Saturday, 20 February 2016

Bad Internet Businesses

People must be careful when dealing with companies on the internet. For example, I purchased two bus tickets to visit the Grand Canyon South Rim on 24 December 2016. The company, Canyon Tours, clearly stated the company would pick up guests at their hotel. I found no disclaimers that restricted the range of hotels in the Las Vega area. I stayed at Sunset Station in Henderson, Nevada, which is 16 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip. I did not think the hotel would be a problem because the bus would travel near Hoover Dam, so the bus would drive through Henderson, Nevada. Henderson lies between Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. The company charged my debit card and informed me the bus would pick me up at the Excalibur Hotel. The company never asked whether I was ok with this. Unfortunately, Canyon Tours provides misleading information on their website because they did not honor their pledge to pick me up at my hotel. Please refer to their information on the website.


Once a company gets your credit or debit card information, they can charge any amount on it. I bought two tickets for $79, but the company charged my debit card $168. I should have immediately called and contested the charges. Canyon Tours never explained why it charged me an extra ten dollars.

A clue that this company would be a problem is Canyon Tours does not provide a mailing address on their website. The company supplies two phone numbers and an email address. It is not suspicious if a company does not provide an address, but an address provides two things. First, an address gives a person a means to send official complaint notices, especially if you are planning to sue or write a formal complaint to a government agency. Second, the address allows people to trace other businesses to that address. Some badly operated businesses change their name frequently, especially once the public has discovered its reputations, but these companies may operate in the location.

Depending on the complaint’s severity, customers should also report bad businesses to the government agencies such as a State’s Attorney General’s Office, Federal Trade Commission, and other agencies. If the company had done something illegal, then report the company to law enforcement. If the company did something unethical but still legal, then complaining to the government agencies may do little good. However, posting your complaint on social media can be effective to inform future potential customers

Many social media and websites allow customers to post favorable or unfavorable reviews of companies. Some people routinely check reviews on TripAdvisor, RipoffReport.com, Yelp. com, and Complaints.com before trying new business. I found this information at TripAdvisor on 13 February 2016 about Canyon Tours. The over rating is okay because the 319 excellent ratings are three times more than the 86 terrible ratings. Nevertheless, people should be careful reading online reviews and complaints. Some companies routinely challenge bad reviews and coerce websites to remove the unfavorable content. Furthermore, a company’s competitor may post bad reviews to attract more customers. Thus, an online rating may not match a company’s true rating. (I will monitor my reviews to see if Tripadvisor and Yelp will remove it.)


Another trick to identify a bad company is to call the company’s customer service and ask questions. If I had called, I would have discovered Canyon Tours provides poor customer service. Of course, this was a common theme as I perused through some of the terrible ratings - poor customer service. When I called to confirm my pickup time and place, the person answering the phone quickly says please hold on and immediately placed me on hold. I waited, and waited, and waited. I called back to try to speak with the person answering the phone. On the third attempt, I screamed at her, "Hey." She paused and let me speak. Then she still put on hold. Imagine a customer with no troubles experiences just contacts the company and encounters poor customer service. Then imagine how the company would treat a person if this person incurred a problem? My problem was the customer rep told me to be at the hotel at 6:30 A.M. but the bus left at 6:15 A.M.

Companies like Canyon Tours may operate poorly because they try to provide too much service for rock bottom prices, which I call the Wal-Mart Effect. Companies reduce prices as much as possible to attract customers, and, thus, they must cut corners to earn a profit. Canyon Tours probably offers too many services with a limited staff. For example, I used their phone number to search for more information. For the phone number, 866-218-3427, Maverick Helicopters came up on Google. For the phone number, 702-260-0796, Canyon Tours came up. Another company, Scenic Airlines, charged my debit card. When I found the mailing address for Canyon Tours on the internet, an agent for Farmers Insurance also shares the same address. At least three businesses are associated with Canyon Tours.

How could I infer the company could be cutting corners? I hired tour companies in Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The companies always picked me up at the hotel on time. They were organized. They provided the service that they said they would provide. If a patron were late, the driver would call the front desk of the hotel and find out what the problem was. The companies knew some customers were always late and they built that into the schedule. For Canyon Tours, the company takes the customers’ money – supplying a service becomes secondary.

Bad companies that sell inferior products and offer terrible services will usually bankrupt and close their doors in a market economy. As long as customers have a choice of companies, they will gravitate towards the good ones. However, bad companies can thrive at tourist destinations, especially if the area attracts international tourists. For example, Las Vegas attracts international tourists from around the world, so bad companies have a constant supply of unsuspecting customers to victimize. If I did more research on the internet about Canyon Tours, I would have avoided this company. I should have rented a car and visited the Grand Canyon myself.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Power of Grape Seeds

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

Since ancient Greece, people have used various parts of the grapes for medicinal purposes. And current medical research has shown grape seeds bestow significant antioxidant properties. Grape seed may inhibit cancer growth, reduce heart disease, and ease other disorders caused from oxidation and inflammation.

Wine manufacturers produce grape seed extract from grape seeds. Grape seeds contain vitamin E, flavonoids, linoleic acid, tannins, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and polyphenols, also known as procyanidins, oligomeric procyanidins (OPC), or oligomeric proanthocyanidins. This combination of ingredients makes grape seeds 50 times stronger than Vitamin E and 20 times stronger than Vitamin C.

Some value the procyanidins the most important ingredient in grape seed extract. These compounds are also found in grape juice, grape skins, and wine, but with lower concentrations. Pine bark (or pycnogenol) and green tea also contain procyanidins.

Health Benefits

Researchers have shown the power of antioxidant activity of grape seeds in vitro or in test tubes. Consequently, few trials have examined grape seed extract's effects on diseases or disorders, but research suggests grape seed could treat and prevent the following health problems:

Diabetes

Metabolic syndrome comprises a cluster of health problems including excess belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and inflammation. Metabolic syndrome boosts the chance of developing heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.

In a 2009 study, 32 Type-2 diabetics with high cardiovascular risk took either a placebo every day or 600 mg of grape seed extract for four weeks. The grape seed extract significantly reduced inflammation and blood sugar levels. Thus, researchers suggest grape seed extract might alleviate problems with diabetes.

Alzheimer's Disease

Grape seed extract may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. According to a mice study published in 2009, scientists discovered grape seed extract eased inflammation and prevented the accumulation and formation of substances in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Antioxidants

Scientists believe antioxidants prevent and control disease by protecting cells against damage from charged oxygen molecules called free radicals. They harm the body, damage DNA, and kill the body’s cells. Free radicals could speed aging, as well as cause several health problems, such as heart disease and cancer.

Healthy volunteers taking grape seed extract substantially boosted their levels of antioxidants in their blood. Antioxidants in grape seed extract may neutralize the free radicals. Thus, grape seed extract would benefit the cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, inflammation, blood sugar regulation, and nervous systems.

