Category Archives: Health

Decongestants – Visine for Your Nose?

A few weeks ago I traveled to Beijing for a golf tournament.  Unfortunately, I have terrible allergies to pollen and other air pollutants, so as soon as the plane landed in Peking and I stepped into the airport I immediately began my sneezing fit.  Ordinarily, after sneezing, your nose will feel congested for a few moments and then will return to “normal.”  However, because the air was so thick with pollutants, my nose remained congested and I continued to sneeze on approximately five-minute intervals.  Frustrated that I couldn’t breath well through my nose and because my mouth was becoming dry, I hesitantly decided to take a decongestant pill.  This has been a regular occurrence since I was a child: allergies act up, nose becomes congested, pop a pill, few minutes later I can breath again.  For the longest of time, I never questioned this process.   Then, a few months ago, I found that I was always congested, even on the days when pollution levels were low and there were little to no blooming flowers.  I couldn’t breath normally without taking a decongestant and ended up it everyday for approximately two and a half weeks.  As I look back, it was quite foolish of me to do so.  I didn’t know anything about the drug other than it helped me breath, and I didn’t think much of the fact that I couldn’t breath normally.  So as I arrived in Beijing two weeks ago, I wondered, what does this pill really do to me, how does it work, and did I harm myself beyond repair?

Typically, when people think of nasal congestion, they think it is a result of copious amounts of mucus or fluid forming in their nose.  However, this is not the case.  Nasal congestion occurs when the arterioles (small blood vessels) in the membranes of the nose dilate and become inflamed.  This results in a kind of swelling in the nose and makes it difficult to breath because the passage has narrowed or closed off.  (Kaneshiro, N. n.d.)

When individuals take nasal decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (C10H16ClNO) (Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. n.d.)

Chemical Structure of Pseudoephedrine
Chemical Structure of Pseudoephedrine HCl

the chemical will bind to alpha receptors (receptors on the membranes of nerve cells) to send a signal to the membranes in the nasal passages to force the blood vessels to constrict.  (Guzman, F. n.d.)

This inhibits the dilation of the arterioles and reduces the inflammation, therefore relieving congestion and allowing the nasal passages to relax.  Based on principle, nasal decongestants are similar to red eye reducing eye drops in that the topical eye drops constrict the blood vessels in the eye to reduce redness.

While an addiction in the traditional sense cannot be developed from long-term use of decongestants, a kind of dependency and tolerance can build up over time from using them daily.  With daily use, the body will become tolerant to the decongestant and will begin to produce chemicals and antibodies to combat the effects of the drug.  In this case, it will begin to produce vasodilators in order to reverse the effects of the decongestant (which are now perceived by the body as unnecessary).  As a result, higher doses of the drug are needed to achieve the same decongestant effects as originally produced.  (Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”. n.d.)  With continued use for many months, or years, continuously using a decongestant can increase blood pressure as it constricts the blood vessels, or can create other, more severe side effects such as tachycardia and seizures.  (Pray, S., & Pray, J., n.d.)

Vasodilation in Arteries
Vasodilation in Arteries

Fortunately, the tolerance that may develop from continued use of decongestants can be reversed.  If use is discontinued for a few weeks, it gives the body the time it needs to return to “normal” and the changes it made to produce the antagonistic chemicals (to the effects of the drug) will disappear.  This implies that even if a tolerance and “dependency” is developed, they can easily be annulled and the body will lose its tolerance.  After the body has returned to a normal state, should the need arise, individuals may choose to take the decongestant and can expect to experience the full effects of the decongestant – open nasal passages and the ability to breath easy.  (Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”., n.d.)

After researching, I realized the severity of taking decongestants for extended periods of time.  Prior to researching, I had assumed that decongestants were not, “serious” drugs in that they couldn’t possibly have many negative long-term effects.  However, I now realize that drugs, regardless of their purpose and accessibility, are strong chemicals used to create chemical changes in our bodies.  While I will never take a decongestant for more than seven consecutive days, the occasional use of it is acceptable and in the long run, it will not harm my body and has not done any lasting damage to my body.

References

Discovery Health “Can nasal sprays be addictive?”. (n.d.). Discovery Health “Discovery Fit & Health”. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/question546.htm

Guzman, F. (n.d.). Alpha receptors | CME at Pharmacology Corner. Medical Pharmacology | Pharmacology Corner. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://pharmacologycorner.com/alpha-receptors-1-2/

Kaneshiro, N. (n.d.). Nasal congestion: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 10, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003049.htm

MedicineNet.com. (n.d.). Pseudoephedrine – Oral, Afrinol, Novafed, Sudafed . Retrieved October 10, 2012, from www.medicinenet.com/pseudoephedrine-oral/page5.htm

Pray, S., & Pray, J. (n.d.). Safe Use of Nasal Decongestants. Medscape Multispecialty . Retrieved October 13, 2012, from www.medscape.com/viewarticle/484014

Pseudoephedrine (Oral Route) – MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR601759

Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. (n.d.). ChemicalBook—Chemical Search Engine. Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://www.chemicalbook.com/ProductChemicalPropertiesCB1399716_EN.htm

Pseudoephedrine Information from Drugs.com. (n.d.). Drugs.com | Prescription Drug Information, Interactions & Side Effects. Retrieved October 12, 2013, from http://www.drugs.com/pseudoephedrine.html

Sudafed decongestant tablets and liquid (pseudoephedrine). (n.d.). NetDoctor.co.uk – The UK’s leading independent health website. Retrieved October 13, 2013, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/ear-nose-and-throat/medicines/sudafed-decongestant-tablets-and-liquid.html

Images:

http://www.chemicalbook.com/ProductChemicalPropertiesCB1399716_EN.htm

http://www.daftblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Vasodilation.jpg

Is my sunblock poisonous?!

Ever since I was little, my mom always made sure that I put on sunblock before going outdoors. She correctly believed that the purpose of sunblock was to prevent skin cancer, which according to the American Cancer Society is actually “the most common of all cancers, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States”.  (2013). Now, as a habit, I wear sunblock every day before going outdoors for cross-country practice. My teammates make fun of me for being “paranoid”, but I think that taking precautions is important; I do not want skin cancer! I always argue about the importance of sunscreen. Thus, you can imagine the shock when I read an article called “Your sunscreen might be poisoning you” by Dr. Perry, an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University on the Dr. Oz  TV show website. I was a bit hesitant about the reliability of claims from the Dr. Oz show, (an American TV talk show hosted by Dr. Oz, a teaching professor at Columbia University) since I assume from experience that TV shows are often more for entertainment and may misrepresent the truth. As a result, to clarify whether I have been poisoning myself for sixteen years, I decided to research the chemistry of sunblock: what are some common ingredients? How do they work? And most importantly, do they really harm us?

According to the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine,  there are two types of active ingredients in sun blocks: physical, which “reflect or scatter UV radiation before it reaches your skin” and chemical, which “work by absorbing the energy of UV radiation before it affects your skin.” (2013).

According to Dr. Elizabeth Hale of the Skin Cancer Foundation, the most common physical sunblock used is either zinc oxide or titanium oxide. (n.d.) In a sense, applying them is almost the equivalent of applying white paint, as they literally “block” the sunrays. (Hale, E. n.d.) For example, as seen in the image, zinc oxide is literally a white powder.

