograph produced by Mariela Loschi, a Pfizer analyst based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. What looks remarkably like a robin’s egg in a nest is, in fact, a much magnified image of a cultured kidney cell from a grivet, a species of Old World monkey. The blue center is the stained nucleus of the cell. It’s surrounded by microtubules, tiny filaments of protein that help maintain the physical structure of the cell, serve as internal transport highways and are involved in fundamental processes like mitosis.

Scanning electron micrograph of pleasingly plump human red blood cells. Courtesy of Thomas Deerinck, NCMIR
Hard to swallow
The average adult has a blood volume of about 5 liters or 1.3 gallons. Red blood cells, which do the vital grunt work of shuttling oxygen throughout the body, constitute about 45 percent of whole blood, white blood cells, which are part of the immune system, make up 0.7 percent and plasma (the pale yellow liquid that keeps everything in suspension) measures in at 54.3 percent.
Altogether, blood accounts for about 7 percent of human body weight.
But maybe not so much if you’re trying to lose weight.
Among the myriad popular how-to weight loss books on the market at the moment is Peter D’Adamo’s best-selling Eat Right for Your Type, in which he posits that an individual’s nutritional needs vary according to one of the four blood-types: A, B, AB or O.
According to D’Adamo, a naturopathic physician and director of the Center of Excellence in Generative Medicine at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, adhering to a diet that matches a specific, evolved blood type can improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. D’Adamo’s book has sold more than 7 million copies.
It did not, however, sell researchers at the University of Toronto who found no evidence that the blood-type/diet link was grounded in empirical evidence.
Writing in PLOS ONE, the researchers examined data from 1,455 study participants who provided detailed information about their usual diets and provided blood samples to assess various health risk factors, such as levels of cholesterol, insulin and triglycerides. Diet scores were calculated based upon the book’s guidelines.
The conclusion: Certain “blood-type” diets were associated with favorable effects on some risk factors, but the associations were independent of the person’s blood type. Study author Ahmed El-Sohemy didn’t outright dismiss the possible efficacy of the blood-type diet.
But he did note: “There was just no evidence, one way or the other. It was an intriguing hypothesis so we felt we should put it to the test. We can now be confident in saying that the blood-type diet hypothesis is false.”
Another diet bites scientific dust.

Scanning electron micrograph of pleasingly plump human red blood cells. Courtesy of Thomas Deerinck, NCMIR

Hard to swallow

The average adult has a blood volume of about 5 liters or 1.3 gallons. Red blood cells, which do the vital grunt work of shuttling oxygen throughout the body, constitute about 45 percent of whole blood, white blood cells, which are part of the immune system, make up 0.7 percent and plasma (the pale yellow liquid that keeps everything in suspension) measures in at 54.3 percent.

Altogether, blood accounts for about 7 percent of human body weight.

But maybe not so much if you’re trying to lose weight.

Among the myriad popular how-to weight loss books on the market at the moment is Peter D’Adamo’s best-selling Eat Right for Your Type, in which he posits that an individual’s nutritional needs vary according to one of the four blood-types: A, B, AB or O.

According to D’Adamo, a naturopathic physician and director of the Center of Excellence in Generative Medicine at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, adhering to a diet that matches a specific, evolved blood type can improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. D’Adamo’s book has sold more than 7 million copies.

It did not, however, sell researchers at the University of Toronto who found no evidence that the blood-type/diet link was grounded in empirical evidence.

Writing in PLOS ONE, the researchers examined data from 1,455 study participants who provided detailed information about their usual diets and provided blood samples to assess various health risk factors, such as levels of cholesterol, insulin and triglycerides. Diet scores were calculated based upon the book’s guidelines.

The conclusion: Certain “blood-type” diets were associated with favorable effects on some risk factors, but the associations were independent of the person’s blood type. Study author Ahmed El-Sohemy didn’t outright dismiss the possible efficacy of the blood-type diet.

But he did note: “There was just no evidence, one way or the other. It was an intriguing hypothesis so we felt we should put it to the test. We can now be confident in saying that the blood-type diet hypothesis is false.”

Another diet bites scientific dust.