Inflammation

Despite the French eating large amounts of saturated fat in their diet, they experience much lower rates of heart disease than one would expect with such high saturated fat intake. They call this the French Paradox because the French drinks red wine regularly, and the wines reduce inflammation and boost antioxidants in the body.

The cardiovascular system reaps the most benefits of the wine’s antioxidants. Our blood vessel linings need strong antioxidant support because the arteries carry large concentrations of oxygen, and the blood cells and vessel linings need protection from oxygen damage.

Chronic inflammation in our cardiovascular system can trigger many types of cardiovascular disease, and the body must regulate inflammation especially to reduce atherosclerosis and other conditions.

Eye Health

Grape seed extract can improve eye health. It could combat cataracts, eyestrain, and macular degeneration – a condition when people lose clear vision. For example, people taking 300 mg of grape seed extract daily for 60 days had reduced their eyestrain from prolonged computer use. In small scientific trials, diabetics taking grape seed extract reduced diabetic retinopathy – a disease of the retina caused by high blood sugar levels.

Edema

Grape seed extract could reduce edema quickly. Edema is swelling caused by surgery or injury and is common after breast cancer surgery. In one study, breast cancer patients taking 600 mg of grape seed extract daily for 6 months after surgery experienced less edema and pain than those taking a placebo. In another study, people taking grape seed extract after a sports injury experienced less swelling than participants taking a placebo. Finally, wounds treated with grape seed extract heal faster and scar less than wounds treated with a placebo solution.

Longevity

Some believe the phytonutrients in grapes extend longevity. Procyanidins may protect the body from premature aging. Scientists believe the procyanidins raise vitamin C levels in the cells, and the procyanidins scavenge for toxins, removing the toxins from the organs.

Improve Mental Alertness

Grape seed extract, one of the few antioxidants, could protect nerve and brain cells by passing through the blood-brain barrier. Thus, it could reduce inflammation in the brain.

In one study, participants drinking from one to two cups of Concord grape juice daily boosted their scores on the California Verbal Learning Test. In another study, grape seed extract might treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) because it regulates the neurotransmitters in the brain and slows the breakdown of norepinephrine and dopamine.

Skin

People can take grape seed extract for younger looking skin. The procyanidins bond with collagen, the body’s most abundant protein. Collagen comprises an important component of bones, gums, hair, skin, teeth, and body tissues. The bonding supports cell health and improves the skin’s elasticity, making the skin more youthful, similarly to a natural face-lift. Moreover, procyanidins help protect the body from sun damage, which causes premature aging of the skin.

Cancer

The antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties of grapes can protect people against cancer because ingredients in grapes reduce chronic oxidation and chronic inflammation. In laboratory studies, scientists have shown grape seed eliminates free radicals, which damage DNA and spur development of cancer. If oxidation overwhelms the body’s cells, the oxidation damages cell structures, causes chronic inflammation, and boosts cancer risk.

In vitro, or test tubes, grape seed procyanidins reduced tumor numbers and lowered the malignancy of papillomas - a benign tumor that forms a rounded mass on organs’ surfaces.

According to the American Cancer Society, we have little reliable scientific evidence at this time that drinking red wine, eating grapes, or following a grape diet can prevent or treat cancer in people. For instance, researchers had found grape seed extract did not alleviate the hardening of breast tissue in female patients undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer.

Heart and Circulatory System

Antioxidants, found in grape seeds, could protect blood vessels from damage and could reduce high blood pressure. According to researchers at the University of California Davis School of Medicine in 2009, participants with metabolic syndrome taking grape seed extract for four weeks had lowered their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. They lowered their systolic pressure by 12 mm and their diastolic pressure by 9 mm.

In one study, 40 people with high cholesterol took either grape seed extract, chromium, a placebo, or a combination of grape seed extract and chromium for 2 months. Participants taking both the grape seed extract and chromium had lowered their LDL, “bad” cholesterol than either grape seed alone or a placebo. In another study, 24 healthy male smokers aged 50 years or older took either a placebo or 150 mg of grape procyanidin extracts and soy phosphatidalcholine, twice daily for 4 weeks. The participants taking grape seed extract had lowered their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels than those taking placebo.

Grape seed extract could treat poor circulation and chronic venous insufficiency, where the veins have problems moving blood from the legs to the heart. People suffering from chronic venous insufficiency experience blood pooling in the legs and constant pain, swelling, fatigue, and visible veins.

Grape seed extract may do the following to the circulatory system:
  • Improve vascular strength and strengthen blood vessels.
  • Alleviate atherosclerosis
  • Reduce cells from sticking to the blood vessel walls, and platelet cells clump together less.
  • Lower inflammation in the blood
  • Boost glutathione levels in the blood. Glutathione, a body’s enzyme, scavenges for free radicals.

Other health benefits

Grape seed extract may provide the following health benefits:
  • Reduce constipation
  • Alleviate gastrointestinal disorders
  • Reduce the growth of certain bacteria that metabolizes sugar and causes cavities
  • Increase bone density and strength
  • Possesses anti-viral and antibacterial properties
  • Improves liver function

Dosage and Toxic Effects

If you plan to utilize grape seed extract to treat or prevent a medical condition or disease, please consult your physician first. Side effects include dry, itchy scalp, dizziness, headache, high blood pressure, hives, indigestion, nausea, upset stomach, diarrhea, sore throat, cough, and rash.

People can take grape seed extract by mouth, but it tastes bitter. People should take capsules. Supplements usually supply between 50 mg and 100 mg of grape seed extract.

Currently, we have insufficient research about the long-term use of grape seed extract, and how it affects health or diseases. Furthermore, researchers have not studied how grape seed extract may interact with medicines or other supplements.

If people taking blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder should avoid grape seed extract unless your doctor prescribes it. Procyanidins reduce platelet adhesion and may act as a blood-thinner, increasing clotting time.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid taking grape seed supplements. Children should not take grape seed extract, but they should snack on whole grapes because grapes are healthy and safe.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Health Benefits of Resveratrol

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:
Scientists classify resveratrol in a class of plant compounds named polyphenols. These compounds possess antioxidant properties that protect the body from cancer and heart disease.

One source of resveratrol comes from grapes and mostly contained in the grapes’ skin. The resveratrol protects the grape from fungi. If wineries ferment grapes into red wine, the resveratrol becomes concentrated in red wine. Wines may supply more resveratrol than grape juices because fermentation converts piceid to resveratrol in the wine. The alcohol may help the body absorb the resveratrol better than other sources.

White wine supplies smaller quantities of resveratrol because wineries ferment the wine without the grape skins, while wineries ferment red wine with the grape skins.

The resveratrol concentration in Muscadine grapes is ambiguous. Some believe Muscadine grapes contain the highest concentration of resveratrol in nature because their extra thick skins protect the seeds while other researchers conclude Muscadine grapes provide little or no resveratrol.