Image 1: Zinc Oxide

These physical sunblock ingredients absorb both UVA and UVB rays, which is known as “broad spectrum” (a term you should look for on your sunscreen labeling!) and are large enough particles that they do not enter into your bloodstream. (Hale E., n.d.)Thus, they are both harmless and effective. The drawback, however, is that they are not so visually pleasing unless you want to have a white layer on your face. I researched my own Avene sunblock and found it to be a physical sunblock; it is indeed very white are hard to spread apart—something I found annoying at first, but now I’m glad that at least I’m being effectively protected from the sun.

The consumers’ natural preference of a sunblock that wasn’t so “whitely” visible like a layer of paint on their faces therefore led to the development of chemical sunblock—and this is where the problem begins. One common chemical ingredient is called oxybenzone, which is a chemical that absorbs UV rays. It is so common, that according to a CNN article, “56% of beach and sport sunscreens contain the chemical oxybenzone.” (Dellorto D., 2012).

Image 2: Oxybenzone

Dr. Perry’s article on the possible poisonous effects of sunblock was referring to oxybenzone; he claimed that as an endocrine disruptor (an external compound that disrupts the physiological actions of our body’s natural hormones)(Aguirre C., n.d.), it “can cause abnormal development of fetuses and growing children… early puberty… low sperm counts and infertility… the development of breast and ovarian cancers…prostrate cancer…”. (Perry A., 2013) After reading this, I immediately looked for other sources’ claims on oxybenzone to confirm Dr. Perry’s claim. First, the CNN article referenced before reported that “The American Academy of Dermatology maintains that oxybenzone is safe.” (Dellorto D., 2012) After this, I thought, “Okay, so the government thinks that oxybenzone is safe. Then is this the Environmental Working Group and Dr. Perry crazy?”This is when I came upon an article by Dr. Claudia Aguirre of the International Dermal Institute,  which shed light on the studies causing people to blacklist oxybenzone. One study showed that the harmful effects of oxybenzone were done on rats that were ingesting oxybenzone in toxic amounts. Another study was on whether the chemical would penetrate deep into the dermis in the first place, and although the answer was yes, the study was done on skin samples in a lab—not on human beings. Finally, another study on oxybenzone “saw deleterious effects on humans”, but “the participants were asked to use about 6 times the recommended amount of sunscreen needed to prevent sunburn”. (Aguirre C., n.d.). Thus, in the end, Dr. Perry’s claim is true—but only if you use a crazy amount of sunscreen with oxybenzone.

After doing this research, I learned a lot about sunscreen, and I think it was interesting to research the chemical ingredients in our everyday products. I had always assumed that sunscreen was just some “magical” skin cancer preventer! Also, an important implication from this research is that we should never immediately trust claims made by articles online, even if the author, like Dr. Perry, is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. We should look more in depth into the studies that the claims are based on, and decide whether we want to use these products. Dr. Perry was too extreme in his claim, which confirms my initial assumption that people on TV shows tend to exaggerate and cannot always be trusted. Thus, we have to be careful to what extent we should believe in others’ claims, and of course, we should continue to use sunblock (use the recommended amount of the equivalent of a shotglass, or two tablespoons, to the face and body) (Hale, E., n.d.)!

References:

Aguirre C. (n.d.). Shedding Light on Sun Safety – Part Two Retrieved from http://dermalinstitute.com/us/library/66_article_Shedding_Light_on_Sun_Safety_Part_Two.htm

American Cancer Society. (2013, March 25). Skin Cancer Facts. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skin-cancer-facts

Dellorto D. (2012, May 16). Avoid sunscreens with potentially harmful ingredients, group warns. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html

Hale, E. (n.d.) Ask the Expert: How much sunscreen should I be using on my face and body? Retrieved from http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/how-much-sunscreen-should-i-be-using-on-my-face-and-body

Perry, A. (2013, May 7). Your Sunscreen Might be Poisoning You. Retrieved from http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/your-sunscreen-might-be-poisoning-you

University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. (2011, June 10). Sunblock. Retrieved from http://www.dermatology.ucsf.edu/skincancer/general/prevention/sunscreen.aspx

Images:

Wikipedia Commons. n.d. Zinc Oxide. Graphic. Retrieved from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Zinc_oxide.jpg

The Medical Dictionary. n.d. Oxybenzone. Graphic. Retrieved from http://the-medical-dictionary.com/pics/Oxybenzone_1.PNG

Fun in the Sun

I got my first sunburn this summer (ouch) because I forgot to put on sunscreen. Actually, I pretty much forgot to use sun protectant the whole summer. That got me thinking about sunscreen. It’s just something that we rub onto our bodies, so how does it protect our skin? So in this post I’m going to investigate how sunscreen works, why it’s important to protect your skin from the sun, and how to do so.

The reason we need to protect our skin is because of the UV rays that are present in sunlight. UV rays come in wavelengths from 10nm to 400nm, but there are 3 main categories: UVA (315-400nm), UVB (280-315nm), and UVC (100-280nm). UV radiation has “low penetration” so its effects are mainly limited to the skin. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013)

(Skin Cancer Foundation, 2013) – diagram of UV ray penetration of skin

UVC rays are completely absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, so we don’t need to worry about that. It’s the UVA and UVB rays that cause trouble. UVB rays are the ones responsible for sunburns and suntans. (Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress, 2010) UVA rays, since they have a longer wavelength, penetrate deeper and are the main cause of wrinkles and age spots. (Bytesize Science, 2012) UVA rays can also penetrate through clouds and glass, and 99% of the UV rays that reach the Earth’s surface are UVA rays. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013) Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. (US Food and Drug Administraton, 2011) Also, sun exposure is responsible for 90% of wrinkles! (Youtube, 2013)

To protect ourselves from these UV rays, sunscreens were invented. There are two types of sun protectants available: chemical and physical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens, also known as inorganic sunscreens, are made out of nanoparticles that are approximately 100nm. They act as tiny reflectors on the skin to deflect and scatter the UV rays that shine onto our skin. (PBS Newshour, 2010) The large particle size is also what attributes to the “white cast” look of sunscreen on the skin. (About.com Chemistry, n.d.) Typical ingredients in physical sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

physical sunscreen

(Bytesize Science, 2012) – structures of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide

Chemical sunscreens, also known as organic sunscreens, are much smaller in size, around 40-50nm. The small sizes of the nanoparticles allow it to be more transparent than physical sunscreens. (PBS Newshour, 2010) The most common ingredients in chemical sunscreens are octinoxate and avobenzone. (Bytesize Science, 2012)

chemical sunscreen

(Bytesize Science, 2012) – skeletal structure of octinoxate and avobenzone

Unlike physical sunscreen, chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing the UV rays instead of reflecting it. The molecules in the sunscreen absorb the high-energy UV photons, and the electrons become “excited.” When the molecule returns to its original state, the energy it absorbed is released as insignificant amounts of heat. This process can be done more than once, in a cycle. (Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association and Cosmetic, Toiletry, And Fragrance Association, 1998)

Yikes, those UV rays don’t sound nice at all. In the interest of having younger looking skin, not getting a nasty sunburn, and preventing skin cancer, protecting our skin from the sun is a must. Physical sunscreens can only defend our skin from UVB rays, but chemical sunscreens can protect our skin from both. So when buying sunscreen, look for products that are labeled “broad spectrum” or have a PA value because those indicate both UVB and UVA protection. (Youtube, 2013)

(Youngerberg, 2013) – sunblock that have UVA and UVB protection

SPF, which stands for “sun protection factor,” can be a useful way of determining the effects of sunscreen. If your skin can stand 10 minutes in the sun without burning, then a SPF of 30 will allow your skin to be out in the sun for 30×10, or 300 minutes (5 hours), before burning. (About.com Chemistry, 2010)  Keep in mind that most people don’t put on enough sunscreen (a shot glass worth, or 45mL, of sunscreen is what’s recommended to cover your body), and sweat and water can make the sunscreen less effective, so it is important to reapply sunscreen often (around every 2 hours if you’re active).