Sticky wiglet
Sandcastle worms are 3-inch-long marine polychaetes that reside off the coast of California, from Sonoma County to northern Baja California, where they build tubular, honeycomb-like reefs of sand.
The reclusive worms are rarely seen, poking out their tentacled heads only to grab at passing bits of food or grains of sand, duly sorted for future construction and repair.
It’s the worm’s constructive capabilities that have recently earned it new headlines. Or more specifically, it’s the glue they use, which works remarkably well underwater.
In 2005, researchers at UC Santa Barbara reported that the worm glue was composed of specific proteins with opposite charges called polyphenolic proteins. Four years later, scientists at the University of Utah announced they had managed to synthesize it.
The biomedical applications were – and remain – immediately obvious. Such a glue could become an effective, new bioadhesive, used to repair broken bones or seal back together delicate tissues in the very watery environment of the human body.
Not surprisingly, there have been lots of challenges to creating an effective, real-world product, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston may be getting closer, as described in a recent NPR story using the worm-inspired glue to patch holes in pigs’ hearts.

Sticky wiglet

Sandcastle worms are 3-inch-long marine polychaetes that reside off the coast of California, from Sonoma County to northern Baja California, where they build tubular, honeycomb-like reefs of sand.

The reclusive worms are rarely seen, poking out their tentacled heads only to grab at passing bits of food or grains of sand, duly sorted for future construction and repair.

It’s the worm’s constructive capabilities that have recently earned it new headlines. Or more specifically, it’s the glue they use, which works remarkably well underwater.

In 2005, researchers at UC Santa Barbara reported that the worm glue was composed of specific proteins with opposite charges called polyphenolic proteins. Four years later, scientists at the University of Utah announced they had managed to synthesize it.

The biomedical applications were – and remain – immediately obvious. Such a glue could become an effective, new bioadhesive, used to repair broken bones or seal back together delicate tissues in the very watery environment of the human body.

Not surprisingly, there have been lots of challenges to creating an effective, real-world product, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston may be getting closer, as described in a recent NPR story using the worm-inspired glue to patch holes in pigs’ hearts.

Intestinal beauty
The colon is the last part of your digestive system, charged with extracting water and salts from solid wastes at the end of the gastrointestinal line. It’s not a pretty job – a lot of bacterial-aided fermentation occurs there – but it’s essential.
To do the job right and regularly requires a fair amount of lubrication. That’s the responsibility of colonic crypts – mucus-producing intestinal glands that keep things moving along.
In this cross-sectional confocal micrograph by Michela Schaeppi of Wellcome Images, yellow cells that produce mucin are shown inside the hexagonal-shaped crypts. The white spots at the centers are crypt lumen where mucus is excreted into the colon. The blue staining indicates pericryptal sheaths.

Intestinal beauty

The colon is the last part of your digestive system, charged with extracting water and salts from solid wastes at the end of the gastrointestinal line. It’s not a pretty job – a lot of bacterial-aided fermentation occurs there – but it’s essential.

To do the job right and regularly requires a fair amount of lubrication. That’s the responsibility of colonic crypts – mucus-producing intestinal glands that keep things moving along.

In this cross-sectional confocal micrograph by Michela Schaeppi of Wellcome Images, yellow cells that produce mucin are shown inside the hexagonal-shaped crypts. The white spots at the centers are crypt lumen where mucus is excreted into the colon. The blue staining indicates pericryptal sheaths.

Hate to burst your bubble
For years, the antibacterial soap industry as asserted their products kill bacteria and other pathogens more effectively than plain soap and water, that they’re much, much better at preventing illness and the spread of infections over the long haul.
Now the Food and Drug Administration is asking manufacturers to prove it.
This isn’t just another case of concerns about commercial hyperbole. An increasing number of scientists and public health groups fear the antibiotics used in these soaps are promoting resistance in the targeted microbes. Rising antibiotic resistance, however, is just part of the problem. A number of studies have shown that triclosan – a common antibacterial agent in these soaps – may interfere with human hormone activity.
The FDA action follows another bit of recent research news about personal hygiene: Washing your hands in hot water apparently offers no more hygienic benefit than using room temperature water.
A recent Vanderbilt University study found that hot water did not measurably improve the efficacy of the typical hand-washing experience.
“It is true that heat kills bacteria,” said study author Amanda Carrico. “However, the level of heat required to neutralize pathogens is beyond what is considered safe for prolonged human contact.”
The researchers noted too a downside to using all of that hot water to wash our collective hands to no great effect: It requires a lot of energy and significantly adds to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
They estimated that if Americans en mass used tepid water instead of warm or hot, the avoided energy use and prevented greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to the entire output of a nation the size of Barbados.

