Category Archives: Biochemistry

Can breathing kill you?

The October break gave me a lot of time to unwind, and was a nice break from the stressful and always dreaded “IB Year 2 Semester 1”. One of the ways I decided to spend my downtime was by blogging on a social media site called Tumblr, and it was then that I came across this post:

Post originally by http://harrystyies.tumblr.com/

As we were studying Oxidation and Reduction in class, I had to investigate the idea further.

A quick Google search on the statement led me to a thread on The Student Room (UK) with others also discussing their fears: was breathing ultimately killing them?

A Clarifying Question by Ruthless Dutchman

A Bold Statement by Broken Social Gene

Some users showed their support and offered scientific explanations-

Explanation by Toquin, A Respected Member

It made sense… I had learned from Biology class that one of the reactants required for the process of cellular respiration is Oxygen which comes from the air that we breathe. Further research led me to a report linking Oxidative Stress (essentially a deficiency of anti-oxidants) to a string of diseases including Diabetes and Arteriosclerosis (Vendemiale et al., 1999). I realized then that this was not a debate to be taken lightly, and decided to investigate the following question for my blog post: to what extent does Oxygen harm the human body?

I turned to the experts for some insight.

It turns out, Oxidation is a natural occurrence when there is exposure to air. Cut an apple and leave it out, it will undergo Oxidation and slowly change color (to brown). Leave equipment made from Iron out unprotected, and it will rust. Breathe, and your cells will decay.

Oxygen in our body reacts with our cells, and as a result, these cells undergo oxidation. As oxidation is the loss of electrons, the affected cell is chemically altered and ultimately dies. It is then replaced by fresh, new cells. According to Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, this is nothing to worry about. Blumberg dismisses any fears about oxidation by saying that it is a “natural process” that occurs “during normal cellular functions” (Davis, n.d).

However, what we do have to worry about are those cells that are unintentionally damaged in the process- Blumberg asserts that although the metabolism of oxygen in the body is “efficient”, 1% – 2% of cells will suffer this damage in the process (Davis, n.d). This damage occurs by the breaking of covalent bonds between their molecules (SucceedMonavie, 2010). As two molecules split apart, the shared electron is released and both molecules become unstable and highly reactive as a result. These unstable and highly reactive molecules are known as ‘free radicals’, and are a type of Reactive Oxygen Species (Evans & Halliwell, 1999).

Molecule before Oxidation
Molecule before Oxidation – (SucceedMonavie, 2010)
Molecule breaks apart, releasing an electron
Molecule breaks apart, releasing an electron – (SucceedMonavie, 2010)
Molecules turn into unstable 'Free Radicals'
Molecules turn into unstable ‘Free Radicals’ – (SucceedMonavie, 2010)

Because of their unstable nature, ‘free radicals’ will attack healthy cells in an attempt to act as as an oxidizing agent to gain back an electron and achieve stability (SucceedMonavie, 2010). According to Blumberg, “these molecules will rob any molecule to quench that need [for an electron]”, and this makes the ‘free radicals’ potentially very dangerous (Davis, n.d). When attacked molecules are oxidized by a free-radical, the attacked molecules turn into free radicals themselves (SucceedMonavie, 2010). As 1 free-radical breaks apart a bond between 2 healthy cells to undergo reduction, 1 free-radical (if not stopped) is later responsible for the production of 2 radicals. This statistically works similar to bacteria growth, and results in a chain-reaction that produces a rapid and exponential increase in the number of ‘free radicals’ present in our body. Oxidative stress, defined as “a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and anti-oxidant defenses” can be attributed to this chain reaction (Betteridge, 2000). It has been linked to various heart diseases and cancers, as well as to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (Davis, n.d).

'Free Radicals' attack nearby healthy cells
‘Free Radicals’ attack nearby healthy cells   –   (SucceedMonavie, 2010)
1 'Free Radical' oxidizes 2 healthy cells
1 ‘Free Radical’ oxidizes 2 healthy cells – (SucceedMonavie, 2010)

Additionally, as the ‘free radicals’ attack healthy cells around them, they may not kill the healthy cells. This can potentially lead to devastating consequences for the body. According to Blumberg, “if free radicals simply killed a cell, it wouldn’t be so bad… the body could just regenerate another one”. He instead suggests that the problem lies with damage to the cell, as this damages the DNA which leads to the mutation of the affected cell, as well as abnormal growth and reproduction of that cell- “the seed of disease” (Davis, n.d).

So oxygen is harmful to the human body? Why don’t we just stop breathing?

I realized that the initial post had been right, to a certain extent. Although Oxygen does have the potential to do damage to our bodies, it is also vital to our survival- and it certainly does not “take 80 years to kill us”. We must also remember that only 1% – 2% of metabolized Oxygen actually turns into a ‘free radical’ (Davis, n.d). Valko et al. (2007) look to Reactive Oxygen Species as being “two faced”- though these can damage cell structures, proteins, and DNA, they can simultaneously strengthen the immune system. As this strengthened immune system can then combat a host of illnesses including Oxidative Stress, the actions of Reactive Oxygen Species “re-establish” and “maintain redox balance” or “redox homeostasis” (Valko et al., 2007). Interestingly enough, there are animals out there who do not need any oxygen whatsoever to survive (Danovaro et al., 2010). For us however, oxygen is required for cell respiration to occur- if you don’t breathe, you die.

