Author: Crystal Bentley

A Beginner’s Experience with Container Gardening

We’re often encouraged to eat fresh veggies as part of a healthy diet (1), but the produce section can be expensive (2). Container gardening may be a cheaper alternative (3).  This is my second year attempting to grow plants in containers, and I have found that plants require a little more than just sun, dirt, and water.  Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Choose the Right Plants
Make sure to choose plants that will grow in your area at the time you’re trying to grow them.  For the second year in a row, I’ve had the vision of growing my own tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro for salsa, but I’ve planted all of these plants outside at the same time.  After planting, I learned tomatoes grow in the summer (4), but cilantro turns to seed in the heat (5).  This means I won’t be able to make salsa from my garden again this year.

Once you’ve decided what to plant, you’ll need to decide between plants and seeds.  If you’re using seeds, start them in small containers and then transfer them to your larger container once they’ve grown several pair of leaves (6).  It’s hard to tell how many seeds will survive from the original planting (6).  If you try to start them directly in the final container, you could end up like me with way too many peas to trellis and no surviving spinach.  If you are buying plants from the store, make sure the leaves look whole, green and healthy, and the plant is compact and full (7).

Lesson #2: Choose the right containers
Most plants come with a tag stating how far apart they should be spaced.  This spacing allows plants to get enough nutrients and keeps them from casting too much shade on each other (8).  Your containers should be large enough to accommodate this spacing and allow for proper planting depth.  This year, we almost planted tomatoes in a 5” high pot when their roots need to grow 12” deep.

Lesson #3: Location, Location, Location
Even if you have space for containers, make they get enough sun.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight each day (9).  However, sun may not be your only location issue.  Unless you want to rub your plants with cotton swabs (10), you may want to consider how your plant gets pollinated.  Carrots and spinach typically rely on the wind to help pollinate them (11).  This means they need to be far enough away from the building that the wind can reach them.  Other plants like cucumber and squashes like insects to help pollinate them (11).  Therefore, there needs to be enough flowers in the area to attract pollinators (12).  Last year, my tomatoes were too close to the house and I didn’t have any flowers around my garden.  I only harvested 4 tomatoes, and I didn’t get a single pepper.

Lesson #4: Beware of Dog
Your pets may be curious about the new smells and fresh dirt.  Especially, if your fertilizer has a strong scent or your containers are light, watch pets around fresh plantings.  I have had to re-plant some plants and clean up overturned buckets.

Container gardening can be a cheap way to get your veggies.  Hopefully, my lessons learned will help you have fresh veggies all summer.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? [Online] January 12, 2016.
  2. Increasing Access and Affordability of Produce Improves Perceived Consumption of Vegetables in Low-Income Seniors. Abusabha, Rayane, Namjoshi, Dipti and Klein, Amy. s.l. : Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 111, pp. 1549-1555. Research and Professional Briefs.
  3. Cancler, Carole. How to start a vegetable garden on the cheap. Living on the Cheap. [Online]
  4. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Growing Tomatoes. The Old Farmer’s Almanax. [Online]
  5. Burpee. All About Cilantro. Burpee. [Online]
  6. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Starting Seeds Indoors. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. [Online]
  7. Ianotti, Marie. How to Choose Healthy Plants. The Spruce. [Online] 2 17, 2017.
  8. The Importance of Plant Spacing. Grow Great Vegetables. [Online]
  9. Banks, Shawn and Bradley, Lucy. Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide. NC State Extension. [Online] September 4, 2015.
  10. VegiBee. Garden Pollinators. VegiBee. [Online]
  11. University of Georgia Extension. Pollination of Vegetable Crops. University of Georgia Extension. [Online] November 30, 2014.
  12. Admin. Attracting Bees To The Vegetable Garden. VeggieGardener. [Online] April 8, 2010.
  13. Jones, Gardening. Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators. Horticulture Magazine. [Online] January 21, 2014.