Blueberries, berries, cranberries, cocoa, dark chocolate, and peanuts also supply resveratrol. Table 1 displays the content of resveratrol in several foods and drinks, and the levels of resveratrol can vary greatly.

Table 1. Resveratrol content in selected foods
Food Serving size Total resveratrol
(milligrams)
Peanuts (raw) 1 cup or 146 grams 0.01 – 0.26
Peanuts (boiled) 1 cup or 180 grams 0.32 – 1.28
Peanut butter 1 cup or 258 grams 0.04 – 0.13
Red grapes 1 cup or 160 grams 0.24 – 1.25
Cocoa powder, baking chocolate, and dark chocolate 1 cup or 200 grams 0.07 – 0.46
Beverages
Pinot noir 150 milliliters 0.06 – 0.30
Red grape juice 150 milliliters 0.17 – 1.30
Spanish red wine 150 milliliters 0.29 – 1.89
Spanish rose wine 150 milliliters 0.06 – 0.53
Spanish white wine
150 milliliters
0.01 – 0.27

Resveratrol comprises of two isomers: cis- (Z) and trans- (E). Isomers are molecules comprising the same atoms, but the atoms are arranged as mirror images in three-dimensional space. Many claim the trans-resveratrol possesses the health benefits while cis-resveratrol does not. In Table 1, the total includes both the cis and trans resveratrols, and they usually occur in equal amounts.

The health supplement industry extracts resveratrol from red wine or red grapes or from the roots of Japanese and Chinese knotweed, known as polygonum cuspidatum. Japanese Knotweed, a type of bamboo, is an invasive weed. Many recommend not to plant knotweed in your yard because it quickly spreads and becomes difficult to control.

Gram for gram, peanuts provide about half the resveratrol as red wine and contain between 2.3 and 4.5 micrograms for every gram. On the other hand, sprouted peanuts supply comparable levels of resveratrol as grapes and yield between 11.7 and 25.7 micrograms per gram depending on the peanut cultivar.

Blueberries provide twice as much resveratrol as bilberries, but resveratrol levels vary greatly by region. These fruits possess less than 10% of the resveratrol of grapes. Cooking or heating the berries degrade resveratrol by half. Finally, health supplement industry sells the extract of the mulberry skins as a nutritional supplement.

Researchers also found resveratrol in the eastern white pine, Pinus strobus and the Chinese herb, Gnetum cleistostachyum.

Benefits of Resveratrol

Some researchers believe resveratrol explains the "French Paradox" – the French people have good cardiovascular health despite consuming a poor diet loaded with fats and copiously amounts of wine.

Some researchers, however, concluded the trace levels of resveratrol reached in the blood of French people cannot explain the paradox. They believe the benefits of wine originate from the multiple substances found in wine. For example, wine contains procyanidins that correlate with cardiovascular benefits. Grape seed extract also contains procyanidins.

Researchers mostly studied the effects of resveratrol in test tubes and animals. Thus, the researchers only suggest resveratrol could protect the human body against several diseases.

Anti-aging

Some refer to resveratrol as the “fountain of youth” because it appears to ward off many diseases associated with aging, enhance longevity, and boost the lifespan of human cells. Resveratrol protects the body’s cells from damaging free radicals – charged molecules inside the body that harm and damage healthy cells.

Scientific studies involving rodents indicate resveratrol could counteract the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. For example, mice consuming a high-calorie diet while taking resveratrol lived longer than mice not given resveratrol.

Even though scientists do not fully understand the chemical mechanisms of resveratrol's impact on extending life, resveratrol appears to mimic several biochemical effects of calorie-restriction diets. For instance, researchers recently have shown resveratrol activates three genes related to longevity. The three genes are SirT1s, Fox0s, and PBEFs. For instance, the SirT1 gene may protect the body against the diseases of aging and the damaging effects of obesity.

Other studies indicate resveratrol improves the functioning of the mitochondria, which help the cells convert nutrients into energy. Resveratrol's effect on human lifespan remains unclear as of 2011, but the evidence shows resveratrol boosts the life of yeast and mice.

Alzheimer's disease

Resveratrol, being unique among antioxidants, can protect the brain and nervous system by crossing the blood-brain barrier. Resveratrol may be effective against neuron dysfunction and cell death, and may, in theory, treat Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases. Resveratrol could protect nerve cells from damage and reduce the buildup of plaque that leads to Alzheimer's. However, researchers have not yet tested this in humans for any disease.

People can gain a mental edge by boosting the blood flow to their brains. UK researchers studied 22 healthy adults and determined resveratrol had increased blood flow to the nervous system. Furthermore, Illinois researchers discovered mice receiving resveratrol had better memory recall and increased mental performance.

Boost Testosterone

As men enter their thirties, their testosterone levels begin declining. According to Korean researchers, mice consuming resveratrol for 28 days had improved their blood concentration of testosterone by more than 50%. Consequently, resveratrol could raise natural testosterone production in men.

Cancer

French researchers indicated resveratrol could slow down the production of cancer cells because it interferes with all three stages of cancer development—initiation, promotion and progression. In some cancer cell cultures, resveratrol triggered apoptosis, which causes the cell to die, and thus kill the cancer cells. Resveratrol slowed the growth of human pancreatic cancer cells in test tubes and could wipe out skin and gastrointestinal tract tumors, where it comes into direct contact. Resveratrol, being similar to other polyphenols, shares similarities to chemotherapy, anticancer drugs, such as etoposide and doxorubicin.

Some researchers, nevertheless, discovered injecting high doses of resveratrol into young mice enhanced tumor growth.

Diabetes

Resveratrol could prevent insulin resistance – a condition where insulin cannot reduce the sugar levels in the blood. Insulin resistance usually leads to diabetes. Researchers experimenting with animals have demonstrated resveratrol can reduce the effects of diabetes.

Heart Disease

Center for Disease Control and Prevention ranked heart disease as the number one cause of death in the United States in 2011. Many know drinking red wine reduces the risk of heart disease. For example, by drinking one to two 5-ounce glasses of wine per day, participants significantly reduced their risk of developing atherosclerosis – a condition where fats deposit and collect in the arteries making them narrower. Atherosclerosis can lead to strokes and heart disease. Finally, wine lowers blood pressure, keeps the heart healthy, and improves the blood vessels' elasticity.

Researchers in Connecticut determined resveratrol conditions the heart, protecting it against cardiac events. Resveratrol helps reduce inflammation and inhibits the oxidation of LDL "bad" cholesterol. Hence, the blood's platelets stick together less and do not clot, thus reducing the chance of a heart attack.

Inflammation

Inflammation is the body's natural response. White blood cells defend the body from outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, some people always remain in a chronically inflamed state. Chronic inflammation damages the body and is connected to numerous diseases like heart disease. Researchers showed the resveratrol protects the body from sphingosine kinase and phospholipase D – two molecules known to trigger inflammation.