It seems that I’ve found the fountain of youth – sunscreen! The next time you’re out in the sun, remember to protect yourself from those pesky UV rays, and do yourself a favor by putting on sunscreen. You’ll thank yourself when you’re older!

References

About.com Chemistry (n.d.). How Does Sunscreen Work?. [online] Retrieved from: http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingsworkfaqs/f/sunscreen.htm [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

About.com Chemistry (2010). How to Choose the Best Sunscreen. [online] Retrieved from: http://cancer.about.com/od/skincancerprevention/a/choosesunscreen.htm [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

About.com Pediatrics (2010). SPF – Sun Protection Factor and Sunscreen. [online] Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.about.com/od/pediatricsglossary/g/710_spf.htm [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Bytesize Science (2012). Repelling the Rays: The Chemistry of Sunscreen – Bytesize Science. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wopwVVsbvWI [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Discovery Fit and Health (n.d.). What do SPF numbers mean?. [online] Retrieved from: http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/beauty/sun-care/spf.htm [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Everyday Mysteries: Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress (2010). How does sunscreen work?. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/sunscreen.html [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Gizmodo (2013). How Sunscreen Works (And Why You’re Wrong About It). [online] Retrieved from: http://gizmodo.com/how-sunscreen-works-and-why-youre-wrong-about-it-508910004 [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Live Science (2010). How Does Sunscreen Work?. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.livescience.com/32666-how-does-sunscreen-work.html [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association and Cosmetic, Toiletry, And Fragrance Association (1998). Tentative Final Monograph for OTC Sunscreen. [e-book] Food and Drug Administration. Available through: www.fda.gov http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/00/Sep00/090600/c000573_10_Attachment_F.pdf [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

PBS Newsroom (2010). Just Ask: How Does Sunscreen Work?. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/12/just-ask-how-does-sunscreen-work.html [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Science & Engineering News (2002). C&EN: WHAT’S THAT STUFF? – SUNSCREENS. [online] Retrieved from: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/8025sunscreens.html [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

ultraviolet radiation. (2013). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://school.ebonline.com/levels/high/article/74181

US Food and Drug Administration (2011). How Sunscreen Works. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC-d9ZsnLds [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Youtube (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Sunscreen. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V46vfg-7dEI [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Images

Bytesize Science (2012). Repelling the Rays: The Chemistry of Sunscreen – Bytesize Science. [image online] Available at: http://youtu.be/wopwVVsbvWI?t=1m32s [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Bytesize Science (2012). Repelling the Rays: The Chemistry of Sunscreen – Bytesize Science. [image online] Available at: http://youtu.be/wopwVVsbvWI?t=1m54s [Accessed: 19 Sep 2013].

Skin Cancer Foundation (2013). Untitled. [image online] Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/Media/Default/Page/prevention/uva-and-uvb/UV-Radiation-and-Skin.jpg [Accessed: 22 Sep 2013].

Youngerberg, E. (2013). Untitled. [image online] Available at: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-yUMjMYMQdHI/T9tY7Sz0ozI/AAAAAAAAAzw/1bQlGeeBymU/s1600/photo-89.JPG [Accessed: 22 Sep 2013].


A Silver Bullet?

When my sister went to get her ears pierced over the summer, my mother recounted how, instead of using devices like the sterilized piercing guns used today, Indian people used to use thin wires of silver to pierce their ears because of its supposed antimicrobial properties. This intrigued me. Of course I had heard of molecules like penicillin that could kill off bacteria, but never before had I considered that a single, naturally occurring element would be able to accomplish the same. How does this seemingly benign molecule cause so much damage?

The transition metal itself is biologically inert; the real structural damage stems from its Ag+ ion. This is released when Ag comes into contact with moisture (Kenyon University & Garduque), and does its work inside the microbe itself. I stopped as soon as I read that last part. Something didn’t seem right. I had learned from my AP Biology class that the majority of cell membranes are hydrophobic. They consist mainly of a phospholipid bilayer with the polar hydrophilic heads facing outwards into the environment and inwards towards the cell’s cytoplasm, and the long, non-polar hydrophobic tails made of hydrocarbons chains in-between. These tails don’t like to let polar atoms and molecules in and out by themselves, and I thought it highly unlikely that microbes would have special protein channels built to let in damaging substances. So how did these Ag+ molecules get in in the first place?

figure_04_14_labeled

Figure 1: The Phospholipid Bilayer

(Midlands Technical College, n.d.)

A while of digging later, I had no definitive answer. Some research hypothesized that the ions got through via protein channels made for other ions (Kenyon University & Garduque), but since there wasn’t any conclusive evidence I still remained somewhat skeptical. I continued to research the effects of the Ag+ ions, tough, and the evidence I found in favor of its microbial properties was strong enough for me to overlook this tiny blip.

What I found was that Ag+ works in three major ways: by reacting with the disulfide (R-S-S-R) and sulfhydryl (R-S-H) groups of microbial protein structures, by interacting with the microbial DNA, and by damaging the membrane structures of the cells. In the first method, the interactions of the ion change the quaternary (outer) structure of some of the microbes key proteins and enzyme, leaving it unable to function properly. The ion reacts to form, “a stable S-Ag” bond with the sulfhydryl-containing compounds, which are involved in, “trans-membrane energy generation and ion transport,” located in the microbial cell membrane, and are also believed to, “take part in catalytic oxidation reactions that result in the formation of disulfide bonds,” which are key components of a protein’s outer structure. The latter doesn’t involve Ag+ acting as reactant, but rather as a catalyst between existing the oxygen and hydrogen portions of the sulfhydryl groups. This reaction also ends up releasing H2O as a product (Jung, Koo, Kim, Shin, Kim & Park)

500px-Quaternary_structure

Figure 2:“Structure of the protein 1EFN, with focus on the quaternary structure.”

(Wikipedia, 2012)

Next, while it is clear that the Ag+ ions do have effects on microbial DNA, it is unclear exactly how it interacts with the DNA. Some scientists suggest that, “…they interact preferentially with bases in the DNA (Jung, Koo, Kim, Shin, Kim & Park),” while others think that the ions’ various other reactions in the cell, “…lead to an increased production of reactive oxygen species,” that in turn damages the microbe’s DNA, eventually leading to its death (Morones-Ramirez, Winkler, Spina & Collins, 2013). Finally, the microbe’s increased cell membrane permeability, which is also said to occur as a byproduct of these reactions and subsequent metabolic disruption and homeostatic iron levels, which, “…[restores] antibiotic susceptibility to a resistant bacterial strain (Morones-Ramirez, Winkler, Spina & Collins, 2013).”It is important to note, however, that this does not reverse the bacterial resistance, only temporarily weakens it.

400px-FIGURE_3_Feng_et_al

Figure 3: “Figure 3. Treatment of cells with Ag+ results in DNA condensation, cell wall damage, and silver granule formation. (A) E. coli and (B) S. aureus cells with and without Ag+ treatment were observed with transmission electron microscopy (Feng et al., 2000).”

(Kenyon University, n.d.)