So how can we take active measures to slow down the process of Oxidation and prevent the onset of Oxidative Stress?

The initial post on Tumblr was right to a certain extent; anti-oxidants do serve this purpose. Anti-oxidants are able to stop the dangerous chain reaction by donating one of their electrons to the unstable ‘free radical’, therefore stabilizing it. They are not oxidized in the process (this is one of their properties), so all potential harm is eliminated from the body (SucceedMonavie, 2010). It is for this reason that Oxidative Stress occurs only when there is an imbalance in the amount of ‘free radicals’ and levels of anti-oxidants present in the body; if the body is lacking in anti-oxidants or abundant in ‘free radicals’, then there will not be enough anti-oxidant to stop the chain reaction from occurring. Increasing intake of anti-oxidants will prevent the sickness from developing (Davis, n.d). Some common foods high in anti-oxidants are tomatoes, carrots, tea, and citrus fruits. Fun fact relating to China- Chinese oolong tea in particular, is 40 times richer in anti-oxidants than regular green tea (Rutherford, 2011). Blumberg urges, “Sure, you can live your whole life without getting epicatechin 3-gallate, a flavonoid found in huge quantities in green tea, but if having it in your diet promotes better health, why not try it?” (Davis, n.d)

Anti-Oxidant on the scene
Anti-Oxidant on the scene   –  (SucceedMonavie, 2010)
Anti-Oxidant donates an electron
Anti-Oxidant donates an electron to the ‘Free Radical’ to stabilize it (SucceedMonavie, 2010)
Anti-Oxidant remains neutral, and 'Free Radical' is reduced / stabilized
Anti-Oxidant remains neutral, and ‘Free Radical’ is reduced / stabilized –  (SucceedMonavie, 2010)

Decreasing the risk of developing ‘free radicals’ in the body can also be a preventative measure. Although my blog post focused specifically on the action of Reactive Oxygen Species, there are other types of free radicals as well. One of these is the Reactive Nitrogen Species, taken into the body by breathing in Nitric Oxide (Valko et al., 2007). This is present in polluted air, something we are very much exposed to as residents of Shanghai. Blumberg asserts that the “toxins” present in the air of a city environment cause an “oxidative burden” on the body which is, with modernization and increased industry and technology, much higher than ever before. He also labels cigarette smoke as having “active free radical generators”, and recommends quitting smoking to “preserve health” (Davis, n.d). Minimizing exposure to pollution and second-hand smoke are also important steps that can taken to do this.

Other factors that can contribute to Oxidative Stress if exposed to in excess, are X-Rays, sunlight, strenuous exercise, and alcohol (Parnes, n.d). Although X-Rays are unavoidable for medical reasons, limiting consumption of alcohol and increasing consumption of anti-oxidants when participating in strenuous exercise or gaining excessive exposure to sunlight can reduce risk of developing Oxidative Stress.

So what? Who cares? (Implications)

Living in China, a country with huge amounts of pollution, increases our risk of developing Oxidative Stress. Additionally, as the sickness has been linked to a host of diseases, preventative measure should be taken in order to minimize the risk of developing those illnesses. Awareness of risk factors of the sickness can help us take these preventative measures.

References

DJ, B. (2000). What is Oxidative Stress?. Metabolism: Clinical And Experimental , 49, 3-8. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from the PubMed database.

Danavaro, R., Dell’Anno, A., Pusceddu, A., Gambi, C., Heiner, I., & Kristensen, R. (2010). The First Metazoa Living in Permanently Anoxic Conditions. BMC Biology, 8(30). Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/8/30/abstract

Davis, J. (n.d.). How Antioxidants Work: Preventing Free Radical Damage and Oxidation. WebMD. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-antioxidants-work1

Evans, F., & Halliwell, B. (1999). Free Radicals and Hearing: Cause, Consequence, and Criteria. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 884, 19-40. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from the PubMed database.

Parnes, R. (n.d.). What is an Antioxidant?. Discovery Health. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/antioxidant1.htm

Rutherford, D. (n.d.). Antioxidants and oxidative stress. NetDoctor. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/focus/nutrition/facts/oxidative_stress/oxidativestress.htm

SuceedMonavie. (2010, January 2). How antioxidants work. Youtube. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG3OOXIXvxw

Suraru. (n.d.). Tumblr. Retrieved October 5, 2013, from http://suraru.tumblr.com/post/58158026731/gundamdick-thepioden-hair-old-styles

Valko, M., Leibfritz, D., Moncol, J., Cronin, M., Mazur, M., & Telser, J. (2007). Free Radicals and Antioxidants In Normal Physiological Functions and Human Disease. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 39(1), 44-84. Retrieved October 7, 2013, from the PubMed database.

Vendemiale, G., Grattagliano, I., & Altomare, E. (1999). An Update on the Role of Free Radicals and Antioxidant Defense in Human Disease. International Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Research, 29(2), 49-55. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from the PubMed database.

