Welcome the Heroes at Houston Pride

There lots of good things in store during this week’s Houston LGBT Pride Celebration® in Houston, plus some changes too. For detailed information, check out the full list of events on the Pride Houston Facebook Events page.

There’s also a lot of anticipation leading up to Thursday and Friday, when the Supreme Court of the United States could deliver their decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case on gay marriage.

Saturday’s main Pride Parade is Downtown, Not in Montrose

Perhaps the biggest change this year is the venue for the annual Pride parade. For the first time since 1979, the parade will not run down Westheimer in the Montrose neighborhood where it all began.

Instead, the parade route starts in downtown Houston at the intersection of Milam Street and Walker. The parade continues down Walker Street, making a left on Smith Street and ending at Pease Street.

The parade kicks off at 8:30 pm and lasts until 11:00 pm on Saturday June 27, 2015.

Admission is free.

British Grammy-Winner Estelle Fanta Swaray will headline the Houston Pride Festival main stage. Click to view her song "American Boy" featuring Kanye West.

British Grammy-Winner Estelle Fanta Swaray will headline the Houston Pride Festival main stage. Click to view her song “American Boy” featuring Kanye West.

Grammy-Winner Estelle Fanta Swaray and Big Freedia on Main Stage

Saturday’s celebrations start at noon with the the Houston LGBT Pride Festival main stage entertainment. The stage is located at McKinney St and Smith St.

Headliners include:

  • ESTELLE – “American Boy,” TV show Empire
  • BIG FREEDIA – The Queen Diva of Bounce
  • GINGER MINJ – RuPaul’s Drag Race
  • JESSICA SUTTA – formerly of the Pussycat Dolls
  • PRIDE SUPERSTAR FINALISTS

The Festival concludes at 7:00 p.m. to shift gears for the start of the parade at 8:30 p.m.

 

Big Freedia, the New Orleans entertainer and FUSE TV reality TV star, known for popularizing 'Bounce' music sings the hit 'Y'all Get Back Now'

Big Freedia, the New Orleans entertainer and FUSE TV reality TV star, known for popularizing ‘Bounce’ music, will appear on the Houston Pride Festival main stage. Click to view the hit ‘Y’all Get Back Now’ music video.

 

Is Chocolate the Answer to Good Health?

For those of us who are chocolate connoisseurs, it’s hard not to get excited when you read some of the newest medical journal articles that touch on the health benefits of chocolate.

Scientists have been studying chocolate’s primary ingredient, cocoa, to understand what effect it has on inflammation, brain function and heart health.

Of course, the true chocolate fans probably already believe that chocolate is the cure-all for just about anything.

Why the interest in chocolate?

Scientists are interested in chocolate because the main ingredient cocoa contains flavanols, a type of polyphenol. Polyphenols are a category of antioxidants that occur naturally in certain kinds of tea, berries and red wine. They are associated with good health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and lower blood pressure.

Does chocolate to make you smarter?

Scientists in a Harvard study wanted to find out if flavonol-rich cocoa drinks helped elderly persons improve their memory and thinking skills.

The results are interesting. While there was generally no great difference between the groups who received the flavonal-rich cocoa in the two month study and those who did not, there was one exception. The participants who began the study with an already compromised blood flow to the brain showed marked improvement. They could complete a cognitive memory test in 116 seconds (compared to 167 seconds) and the blood flow to their brains increased about 8%.

What about chocolate and blood pressure?

In a recent study of 30 healthy young individuals published in Cardiovascular System, test participants were given a small square (about 8 grams) of 70% cocoa chocolate each day for a month. The test participants who received the chocolate had improved arterial flow (increasing from 14% to 23%).

Consuming regular chocolate candy bars won’t work either. Keep in mind that a serving of 70% cocoa chocolate is not the same as your typical milk chocolate candy bar. This level of cocoa is not terribly sweet and, for some people, it actually might taste like medicine!

A word of caution here. If you have high blood pressure, please confer with Dr Brewton on the best approach (nutrition, exercise and possibly medication) to take for your own health.

Insulin sensitivity and chocolate.

In another study, published in Endocrine Abstracts, scientist tried to determine if consuming polyphenol-rich dark chocolate had an effect on insulin sensitivity among those who do not have diabetes.