As much as it would be great to regard the Ag+ ion as an end to all our troubles, it’s not without its side effects. Some people are allergic to silver (Elsner & Hipler, 2006), and those that aren’t are in danger of having the element accumulate in their bodies (Fung & Bowen, 1996). Long-term intake can lead to increased levels of skin silver and/or silver sulfide particle levels. Sunlight causes these particles to darken, leading to a skin discoloration known as argyria (Elsner & Hipler, 2006). Furthermore, silver is no different from traditional antibiotics in that it is simply ‘another chemical’ in action. As such, it is plausible that overuse of it may eventually lead to increased silver resistance in bacteria, and then we would simply end up in the same place we are now with the antibiotic resistance problem; at best we’ll just delay our troubles. Still, since there’s little doubt in the actual antimicrobial properties of silver, all of this doesn’t completely take it off the table. If it were possible to distribute the dosages in a way to avoid some of the adverse side effects, we could take advantage of the aforementioned delay. Time is arguably the most valuable resource for humans, and with all of the major medical advances taking place in the modern age, that extra time might be just what we need to come up with a true solution.

Works Cited

Elsner, P., & Hipler, U. -. (2006). Silver in health care: Antimicrobial effects and

safety in use. Biofunctional Textiles and the Skin, 33, 17-34. doi: 10.1159/000093928

Retrieved from

http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/93928

Fung, M. C., & Bowen, D. L. (1996). Silver products for medical indications: Risk-

benefit assessment. Clinical Toxicology, 34(1), 119-126. doi: 10.3109/15563659609020246

Retrieved from

http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/15563659609020246

Jung, W., Koo, H., Kim, K., Shin, S., Kim, S., & Park, Y.

(2008). Antibacterial Activity and Mechanism of Action of the Silver Ion in Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 74(7), 2171-2178 doi:10.11.28/AEM.02001-07.

Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2292600/

Kenyon University. , & Garduque, G. (n.d.). Silver as an antimicrobial agent.

Retrieved from http://microbewiki.kenyon.edu/index.php/Silver_as_an_Antimicrobial_Agent

Midlands Technical College. (Producer). The Phospholipid

Bilayer [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from http://classes.midlandstech.edu/carterp/courses/bio225/chap04/lecture5.htm

Morones-Ramirez, J. R., Winkler, J. A., Spina, C. S., & Collins,

J. J. (2013). Silver enhances antibiotic activity against gram-negative bacteria. Science Translational Medicine, 5(190), 198ra81. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006276

Retrieved from:

http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/5/190/190ra81

Wikipedia. (Producer). (2012, August 27). Protein structure with focus on the

quaternary structure [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Quaternary_structure.png

Hair Die?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with hair dyes and have always dreamed of having my hair dyed purple. However, I’ve always heard people say that hair dye is very bad for one’s hair but I’ve never really thought about the chemistry behind it. So my question is: to what extent is hair dye safe for us to use?

In order to fully understand how hair dye works, I first asked myself: how exactly does hair colouring work? Hair colouring works when chemical reaction occurs between the hair molecules and pigments with peroxide and ammonia found in the hair dye itself. When dyeing hair, the cuticles found in the outer layer of the hair must first be opened with ammonia in order for the hair colour to be able to penetrate into the cortex of the hair. After the cuticles are open, there’s usually a two-step process that happens simultaneously, removing the original pigments in the hair using peroxide and depositing in couplers, which are chemical compounds that define the colour of the hair dye. Lastly, conditioners are use to close off the hair cuticles to seal in and protect the new colour. (Helmenstine, 2013)

Hair Couplers
Hair Couplers

(Wikipedia, 2013)

Even though the first commercial and “safe” hair dye was produced in 1909 and over 75% of American women dye their hair, but to what extent is hair dye safe for us to use? Studies have shown that there’s a strong positive correlation between older hair dyes and cancer as the old compounds that made up the couplers were carcinogenic. However ever since they were identified, companies have altered the compounds for these couplers and they are no longer a problem anymore. But since then, new studies have also emerged showing that the new dyes may be indirectly causing cancer too. Researchers have found out that chemicals called secondary amines, which are found in all permanent hair dyes, are able to penetrate into our skin and hair, and remain there for up to years after the dyes are applied. Over time these secondary amines could react with tobacco smoke, exhaust fumes, or other substances to form a highly poisonous chemical known as N-nitrosamines. (Brown Girl, 2013)

Secondary Amines
Secondary Amines

(Wikipedia, 2013)

N-nitrosamines
N-nitrosamines

(Wikipedia, 2013)

At the same time, hair dye is known to irritate the skin and cause skin discolouration due to the fact that our skin is also made up of the same type of keratinized protein as hair. However, this discolouration typically disappears within a few days as the skin naturally renews itself. Hence, a good way to prevent the discolouration of the skin is to apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly and wear latex gloves to protect the hands. (Wikipedia, 2013)

In conclusion, although the old hair dye problems have been solved, new problems are still arising and shouldn’t be ignored. So to be on the safe side, one can use hair dye, but just use it with caution, and don’t apply it regularly as it allows the build up of these secondary amines.

Bibliography:
– Helmenstine, A. M., & Ph.D.. (n.d.). Hair Color Chemistry – How Haircoloring Works. About.com Chemistry – Chemistry Projects, Homework Help, Periodic Table. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://chemistry.about.com/cs/howthingswork/a/aa101203a.htm
– Hair coloring – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_coloring
– Amine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amine
– Nitrosamine – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrosamine
– Column of Controversy: Hair Dye vs. Cancer | Brown Girl Magazine. (n.d.). Brown Girl Magazine | The Premier Magazine for Young South Asian Women. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://browngirlmagazine.com/2013/05/column-of-controversy-hair-dye-vs-cancer/

Medicine for the Incurable Disease

Recently one of my closest friends was diagnosed with epilepsy. Prior to this, epilepsy treatment had always been an unknown topic and I was fairly sure that the treatments were very limited if not ineffective. I’d heard about treatment medicines to slow down your brain, making you sluggish, dull, and personally thought that the side effects outweighed the benefits. As I was told his news, I decided that as I spend a deal of time around him that I should really be aware of what to do in the event of a seizure. While doing this, I came across treatments for epilepsy and was surprised to see abundance treating its symptoms. I became interested as to how effective the current treatments for epilepsy are, as my friend began his drugs this summer.

Epilepsy can be defined as “a common serious neurological condition where there is a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain.” (Epilepsy Society, 2013) There are 40 types of epilepsy (Epilepsy Society, 2013), all without known cures but with a large amount of preventative medicine to stop seizures and treat symptoms. For the sake of my search, I focused upon the most common drugs used to treat epilepsy; Depakene ® (valproate, valproic acid) and Zonegran ® (zonisamide), which my friend is currently taking. Depakene works to target epilepsy by increasing the “level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in brain” (Farlex) thus reducing seizure activity. “ Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It inhibits nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity. “ (Denver Naturopathic Clinic) Zonegran is also known to affect the levels of this acid, however its precise method of preventing seizures is unknown. It is thought that zonisamide prevents the movement of sodium and calcium, as they must move into nerve cells to build up an electrical signal to throughout the brain. By stopping nerve cells from firing rapid electrical signals this stabilizes brain activity and prevents seizure-causing signals from spreading. (Netdoctor) Although Netdoctor at first seemed to be an unreliable source, I noted that “Over 250 of the UK’s and Europe’s leading doctors and health professionals write, edit and update the contents of NetDoctor.co.uk.”(Netdoctor) and the information, particularly the one I took note form, is not written by the general public. 