Protect Eyesight

People consider vision the most important of the five senses, and they will notice the slightest vision loss. Unfortunately, most people experience vision loss as a normal part of aging. Missouri researchers discovered resveratrol could counteract this vision loss because resveratrol can regulate angiogenesis – the forming of new blood vessels. Resveratrol prevents the abnormal growth of blood vessels that could damage eyesight.

Enhance Endurance

Resveratrol produces many benefits similar to exercise. Canadian researchers discovered in a 12-week study on rats that resveratrol supplements boost endurance, increase oxidative metabolism, and enhanced cardiac function. Thus, athletes cold combine endurance training and resveratrol supplements to boost their performance.

Weight Loss

We have little human evidence of resveratrol's effect on metabolism. However, resveratrol mimics a calorie-restricted diet. For example, it protected mice fed a high-calorie diet from obesity-related health problems. Animal studies have shown resveratrol helps overweight mice run farther and live about 20 percent longer.

Dosage and Side Effects

Like other supplements, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate resveratrol. Unfortunately, consumers do not know what they have bought when they purchase a bottle, or whether the supplements work.

Since researchers conducted few studies on resveratrol in humans, doctors cannot substantiate any benefits, and they do not know the long-term effects the supplements can have on the human body. Thus, the experts cannot recommend any specific dosage, and dosages vary from supplement to supplement.

Researchers had not detected any severe side effects even when users had taken resveratrol in large doses. In one small study, healthy volunteers had taken a single dose up to 5 grams of trans-resveratrol, and it caused no serious adverse effects. However, resveratrol may interact with blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin), and non-steroid, anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen, increasing bleeding risk.

Supplements vary in purity and can provide anywhere between 50% and 99% resveratrol. Many brands contain an extract of Japanese knotweed, and most supplements supply from 250 to 500 milligrams of resveratrol – much lower than the amounts the researchers used in animal studies. To get the equivalent dosage used in animal studies, people would need to take two grams of resveratrol, or 2,000 milligrams per day.

Some retailers advise women that resveratrol may interfere with oral contraceptives. Moreover, pregnant women or women intending to become pregnant should not use resveratrol because it may harm the human fetus. Finally, children or young adults under eighteen should not take resveratrol because we do not know how resveratrol could affect their developing bodies.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Super Nutrient – Spirulina

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

Some call Spirulina the super food because it packs all of nature’s essential nutrients into one little package. However, it is neither a herb nor plant but cyanobacteria which comprises of two species: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.

People in many countries and cultures across the world cultivate and consume Spirulina tablets, flakes, or powder either as a whole food or as a dietary supplement. Some farmers mix Spirulina into feeds for fish and animals.

Ancient man knew about Spirulina. The Aztecs and other Mesoamericans utilized spirulina as a food source until the 16th century. One of Cortes soldiers described the natives harvesting Spirulina cakes from Lake Texcoco. Even the European Space Agency and NASA suggested using Spirulina as a primary food source for astronauts to cultivate and grow during long-term space missions.

Nutritional Contents

Dried Spirulina comprises roughly 65% protein, and our bodies can utilize that protein with a net rate ranging between 50% and 61%. Spirulina furnishes all essential amino acids although it contains lower amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine as compared to the proteins from eggs, meat, and milk. The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated Spirulina has no edge over milk or meat as a protein source, and it costs roughly 30 times more per gram. On the other hand, Spirulina provides more protein than legumes.

Pregnant mothers, vegetarians, and patients afflicted with anemia or required a boost in immunity after surgery should take Spirulina because it has high concentrations of protein and natural, non-animal iron. Furthermore, Spirulina supplies high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, but also provides omega 6s, and 9s. Spirulina contains about 7% lipids (oils) by weight and is rich in the essential gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Spirulina also supplies:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Arachidonic acid (AA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
  • Linoleic acid (LA)
  • Stearidonic acid (SDA)
Researchers and scientists have used the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) to measure the antioxidant ability and concentration of different foods. An independent laboratory tested Spirulina and rated it 24,000 which exceeds the antioxidant power of blueberries by four times. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped publishing food tables with the ORAC score because the ORAC score correlates poorly to biological effects on the body. Spirulina still supplies three important antioxidants: Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Spirulina also includes the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide)
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
Experts believe people should not rely on spirulina as a source of Vitamin B12 although some tout Spirulina’s high B12 content. Spirulina supplements provide mostly pseudo-vitamin B12, which the human body cannot absorb and utilize. Hence, people should absorb their B12 from animal products. Spirulina furnishes over 26 times the calcium in milk, making it excellent supplement for children, the elderly, and expectant mothers, and it does not cause constipation. It also contains phosphorus that can help to re-mineralize the teeth. Furthermore, Spirulina provides the following minerals:

  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Selenium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc
Spirulina uses Chlorophyll to obtain its energy from the sun. The chlorophyll helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. Spirulina supplies many health-enhancing pigments such as:

  • 3'-hydroxyechinenone
  • Allophycocyanin
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin
  • Canthaxanthin
  • Chlorophyll-a
  • C-phycocyanin
  • Diatoxanthin
  • Echinenone
  • Myxoxanthophyll
  • Oscillaxanthin
  • Phycobiliproteins
  • Xanthophyll
  • Zeaxanthin

Health Benefits

Researchers studied Spirulina in animal and human studies. For example, Spirulina binds with radioactive isotopes and removes them from the body. Thus, Spirulina may help people exposed to radiation. Spirulina can also prevent damage caused by toxins and help protect the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles. Finally, researchers studied Spirulina to prevent chemotherapy-induced heart damage, recover from strokes, slow declines in age-related memory, and alleviate diabetes mellitus.

Spirulina supplies many health-boosting qualities even though it has the tastes and consistency of pond scum. Some believe Spirulina helps the body by:

  • Boosting the immune system
  • Strengthening the heart and circulatory system and promoting healthy cholesterol
  • Improving gastrointestinal and digestive health
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Naturally cleansing and detoxifying by binding with heavy metals in the body and removing them
  • Lowering cancer risks through its antioxidant power
  • Alleviating allergies and reducing allergic reactions
  • Satisfying appetite and helping in weight loss
  • Enhancing fat burning while exercising
  • Boosting endurance and strength in athletes
Spirulina contains 1% phycocyanobilin by weight. Phycocyanobilin inhibits NADPH oxidase, where NADPH stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate. What does this mean? The body can use NADPH to negatively charge oxygen molecules, so the oxygen kills microorganisms. However, these oxygen molecules move around in the body as free radicals. Thus, the phycocyanobilin in Spirulina prevents the NADPH into making free radicals. Furthermore, researchers believe the NADPH oxidase causes atherosclerosis, and if a substance could inhibit the NADPH oxidase, then this substance could reverse atherosclerosis. At this point, I am not suggesting Spirulina reverses atherosclerosis, but it is something to watch out for. (I kept NADPH in this blog because researchers are studying derivatives of NAD to slow down or reserve aging. NAD comprises one form of Vitamin B3).