After a month, the participants who were eating the polyphenol-rich dark chocolate had better insulin response. The implication is that it’s possible that eating dark chocolate with very high levels of cocoa might help delay or prevent the onset of diabetes and prediabetes.

Chocolate and a Healthy Heart?

A word of caution. With the widespread adoption of electronic medical records, we need to get ready for an explosion of medical studies that crunch data from thousands, if not millions, of anonymized health data records.

Many times this data crunching can uncover unexpected or unexplained relationships which warrant further study. Such is the case of a study from the journal Heart, which attempts to correlate the cause and effect between eating dark chocolate and heart disease.

In this case, the health records of nearly 21,000 men and women were studied to examine the association between chocolate intake and the risk of future cardiovascular events, like cardiac arrest. The results are interesting. Generally, those who reported greater intake of chocolate had statistically lower incidence of future heart disease.

All things in moderation, including chocolate.

You might want to give dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa a try.

Like all things, eat it in moderation. Just remember: if you take in too many calories from chocolate, you’re likely cancel out cocoa’s benefits for your health.

 

MERS: What you need to know about this new disease.

If you’re traveling to the Middle East or to South Korea, you should become familiar with a relatively new disease known as MERS. We have prepared a short Q&A outlining what is known about this disease and how to help protect yourself from infection.

What is MERS?

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is relatively new viral respiratory illness. Like SARS, MERS is a coronavirus.

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and myalgia (muscle pain). One quarter of MERS patients also report diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

The incubation period is estimated to be around five or six days, but it could be as short as two days and as long as two weeks. Again, these are estimates.

How widespread is MERS? How fatal is it?

To date, 1,338 people have been infected world-wide. 484 have died from the disease. The overall case fatality rate is 36.2%.

South Korea is experiencing a relatively large outbreak at the moment, the largest to date outside the Arabian peninsula.

How can I avoid MERS infection while traveling?

Avoid contact with sick persons. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitizer).

Most of the human-to-human infections appear to have occurred in a healthcare setting, such as at a hospital or in a home. It appears that healthcare workers or family members taking care of a patient are at particular risk.

If you are traveling in the Middle East (or another area with camels), the World Healthcare Organization (WHO) advises avoiding contact with camels. Do not come in contact with raw camel milk, camel urine or uncooked camel meat. Cooked camel meat and pasteurized camel milk is considered ok per WHO guidelines.

How long has MERS existed?

The first diagnosed case of MERS in humans was in 2012, in Saudi Arabia. Further cases appeared later that year in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Where did MERS come from?

The disease is believed to have passed from animals to humans. Bats are believed to be the original source of the virus; however transmission to humans appears to have occurred from infected camels. It’s possible that camels in the region have been infected with the virus since the 1990s. Camel handlers in the Saudi peninsula appeared to be among the first human cases of the disease.

Where are the MERS Infection outbreaks located?

The website www.coronamap.com uses World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health data from each affected country to track the spread of MERS.

Over 20 countries have reported cases, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Turkey, Oman, South Korea, mainland China and Thailand.

As of today, South Korea has 13.3% of global MERS infections with 178 diagnosed cases, 23 of which have resulted in deaths.

Why does MERS seem to hopscotch across the globe?

The Saudi economy relies extensively on foreign workers. It is thought the regular transit on long-distance airplane flights by foreign workers back to their home countries has contributed to MERS’ sudden appearance in seemingly unrelated locations.

Is MERS likely to create a worldwide health crisis like Ebola?

Unlike Ebola, the MERS virus is relatively inefficient at human-to-human infection. As long as the MERS virus does change significantly, it is not likely to rapidly escalate into a worldwide health crisis like Ebola did.

However, if the MERS virus mutates significantly and becomes more efficient at human-to-human transmission, all bets are off. Some scientists are very worried about this possibility.

Is there a test for MERS?

Because the United States declared that MERS is a threat to public health back in May 2013,  there are specific rules which allow emergency in vitro tests of MERS virus.

The CDC has reportedly tested three polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based tests: RealStar MERS-CoV RT-PCR Kit from Altona Diagnostics, the FTD hCoV-EMC from Fast-track Diagnostics, and the genesig Novel Coronavirus hCoV-MERS from Primerdesign.

Is there a treatment for MERS?

To date, there is no treatment or vaccination against MERS.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) issued a report (PDF file, opens in new window) in 2013 outlining steps needed to create a MERS vaccine.