I dove deeper into the adverse reactions stemming from the use of Depakene, which were copious. Notable common side effects included but were not limited to “vomiting, hair loss, and a decrease in thinking speed.” (WebMD) Long term usage of the drug led to possible hearing loss, liver damage, decreased platelets (clotting cells), bone thinning and pancreatic issues. (WebMD). WebMD, like Netdoctor, turned out to be a reliable source when i was researching as many of their articles were written by experts in the field. Depakene turned out to not be the only epilepsy treatment with severe side effects, as the use of Zonegran can induce metabolic acidosis, fatal skin rashes, kidney stones, reduced white and red blood cell counts, and problems with concentration, attention, memory, thinking, speech, or language. (FDA, 2012)

Treatment for epilepsy, though abundant, is still limited. Many medicines counter the symptoms of epilepsy, but do not actively cure the disease itself.

For 70% of patients with epilepsy, drugs can control seizures. (WebMD) Medicine to prevent epilepsy, though beneficial, is still very limited as it does not cure the disease and has severe side effects.  As these medications are dangerous and do not cure epilepsy, are they worth taking at all? These medications do actively prevent the biggest symptom of epilepsy, seizures. I can conclude personally, that they are worth taking, as the risk of having a spontaneous seizure is reduced if not eradicated. Nevertheless, takers should be fully aware of the side-effects and take these medicines with caution and be fully aware of the risk of severe side effects. Seizures interfere with daily life, preventing the epileptic from daily activities such as driving or swimming for the fear of having a seizure and crashing or drowning. Though the medications have severe side effects, the implications of these medicines mean that people with epilepsy can continue to have a regular lifestyle without worry of personal injury. Currently treatments for epilepsy are effective to an extent, and I do hope that research into the disease yields brighter results for cures in the future.

Work Count: 628

References:

References

Denver Naturopathic Clinic. (n.d.). GABA.  Welcome to the Denver Naturopathic Clinic . Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/news/GABA.html

Epilepsy society. (2013, May 5). What is epilepsy | Epilepsy Society. epilepsy society | Epilepsy Society. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/what-epilepsy#.UhGGNKA2W0s

FDA. (2012, January 24). Medication Guide ZONEGRAN®. fda.gov. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM152828.pdf

Farlex. (n.d.). Depakene – definition of Depakene by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.. Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus – The Free Dictionary. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://medicaldictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Depakene

NetDoctor. (n.d.). Zonegran (zonisamide). NetDoctor.co.uk – The UK’s leading independent health website. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/brain-and-nervous-system/medicines/zonegran.html#ixzz2cOMj5wr

WebMD. (n.d.). Common Epilepsy Seizure Medications: Types, Uses, Effects, and More. WebMD – Better information. Better health.. Retrieved September 6, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/medications-treat-seizures

Brain Chemistry

Being from the United States, a country that is facing the harsh issue of obesity, I decided that it would be very interesting to research about exercise. Caroline wrote a blog post about brain chemistry and she put much emphasis on dopamine.  I found it very interesting that altered levels of dopamine can have such a large affect on the body.  I wondered what kinds of chemicals and neurotransmitters were released when someone exercised.  When you think about it, many people get incredibly positive effects from exercise, meaning that it must force a release of something in the brain to induce this.  But which neurotransmitters and hormones are responsible for this? Since we just recently did the medicines and drugs unit, I thought it would be beneficial and quite helpful to be able to research about exercise and be able to truly understand what it all means.  When I was doing my primary research, all kinds of things came up about how exercise makes you smarter, fixes health problems, reduces stress, helps you become more fit, and much more.  Wouldn’t everyone be exercising a very large amount if they knew this?


To begin, regular exercise can alleviate anxiety and boost energy. When you exercise, you work your heart, thus making it stronger, but also increased heart pumping increases the release of certain types of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA. Even small amounts of activity can help the body be more resistant to stressful situations even hours later. To expand on the effects of these neurotransmitters, serotonin (C10H12N2O) leaves you happier and more relaxed after working out. (Branch, S.) This is because the physical activity stimulates the release of these chemicals. When reading about this, I automatically thought of all of the drugs we learned about.  I went back to the mouse party simulation and reviewed how these drugs work. I noticed something in common with all of these drugs; they all have relate in the way they work with chemicals in the brain. All of the drugs either work with serotonin, dopamine or GABA receptors. For example, LSD deals with the serotonin receptors.  It binds to serotonin receptors and it binds to various ones, sometimes inhibiting them and sometimes exciting them. LSD excites a particular part of the brain, the locus coeruleus. This area of the brain forms feelings of wakefulness, etc.  LSD also has effects such as changed body temperature and heart rate which also occurs when you exercise.(Mouse Party)  To connect this to exercising, when you exercise, serotonin is released, making the person who was working out feel more relaxed and happy. Even though exercise is not a drug that chemically alters the brain, it certainly acts in similar ways as many drugs are meant to act.


Although exercise is certainly not a drug and usually it can be closely connected because it has many of the same effects and usually creates better moods, more relaxation, and a more stimulated brain. With this being said, it is not to get mixed up because drugs also have many negative effects which are not associated with exercising.  Additionally, norepinephrine is a very important neuromodulator in the brain.  Many scientists believe that the norepinephrine concentrations are much higher in the brain during physical activity, thus leading to the body being able to deal with stress more effectively. 50% of norepinephrine is created in the LC (locus coeruleus) and this area of the brain is “involved in emotional and stress responses.”(Dishman, R.)

Serotonin

Serotonin Structure

Serotonin Neuron

Serotonin Neuron

Endorphins also play a key role in helping to decrease stress levels.  Endorphins are created in the “pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. They bind to opioid receptors in neurons, blocking the release of neurotransmitters and thus interfering with the transmission of pain impulses to the brain”.(McGovern, M.) When you exercise, the activity stimulates the release of endorphins and these help you to deal with the stress and pain dealt with during exercise. For example, “runners high” is considered to be because the increased release of endorphins is responsible for the euphoria feeling after running and thus the runner feels a very happy, relaxed feeling. (McGovern, M.) Endorphins are much like drugs in the way that their effects have a very addictive effect and the person exercising builds a tolerance to these, and must exercise more to get the same euphoria feeling over time. “In fact, endorphins attach to the same neuron receptors as opiates such as morphine and heroin.” (McGovern, M.) Many scientists believe that only a small amount of people exercise regularly because the endorphins take about 30 minutes to kick in.  This means that the person doesn’t feel these positive effects until a while after their exercise and only associates exercising with stress and pain.


To continue, exercise and physical activity can also make your brain stronger, thus leading to a more efficient brain. “Exercise slows the loss of gray matter in the brain.” This is because the chemicals that are produced and released while exercising help to fight brain-killing chemicals that are produced during stressful periods. According to Forbes, “ In the long term, it [exercise] can even help starve off brain aging and Alzheimer’s. This works on the cellular level through neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to improve itself with blood flow and levels of brain-derived protein. He calls it “miracle-gro” for the brain, and it all comes from regular exercise!” Neuroplasticity changes the neural pathways when changes in behavior, environment, or even injuries.  Neuroplasticity is very recognized “in healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage.”(Branch, S.) I think that this is very important because when you exercise and work your body and strengthen your brain, very complicated processes take place to alter and help the brain to possibly recover, and or build cells, etc.