Looking at Our Health Care System

By now, we’ve probably all heard statements comparing United States’ health care against other countries- we have the most expensive healthcare (1), we have many suffering due to lack of access (2), medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy  (3), etc.  Then we’re met with opinions who like our healthcare system stating that Americans have choice (4), we have better technology (5), we treat patients quickly (6), and the list goes on.

Many Americans seem to take pride in our capitalist healthcare system. I know that I grew up hearing that all other systems were socialized medicine which removed the incentives to innovate and increased wait times for patient care.  However, I have recently looked more closely into other health care systems, and it has caused me to re-examine the stories of my youth.

For today, I would like to examine Germany’s healthcare system.  Even though everyone has health insurance, they still use a mix of public and private insurance companies (7), their costs are lower than American healthcare (8), they have similar wait times (8), no one is going bankrupt due to medical bills (9), and they continue to innovate (10).

I don’t presume to know how to change our health care system, but I do believe it is time to turn it upside down.  In the 1990’s, Switzerland successfully moved away from a system structured like ours to one that granted universal coverage (11).  I believe that if they can take care of their own, then so can we.

I know that an overhaul will take lots of conversations and time.  For now, I ask that we start questioning if this really is the best health care system for all Americans or is it just the best one for the healthy and wealthy.  If you think that we are no longer serving everyone, then I encourage you to be part of the conversation.  Even if you don’t have to wait a long time for a doctor, should another American have to wait because they don’t have insurance?



  1. Peterson-Kaiser. Total Health Spending. Kaiser Family Foundation. [Online] March 19, 2017.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Access to Health Care. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] May 3, 2017.
  3. Backman, Maurie. This is the No. 1 reason Americans file for bankruptcy. USA Today. [Online] May 5, 2017.
  4. Speaker Ryan Press Office. The American Health Care Act: Fact Sheet. Speaker Paul Ryan. [Online] March 7, 2017.
  5. Evans, Maria. What Are the Benefits of the United States Health Care System? Pocket Sense. [Online] October 25, 2017. 2017.
  6. Dhand, Suneel. 5 things that make U.S. health care great. [Online] August 5, 2014.
  7. Carroll, Aaron E. and Frakt, Austin. The Best Health Care System in the World: Which One Would You Pick? The New York Times. [Online] September 18, 2017.
  8. Bernstein, Lenny. Once again, U.S. has most expensive, least effective health care system in survey. The Washington Post. [Online] June 16, 2014.
  9. Underwood, Anne. Health Care Abroad: Germany. The New York Times. [Online] September 29, 2009.
  10. German Foreign Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Innovative German medical technology a key healthcare industry driver. German Foreign Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. [Online] January 5, 2018.
  11. Thacher, Emily. Switzerland: Regarding Health System Reform. The Yale Global Health Review. [Online] October 3, 2015.




Health Benefits of Video Games

For years, video gamers have gotten a bad rap.  They’re viewed as pasty hermits hiding in their parents’ basements, living off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew.  However, the growing popularity of online cooperative games is finally overturning this stereotype.

Ten years ago, many of my friends played World of Warcraft, the ultimate stereotypical “gamer nerd” game.  Though these friends would wear the title “nerd” with honor, they didn’t fit the loner typecast that the media portrays.  For them, games were just another outlet for their already rich social lives.  Research has shown us that loneliness and social isolation can be detrimental to health by increasing stress hormones and inflammation (1).  My friends rightfully felt that they were caring for themselves by playing games.

The social benefit of games shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Kids started gathering to play Nintendo and Atari decades ago.  I spent much of my childhood getting laughed at by a cartoon dog because I was a poor shot in Duck Hunt.  Advances in internet technology now allow people to play together without sharing the same space, and this has led to a proliferation of online gaming.  Some say the explosion began with Call of Duty 2 in 2005, which has sold over 5,800,000 copies to date (2), and it continues with Fortnite: Battle Royal, which gained 10 million players in its first two weeks (3).  With these ever-increasing numbers, we can assume that players are getting something positive from their experiences.