 

 

Healthy Living Houston: Sitting is the New Smoking?

We love modern electronic gadgets that simplify our life, make our work more productive and time at play more fun. And in many cases, these gadgets can help us live healthier lifestyles.

For example, more and more of us are wearing electronic devices that help us achieve our fitness goals by tracking the number of stairs we climb, tracking the calories we eat or tracking our heartbeat rates.

But there is a downside to the increasing number of electronic devices we enjoy at work and at home. When everything is accessible at your fingertips, there is less and less reason to get up from your chair. The result: an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle.

Do you Lead a Sedentary Lifestyle at Work?

Our transition to a service economy combined with today’s modern conveniences has led an increasing number of us to lead a more sedentary lifestyle, especially at work.

There are a few exceptions. If you have a job in agriculture, in manufacturing, shipping and distribution or the food service industry, you’re more likely to be standing on your feet at the job.

But more and more of us work all day at a computer with a rolling desk chair with everything right at hand. No need to stand up except take a bio break!

But wait you say! “I work with a tablet.” Well unfortunately it looks like repeated use of smartphones and tablets can contribute to ‘Tablet Neck’ according to this report from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Sitting is Bad for You — Even if You Exercise Regularly.

In the last year, more and more health professionals have begun using the expression “sitting is the new smoking” to describe the problem.

What are the consequences of sitting too much? We turn to an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine by David Alter, MD, PhD, Senior Scientist at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

Key Findings of the Study:

  1. Sitting for prolonged periods of time increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, regardless of whether a person exercises regularly or not.
  2. Exercising one hour a day doesn’t eliminate the problem. In other words, even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting remains a separate health issue.

What does Dr Alter recommend?

  1. Every thirty minutes you should take a short (1-3 minute) break and stand up. Standing burns twice as many calories as sitting.
  2. Gradually change your behavior. Try reducing your sitting times by 15 – 20 minutes per day at first. Reduce sitting week by week. Over the long term you should try to eliminate 2 to 3 hours of sitting during a 12 hour day.

Educators are also taking notice. Students seem to benefit from standup desks.

School physical education programs have been on the wane for many years and today’s students populations are more sedentary than in the past. Obesity is an increasing problem.

In response, there have been studies to see if stand up desks can help student performance and weight management. Mark Benden, Associate Professor at Texas A&M, has studied the impact of standing desks on Texas fourth grade students.

Students using the standing desks burned 300 more calories per week than the control group. Overweight students burned up to 575 more calories compared to the students who sat at normal desks.

Teachers in Benden’s study reported better behavior and more focus on learning among the students using the standup desks.

Does Fidgeting Help Students Learn?

Now research is looking at whether encouraging students to ‘fidget’ and move around while in the classroom is actually productive. One chair manufacturer, Safeco, has introduced a desk/chair combination with a built-in swing for students to move their legs around as they sit. Safeco’s Alphabetter desk is designed to encourage student movement in the classroom but minimize distraction to other students in class.

Can standing desks like these help students perform better? It’s possible. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that many students (and perhaps boys especially) perform better when they are active. Students diagnosed with ADHD may also benefit from this type of increased physical activity. We look forward to seeing results from upcoming peer reviewed studies.

What about Moving Desks?

The evidence seems to indicate that using standing desks while at work will improve your health. But should you take it one step further and use a desk that can change your seating position throughout the day? What about desks with built-in treadmills?

So far we have not found evidence that the treadmill desks are more effective than standing desks, but they certainly make a statement. Here humorist and commentator Mo Rocca takes a look at treadmill desks at his office and at Cosmopolitan magazine.

Moveable Furniture Designs Now Widely Available for Commercial Applications

Buyers at the largest tradeshow for commercial office furniture, NEOCON, were able to test out dozens of different moveable, reconfigurable seating and work table solutions.

Attendees at the trade show awarded the NEOCON Gold Prize in the category for Tables: Training and Work to a sit-to-stand table designed by Joey Ruiter for BOLD Furniture.

Sit-to-stand table designed by Joey Ruiter for BOLD Furniture

Sit-to-stand table designed by Joey Ruiter for BOLD Furniture

This elegant desk can move from a fully seated sitting position to a full standing desk.