To continue, when exercise takes place, the stress you put on your own body forces the brain to create new neurons (called neurogenesis) “especially in the hippocampus- the area in charge of learning and memory”.  This happens because when exercise occurs, you are stressing your body and it’s systems and in order for it to recover, it needs to repair this damage.  This is significant because it leads to an “increase in brainpower” and thus makes the brain more efficient and stronger. (Andersen, C.) This gets mixed up very frequently with the thought that if you exercise enough, you will be a genius. This is not true.  If you overexercise, it is possible that your brain will actually become weaker and it will be more difficult to learn.

hippocampus

Hippocampus in the Brain


While it may not be possible to exercise enough to become a genius, it is definitely possible “to exercise to happiness.”(McGovern, M.) To understand how this works, when a person becomes depressed, they show a lack of vital neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin.  As said before, exercise increases the concentration of these neurotransmitters in the brain, thus leading to an increased mental health and stimulating the brain.  As seen below, the depressed brain has much less activity in it, while the “not-depressed” brain has much more activity.  When exercise occurs and the concentration of positive neurotransmitters increases, depression can be alleviated.


c7_pet_depression

Effects of Depression on the Brain


When I did my research, I couldn’t help but connect this to economics.  Even though this is a health aspect, it has many economic effects. Every year, the United States spends millions, even billions on health care and running can have so many positive effects on the body that could potentially lower these costs. If physical education and exercise was incorporated into schools more, depression rates could drop, obesity could start to plateau and stop growing, and the government in turn could save large amounts of money on healthcare and put it to other causes, such as research and development to help healthcare in the future.  But first, the mentality needs to change.  People have become lazy and thus don’t have any motivation to exercise.  More education needs to take place to educate children and adults on the dangers of obesity, and also the positive effects of exercise on your body.

References

Websites:

Andersen, C. (n.d.). Exercise and the Brain: 4 Ways Working Out Changes the Human Brain – Shape Magazine. Shape Magazine – Diet, Fitness, Recipes, Healthy Eating Expertise. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-exercise


Branch, S. (2011, February 24). How Exercise Alters Brain Chemistry | LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM – Lose Weight & Get Fit with Diet, Nutrition & Fitness Tools | LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/390773-how-exercise-alters-brain-chemistry/


Cohen, J. (2012, May 8). 6 Ways Exercise Makes You Smarter – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2012/05/08/6-ways-exercise-makes-you-smarter/


Dishman, R. (n.d.). Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers. American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx


Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity – MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676


Girdwain, J. (2013, May 28). How to fix health problems with exercise – CNN.com. CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/28/health/fix-problems-exercise/index.html?hpt=he_t2


McGovern, M. (n.d.). The Effects of Exercise on the Brain. Serendip Studio. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html


Mouse Party. (n.d.). Learn. Genetics. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/drugs/mouse.html

Images:

N/A. PET scan of the brain for depression. N.d. Mayo Clinic, N/A. Mayo Clinic. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Hippocampus. N.d. Memory Loss & The Brain, Rutgers University. Memory Loss Online. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Serotonin. N.d. Serotonin, N/A. Chemistry-Reference. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. What is Serotonin?. N.d. N/A, N/A. News-Medical. Web. 30 May 2013.

The Alkaline Diet

After reading Nicholas’ post on the claim made by the company that produced water ionizers, I was reminded of a similar claim made by advocates of the ‘Alkaline Diet’. I decided to investigate whether these claims were accurate, or like the ones made by the water-ionizer company, scientifically wrong.

The Alkaline Diet is based on the theory that eating specific foods can affect maintenance of the body’s ideal pH balance, and improve health. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A website promoting holistic treatments gave the following reasoning for the diet:

The pH of the blood must always fall between 7.35 and 7.45  (slightly alkaline) to ensure an appropriate concentration of oxygen in the blood. A pH lower than 7.35 (Acidosis) may portray the beginnings of a disease / aging, while a pH higher than 7.45 (Alkalosis) would result in seizure, and a possible coma.

In order to keep the blood within this pH range, the website then explains, 75% of alkaline forming foods must be consumed; however, the American diet consists of 80% of acid forming foods.

The body creates a buffering system in order to counteract this abundance of acidic food in the diet; this buffering system runs on electrolytes, which are important for the metabolic functioning of body systems. Adequate electrolyte supply will pose no problem on the buffer system, however a shortage of these electrolytes will make it difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis (a state of equilibrium). A shortage of electrolytes usually occurs as a cause of excessive consumption of acid forming foods. (Frequency Rising, n.d)

At first, this claim made sense to me. After all, medical websites confirm that the blood’s pH must fall within a certain range. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Furthermore, there is evidence that shows that the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is affected by the blood’s pH, and as I have previously learnt in Biology class, it is true that the pH of blood must remain within a certain range to ensure health.  (RSC, n.d) Another medical website mentioned diseases such as Acidosis and Alkalosis, the former caused by a blood pH lower than what it should be, and another caused by a blood pH higher than it should be. (Dugdale & Zieve, n.d) Was the claim made by the holistic website accurate? Upon further examination and reflection, it was clear to me what the problem was: the holistic website was trying to convince people on the basis of a logical fallacy!* Our body deals with acidic food with a buffer system that does not work properly when you consume excessive acidic foods?

What?

That makes no sense.

I soon realized that it was very easy to see the reason they would make this claim, as directly under the article, I saw this.

Water Ionizer Advertisement

This reminded me of Nicholas’ post, and confirmed my doubts: it was all just a marketing technique.

I decided to look at the biochemistry myself to determine the validity of the diet.

I found the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is controlled by a separate mechanism: oxygen flows around the body in blood by hemoglobin, a complex molecule with a central ion. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d) The oxygenation of blood is an equilibrium reaction:

Hb4(aq) + 4O2(aq) <–> Hb4O8(aq)

A number of equilibrium reactions involving hemoglobin are responsible for the buffering of the blood: the net reaction being –

HbH+(aq) + O2(aq) <–> HbO2(aq) + H+(aq)

Metabolic reactions in the body release many acidic compounds, which lowers the blood’s pH by increasing the concentration of H+ ions present in the blood. This in turn, forces the equilibrium position to the left, resulting in acidosis. This decrease in oxygen supply causes fatigue and headaches. Acidosis is also the same condition you experience temporarily when you exercise without warming up, or when you engage in strenuous exercise when the available supply of oxygen cannot meet the demand for energy to complete the oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d)

Thus, Acidosis really has nothing to do with what you eat.

Additionally, although electrolytes are important for the body, the only ion that affects the pH of the blood is the Phosphate Ion (PO42-), which is part of the Phosphate Buffer System. (Electrolytes, n.d) However, the primary buffer system for balance of the blood pH’s remains the Hydrogen Carbonate Buffer System.

Hydrogen Carbonate is produced in the body with water and CO2 (the end product of cellular metabolism) with the following reaction:

H2O + CO2 <–> H2CO3(aq)

The Hydrogen Carbonate is then involved in another (can be classified as a Bronsted-Lewry) reaction, which produces bicarbonate and the Hydronium ion:

H2CO3 + H2O <–> H3O+ + HCO3

If there is excess acid in the body (H3O+), the equilibrium shifts left.

H2CO3 + H2O <–  H3O+ + HCO3

Thus, the excess acid is neutralized by the base (HCO3)

The reverse takes place if there is excess base (OH) in the body: this reacts with the carbonic acid (H2CO3) and the equilibrium shifts right.

H2CO3 + OH <–  H2O + HCO3

This system thus operates under Le Chaletier’s principle, which states that “if a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change ”. This reaction is the main mechanism used by our body to maintain homeostasis.

The Phosphate Buffer System plays a role in plasma and erythrocytes (components of blood)- (Tamarkin, n.d)

H2PO4- + H2O <–> H3O+ + HPO42-

Any excess acid reacts with monohydrogen phosphate to form dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O <– H3O+ + HPO42-

Similarly, excess base is neutralized by dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O –> H3O+ + HPO42-

So if this is all true, and the claim that eating alkaline foods can affect blood’s pH is not correct, then why do people continue to follow the Alkaline diet: and how can we explain their success stories?