Dosage and Toxic Effects

Spirulina had shown no harmful or toxic effects in humans or animals, even when they have consumed up to 800 milligrams per kilogram of body weight and have replaced 60% of their protein intake by Spirulina. In a 2009 study, 550 malnourished children consumed up to 10 grams per day of Spirulina powder with no adverse effects. In humans, researchers conducted small studies to evaluate Spirulina in undernourished children, to treat the cosmetic aspects of arsenic poisoning, to alleviate hay fever and allergic rhinitis, to reduce arthritis, to treat hyperlipidemia and hypertension, and to improve exercise tolerance.

People using any anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before taking Spirulina. It contains Vitamin K that can interfere with anti-coagulant medications that slow the clotting of blood.

People with phenylketonuria must avoid taking Spirulina because Spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine, roughly between 2.6 and 4.1 grams per 100 grams of Spirulina. Phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine. The phenylalanine accumulates in the brain, causing damage. Sufferers also cannot consume the artificial sweetener aspartame, or its brand name NutraSweet. Those with phenylketonuria should confer with a doctor before taking Spirulina.

The U.S. government does not regulate or enforce safety standards for Spirulina’s purity and manufacturing because it is a dietary supplement. Heavy-metal contamination of Spirulina supplements has also raised concern. For example, the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration discovered Spirulina supplements marketed in China were contaminated with lead, mercury, and arsenic.

Other types of cyanobacteria can contaminate Spirulina batches, creating toxic substances such as microcystins, BMAA (beta-Methylamino-L-alanine), and others. Microcystins can disturb the gastrointestinal tract and cause liver cancer in the long term. Thus, users should buy quality Spirulina supplements from well-known companies. Otherwise, they could risk developing cancer by chronic, long-term exposure to low levels of microcystins. Finally, BMAA can damage nerve cells and cause neurological disorders.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Power of Herbs, Supplements, and Natural Remedies

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

After reading passages from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, I begin wondering whether the passages contained a speck of truth - many of the early biblical figures easily lived to 900 years old. I began searching for herbs, supplements, and natural remedies that could extend life and prolong longevity. Even if I could not extend my life, I would at least want to live a quality life devoid of afflictions, illnesses, and health problems.

I became shocked after seeing my former high school friends suffer from debilitating health problems. For example, I tried to visit a friend in January 2014, and he would not open the door. As I peered through the living room window, he lay on the floor, as he strained for every breath. A plastic tube chained him to a nearby oxygen tank. He became enormous and could barely move. After he had spotted me in the window, he shooed me away. Another good friend from high school has deteriorating and collapsing vertebrae disks along his spine. Unfortunately, all the drinking and smoking during high school had caught up to them. Finally, after browsing through Facebook, the former cute high school girls have turned into grandmothers. Now, I know I am quickly advancing towards old age.

I worry about becoming afflicted with a debilitating health condition, so I started experimenting with legal herbs and supplements. I also do not want to rely on expensive, potent prescription drugs. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have no incentives to sell and market herbs and supplements because they cannot obtain patents to restrict sales and charge high prices. For example, patients could pay between $15 and $175 for a month supply of generic Plavix. Some refer to Plavix as the Cadillac of aspirins. On the other hand, aspirin costs less than $10 for 300 tablets or more. Originally, an inventor, Felix Hoffmann, created aspirin or acetylsalicylic acid from willow bark.

I search for good supplements for another reason. Pharmaceutical companies have no incentive to cure diseases. For example, Company X sells a 30-day medication that cures diabetes. The company knows each customer would buy a 30-day supply of medication, and after the person is cured, then the company loses the customer forever. However, if the company only sold the customer insulin, the customer would need to take insulin daily for the rest of his or her life. That translates into long term profits.

Pharmaceutical companies, furthermore, have a strong financial incentive to discredit the healing properties of herbs and supplements. They give grants to scientists and researchers who find problems with the herbs or discredit the herb's effectiveness. Remember, the pharmaceutical companies pay researchers to scour the world in search of new, exotic plants and species. Then chemists isolate and concentrate various chemicals and molecules from these plants and animals checking whether these molecules help a medical condition. Then the companies replicate these chemicals in the laboratory and obtain patents on them.

Niacin stories, for example, circulated in the news during the summer 2013. The news reported niacin causes infections, internal bleeding, and ulcers and in extreme cases, liver and heart failure. However, the news never reported the dosage level. The recommended daily dosage ranges between 14 and 18 milligrams. Some users would take 1,000 milligrams or more to alleviate diabetes, improve arthritis, and reduce cholesterol, and combat heart disease and atherosclerosis. So taking anything in massive doses would never be healthy to a person.

I limit the herbs I take because I do not want to overdo it and have one herb interfere or cancel another herb's power. If I keep my herb usage down to a minimum, then I pay less from the pocketbook. However, a company manufacturing supplements could charge greater prices on herbs and supplements that are gaining popularity. I do not worry about the costs of supplements because prescription medications usually vastly exceed the prices of herbs and supplements.

My Core Supplements

Hyaluronic acid and astaxanthin comprise my core supplements. I discovered hyaluronic acid first when I hit middle age and started encountering problems. My wrinkles were deepening and spreading while my complexion had an unhealthy reddish tint – a sign that constant inflammation was wreaking havoc on my body. I would experience dizziness if I stood up too quickly, and I often felt something pinching a nerve on the left side of my chest. After I had started taking hyaluronic acid, all these symptoms had disappeared. I started sleeping better while my thinking became more lucid. I began taking a 100-milligram tablet every day. Currently, I take a 100-milligram tablet every day. I vary the brands, so my body does not become used to one supplement. I rotate among:


After taking hyaluronic acid for five years, I started experiencing constant eyestrain and a constant pain in my feet. I accidentally came across astaxanthin and decided to try it. So I started taking the 12-milligram tablets from Healthy Originals. At first, I felt dizzy within an hour of taking astaxanthin, but this disappeared after two weeks. However, my foot pain and eyestrain had vanished overnight. I also have more energy, and jogging became much easier. I tried to reduce my dosage to 4 milligrams per day, but that dosage seems too weak. Currently, I take between 8 mg and 12 mg daily.

My Secondary Supplements

Although I added derivatives of B3, krill oil, and spirulina to my regimen, I feel well and have loads of energy. Unfortunately, I cannot tell whether these supplements are working but I provide a reason for taking them.