A Desk that Reminds You to Move: The Kinetic Desk by Stir

Maybe you need a more active reminder to change your seating position throughout the day. That’s the thought behind the Stir desk, invented by ax-Apple engineer JP Labrosse who is now the CEO of Stir. The Stir desk has an ‘active mode’ that decides on its own when you need to change seating positions. Before moving it gives you a subtle tactile alert — then a motor moves the desk surface up or down. Check out the video to get an idea of how it works:

A Cheaper Solution: Potato Sack Races at the Office

It doesn’t take a lot of money to modify an IKEA desk to sit higher so you can stand as you work. Hopefully your version will look more elegant than this one. But what about moving desks or desks with treadmills? Are they worth the money? Until we see some conclusive studies, we’re not sure and they can be quite expensive.

Looking for a cheaper solution? You may find inspiration from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Here she challenges Jimmy Fallon to a Potato Sack Race Race in the White House.

 

Try Our Roasted Eggplant Baba Ganoush

This month we feature another Mediterranean recipe. Baba Ganoush is a dish that comes from The Levant region in modern day Lebanon. Its original name in Arabic is بابا غنوج — which roughly translates into English as ‘Pampered Papa‘. It’s created from  eggplant puréed with olive oil, tomatoes, onions, and spices.

The version we’re going to make today features roasted eggplant and tahini — making this a spicy variation of Baba Ghanoush sometimes called Moutabel, or متبل in Arabic, which means ‘spiced‘. You can serve this with triangles of pita bread or toasted bread as a delicious appetizer.

 

First a few words about tahini. What is it exactly? As you might guess, the name is also Arabic in origin; it comes from the verb طحن , which means to grind. Tahini is actually a paste made of ground sesame seeds; it’s often available in the “international foods” section of the grocery store. Manufacturing tahini is an interesting process: sesame seeds are soaked in water and then crushed; the bran sinks while the kernels float to the top where they are skimmed, toasted and ground into an oily paste.

 

Tahini is exceptionally rich in minerals, including copper, zinc, iron, manganese and selenium. It’s also good source of calcium and protein, amino acids and omega-3 and omega-6 oils. Once the Tahini packaging is opened, keep it refrigerated.

 

Now onto the recipe. One of the more popular versions of Baba Ghanoush can be found in food blogger David Lebovitz’s recipe book My Paris Kitchen.

 

Lebovitz’ first big break in the food world was landing a job at Alice Waters famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. Here he discusses his 2014 book My Paris Kitchen in this Google Talk video.

 

Here is your shopping list for Baba Ghanoush (Makes 6 – 8 Servings):

 

Main Ingredients Quantity
Eggplants (round ‘globe’ variety) 2 medium (2 lbs or 900 g)
Tahini (sesame seed paste) 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 – 120 ml)
Lemon Juice (fresh squeezed if available) 1/4 cup (60 ml)
Garlic Cloves 2 to 3, finely minced
Ground Cumin 1/4 teaspoon
Kosher Salt 1/2 teaspoon
Parsley Leaves (fresh) 2 tablespoons
Olive Oil (optional) 1 tablespoon

 

Prepare the Eggplant

There are three ways to get the smoky taste; try the method that you’re most comfortable with and best fits your kitchen set up.

Method 1: Stove Top Charring

First, preheat the oven to 375F. Lebovitz suggests pricking the eggplants a few times, then placing them directly on a gas burner flame (in the style of heating a tortilla or searing skin of a Mexican chili) turning them until they are quite charred on the outside. Five minute is enough unless you want really smokey flavor, in that case up to 10 minutes. Then transfer them into the oven onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 20-30 minutes, until they are soft. Remove and let cool.

Method 2: Broiling then Roasting

Once again, preheat the oven to 375F. The Inspired Taste blog suggests broiling the eggplant on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil for a couple minutes on all sides. Then roast them in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove and let cool for 10-15 minutes to ease handling.

Method 3: Grill and Steam in a Bag

Simply Recipes has a different method using a grill and paper bags. Preheat the grill. Poke the eggplants with a fork and rub the outsides with little bit of olive oil. Grill over high heat, turning the eggplant to cook each side until it blackens. Then put the eggplant into paper bag, close it up and let eggplants steam for 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Mix the Ingredients Together

While the eggplant is cooking, you can mix up the other ingredients — except the olive oil and parsley which are set aside for a garnish at the end. If you’re a big fan of tahini, use up to half a cup, but for most people, a quarter cup is fine.