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

The Physiology and Effects of Stress

As an IB student, I am undoubtedly subjected to a large amount of stress, ranging from academic to social pressures. Not only do I have to worry about college applications and final examinations as a senior, but I also have to consider balancing out my sports and extracurricular activities, my social life and sleep. My parents and even doctor have told me repeatedly that I need to watch out for my stress level because too much stress can cause negative repercussions. However, this made me wonder, how exactly does stress work in our bodies, and to what extent is it harmful for us? Thus, this post will first examine the physiology of stress, and then lead to an evaluation between its pros and cons.

To begin, the science behind stress is coincidentally linked to our current IB chemistry study on the topic of equilibrium. In Chemistry, stress is defined as something that interferes with a system’s equilibrium, such as a change in temperature, number of moles or volume. (Brucat, 2008) Similarly, this equilibrium state can also exists in our body. In fact, homeostasis within our bodies is defined as, “an elusive state of metabolic equilibrium between the stimulating and the tranquilizing chemical forces.” (The Franklin Institute, 2004) Ultimately, stress disturbs this homeostasis. The automatic nervous system (ANS), which controls all the involuntary activities and functions of our body, such as digestion and blood pressure, consists of two branches. The first branch, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the fight-or-flight response that becomes automatically activated when our brain perceives danger or stress. The other branch, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), is responsible for restoring the body back to homeostasis after the threat is over. To best explain the physiology of stress, I shall use an example.

Imagine you are strolling casually in a forest when you suddenly notice a menacing lion gazing at you. Immediately, your hypothalamus in the brain sends a blazing “DANGER!” message through the nervous system to the other body systems. The hypothalamus also signals the endocrine system to start secreting hormones, mainly adrenalin and cortisol, into the bloodstream so that the every cell in your body gets ready for the fight-or-flight response. While the systems necessary for increasing power and speed are emphasized, the other systems, such as the digestive and immune system, are inhibited to allow for the extra work of the vital systems. (Olpin) Under our medicine and drugs unit in IB Chemistry, we studied the adrenaline hormone and its effects on our body, such as increased heart rate, blood flow to the brain and muscles, and mental awareness. (Ford & Brown, 2007) Thus, I will focus on the other primary stress hormone, cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal cortex.

Cortisol affects the entire body and contributes to the physiological changes that occur when the ANS or fight-or-flight is activated. One of these effects is the metabolic process of gluconeogenesis, which makes “glucose from oxaloacetate” (Randall, 2011, p.1). Cortisol also prompts glucose synthesis in the liver. Altogether, it is responsible for regulating the bloodstream’s glucose level, which is essential when you demand a lot of energy trying to fight or run away from the angry lion, because cortisol ensures a continual supply of glucose. As aforementioned, other unneeded systems, like the immune system, are suppressed to divert more oxygen and blood to the systems that require them. Cortisol helps put this into effect by suppressing the immune system. It prevents the multiplication of T-cells and the secretion of histamine (a lack of histamine inhibits inflammations). (Randall, 2011)

Functional groups: Carboxylic acid, alcohol (2), carbonyl
Functional groups: Carboxylic acid, alcohol (2), carbonyl

(Structure of Cortisol, 2010)

Although stress seems to be widely accepted as something that is bad, our fight-or-flight response is evolutionary beneficial for our survival.  In situations of acute stress, an immediate and temporary disruption of our homeostasis is necessary for us to react more powerfully and rapidly to life-threatening situations, like an angry lion chasing us. Without the increased flow of adrenaline and other hormones in your bloodstream, an adequate supply of oxygen, glucose and fatty acids can’t be pumped fast enough to your muscles and brain during the emergency. Therefore, stress and our body’s response to it is not necessarily deleterious. (Olpin)

However, the problem is our stress reaction is only advantageous for the ephemeral demands. It is not everyday that we get attacked by an animal or experience a life-threatening emergency like an earthquake. The emotional and social stresses that we do face on a daily basis cause the stress response to be activated for a much longer time, as our brain does not perceive the challenge to be over. This persistent activation of the SNS is termed “chronic stress”, which has been found to bring harm to our health. Since our body is kept in the fight-or-flight response and not reverted back to homeostasis, the physiological activities that occur during the response are also prolonged. (Olpin) It is not difficult to realize why our body starts to deteriorate when you remember that cortisol suppresses our immune system, which makes us susceptible to diseases. Furthermore, as “the hippocampus, the region of the brain where memories are processed and stored, contains many cortisol receptors,” (Randall, 2011, p.1) exorbitant levels of cortisol can lead to atrophy of the hippocampus, causing memory loss and the brain’s inability to form new memories. These health claims came from credible sources made for educational purposes, such as the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, so I have confidence in their reliability.