I started taking derivatives of vitamin B3 because scientists injected nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (abbreviated NAD+) into mice to reverse aging. It may be difficult to get NAD+, but I ordered reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) from iHerb. I sometimes take 10 mg of NADH, and I feel a burst of energy after taking it. At this time, I do not understand how reduced NAD differs from NAD+. Currently, I take 100 milligrams of niacinamide daily because the human body can more easily convert niacinamide into NAD+ than niacin. Niacin comprises the other form of B3, which can cause niacin flush. Niacin dilates the blood vessels near the skin, causing a tingling sensation of the skin and giving the skin a reddish flush.

I started taking fish oil tablets long ago because they contain the omega 3 fatty acids: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Then I switched to Krill Oil in February 2014 because I wanted to try something different. The supplement industries extract Kill Oil from a tiny shrimp-like crustacean. Krill Oil also contains traces of astaxanthin as a bonus.

I take Spirulina because every large tablet is loaded with natural vitamins, minerals, and other healthy ingredients. I consider it my natural multivitamin and take one 1,000-milligram tablet daily.

Experimental Supplements

I am always searching to expand my knowledge of herbs, natural remedies, and supplements. Currently, I started experimenting with Lingzhi, a mushroom the Chinese associate with longevity and long life. I occasionally drink a tonic or tea made from it. I hope that I do not have to drink Lingzhi daily, or I will live a short life. The drink packs quite a nasty punch. Besides, I am interested in other traditional Chinese mushrooms such as Cordyceps and Yunzhi. These mushrooms help promote longevity and slow down the aging process.

I also heard about French Bark Extract that contains pycnogenols – powerful antioxidants contained in tree bark. Unfortunately, the extract is gaining popularity, and GNC sells it for a premium. However, I buy Asta-Pycnogenol from Cosway, a Malaysian pharmacy chain. Each tablet supplies 50 mg of Maritime Pine Bark extract and 100 mg of haematococcus pluvialis containing 4% of astaxanthin.

I started taking resveratrol and grape seed extract daily. I found the brand, Reversage, in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Every tablet contains 100 mg of grape seed extract and 200 mg of Japanese Knotweed extract. Knotweed supplies resveratrol, another anti-aging compound.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Ancient Chinese Mushroom – Lingzhi

I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:

The Chinese knew Lingzhi or Ganoderma Lucidum for 2,000 years while the Japanese call it Reishi. Lingzhi, an herbal mushroom, possesses many miraculous health benefits. The Chinese associate Lingzhi with a long life and call it the "Mushroom of Immortality" or the "Elixir of Life." Many recognize Lingzhi as one of the most effective medicinal herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 2000 years. Lingzhi is often depicted in images with the God of Longevity.

Li Shi-Zhen wrote about Lingzhi in the Ben Cao Gang Mu in 1590 AD during the Ming Dynasty, one of the first pharmacology books in China. The Supplement to the Materia Medica, published between 502 and 536 AD mentions Lingzhi. They attributed Lingzhi with boosting energy, strengthening the heart and circulatory system, enhancing memory, slowing aging, and extending longevity.

Lingzhi naturally grows in densely wooded mountains with high humidity and dim lighting. Hikers and explorers find it thriving on the dried trunks of dead plum trees. Wild Lingzhi grows on two or three plum trees out of 10,000, making it extremely rare. Before the health industries could cultivate it, only the wealthy and nobility could afford to take it.

As the Lingzhi mushrooms ripen, they release spores – the seeds to germinate the next generation of mushrooms. The spores pack more potency than the mushrooms, and thus carry more value. Before people can consume the spores, they must be cracked so it can release the beneficial chemicals and active ingredients.

Lingzhi contains polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, organic germanium, alkaloids, and amino acids. Polysaccharides help boost the immune system and increase the action of white blood cells. Beta-glucans, forms of complex sugars, prevent and slow down the growth and spread of cancer cells. Some people add Lingzhi to green tea to inhibit tumor growth. Finally, the triterpenes give the mushroom its bitter taste and help reduce blood pressure and relieve allergies. Some believe Lingzhi enhances a person's health by:

  • Improving the body's use of oxygen and relieving coughs and asthma
  • Alleviating allergies
  • Restoring and boosting immunity
  • Enhancing physical endurance and sharpening mental abilities
  • Calming the mind and the nervous system
  • Improving circulation and reducing blood pressure
  • Regulating the glucose levels in the blood
  • Slowing down and preventing the spread of cancer
  • Helping the body to eliminate toxins
  • Positively influencing the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys

Chinese philosophy refers to the qi or chi – the life force circulating through the body. They believe people become sick and unhealthy if this life force becomes unbalanced in the body. The healers (if you believe in this) use acupuncture, acupressure, and Lingzhi to restore the qi's balance.

If you are taking immune-suppressing drugs, then you may want to avoid taking Lingzhi. Lingzhi may counteract these drugs because it potentially stimulates the immune system.

Since I live in Malaysia with a large Chinese community, I easily found Lingzhi at the Chinese herbal stores. Ironically, the clerks asked politely if I have cancer. I replied no and say I am searching for the Fountain of Youth.

I bought dried, sliced Lingzhi, shown below. Although the Lingzhi looks like wood chips, it makes one nasty cup of tea. I boil about six slices of Lingzhi in water for 15 minutes, pour it into a coffee cup, and add a teabag.


I also found a pre-made mix of Lingzhi and ginseng in liquid form. Each box shown below comes with six small bottles of dark, ominous looking liquid. According to directions, an adult drinks one bottle per day, six days in a row.

The top of the box:


The bottom of the box:

Friday, 4 July 2014

Engaging Students in Economic Courses

Introduction

Many students find economics courses difficult because the courses are technical, abstract, and theoretical. Unfortunately, the students fail to grasp concepts, ideas, and theories in economics, and they never learn to apply economics to relevant events in their lives [1].


Many economics instructors contribute to the learning problems of economics because the graduate programs do not prepare students to teach economics [2]. Instead, the graduate programs teach and train students in economics analysis. If these students enter the academe and begin teaching, they lack modern teaching techniques. Furthermore, college and university administrators only require the instructor to complete a graduate degree in economics in order to teach economics [3]. These new professors resort to the chalk and talk as they were taught in graduate school.


For students to learn economics, the professors must use engaging examples, cases, and puzzles to encourage students to learn [3, 4]. Unfortunately, most students never discover the connections and links between theory, mathematics, and application to real-world problems [5]. Then economics courses gain a bad reputation that frightens the students away [1]. Subsequently, the students usually rate the economics instructors the lowest on campus as compared to professors teaching other subjects [6].


Professors have few incentives to improve their teaching, and according to Elzinga [7], the economics profession produces few great teachers. Even if instructors become aware of pedagogies to improve their teaching, they rarely implement them [7]. Professors and instructors have no incentive to improve their teaching. Besides, this additional effort detracts time away from critical research. University administrators usually reward professors and instructors on their research and the amount and value of grants the professors bring into the universities. Unfortunately, the instructors cannot share their current research with the undergraduate students. Researchers write highly technical, theoretical articles filled with mathematics. Most students would not understand them [2] because the content of the scholarly articles vastly exceeds their comprehension.