Once the eggplants have cooled, you can slice them open in half, drain the excess liquid and scrape out the pulp flesh.

If you’re a fan of food processors or blenders, now’s a great time to purée the eggplant pulp with the other ingredients. Otherwise, you can mash the mixture together with fork.

Serve your Baba Ganoush

Garnish the Baba Ganoush with parsley leaves and a little olive oil. Serve with pita bread, crackers or toasted bread.

This recipe will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days; some say it tastes even better the second day.

Enjoy!

 

Decoy Protein Foils HIV Virus in Monkey Study

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have presented a paper in the journal Nature, titled AAV-expressed eCD4-Ig provides durable protection from multiple SHIV challenges, which outlines a novel approach to treating the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

The new approach has protected four laboratory monkeys over a year-long period from repeated exposure to an HIV variant used in lab tests called SHIV.

How does it work? The new treatment tricks the HIV virus into beginning viral replication with a custom decoy protein that is designed to mimic CD4 lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell, commonly called T cells) that are produced by the immune system to fight infections.

What normally happens in HIV viral replication is the virus attaches to a receptor on the surface of the CD4 cell, this in turn exposes a second receptor, the CCR5 receptor. Once the HIV virus successfully attaches itself to both the CD4 and CCR4 receptors it undergoes a shape change that allows it to inject its RNA into the cell.

Once its RNA is injected into the white blood cell, the cell essentially becomes a factory for rapidly reproducing more and more HIV virus. If not controlled, the viral replication leads to progressive destruction of the immune system that eventually results in Acquired Immune Deficiency or AIDS.

The image shows the part of HIV – shown in beige – that attaches to two receptors, CD4 and CCR5. Scripps Research Institute scientists and colleagues developed a drug candidate that binds both sites simultaneously. The drug includes part of CD4 (red), connected to a mimic of CCR5 (green). These parts are connected by a conserved piece of an antibody (gray). Because the inhibitor binds both sites simultaneously, it binds tightly and triggers the virus to change its shape, blocking HIV-1 more effectively than any currently available antibody therapy.

The image shows the part of HIV – shown in beige – that attaches to two receptors, CD4 and CCR5. Scripps Research Institute scientists and colleagues developed a drug candidate that binds both sites simultaneously. The drug includes part of CD4 (red), connected to a mimic of CCR5 (green). These parts are connected by a conserved piece of an antibody (gray). Because the inhibitor binds both sites simultaneously, it binds tightly and triggers the virus to change its shape, blocking HIV-1 more effectively than any currently available antibody therapy.

Interrupting this HIV replication has proven difficult. Part of the problem is that there are not one but three major strains of HIV: the main family, known as HIV-1, which is responsible for the majority human cases of the disease; HIV-2 and finally SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) which affects monkeys.

In turn, each of these different strains have their individual variations caused by genetic mutations. Because the HIV virus mutates rapidly, small mutations in the receptor sites have made it difficult to make a vaccine or find a universal antiviral treatment that addresses all the HIV strains and corresponding genetic variations.

That’s one of the reasons that the monkey study conducted by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, along with researchers from Harvard, Princeton, Rockefeller University, the University of Southern California and the Pasteur Institute in France is a potential breakthrough. Their novel approach of using a decoy protein, seems to be potentially effective against all different HIV strains.

Michael Farzan is a professor at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute.

Michael Farzan is a professor at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute.

“Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far,” said TSRI Professor Michael Farzan, who led the research effort. “Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.”

The decoy protein binds to two locations on the HIV virus at the same time. This triggers the HIV virus to begin replication, but unlike normal cells the unique Y shape of the decoy protein doesn’t allow the HIV virus sufficient contact area to do any damage.

Unlike normal HIV treatments, “when antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease,” said TSRI Research Associate Matthew Gardner, the first author of the study along with Lisa M. Kattenhorn of Harvard Medical School. “We’ve developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.”

“This is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work on the biochemistry of how HIV enters cells,” Farzan said. “When we did our original work on CCR5, people thought it was interesting, but no one saw the therapeutic potential. That potential is starting to be realized.”

The next step in evaluating this approach is to test whether the decoy protein can stop the virus from replicating in monkeys already infected with SHIV. If successful, it would represent a therapeutic treatment of HIV in the animal model.

If that proves successful, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says the testing will move from the animal model to testing in humans.