(Olpin)

Therefore, stress works in our body by disrupting our internal equilibrium. In the short run, this response characterized by an activation of our SNS proves valuable, as it helps us react fast enough to urgent situations and stimulates our brains during challenges. However, in the long run, chronic stress prevents our body from functioning normally at homeostasis, leading to the breakdown of our organ systems. This understanding of stress, especially chronic stress, is definitely significant for me, students and adults all over the world, because current troubles may cause long-term, irreversible consequences on our body. Thus, when making decisions in commitments and decisions, one should consider the amount of stress that might be involved as to not overwhelm oneself. In addition, with the finding that an increase in the stress hormone cortisol for an extended amount of time is adverse to the body, another significant application of this knowledge would be to reduce other activities that also raise cortisol levels. (Randall, 2011) In my research, I found that sleep deprivation, caffeine, alcohol, too little exercise and too much eating could all elevate cortisol levels (Gahr, 2008). Hence, people already under chronic stress are even more at risk when they react to it by pulling all-nighters and gulping down cups and cups of coffee. In conclusion, the physiology of stress and the effects of chronic stress on health tremendously emphasize the importance of stress management. In order to best benefit from our body’s stress response, we must alter our lifestyle and behavior accordingly.

Bibilography

Brucat, P. (2008, April 27). Advancement, stress, and chemical equilibrium. Retrieved from http://www.chem.ufl.edu/~itl/2045/lectures/lec_s.html

Ford, M., & Brown, C. (2007). Chemistry developed specifically for the ib diploma. (pp. 639-641). International Baccalaureate Organization.

The Franklin Institute. (2004). The human brain. Retrieved from http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/stress.html

Gahr, T. (2008, October 28). The science behind stress. The Cornell Daily Sun. Retrieved from http://cornellsun.com/node/39252

Olpin, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://faculty.weber.edu/molpin/healthclasses/1110/bookchapters/stressphysiologychapter.htm

Randall, M. (2011). The physiology of stress: Cortisol and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, Retrieved from http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis

Images:

Olpin, M. Chronic Stress. N.d. Graphic. Weber State UniversityWeb. 3 Sep 2013. <http://faculty.weber.edu/molpin/healthclasses/1110/bookchapters/stressphysiologychapter_files/image002.gif>.

Structure of Cortisol. 2010. Graphic. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of ScienceWeb. 3 Sep 2013. <http://www.gophoto.it/view.php?i=http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/cortisol.jpg

Red Bull- Energy, or Not

Sometimes exhausted from volleyball practice, I would go to the cafeteria to buy a gatorade as it claims to replenish energy. However, I never understand how the chemistry behind energy drinks work so I decided to focus on one of the most popular energy drink, Red Bull, “with sales in the region of 1 billion.” (Thomas, 2007) Through further investigation, Red Bull claims that “the unique combination of ingredients caffeine and taurine” (McKellar, 2013) improves one’s cognitive ability and muscular performance. This leads to my main question: How can the customer trust what Red Bull says? I am curious because there are many times where manufactures states things that are not always true.

In order to understand if Red Bull is making accurate claims, I investigated the chemistry and effect of the two main ingredients, caffeine and taurine.  Caffeine is one of the most widely used stimulants in the world. The structure of caffeine consists of heterocyclic rings, a tertiary amine group and two amide groups as shown in diagram 1. “Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical involved in sleep. It causes neurons in the brain to fire and the pituitary gland initiates the body’s response by releasing adrenaline.” (Watson) In AP Biology, I learned that adrenaline causes the liver to release more sugar than the body needs into the blood stream. The extra sugar in the blood stream then is converted to energy through cellular respiration.

cafmol

Diagram 1: Caffein Structure (itech,2008)

Understanding the effects of caffeine, I went on to research the chemistry and effect of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid, with an amino group(digram2), naturally found throughout the body. It is produced in the liver and the brain and taurine plays an important role in muscle contraction. “Taurine increase force generation by enhancing Sarcoplasmic Reticulum’s Ca2+ accumulation and release.” (Kim, 2003) I learned that in AP Biology, Ca2+ are intracellular signaling molecule for muscled contraction. This shows that an increase concentration in Ca2+ causes the muscles to contract more, therefore causing more movement of the body. Force generation is how much energy is generated in the body for the muscles to properly contract. Looking at the effect of taurine, it can be inferred that increasing the concentration of taurine in one’s body through Red Bull could possibly improve the bodies force generation. “However, no definite study exists on the absorption rate of taurine following dietary ingestion into muscle cells.” (Kim, 2003) “ The evidence for [taurine’s] implicated role is weak still; much more research needs to be done to fully understand taurine’s role.” (Batts, 2006)  According to Kim (2003), “an increase plasma level of taurine [concentration] from dietary concentration is unlikely to cause a sudden influx of taurine.”

Taurine

Diagram 2: Taurine Structure (chemistry, 2012)

Looking at these two main compounds in Red Bull, they seem to suggest that caffeine could perhaps be the sole ingredient responsible for the energetic effect of Red Bull. In a study, “Alford et al. compared the effects of Red Bull with carbonated mineral water as placebo-control and reported that the experimental group showed increase subjective alertness, concentration, and physical endurance. However, they also noted that the improvements in cognitive functions were similar to those observed in caffeine study.” (Kim, 2003) This experiments implies that while taurine has effects in the body, the main contributor to the responses from energy drinks is caffeine. In addition, there hasn’t been enough evidence to claim that taurine obtained from supplements can provided extra movement of the body.