As online gaming expands, more and more people are scrutinizing its possible health effects.  Critics often ignore games’ social benefits and fear that by exposing children to violent games, they may become violent themselves (4).  However, this theory has been debunked, and games are no more harmful than TV or movies (4).  Plus, some evidence suggests that games may actually be beneficial to health.  According to an article by the American Psychological Association, video games likely increase learning, health, and social skills (2).

So, if you’re wanting to pick up a copy of the next hot game, go for it.  It may be good for your health.




  1. Kluger, Jeffrey. 5 Ways Loneliness Can Hurt Your Health. [Online] November 13, 2017.
  2. Murphy, Richard. How significantly has Call of Duty changed gaming? Games Radar. [Online] November 1, 2013.
  3. Lumb, David. ‘Fortnite: Battle Royale’ claims 10 million players. Engadget. [Online] October 11, 2017.
  4. Gentile, Douglas (interviewee) and Shapiro, Ari (host). What Research Says About Video Games And Violence In Children. All Things Considered Radio Program. [Online] National Public Radio, March 3, 2018.
  5. Bowen, Lisa. Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds. Monitor on Psychology. February 2014, Vol. 45, 2.
  6. Gerencer, Tom. How Much Money Has Every Call of Duty Game Made? Money Nation. [Online] December 23, 2015.





RICE your knees…How to care for a sports injury

As the weather is starting to warm up, many of us are thinking about getting outside and getting active.  With this increased movement, it’s no wonder that a search of google trends from 2004-2016 showed that April of each year is the most common month for searches related to knee injuries (1).

The R.I.C.E. method is one of the most commonly recommended ways to treat sports injuries to joints and muscles.  It has even received a stamp of approval from the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (2).  This method has 4 steps:


R is for Rest  Try to avoid using the injured area and putting weight on it for 24-48 hours if possible (3)

I is for Ice Every 4 hours, put rice on the injury for 20 minutes at a time (3).  For comfort, you can place a thin cloth between the ice bag and your skin (2).

C is for Compression Wrap the area with a bandage, like an ACE wrap, in order to gently compress the injured area.  This will help control swelling.  Just be careful not to wrap it too tight and cut of your blood flow (3).

E is for Elevation This is your opportunity to sit and prop your feet (or other injured spot) up.  Use pillows or other comfortable items to try to keep the area above the level of your heart.  This can reduce swelling (3).


Once you start feeling better, you can SLOWLY and GENTLY start using the injured area again.  Also, if you’re not sure how bad you’ve hurt yourself, be sure to get it checked out by a medical provider.



  1. Using Google Trends To Assess For Seasonal Variation In Knee Injuries. Dewan, Varun and Sur, Hartej. February 21, 2018, Journal of Arthroscopy and Joint Surgery.
  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. How to Care for a Sprained Ankle. American Orhopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. [Online]
  3. Sports Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. How to Use the R.I.C.E Method for Treating Injuries. UPMC Health Beat. [Online] August 27, 2014.



Welcome to Allergy Season

Right now, there is a yellow haze covering the state of North Carolina.  Noses are running, eyes are watering, and there are sneezes galore.  Welcome to allergy season.  Five North Carolina cities made the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s list of the worst 100 U.S. cities for allergy sufferers (1).


If you’re feeling the effects of seasonal allergies, there are some things you can do in order to keep breathing clearly.

  1. Try to avoid tracking pollen into your home. This includes taking off your shoes when you come inside and wiping down pets when they come in.
  2. Dust and vacuum your home. Though the cleaning may stir up dust and make allergies worse in the short term, getting rid of allergens in your home can make a big difference overall.
  3. Netti pots are something else you can try if you’re not wanting to take medication. These allow you to flush your nasal passages with saline in order to wash the allergens out.
  4. Try an antihistamine. There are many over the counter antihistamines that can help decrease allergy symptoms.  Common non-drowsy options include loratadine and fexofenadine.  Diphenhydramine is another option, but it does make most people sleepy.  Cetirizine is one other over the counter antihistamine that make some people sleepy.
  5. Some people also benefit from an over the counter nasal steroid like fluticasone. It often takes 2-3 days of use before you see benefits, so it may not help much in the short term.  However, it can decrease overall nasal allergy symptoms.