Hate to burst your bubble

For years, the antibacterial soap industry as asserted their products kill bacteria and other pathogens more effectively than plain soap and water, that they’re much, much better at preventing illness and the spread of infections over the long haul.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is asking manufacturers to prove it.

This isn’t just another case of concerns about commercial hyperbole. An increasing number of scientists and public health groups fear the antibiotics used in these soaps are promoting resistance in the targeted microbes. Rising antibiotic resistance, however, is just part of the problem. A number of studies have shown that triclosan – a common antibacterial agent in these soaps – may interfere with human hormone activity.

The FDA action follows another bit of recent research news about personal hygiene: Washing your hands in hot water apparently offers no more hygienic benefit than using room temperature water.

A recent Vanderbilt University study found that hot water did not measurably improve the efficacy of the typical hand-washing experience.

“It is true that heat kills bacteria,” said study author Amanda Carrico. “However, the level of heat required to neutralize pathogens is beyond what is considered safe for prolonged human contact.”

The researchers noted too a downside to using all of that hot water to wash our collective hands to no great effect: It requires a lot of energy and significantly adds to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

They estimated that if Americans en mass used tepid water instead of warm or hot, the avoided energy use and prevented greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to the entire output of a nation the size of Barbados.

Polarized light micrograph of recrystallized saccharin, magnified 16 times. Image courtesy of Stefan Eberhard 
Pretty sweet water
For backpackers and their ilk, one of the great thrills of outdoors life is finding a natural source of cool, crystalline water – a babbling brook, for example, or translucent stream rippling over a bed of clean river rock.
Alas, it’s increasingly hard to find such sources of pure liquid refreshment, what with natural sources of contamination (i.e. giardia) and even more problematic man-made pollutants.
Between the stuff we dump into our waters intentionally and the stuff we don’t, North American waters are chockfull of more than just atoms of hydrogen and oxygen.
On the plus side (not really), the conglomeration is apparently sweet.
Canadian researchers, writing in PLOS ONE, report finding elevated concentrations of four artificial sweeteners: cyclamate (found in the Canadian version of Sweet ‘N Low, but not the U.S., where it’s banned), saccharin (American Sweet ‘N Low), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame (Sunett) in samples collected along the length of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada.
All four sweeteners are widely used, most commonly in diet drinks. They got into the Grand by way of 30 sewage treatment plants that apparently don’t remove artificial sweeteners before depositing treated water back in the river.
Unlike other chemicals detected in “natural” waters – antibiotics, perfumes, drugs – it’s not known whether long-term exposure to these sweeteners poses a health risk to humans or wildlife. Some contaminants have been linked to disrupting reproductive systems of fish and other aquatic organisms.
The researchers said the sweeteners do offer a bit of scientific utility. Sucralose and acesulfame are notably persistent in the environment. They do not break down quickly, which has allowed researchers to more effectively trace the travels of treated sewage, often for hundreds of miles.

Polarized light micrograph of recrystallized saccharin, magnified 16 times. Image courtesy of Stefan Eberhard

Pretty sweet water

For backpackers and their ilk, one of the great thrills of outdoors life is finding a natural source of cool, crystalline water – a babbling brook, for example, or translucent stream rippling over a bed of clean river rock.

Alas, it’s increasingly hard to find such sources of pure liquid refreshment, what with natural sources of contamination (i.e. giardia) and even more problematic man-made pollutants.

Between the stuff we dump into our waters intentionally and the stuff we don’t, North American waters are chockfull of more than just atoms of hydrogen and oxygen.

On the plus side (not really), the conglomeration is apparently sweet.

Canadian researchers, writing in PLOS ONE, report finding elevated concentrations of four artificial sweeteners: cyclamate (found in the Canadian version of Sweet ‘N Low, but not the U.S., where it’s banned), saccharin (American Sweet ‘N Low), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame (Sunett) in samples collected along the length of the Grand River in Ontario, Canada.