In conclusion, base on the research of the two compounds, it shows that probably only caffeine is responsible for the effects of Red Bull stated by the manufacture. This means that the manufacture’s claim that there is a combination of ingredients to provide the effect is most likely false. Perhaps the manufacture’s purpose was to create placebo effect on the consumer. With the consumers knowing that there are “several” things contributing to the effect, they are prone to develop the chemical’s actual effect. This suggests that many products in the market are not as what the manufactures claim. While in this case the false information seems to do no harm, there could be potential danger to the consumers.

Bibliography

Batts, S. (2006, June 17). Pop Science: The Chemistry Behind Red Bull’s “Wings”. Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from scienceblogs.com/retrospectacle/2006/06/17/pop-science-the-chemisty-behin/

Caffeine Structure [Image]. (2008). Retrieved from http://itech.dickinson.edu/chemistry/?cat=92

Kim, W. (2003). Debunking the Effects of Taurine in Red Bull Energy Drink [eScholarship]. eScholarship | University of California. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/65k8r

McKellar, C. (2013, August 28). Red Bull Gives You Wings – RedBull.com. Red Bull Gives You Wings – RedBull.com. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.redbull.com/en

Taurine Structure [Image]. (2012) Retrieved from http://chemistry.about.com/od/factsstructures/ig/Chemical-Structures—T/Taurine.htm

Thomas, P. (2007, March 1). Behind the label: Red Bull – The Ecologist. Environment, Climate Change, News, Eco, Green, Energy – The Ecologist. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_

Watson, S. (n.d.). HowStuffWorks “How do energy drinks work?”. HowStuffWorks “Science”. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/energy-drink.htm

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

Brain Chemistry

I decided to take AP Language and Composition this year, and one of my summer assignments was to write a book report on any of the books in the recommended reading list. I chose the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, because it was one of the most compelling titles out of the bunch. When I started reading, I assumed that this story was a collection of accounts of cases of different mental disorders, which it turned out to be, but I was surprised to find there were some chemistry related aspects to it as well.

In one of the essays, “Witty Ticcy Ray,” Sacks recounted his encounter with a man, named Ray, who had a severe form of Tourette’s, a rare inherited neurological disorder that causes a person to experience frequent “tics” or spasms. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013) These tics result from “an excess of exciter transmitters in the brain, especially the transmitter dopamine (C8H11NO2).” (Sacks, 1985)

500px-Dopamine2.svg

(Harbin, 2008) – skeletal formula dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is any group of chemical agents released by neurons (nerve cells) to stimulate neighboring neurons, allowing impulses to be passed from one cell to the next throughout the nervous system. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013)

Chemical_synapse_schema_cropped

(US National Institutes of Health, 2009) – impulse transmission in synapse

To treat his Tourette’s, his doctor, Sacks, prescribed haloperidol, otherwise known as Haldol, a drug that inhibits the formation of dopamine in his brain.

Haloperidol

(Fvasconcellos, 2007) – Skeletal formula of haloperidol

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the essay was Sack’s juxtaposition of Tourette’s and Parkinson’s disease. Where Tourette’s disease is an excess of dopamine, Parkinson’s disease is a lack of it. Parkinson’s is characterized by “muscle rigidity, difficulty and slowness in movement,” the opposite of the hyperactivity that characterizes Tourette’s. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013) In an analogy, having Tourette’s would be as if running at the speed of a cheetah, and having Parkinson’s would be as if crawling at the pace of a snail (although this reflects the more extreme cases of the diseases).

In both of these diseases, the causes of the abnormal dopamine production seems to originate from the “the thalamus, hypothalamus, limbic system and amygdala, where the basic affective and instinctual determinants of personality are lodged.” (Sacks, 1985)

limbic

(San Diego State University, n.d.) – Brain diagram

The lack of dopamine in a Parkinson’s patient is due to the loss of dopaminergic neurons that normally synthesize and use dopamine to communicate with other neurons in parts of the brain that control and regulate motor function.  To treat Parkinson’s, L-Dopa is given. (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2013)

An organic compound, L-Dopa (L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine; C9H11NO4), also known as levodopa, is a precursor (in biochemistry, a compound that participates in a chemical reaction within a cell) to dopamine, and is able to cross the protective blood-brain barrier (a filtering mechanism of the capillaries that carry blood to the brain and spinal cord tissue, blocking the passage of certain substances). (Longe, 2006) Once L-Dopa is in the central nervous system, it is decarboxylated (the removal of the carboxyl (-COOH) group) into dopamine by the enzyme dopa decarboxylase (DDC), a catalyst, and pyridoxal phosphate (vitamin B6). (Porter, 2009) It then increases dopamine concentrations to “awaken” motor senses and restore the physical abilities of the Parkinson’s patients.

dopapathway-1

(NEUROtiker, 2007) – skeletal formulas and reactions of L-Dopa using biosynthesis

Sacks observed that his dopamine-deficient patients, when first introduced to L-Dopa, “were ‘awakened’ from stupor to health” and exhibited “wild excitements, violent impulses, often combined with a weird, antic humor.” (Sacks, 1985)

Although I do not know anyone who has Parkinson’s, I know that there is an estimated 10 million people worldwide that live with Parkinson’s, and approximately 60,000 people are diagnosed with it each year in the United States alone. (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 2013) Those numbers are scary, but my findings should be able to comfort those who have been affected by Parkinson’s. Whether a friend, family member, or themselves has Parkinson’s, I hope they will feel better knowing that there are methods of treatment that can help Parkinson’s patients lead relatively normal lives.