As always, be sure to read the directions on over the counter medications, and check with your doctor if you have any other medical conditions before you try any new medicine.


Work Cited

  1. Asthma and Allergy Foundation. Spring Allergy Capitals 2016. Asthma and Allergy Foundation. [Online] 2016.

Crystal Bentley is a registered nurse with 2 years of dedicated allergy experience.







New Body Organ Found

Science and technology has come a long way since the iconic Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body was published in 1858.  Yesterday, researchers rendered this and all other anatomy textbooks obsolete when they announced they have found a new organ in the human body- the interstitium (1).

Long thought to be just a network of connective tissue, the interstitium is actually a network of fluid filled compartments that is attached to our skin and surrounds our blood vessels, lungs, muscles, and gut.  The fluid compartments seem to be connected, allowing lymph (a vital fluid in our immune system) to flow easily (1).

The researchers believe that the combination of connective tissue and fluid compartments in the interstitium help keep the rest of our organs and skin from tearing.  Additionally, they believe that the flow of fluid through this tissue may contribute to the spread of cancers after they invade lymph nodes (1).

Histologists and biology students alike never saw the interstitium on microscope slides because we typically secure tissue cuttings onto slides with a chemical that dries away liquids from cells.  This removed the fluid compartments and left behind a residue of connective tissue.  However, newer technology has started shining lasers at living cells, and this has allowed us to see the interstitium (1).

This marks the second organ discovery in the last two years (2).  Who knows what we’ll find next.




  1. NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine. Newfound ‘organ’ had been missed by standard method for visualizing anatomy. Science Daily. [Online] March 27, 2018.
  2. Embury-Dennis, Tom. Mesentery: New organ discovered inside human body by scientists (and now there are 79 of them). The Independent. [Online] January 3, 2017.



What’s going on with the HPV vaccine?

HPV is the most common STI, and 9 of every 10 people will have an infection at some point in their lives (1).  This virus can cause cancers in the cervix, penis, mouth, and oropharynx (2), and it also causes genital warts (3).  Even though a vaccine exists against HPV, less than half of teens are up to date on all of their doses of these shots (2).

Part of the reason behind these low vaccination rates are due to parents concerns regarding vaccine safety and fear that vaccination will encourage sexual activity (4).  Though all vaccines, including this one, have potential side effects, the HPV vaccine is considered safe (4). Additionally, studies have shown that the HPV vaccine does not make teens more likely to start having sex (4).

The way providers approach talking about the HPV has also influenced vaccine rates, and strong provider endorsement seems to improve vaccinations (5).  On Monday, March 19, Chris Noronha spoke with the Interdisciplinary Health Communications Class about the work he is doing with Noel Brewer on provider communication regarding the HPV vaccine.  They have found that when providers mention the HPV vaccine in the same list as other vaccines that are due at age 11, vaccination rates increase.

If you’re interested in the HPV vaccine, it may not be too late.  You can receive the series through age 26 (1).  Contact your provider if you’re interested.


Works Cited
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] January 30, 2018.
  2. Aubrey, Allison. This Vaccine Can Prevent Cancer, But Many Teenagers Still Don’t Get It. National Public Radio. [Online] February 19, 2018.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is HPV. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] December 20, 2016.
  4. —. Talking to Parents About HPV vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online] December 2016.
  5. Narula, Tara. HPV vaccine: Why aren’t children getting it? CBS News. [Online] July 23, 2017.



Are you processing or are you ruminating?

I am a self-described over-thinker.  From a young age, my family often complained that I over analyzed everything.  While this has served me well in many pursuits, I recently read that it may not be so great for my health.