The undergraduate economics courses are not improving. In many cases, professors teach material that they never use in their profession themselves [3]. They continue adding topics and raising the course’s complexity while the textbooks become thicker and more ominous [1, 8]. The students never master the basic ideas because the instructors keep forcing and exposing the students to learn more topics [1]. After completing the course, the students quickly forget their economic knowledge [1].


For instructors to change their teaching habits, colleges and universities must experience stress to force people within the institution to change. For example, many economics departments witnessed a 30% drop in economics majors during 1991 [2]. Several scholars showed interests to improve teaching economics to reverse this trend [2]. Furthermore, the economics profession spurred research in improving the effectiveness in teaching, helping professors to meet their research obligations [8]. Unfortunately, this trend has reversed itself, and students started majoring in economics in large numbers again removing the stress from the colleges and universities.


Two factors, however, may put economics departments under stress again. First, the population in the United States is aging, and fewer young people graduate from high schools. Thus, fewer students will enroll at colleges and universities. Second, college graduates are experiencing difficulties in finding employment in their specialties in the difficult U.S. job market. Young people started questioning whether to attend college especially if they must finance their education with student loans, which have surpassed $1.1 trillion in 2014 in the United States. Consequently, universities and colleges will shift their focus on retaining students, forcing professors and instructors to put more effort into their teaching.


This reflection helps me move beyond the convention in economics and improve my teaching. I want the students to remember the ideas, theories, and concepts they had learned in economics after the course ends. Then students will retain economic knowledge for the rest of their lives, contributing to their future insights, decisions, and thinking.


Teaching Feedback and Teaching Quality

During my first semester at Curtin University – Sarawak, attendance continued dropping at the tutorials, and students were silent during class discussions. I resorted to old habits and would cram as much material as I could within that one hour because I had more tutorial questions than I could cover during the time. I kept forgetting the golden teaching rule – a learning constraint depends on how quickly students can learn and master the material, and not the speed the instructor can cover it [1, 3].


I used a five-minute evaluation to rate my teaching style half way into the course. The five-minute survey contains 19 questions, and the questions are organized into five groups: Content and Coverage, Knowledge, Communication, Engagement, and Organization. For each question, students rated my teaching style on a scale: 5 (excellent), 4 (good), 3 (satisfactory), 2 (low), and 1 (very low).


Only 90 out of 140 students had completed the questionnaires. I could have a sample bias if the absent students were not engaged and skipped class because they found the class useless. I displayed the data as a histogram.


Students answered four questions for the Content and Coverage. The question and its corresponding histogram are displayed in Table 1. From the results, I need to improve my teaching. Even though the most common response was a 4, the second most common equaled 3, or satisfactory. Consequently, I must change the content of my courses and implement more active learning because students are not receiving enough content and coverage from my course.


Table 1. Content and Coverage
1. The material was covered in enough depth for my needs. 2. Then material covered helped me to tackle the assessment tasks effectively.
3. The material was covered at the right depth with regard to my previous learning. 4. The teacher showed how topics and theories in the unit were related to each other.


The students rated my knowledge of economics highly in Table 2. For Question 5, most responses recorded a 5 with the second being a 4. For the other two questions, students rated me as a 4 for most responses and 5 for the second most common response. Thus, students believe I possess a high-level of knowledge in economics.


Table 2. Knowledge
5. My lecturer had current knowledge of the subject. 6. My lecturer seemed well informed on the material presented.
7. My lecturer was well informed in related subject areas.



Communication skills comprise another strong trait. I decompose complicated ideas down into small parts and pieces, transforming the complicated ideas into simpler ones. Then I show how the parts and pieces work, and how they relate to the bigger picture. This aspect of my teaching shows on the Communication part of the questionnaire in Table 3. Most students rated my communication as 4 with 5 being the second most common response. Boex [9] determined the lecturers’ ability to present the material becomes the second most important characteristic for effective teaching and learning.


Table 3. Communication
8. My lecturer explained concepts clearly. 9. My lecturer had a style of presentation that allowed me to take adequate notes.
10. My lecturer used examples, applications, analogies, or illustrations that increased my understanding. 11. My lecturer communicated his/her enthusiasm for the subject.


According to Table 4, one area I need to improve is help students engage in their learning. Although the most common response was 4, the second most common response was a 3 for three questions. Unfortunately, I resorted to the chalk and talk, trying to cram as much material as I could within the hour. I overwhelmed some of my students and lost their engagement and interests during the lessons.


Instructors should engage students in economics courses because undergraduate economics courses build upon knowledge over time. In order to succeed, students must completely understand the material taught in the first week of class in order to comprehend the material in the second week [2]. Then the courses continue building upon the knowledge learned in earlier times throughout the course. If the students are not engaged in their learning at the beginning of the course, they will likely experience problems throughout the course. For instance, Boex [9] discovered motivating students was the third most important characteristic of effective economics instructors, and engaging students could help motivate the students.


Table 4. Engagement.
12. My lecturer used a style of presentation that held my interest. 13. My lecturer encouraged students to participate in the class.
14. My lecturer was made to feel that I was a valuable member of the class. 15. My lecturer was motivated to work hard in this unit.


Boex [9] determined the most important attribute for teaching effectiveness is the lecturers explain concepts and theories with clarity and organization. As shown in Table 5, organization is one of my strong traits in teaching. I strive to write notes on the whiteboard clearly and succinctly with plenty of bullets and numbering as I break down complicated ideas into simpler ones. On two questions, the most common response was 5 with 4 being the second. However, on the other two questions, most responses were 4 with 3 being the second. Unfortunately, I did not coordinate different learning activities into the course and did not clearly outline the objectives. Hence, I will change my teaching methodology and experiment with techniques to engage students better.


Table 5. Organization
16. My lecturer was well prepared for each class. 17. Different learning activities were well coordinated.
18. My lecturer set out clear objectives for each teaching session. 19.  My lecturer used class time effectively.


Engaging Students



I developed three strategies to improve students’ engagement for economics courses. First, I will develop and use more team activities for the economics tutorials. Second, I plan to implement more current events into the classroom, showing students how economists analyze the real world. Finally, I will experiment with Gapminder, when I lecture on economic ideas and concepts involving several countries.

Team Activities

I changed my teaching tactics half way through the semester for my tutorials and implemented more group activities. The desks in the tutorial classrooms are clustered into four seats along a row. Thus, the students formed groups comprising between two and four members. Then the groups worked on an activity during the tutorial. Wilson [10] had shown when students work in teams, they usually produce superior work than students working individually. Teams with four or five members can process information efficiently and arrive at the best solutions [10].


The first team activity illustrated the similarities and differences between private goods, public goods, quasi-public goods, and common resources. I wrote two definitions on the whiteboard:


  1. Rival – one person consuming a good prevents another person from consuming that same good.
  2. Excludable – provider of a good or service can restrict sales to paying consumers.