I did, however,  have a classmate in 8th grade who hit their head on the ground during P.E. and started experiencing restlessness and tics that he could not control. After my research, I can infer that that boy might have hit a certain part of his head to create an excess production of dopamine in his brain, and a possible treatment would be a prescription of Haldol, or another dopamine inhibiting drug.

I used to think that “something just went wrong with the brain” when thinking about neurological disorders, but my findings tell me that they are nothing to be afraid of, and that there are logical reasons behind these diseases. The advancement of medicine has come very far, and in the future I am sure there will be even greater advancements in this field. For example, a research project working on targeting dopamine-controlling drugs to the specific, affected part of the brain is currently underway. For more information on this study , here is a very interesting TedTalk on “brain chemistry.”

References

Human disease. (n.d.). Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.school.ebonline.com/eb/article-63270

Levodopa. (n.d.). Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.school.ebonline.com/eb/article-9472747

Longe, J. L. (2006). The Gale encyclopedia of medicine (3rd ed.). Detroit: Thomson Gale.

Porter, C. (2009, December 2). Chemistry of L-Dopa. Levodopa. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from students.cis.uab.edu/porce/page1.html

Sacks, O. W. (1985). The man who mistook his wife for a hat and other clinical tales. New York: Summit Books.

Statistics on Parkinson’s. (n.d.). Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from www.pdf.org/en/parkinson_statistics

Tourette syndrome. (n.d.). Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.school.ebonline.com/eb/article-9073058

dopamine. (n.d.). Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.school.ebonline.com/eb/article-9030951

neurotransmitter. (n.d.). Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.school.ebonline.com/eb/article-9055391

Images

San Diego State University (2013). Limbic System. [image online] Available at: http://its.sdsu.edu/multimedia/mathison/images/limbic_system/limbic.gif [Accessed: March 12, 2013].

TedTalks (2013). David Anderson: Your brain is more than a bag of chemicals. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9xJl4S6NsM [Accessed: March 13, 2013].

Unknown. (2013). Dopamine. [image online] Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dopamine2.svg [Accessed: March 12, 2013].

Unknown. (2013). Haloperidol. [image online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Haloperidol.svg [Accessed: March 12, 2013].

Unknown. (2013). Catecholamines biosynthesis. [image online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Catecholamines_biosynthesis.svg [Accessed: March 13, 2013].

US National Institutes of Health (2013). Chemical synapse schema cropped. [image online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chemical_synapse_schema_cropped.jpg [Accessed: March 13, 2013].

Bubble Monster!

After a long day, before going to bed, we head into the bathroom, step into the shower and slather on shampoo, shower gel, and face wash. In the morning, before heading to school, we head to the bathroom where we follow the same routine. As we learned in biology, the epidermis is our largest organ, and perhaps in efforts to keep it clean, we’re actually creating a chemical imbalance between our skin’s natural pH, around 5.5 and a alkaline range around a pH of 8, which can lead to higher levels of bacteria on the skin (Health & Goodness, 2013). We use these products everyday without thinking twice about it, but they are made up of dozens of chemicals, chemicals with which we are not necessarily familiar. Do we know the effects these chemicals have on our skin and whether or not they are safe?

Woman washing face

Picture 1: Woman washing her face (Gruber, 2013)

The chemical makeup of soap and the convenience of bathing have drastically changed as technology has improved, yet human reverence for soap has remained the same. Traditionally, soap was made from the chemical reaction between an animal’s triglycerides and an alkali like sodium or potassium salt which, after a chemical reaction creates a mixture of soap, water, and glycerine (which attracts moisture and allows our skin to stay soft). Traditional soap worked with a skin’s natural pH to cleanse but not over-dry. However, with the advancement of modern science, the makeup of soap has changed. Modern day soap is made of chains of hydrocarbons (Duncan, 2009).

Soap molecule

Picture 2: Chain of hydrocarbon (nsb, 2013)

These chains attach to the oil or grease on the body at one end, and on the other end, attach themselves to water molecules, creating a lather which when rinsed, also rinse the dirt off our bodies as well (Duncan, 2009) in a process called saponification (HSC, 2013). Although this modern day soap can be considered more effective, especially in killing bacteria, it is also more abrasive, often cleansing the oils naturally produced by our skin to keep it soft.