According to a recent article by U.S. News and World Report, rumination over stressful or negative events may lead to prolonged psychological recovery time along with increased blood pressure and heart rate (1).  While I’m still an advocate for processing difficult situations, rumination is different.  Rumination typically leads to repeatedly and cyclically thinking about the same situation while creating moods that spiral downward (1).   People often end up ruminating without realizing it; they think they’re attempting to problem-solve instead (1).  I know this speaks to the analytical “Ms. Fix-it” in me.

According to the article, people can identify if they’re in rumination mode by asking themselves if their thoughts are unproductive, creating feelings of being overwhelmed, or causing distractions from their surroundings (1).  Suggestions to get past this include distraction by taking a walk or enjoying a hobby (1).

Now, all of this is said with a giant caveat-  if you feel like you need mental health help, get it.  Rumination often happens when people are dealing with something traumatic in their lives.  I am by no means telling you to shove your feelings down and avoid them.  What I am encouraging you to do is stop and ask yourself if you’re having the same negative thoughts over and over again.  If you feel like it’s something minor, you may want to stop and distract yourself to break the cycle.  If it’s something that’s a big deal to you, then you may need to enlist the help of a mental health professional.

Thinking about situations is helpful, but if three days have passed, and you’re still thinking about how the coffee-shop barista spelled your name wrong, you may be ruminating and hurting your health in the process.



  1. Colino, Stacey. The Hazards of Rumination for Your Mental and Physical Health. U. S. News and World Report. [Online] March 14, 2018.


Study confirms grad students have higher rates of anxiety and depression

I’m currently in my second semester of grad school, and I have heard many people talking positively about mental healthcare since I’ve been here.  Within the first few days of classes in August, we were informed where and how to get mental health help on campus.  I know plenty of people who have sought assistance with their mental health, and they speak about it without any sort of stigma.  All of this talk got me wondering, what’s behind this positivity?  Is it:

A) My department is super supportive

B) We’re a bunch of public health enthusiasts who want to dismantle stigma in every way we can

C) There’s a huge need for mental healthcare among graduate students

It turns out that the answer is likely: D) all of the above.

According to a recent study published in Nature Biotechnology the prevalence of both moderate to severe and anxiety and moderate to severe depression is over six times higher in graduate students than in the general population (1).  The good news is that the study also found that a good work-life balance helps improve mental health (1).  This means the next time someone tells you to take care of yourself, they’re not just repeating trite advice.  It really is important.

If you’re one of the many grad students (or anyone for that matter) who feels overwhelmed, know that you’re not alone.  Many of us are there with you, and it’s OK if you need to enlist the help of a professional.  Personally, I view this as a sign of strength instead of weakness.



(1) Pain, Elisabeth. Graduate students need more mental health support, new study highlights. [Online] March 6, 2018.

How many teens are sexting?

When we go on the internet and listen to stories, we often hear comments about sexting among teens.  With all of this talk, it may sound like this is something that all teens are doing.  However, according to a study published this week by JAMA Pediatrics, only about 14.8% of teens have sent these messages, and approximately 27.4% of teens have received a sext [1].  This means that roughly 17 out of 20 teens have never sent sexually explicit images, videos, or messages.

Though this rate is lower than we may have expected, sexting is becoming more commonplace, and that is cause for concern. Many teens, view sexting as private and therefore safe.  However, approximately 12%, are forwarding sexts without consent of the sender [1]. Additionally, many teens don’t realize that even though some messaging apps that allow video and image sharing appear private, they may not be [2].

Often times, sexting is a normal by-product of teens trying to establish their identities and wanting to explore their sexuality [2].  However, many teens just are not aware of the dangers that can come with sexting.  Along with these concerns, teens just need to be reminded that it’s not OK for them to be pressured to share more of their bodies than they’re comfortable, and that consent is theirs to give.

[1]  Madigan, S., Ly, A., & Rash, C. L. (2018, February 26). Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth. Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

[2]  Gabriel, E. (2018, February 26). 1 in 4 young people has been sexted, study finds. Retrieved from CNN: