Out for Blood
Here’s how some people are spending their summer. Heidi Stambuck, the communications director for the College of Education and Health Professions, sent me an update on the research project she’s helping with.
Some people may feel like they give blood, sweat and tears when pumping iron, shooting hoops or slamming a racquetball around at the HPER building. But, the past two Mondays, I’ve been in a research lab at the HPER with a needle in the crook of one arm as Evan Johnson draws blood for a nutrition study underway this summer.
Johnson came to the U of A this spring after finishing his doctorate at the University of Connecticut to work on this research project with Stavros Kavouras, associate professor of exercise science. They are testing two water-intake questionnaires to see whether they quantify what the questionnaires say they measure, which is called validity, and that these results can be duplicated on more than one occasion, which is called reliability. The research takes place in the Human Performance Lab at the HPER, which stands for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building. It’s a unique place that combines sophisticated scientific research equipment and classrooms with University Recreation fitness facilities such as an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center and an outdoor recreation center.
Kavouras studies the effects of hydration on athletic performance, cognitive function and general well being. He calls water the forgotten nutrient and states that one of the main reasons water intake is not recorded, even in large-scale studies, is the lack of validated tools to assess water intake from fluid and solid foods. Dozens of validated food frequency questionnaires exist, he says, but for water and fluid intake only two questionnaires have been developed, including one developed and validated in his native language, Greek. Neither has been validated against the gold standard of fluid intake, which is water turnover in the body measured by the stable isotopic water, deuterium oxide, also called heavy water.
So, the other study participants and I drink a small amount of this heavy water, which the researchers call D2O, three times during the study. It doesn’t taste any different than regular water. Each of us started the study by having a body scan in the lab’s DEXA machine to determine our lean body mass. That’s how the researchers decided on the amount of heavy water they give us. They analyze our urine samples over the four weeks to measure how much of the heavy water remains in our system after a set period of time and that tells them how much water and other fluids we took in.
We committed to four weeks during which we give urine samples three times a week, collect our urine over a 24-hour period twice, have our blood drawn after each 24-hour urine collection, fill out surveys about what we eat and drink and how much physical activity we get, and keep a food and beverage diary and a second diary recording only beverages over two one-week periods. We also fill out surveys every week that ask questions about such topics as thirst perception, mood and exercise behavior. We receive $150 if we complete the study.
Below, right Johnson loads tubes of my blood into a centrifuge in the lab. The blood draw gives the researchers information on fluid levels in our blood and about the presence and concentration of fluid-regulatory hormones.
Here’s one of the tubes of my blood after it was spun in the centrifuge. The red blood cells fall to the bottom during the spinning process with the yellowish plasma rising to the top.
The HPER Building is much more than a place to get a good workout; you can contribute to science, too, if you’re willing to give a little of yourself.