Saponification
Saponification

Picture 3: Process of Saponification (HSC, 2013)

There has been a long-time debate over whether one can have too much of a good thing. When it comes to showering, the answer is “Yes!” The outermost layer of our skin, called the stratum corneum, is a barrier made of hardened dead skin cells and is held together by lipids, a kind of fatty compound that moisturizes the skin. The stratum corneum is a form of protection for the living and healthy cells underneath it. However, when we shower and cleanse our skin with these chemical astringents, the stratum corneum suffers damage through abrasion and over-drying, forcing the body to repair it. (Clark, 2009) If we shower too many times a day and our body can’t keep up with the pace that we are damaging our stratum corneum, our skin becomes dry, irritated, and cracked, something no one wants as it’s ugly, itchy, and painful (Silva, 2013).
Skinlayers

Picture 4: Skin layers (Wikipedia, 2013)

Structural Formula of Lipids

Picture 5: Structural Formula of Lipids (Lipid Library, 2013)

It’s no wonder why we regard soap so highly and think it’s a cure-all. During the olden days, people didn’t shower as often since it was harder for them to acquire water and to heat it as well. They would have to walk miles to and from their house with a bucket to get water, which could take up to half a day. To lower the frequency of this inconvenience, they would only shower once in a while. On a recent trip to Tibet, I learnt from a Tibetan monk that some traditional local people only shower just 3 times in a lifecycle: once when they’re born, once when they get married, and once just after they pass away. This proves that showering daily is not a necessity. However, ever since 1889 when Edwin Ruud invented the in-home water heater (Clark, 2009)allowing hot water to be sent directly to the shower, people have been showering more and more often, sometimes even up to 5 times a day.

Although it is important for us to stay clean, it is still vital for us to strike a balance between clean and healthy skin. Showering only once a day is better for our skin’s health. It maintains a healthy skin pH of around 5.5 and it keeps the skin from becoming irritated and dry. Perhaps we shouldn’t be misled by the convenience of a shower in our home and modern soaps, which are too astringent-like in cleansing the skin, to believe that being ultra clean is the healthy choice. In many ways before all these modern advancements, people actually had healthier skin.

Bibliography:

  • Duncan, Aida.  “Face Soap 101”  20 August 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/cleansing/products/face-soap.htm>  28 January 2013.
  • Clark, Josh.  “Is a daily shower too much for your skin?”  03 September 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/skin-care/daily/tips/daily-shower-skin.htm>  28 January 2013.
  • Ganzel, B. (n.d.). Indoor Plumbing Arrives in Rural America during the 1930s. Wessels Living History Farm, Inc.. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/life_13.html
  • Silva, R. (n.d.). Learn How to Shower To Keep Your Skin Healthy. Health Guidance – Free Health Articles. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/2395/1/Learn-How-to-Shower-To-Keep-Your-Skin-Healthy.html
  • Health & Goodness. (n.d.). Skin pH And Skin Health. Health & Goodness – Information, inspiration and healthy living products.. Retrieved February 5, 2013, from http://www.healthandgoodness.com/article/skin-ph-and-skin-health.html
  • HSC. (n.d.). HSC Online – Industrial Chemistry: 5. Saponification. NSW HSC Online. Retrieved February 5, 2013, from http://hsc.csu.edu.au/chemistry/options/industrial/2764/Ch955.htm

Picture:

  • The Importance of Washing Your Face | The Luxury Spot. (n.d.). Bryce Gruber – Official Blog of Bryce Gruber – The Luxury Spot. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://www.theluxuryspot.com/beauty-spotting-the-importance-of-washing-your-face/
  • Cleaning Aciton of Soap by Structure – Nsb Notes. (n.d.). Nsb Notes. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://nsb.wikidot.com/c-9-5-5-3
  • File:Skinlayers.png – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Skinlayers.png
  • Lipid Library. (n.d.). Waxes, structure, composition, occurrence and analysis. . Lipid Library – Lipid Chemistry, Biology, Technology and Analysis. Retrieved February 5, 2013, from http://lipidlibrary.aocs.org/lipids/waxes/index.htm

Want to be beautiful? Get a Botox… But is it safe?

Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest
Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest

It was not long ago that I reached news that cosmetics were one of the major economic markets in South Korea. Apparently, there are increasing numbers of people who wants to get a surgery in South Korea. Then, some days later I’ve gotten the news, a Chinese travel agency advertisement caught my eyes. The advertisement showed a “Cosmetics Travel to Korea” and I thought that cosmetics are one of the most important elements of human life. Therefore, I thought of investigating the role of chemistry behind the cosmetics.

People want to become pretty, but the genetics always hinders their wants. As the human civilization entered the 21-century, cosmetics became more important. The cosmetics have developed throughout, and now humans can change their appearance without any physical surgeries. It is the invention of Botox.

Well then why Botox out of all of the cosmetic goods? That is because, Botox is the most common and has some history, and it has been commonly used and popular.

According to http://navercast.naver.com Botox is mainly consisting of botulinum toxin, and this botulinum toxin is a form of a protein that is connected with disulfide. During this process, every 50 kilodaltons of protein mixes with every 100 kilodaltons of disulfide and create botulinum toxin. However, most of the times, bacteria produce this substance. A bacteria called Clostridium botulinum when entered into human body, stays into the intestines of humans and produces this toxin and most of the time causes botulism. The function of the botulinum toxin is basically hinders the neurotransmission of muscle contraction, so that muscle contraction does not occur and eventually the muscle gets paralyzed.