The Alkaline Diet is “a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, avoiding processed foods, coffee, and alcohol, which are all recommendations for a generally healthy diet anyway,” says Marjorie Nolan, who is an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. (Collins & Chang, n.d) This is evident by an Alkaline Diet cheat sheet, which recommends eating cold-pressed olive oil instead of butter, frozen fruit instead of canned fruit, sparkling water instead of soda, honey instead of sugar, and so on. (Wilkinson, n.d) According to Nolan, any diet consisting of this meal plan is bound to prove successful, because it is “basically healthy”. She confirms however, that the body “regulates our pH between 7.35 and 7.45 no matter how we eat.” (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

So, what are the implications of this finding?


First, the negative implications: because the Alkaline diets promotes less consumption of dairy products and animal fats, followers of the diet if not careful, may develop calcium and protein deficiencies, according to John Asplin, an MD and kidney specialist. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A vegetarian myself, I was quick to disagree with this statement in my mind, however, he acknowledged that “vegetarians can be completely healthy in their diets, as long as they make sure to get adequate supplies of essential components to a diet.” Asplin also asserted that this could be seen as benefit also, because “many Americans over-consume protein”. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Another implication of this finding is that followers of the Alkaline Diet may not have a scientifically correct view of the functioning of their body, and this could lead to potential problems in the future. Followers of the diet may also waste money on expensive products (such as the water ionizer advertised on the holistic website) that do not affect our body in the way that the manufacturers claim.

What are the benefits? Because excess animal protein results in a higher risk of developing kidney stones, “eating a diet rich in vegetables, as with the alkaline diet” can lower this risk, according to Asplin. (Collins & Chang, n.d) It has also been suggested by research that an alkaline diet may slow bone loss and muscle waste, increase the growth hormone, and reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases (these are correlations however, and cannot be stated as a cause-effect relationship). (Schwalfenberg, 2011)

A negative correlation between the alkaline diet and incidence of cancer has also been shown, however the same results were obtained when the vegetarian diet was measured against cancer rates: additionally, as the study was correlational, there were many confounding variables that may have affected the results such exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, genetics, etc. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Nolan speaks of this finding, stating that “clinical studies have proved without a doubt that people who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and hydrate properly do have lower rates of cancer and other diseases”, but that “it probably has nothing to do with blood pH”. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

The journey I took while examining this diet taught me to properly examine the agenda of the source making a claim before choosing to accept it: because the holistic website was advertising the water ionizer, they made claims that were scientifically inaccurate to make the product seem more appealing to customers. Web MD on the other hand, a medical website dedicated to providing people with factual information on clinical practices, provides evidence and information that supports the knowledge we have of the biochemistry of our body.

Thus, William Mundel, the vice chair of the department of General Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, advises against diets that “want you to buy only their product” (i.e.: the water ionizer), “focus on a narrow spectrum of foods” (i.e.: eliminate all animal fats), and “claim that science has kept something secret, or that someone has discovered something that nobody else knows about”. These are the types of diets that tend to be scientifically wrong. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

* The logical fallacy used is Circular Reasoning / Begging the Question.

References

Chemical Buffer Systems- Acid-Base Balance. (n.d.). Boundless. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from https://www.boundless.com/physiology/fluids-and-acid-base-balance/acid-base-balance/chemical-buffer-systems/

Chemistry Tutorial : Oxygen Transport in Blood. (n.d.). AUS-e-TUTE For Astute Science Students. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.ausetute.com.au/blood.html

Chemistry for Biologists: Transport of Oxygen in the Blood. (n.d.). Royal Society of Chemistry | Advancing the Chemical Sciences. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/transport.htm

Collins, S., & Chang, L. (n.d.). Alkaline Diet: Pros, Cons, and Do They Really Affect Acid Levels in the Body?. WebMD. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/alkaline-diets-what-to-know

Dugdale, D., & Zieve, D. (n.d.). Alkalosis – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment of Alkalosis – NY Times Health Information . Health News – The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/alkalosis/overview.html

Life Balances: Electrolytes. (n.d.). John Kitkoski’s Life Balances Program: Home Page. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.lifebalancesprogram.com/Library/Electrolytes.html

Schwalfenberg, G. (2011, October 12). The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

Tamarkin, D. (n.d.). Buffers. STCC Faculty Webpages. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://faculty.stcc.edu/AandP/AP/AP2pages/Units21to23/ph/buffers.htm

Wilkinson, J. (n.d.). Acid Alkaline Diet For Dummies – Cheat Sheet. For Dummies . Retrieved May 20, 2013, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/acid-alkaline-diet-for-dummies-cheat-sheet.html

pH balance. (n.d.). Frequency Rising – Alternative Medicine and Holistic Health Products. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.frequencyrising.com/pH.htm

Cleaning Water, Step by Step

After listening to and reading India’s blog post about water pollution, I decided to further investigate the methods used to clean the water we drink and bathe with. Covered in her blog post, she mentioned pollutants within the water such as bacteria, chlorine, nitrates, and heavy metals. With all these particles and microbial life swimming in our tap water, it’s a miracle we aren’t ridden with diseases. I began to wonder, what do private firms and the government do to remove and minimize all these pollutants?

Huangpu River Pollution
Huangpu River Pollution

So I began my search on the companies who clean Shanghai’s water supply. Veolia Water is one of the major companies who purify and distribute water to households around Pudong. Veolia first extracts their water from underground aquifers and surface water bodies. These areas are protected to prevent pollution. All the water then passes through a purification process, which includes coarse and fine screening, flocculation and settling, filtration, ozonation and chlorination. (Veolia Water, 2010)

Screening is a process in which water is ran through different sized screens to stop rocks and other larger objects from entering the rest of the system. It then moves into a system called flocculation and settlement. Within water, there are usually small clay or dirt particles are suspended, giving water the yellowish, brownish look. These particles are often negatively charged, preventing them from clumping together. Hydrated ammonium alum (NH4Al(SO4)2Ÿ 12H2O) is  added to the water to neutralize the negative charges, allowing particles to combine and form larger particles called flocs. The water passes through a paddle chamber that assist flocculation of particles. The following chamber allows the larger particles to settle due to gravity, removing the majority of the clay. (Drinking Water Treatment – Flocculation, n.d.)

Flocculation of Clay Particles
Flocculation of Clay Particles

After flocculation, water is passed through a gravel and sand filter that removes the remaining clay particles. However, this does not remove metal ions, nitrates, or microbial life from the water. Ozonation, the process of bubbling ozone through water to purify it, is often performed to clean water but is more costly than adding chlorine as a disinfectant. Ozone, O3, is synthesized by the use of UV light or electrical discharges. Bubbling ozone through the water kills microbial life. It also reacts with metal ions such as Iron and Manganese, creating insoluble metal oxides, which can be filtered out. (Oram, n.d.) Unlike ozonation, chlorination is relatively inexpensive and will continue disinfecting after leaving the water purifying plant. Chlorine is added into the water, which kills microbial life; however, it doesn’t remove metallic ions. (Drinking Water Treatment – Disinfection, n.d.)

Once the water leaves the purifying plant, it is transported to households across Shanghai, but chlorine and nitrates still remain within the water. In addition, faulty and leaky pipes allow contamination of minerals and other compounds into the water system.  To combat this, some houses have granulated active carbon filters and water softeners. Water passes through grains of active carbon (organic material or coal treated with heat) to react and trap chlorine and some trihalomethanes (THMs, carcinogens), preventing them from being consumed or absorbed by the skin while bathing. (Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters, 2012)

Water softeners are used to reduce calcium and magnesium ions. Although these metals are not harmful to the body in small amounts, they cause pipes to calcify and clog up, decreasing water pressure. Calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions found on the ion exchange resin sites found within the filter. (Skipton, 2008)

Despite all these processes, nitrates still persist within the water. Currently, the only way to remove nitrates would be through reverse osmosis or demineralization, both of which require lots of energy and are expensive to maintain. (Runyan, 2011) Often, some people use faucet filters to further purify the water. These are often carbon filters, which still don’t remove nitrates from the water supply.

With all these methods used to purify the water, it still comes down to the question, is tap water in Shanghai safe to drink? Or is any tap water safe to drink for that matter? Ultimately, it becomes the individual’s decision. How much does one trust the government and others to handle their water? Do the benefits outweigh the cost of purchasing distilled water? Judgment of these crucial matters always lies within the person.

References:

Drinking Water Treatment – Disinfection. (n.d.). Tech Alive Home Page. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://techalive.mtu.edu/meec/module03/Sources-SurfaceWater.htm

Drinking Water Treatment – Flocculation. (n.d.). Tech Alive Home Page. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://techalive.mtu.edu/meec/module03/DrinkingWaterProcess.htm

Oram, B. (n.d.). Ozone Water Treatment, Ozonation, Ozonator Dirty bad tasting water, contaminated colored water, unfiltered water, bad smelling water. Private Well Owner Drinking Water Pennsylvania Ground Water Research . Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.water-research.net/ozone.htm

Runyan, C. (2011). Nitrate in Drinking Water. NMSU: College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_m/m-114.html

Skipton, S. (2008, October 8). Drinking Water Treatment – Water Softening (Ion Exchange). NebGuide. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/g1491/build/g1491.pdf

Veolia Water | Production and supply of drinking water. (2010). Veolia Water | The world leader in water services and water treatment. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.veoliawater.com/solutions/drinking-water/

Water Treatment Using Carbon Filters (GAC). (2012, August 1). Health State MN. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/gac3.pdf

WAT ER YOU DRINKING? : Tapping into Shanghai’s Water Secrets

Tapping into Shanghai’s Water Secrets


I recently read an article in the news, ‘2,800 Pigs Dumped in Shanghai River Raises Concern’, which lead to me questioning the pollution levels in Shanghai’s waters. Living in Shanghai, everyday I face a dilemma I always found to be rather minimal, whether or not to drink the water from the tap or to not be lazy and climb the four flights of stairs down to the nearest bottled water dispenser. As I had previously lived in countries such as England, and Japan, where clean water is abundantly available from taps, I assumed that Shanghai’s tap water could not have a large concentration of pollutants within its waters. I used to drink water in Shanghai from the tap, arguing that if anything, the exposure to these unknown particles would harden my immune system, like a child playing in the soil.


About 80% of the water we get in Shanghai is from the Huangpu River. The remaining 20% comes from the Yangtze River. On the list of the most polluted rivers in the world, the Yangtze and the Huangpu are both mentioned, with the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission report noting the total volume of sewage emptied into the Yangtze river totaling approximately 20 million tons. Noteable pollutants within the Shanghai river water are chlorine, heavy metals such as lead, nitrates and bacteria. (WHO, 2011)


Chlorine, a highly efficient disinfectant, is added to water for cleaning purposes, “Chlorine has been hailed as the savior against cholera and various other water-borne diseases, and rightfully so,” says Steve Harrison, president of water filter maker Environmental Systems Distributing. “Its disinfectant qualities…have allowed communities and whole cities to grow and prosper by providing disease-free tap water to homes and industry.” (About.com, 2010) However, Chlorine is defined by the American journal of Public Health to cause “significant increases in certain types of cancer, asthma and skin irritations” (American Journal of Public Health, 2011) . When combined with organic matter found in rivers, chlorine undergoes a chemical reaction to form products such as trihalomethanes (THMs) which is are known carcinogens (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue). Chlorine converts chemically by replacing three of the four hydrogen atoms of methane (CH4) with chlorine halogen atoms to produces these THMs. Due to the high levels of bacteria caused by improper dumping of sewage and other biological contamination, Chinese departments of water works simply use more chlorine.


Similarly to chlorine, lead is also extremely dangerous as it is toxic even in the amount of micrograms when entering the body, and leads to higher blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, anemia and colon cancer in adults. Nitrates found in the river water enter through organic runoff such as through fertilizers. These nitrates entering the readily available tap water can be fatal to children under the age of six months, as they cannot perform the chemical process shown below in their stomachs to convert nitrites into nitrates. (Sigler, 2010)


2NO2(g) + 2OH(aq) –> NO3(aq) + H2O(l) + NO2(aq)


If nitrites are not converted into nitrates, this poses a problem as in the early stage of development, nitrite reacts with hemoglobin, which is responsible for the transfer of oxygen, and prevents this transport. Evidently, the effect of this is a decreased oxygen supply to the body, well known as blue baby syndrome (or methemoglobinemia). Nevertheless, it should be known that this condition is very rare.(WHO, 2011)


I believed that by simply boiling Shanghai’s water, it would be safe to drink as boiling kills bacteria and parasites. After researching, I noted that boiling water doesn’t get rid of pollutants. There are plenty of solutions to the issue, for example, the establishment of sediment filters are an inexpensive way to physically trap particles, especially those of a filter size of 1 micron or smaller. (NRDC, 2009) However these filters still do not filter out chemical contaminants. The use of bottled barreled water, though expensive, are generally safe when from a reputable source. Furthermore, Activated carbon filters process most physical contaminants out, such as chlorine, and are EPA approved. Obviously, the key way to target this issue would be to stop it at the core, by removing pollutants from the lakes and river themselves. (WHO, 2011)


To fully assess the risk of drinking Shanghai’s water, we must note that there is a cleaning system to filter the water of the majority of the pollutants. When reading Nick’s post, he noted a water filtering company, Veolia, who first extract their water from underground aquifers and surface water bodies. All the water then passes through a purification process, which includes coarse and fine screening, flocculation and settling, filtration, ozonation and chlorination. (Veolia Water, 2010).These processes can all be explained in further detail in Nick’s blog post. Despite all these processes, nitrates still persist within the water, and hold particular risk to small children, as noted earlier. However, for me and the general population, water pollution holds quite a low risk to our health as it has been filtered numerous times before reaching our taps. The only real risk with Shanghai water is with the concentration of pollutants, not the pollutants themselves. Detrimental health risks only occur in situations in which the concentrations of these pollutants are very high, which is more likely in lesser developed countries, more rural areas, than in Shanghai itself.


References:


About.com (2010). Why is Chlorine Added to Water. Retrieved April 20, 2013 from http://environment.about.com/od/earthtalkcolumns/a/chlorine.htm

Adam Sigler (13 March, 2010). Nitrate/Nitrite Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from http://waterquality.montana.edu/docs/homeowners/nitrate_fact_sheet.shtml

American Journal of Public Health (2011). Stabilization of Chlorine in Water . Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.32.9.1025?prevSearch=chlorine&searchHistoryKey=

NRDC. (2009). Water. Retrieved April 20, 2013, from http://www.nrdc.org/water/

WHO . (January 1, 2011). Nitrate and Nitrite in Drinking Water. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/nitratenitrite2ndadd.pdf

WWF Global. (25 October 2010). Threat of Pollution in the Yangtze. Retrieved March 11, 2013, from http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/about_freshwater/freshwater_problems/river_decline/10_rivers_risk/yangtze/yangtze_threats/