Conversely, students would know non-rival and non-excludable as opposites of the definitions. Furthermore, I defined quasi as almost or similarly. I usually define unfamiliar terms to the students because mastering the vocabulary comprises a large portion of learning economics.


Students worked as teams to classify the following goods using the two definitions. Every team had a handout that is presented in Appendix A. I gave further information in the parenthesis below for some goods to make the examples clearer.
  • public health
  • national park
  • police force
  • national defense (army and navy to protect the nation)
  • suburban roads (e.g. roads around Curtin University)
  • Community Business District (CBD) roads (e.g. roads in downtown Miri)
  • Internet
  • Tigers (the animals and not the beer)
  • broadcast TV (over the airwaves)
  • Foxtel (Similar to a channel on Astro)
  • pizza


After ten minutes, we went through the activity to classify the goods.


Another activity illustrates how the little pieces relate to the whole economy. I showed how a central bank uses contractionary monetary policy to influence the economy. I drew a flow chart of the economy, similar to the flow chart in Appendix B. I extensively wrote why each piece behaves the way it does with each piece having the following information.


  • Central bank: Sells assets that removes funds and money from the banking system

  • Bank reserves: Banks have less funds to lend and borrow

  • Cash rate: The interest rate rises

  • Other interest rates: interest rates usually move together. If the cash rate increases, then other interest rates tend to rise.

  • Interest rates affect the economy.
    • Consumers reduce their consumption (C) and increase their savings because they can earn greater interest rates from their bank accounts.
    • Businesses reduce their investments (I) because their borrowing costs rise.
    • Central bank removes money from the economy, making money more scarce.
      • Thus, money becomes more valuable.
      • Currency would appreciate.
      • Exports (X) fall while imports (M) rises.

  • Equation relates changes in Aggregate Demand, AD = C + I + G + X – M
    • Since C, I, and X fall while M increases, the aggregate demand shifts leftward.
    • Both real GDP and the price level fall, which causes deflation and rising unemployment.
  • Note – The Reserve Bank of Australia directly controls the cash rate and would increase it for contractionary monetary policy.


After explaining contractionary monetary policy to the students, they worked as teams to complete the impact of expansionary monetary policy on the economy. Appendix B shows the correct, brief answers for expansionary monetary policy.


Students responded to the group activities well as I diminished the monotony of chalk-and-talk lecturing.


Applying Ideas and Concepts of Economics to Current Events

Another teaching technique is the instructors restrict the number of topics covered in economics courses and focus their resources to help students deepen their understanding of essential ideas and concepts. Then students apply and use the core ideas and concepts repeatedly to solve problems, puzzles, and questions the students will experience throughout their lives [1]. For example, the instructor applies ideas and concepts to a current event during class by illustrating topics found in student newspapers, country’s newspapers, or The Economist. Furthermore, the students could bring a magazine or newspaper article to class [4]. Then students use the concepts and ideas they had learned to analyze the article [4]. For higher-level economics courses, students can further their analysis by applying more analytical and critical thinking skills to analyze their news articles [4].


Applying economics to current events helps align the instructor’s activities to achieve the outcome goals of Economics 100. For example, students analyze and evaluate economic issues using the theory they had learned in class. Students use thinking skills because they analytically solve problems and analyze real world events. Subsequently, students use information skills to investigate new ideas. Finally, students gain an international perspective if they analyze articles from other countries [11].


Students will benefit because not only do they gain insights to understand economics [4], but they may enjoy the economics courses more. If a student performs poorly on the exam, then instructors can utilize the analyzing articles as a supplementary tool to assess students' learning [4]. Finally, instructors do not need as much time to conduct classroom experiments after they started using it [4]. The teaching technique becomes a habit.

Gapminder

Instructors could add software to bring complex economic ideas to life during a lecture. For example, lecturers can use Gapminder – a trend-analyzing software tool that utilizes colorful graphics to display how variables move over time. Hence, the software converts sterile statistical data into colorful, animated graphs that livens boring numbers [12]. A screenshot is displayed in Figure 1. Gapminder has several applications in macroeconomics when instructors discuss key macroeconomic variables such as Gross Domestic Product, inflation, and economic growth. Gapminder was founded in 2005 by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling as a non-profit venture [12].


Figure 1. Screenshot of Gapminder



Conclusion

One of the valuable lessons I derived from my teaching reflection is to keep my course material fresh and current. For example, Elzinga [7] referred to IBM using tying contracts during the 1970s by forcing its customers to buy both computers and punch cards together. He would bring a punch card to lecture to show the students since companies were using punch cards when the student’s parents attended elementary school. Furthermore, I should keep experimenting with teaching techniques to discover novel methods to raise my students’ learning. Then students can utilize the knowledge they gained from my courses throughout their lives.


References

[1] Hansen, W. L., Salemi, M. K., & Siegfried, J. J. 2002. "Use it or lose it: Teaching literacy in the economics principles course." American Economic Review, 92: 463-472.


[2] Gullason, E. T. 2009. "A compilation and synthesis of effective teaching strategies in the economics discipline." Journal of Business & Economic Studies, 15: 83-96.


[3] Bartlett, R. 1993. Empty buses: Thoughts on teaching economics. Eastern Economic Journal, 19, 441-446.


[4] Zhang, Xu and Richard Vogel. 2010. “Making Economics Relevant: Introducing Social and Global Issues into the Classroom.” Faculty Resource Network. Available from http://www.nyu.edu/frn/publications/engaging.students/Zhang.Vogel.html (Accessed 6/9/2014).


[5] Peart, S. J. 1994. The education of economists: Teaching what economists do. Journal of Economic Education, 25, 81-87.


[6] Cashin, W. E. 1990. Students do rate academic fields differently. In M. Theale & J. Franklin (Eds.), Student ratings of instruction: Issues for improving practice; new direction for teaching and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; pp. 113-121.


[7] Elzinga, K. G. 2001. Fifteen theses on classroom teaching. Southern Economic Journal. 68: 249-257


[8] Johnston, C., McDonald, I., & Williams, R. 2001. The scholarship of teaching economics. Journal of Economic Education, 32, 195-201.


[9] Boex, L. F. J. 2000. Attributes of effective economics instructors: An analysis of student evaluations. Journal of Economic Education, 31: 211-227.


[10] Wilson, P. N. 2005. Mutual gains from team learning: A guided design classroom exercise. Review of Agricultural Economics, 27: 288-296.


[11] School of Economics and Finance. 28 Feb 2014. 1234 Economics 100. Curtin Business School, Miri Sarawak Campus.


 [12] Gapminder. na. About Gapminder. Available at http://www.gapminder.org/about-gapminder/our-mission/#.U6E7gqCgZws (access date 6/18/2014)



Appendix A





Appendix B