All four sweeteners are widely used, most commonly in diet drinks. They got into the Grand by way of 30 sewage treatment plants that apparently don’t remove artificial sweeteners before depositing treated water back in the river.

Unlike other chemicals detected in “natural” waters – antibiotics, perfumes, drugs – it’s not known whether long-term exposure to these sweeteners poses a health risk to humans or wildlife. Some contaminants have been linked to disrupting reproductive systems of fish and other aquatic organisms.

The researchers said the sweeteners do offer a bit of scientific utility. Sucralose and acesulfame are notably persistent in the environment. They do not break down quickly, which has allowed researchers to more effectively trace the travels of treated sewage, often for hundreds of miles.

Padded muscle
Skeletal muscle attaches to joints and long bones and is under the control of the conscious brain. As you read this blog, occasionally typing on your keyboard, it’s skeletal muscle directing your fingers through their finely-tuned tap dance.
(FYI: Aside from skeletal, there are two other major muscle types in your body: smooth and cardiac. Smooth is involuntary and non-striated. Generally, it’s either fully contracted or fully relaxed. Your urinary bladder, lungs and the irises of your eyes are controlled by smooth muscle. Cardiac muscle is also involuntary – doing its job automatically – but striated, meaning parts of it are able to contract while other parts do not. Your heart is composed of cardiac muscle.)
In this confocal fluorescent light micrograph by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego, you’re looking at a cross-section of parallel skeletal muscle fibers (stained red due to the presence of the proteins actin and myosin) sheathed in a sugar-protein complex (green). Cell nuclei are stained blue.
There are roughly 700 muscles in the body, in all shapes and sizes. The biggest single muscle is the Gluteus maximus, one of three muscles that comprise each buttock. Our big butts help make it possible for us to stand, move upright and run. Indeed, a 2006 paper by Harvard and University of Utah researchers suggested giant glutes make humans the undisputed best long-distance runners in the history of life on Earth.
The widest skeletal muscle in the human body is the Lastissimus dorsi, which is Latin for “wide back.” It’s the muscle that begins at the spine, fans out and attaches at the other end to the upper arms.
The longest muscle is the Sartorius, which begins at the outside of the hip, runs down the upper leg and terminates inside the knee. The name Sartorius means “tailor,” so-called because this muscle allows one to cross one’s legs, purportedly a common position assumed by working tailors. The Sartorius also assists in flexing the knees and hips.
The Gluteus maximus often is dubbed the strongest muscle because it works to keep the entire body upright, but there are many ways to measure strength:
The muscles of the uterus, for example, must be strong enough to push a baby through the birth canal.
The heart beats continuously for as long as you live – more than 3 billion times in a person’s life, pumping approximately 2,500 gallons of blood every day.
Similarly, the muscles of the eyes are constantly repositioning them. In an hour of reading, the external muscles of the eyes will make nearly 10,000 coordinated movements.
And let’s say something for the tongue, which is a bundle of tireless muscles. While eating, it moves around mixing food to aid digestion. It binds and contorts to make speech. Even when you’re asleep, it’s constantly pushing saliva down the throat.
But arguably the strongest muscle, at least based upon its weight, is the masseter or primary jaw muscle. When all of the muscles of the jaw are working together, humans can apply a bite force up to 55 pounds on the incisors and more than 200 pounds on the molars.
That’s nothing compared to the maximum chomping power of Tyrannosaurus rex (12,800 pounds), of course, but it still would hurt.

Padded muscle

Skeletal muscle attaches to joints and long bones and is under the control of the conscious brain. As you read this blog, occasionally typing on your keyboard, it’s skeletal muscle directing your fingers through their finely-tuned tap dance.

(FYI: Aside from skeletal, there are two other major muscle types in your body: smooth and cardiac. Smooth is involuntary and non-striated. Generally, it’s either fully contracted or fully relaxed. Your urinary bladder, lungs and the irises of your eyes are controlled by smooth muscle. Cardiac muscle is also involuntary – doing its job automatically – but striated, meaning parts of it are able to contract while other parts do not. Your heart is composed of cardiac muscle.)

In this confocal fluorescent light micrograph by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego, you’re looking at a cross-section of parallel skeletal muscle fibers (stained red due to the presence of the proteins actin and myosin) sheathed in a sugar-protein complex (green). Cell nuclei are stained blue.

There are roughly 700 muscles in the body, in all shapes and sizes. The biggest single muscle is the Gluteus maximus, one of three muscles that comprise each buttock. Our big butts help make it possible for us to stand, move upright and run. Indeed, a 2006 paper by Harvard and University of Utah researchers suggested giant glutes make humans the undisputed best long-distance runners in the history of life on Earth.

The widest skeletal muscle in the human body is the Lastissimus dorsi, which is Latin for “wide back.” It’s the muscle that begins at the spine, fans out and attaches at the other end to the upper arms.

The longest muscle is the Sartorius, which begins at the outside of the hip, runs down the upper leg and terminates inside the knee. The name Sartorius means “tailor,” so-called because this muscle allows one to cross one’s legs, purportedly a common position assumed by working tailors. The Sartorius also assists in flexing the knees and hips.

The Gluteus maximus often is dubbed the strongest muscle because it works to keep the entire body upright, but there are many ways to measure strength:

The muscles of the uterus, for example, must be strong enough to push a baby through the birth canal.

The heart beats continuously for as long as you live – more than 3 billion times in a person’s life, pumping approximately 2,500 gallons of blood every day.

Similarly, the muscles of the eyes are constantly repositioning them. In an hour of reading, the external muscles of the eyes will make nearly 10,000 coordinated movements.

And let’s say something for the tongue, which is a bundle of tireless muscles. While eating, it moves around mixing food to aid digestion. It binds and contorts to make speech. Even when you’re asleep, it’s constantly pushing saliva down the throat.

But arguably the strongest muscle, at least based upon its weight, is the masseter or primary jaw muscle. When all of the muscles of the jaw are working together, humans can apply a bite force up to 55 pounds on the incisors and more than 200 pounds on the molars.

That’s nothing compared to the maximum chomping power of Tyrannosaurus rex (12,800 pounds), of course, but it still would hurt.

Digitally enhanced image of human heart. Wellcome Images. 
Caf-fiends in a can
If your heart beats faster at the thought of quaffing a cold can of energy drink (think Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and their ilk), there may be something wrong with you more worrisome than your sense of taste.
Almost nobody drinks these hugely popular concoctions for their sublime flavor. They are consumed almost entirely for the much touted neurological jolt derived from an overabundance of stimulating caffeine (as much as three times more than in a comparable serving of coffee or soda) and ingredients like B vitamins, the amino acid taurine, guarana, a South American plant with a higher caffeine concentration than coffee, ginseng and ginkgo biloba.
Judging from sales - $12.5 billion in 2012 in the U.S. alone – these commercial energy drinks deliver their promised punch – and worse.
A report presented this week at the Radiological Society of North America found that energy drinks appear to adversely alter heart function. Specifically, they can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations, a blood pressure spike and, possibly, seizures or death.
If that’s not enough of an eye-opener, consider this statistic from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Each year almost 21,000 energy drink consumers find themselves in hospital emergency rooms being treated for unwanted side effects of the beverages.
So next time you need something to snap you awake, try water – eight icy cold ounces dashed to the face generally does the trick.

Digitally enhanced image of human heart. Wellcome Images.

Caf-fiends in a can

If your heart beats faster at the thought of quaffing a cold can of energy drink (think Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and their ilk), there may be something wrong with you more worrisome than your sense of taste.

Almost nobody drinks these hugely popular concoctions for their sublime flavor. They are consumed almost entirely for the much touted neurological jolt derived from an overabundance of stimulating caffeine (as much as three times more than in a comparable serving of coffee or soda) and ingredients like B vitamins, the amino acid taurine, guarana, a South American plant with a higher caffeine concentration than coffee, ginseng and ginkgo biloba.

Judging from sales - $12.5 billion in 2012 in the U.S. alone – these commercial energy drinks deliver their promised punch – and worse.

A report presented this week at the Radiological Society of North America found that energy drinks appear to adversely alter heart function. Specifically, they can cause rapid heart rate, palpitations, a blood pressure spike and, possibly, seizures or death.

If that’s not enough of an eye-opener, consider this statistic from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Each year almost 21,000 energy drink consumers find themselves in hospital emergency rooms being treated for unwanted side effects of the beverages.

So next time you need something to snap you awake, try water – eight icy cold ounces dashed to the face generally does the trick.

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