Now there is a chemistry part in this substance called botulinum toxin. “The toxin, a zinc proteinase, acts by preventing the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from vesicles at the neuromuscular junction. As a proteinase, the toxin cleaves one or more of the fusion proteins by which the vesicles release acetylcholine. In the absence of acetylcholine, contraction of the muscle–or in some cases, the activity of a gland–is temporarily inhibited.” (Ember, 2005). This is an actual chemical process that creates the effect. To sum up, botulinum toxins prevent acetylcholine, CH3COOCH2CH2N+(CH3)3).

Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest, Botulinum toxin molecule
Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest, Botulinum toxin molecule

Now the fearful part of botox and botulium toxin is that 12 to 16 nano grams of botulium toxin can kill a man of 60 kilograms. Therefore, if you think about it, you can kill basically all the human beings on earth with only 130 grams of botulinum toxin. Because of this trait of Botox, it was once tried to develop as a bio-chemical weapon during World War II.

However, today its uses are beneficial. It is used to cure crossed-eyes, excessive sweating, muscle convulsion (widely known as muscle cramp), some Parkinson’s disease, and etc… And most importantly, in cosmetic Botox is widely used. Moreover, as I know its danger of killing humans, I researched how much does every dose of Botox does it usually contain. In a bottle of Botox, it contains 100U and in every each one shot of Botox on human’s face does not exceed 100U. Moreover, for it to kill a human being, it needs 2800 to 3500 U of Botox. Therefore, in this 100U, contains about 0.4 to 0.6 of botulium toxin. However, it is not still 100% safe to use Botox. Benefits of using Botox overwhelms the risk of using Botox, so it is right to be used, but it still needs careful supervision that if someone uses more than 100U.

Bibliography

Yeo In Hyung (2012.03.19). Botox. General format. Retrieved from http://navercast.naver.com/contents.nhn?rid=44&contents_id=7614&leafId=44

Lois Ember (2005.06.20). Botox. Retrieved from http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/83/8325/8325botox.html

Botulinum Toxin A, Molecular Model. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. http://quest.eb.com/images/132_1189041

Medical Equipment. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. http://quest.eb.com/images/132_1259640

Silk: A new perspective after 5000 years

While on APAC rugby, watching the discovery channel, I watched an hour-long channel on China and the Silk Road. It talked about the wonders of the silk of the silk worm, and its many different properties. Unfortunately, the silk part of the channel was brief, and left me wondering about the applications of silk. Prior to this, my only knowledge of silk was that it is is used to create clothes. A few Google searches away led me to a compelling TED talk on Silk by Fiorenzo Omenetto, who talked about the many applications of Silk, an “ancient material of the future.”
Silk is a natural protein fiber, made specifically by the refolding of water-soluble fibroins into insoluble fibers. Silk’s most unique property is being one of the strongest natural fibers, due to its chemical structure. The high proportion of glycine allows tight packing and numerous hydrogen bonds, allowing greater strength. However, silk has many more properties, such as being biodegradable, and being implantable into the human body with no immune response. These properties allow for innumerable uses for silk in our society.
The most revolutionary application of silk, however, is the reverse engineering of silk, transforming silk back into its original “ingredients” that is protein and water. One example of the application of the reverse engineering is the use of these ingredients in the creation of film, in which researchers take advantage of the fact that proteins and water reassemble and create film. This film can be further applied into nanotechnology, in which the silk solution can be poured onto the surface of a DVD player, and the silk would replicate features on even a nanoscopic level, hence retaining the information stored on the DVD. The use of this technology can also be applied to other areas of nanotechnology, such as creating optical micro prisms or even holograms.

Omenetto demonstrating silk film retaining nano-information
Omenetto demonstrating silk film retaining nano-information

Silk engineering itself holds big implications. Being biodegradable and the strongest natural fiber, it could potentially eliminate the need for plastic bags, which are detrimental to the environment. Furthermore, material such as polystyrene would be obsolete, as silk can easily be created and thrown away without guilt. Additionally, silk can be programmably degradable. Scientists can create a silk film that is programmed to not degrade in water, and create another that is, allowing scientists full control of silk’s creation and descruction. Being biocompatible, silk can be inserted into the body with no negative repercussions, giving rise to possible ideas such as silk micro needle.
The greater implication that I see, however, is the completely new perspective into a material that is 5 millennia old. This new perspective not only allows revolutionizes the way we use silk, but also begs us to start looking at other materials with new lens. While looking for new discoveries may be important, it is just as important to look at what we have right now with different perspectives, and possibly discover new applications of old materials.

Works Cited
Clark, Douglas. “Researchers Find New Uses for Silk | ChEnected | Engineers talk chemicals, bio, safety, energy, sustainability..” ChEnected | Chemical engineers discuss careers, energy, and sustainability. | AIChE. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. .
“Film Festival.” Film Festival. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. .
Lewin, Menachem. Handbook of fiber chemistry. 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.
Omenetto, Fiorenzo. “Fiorenzo Omenetto: Silk, the ancient material of the future | Video on TED.com.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2011. .

Failed Experiment Leads to Serendipity

How Algae is Converted into Energy
How Algae is Converted into Energy

As many of you know, The IB Group 4 project was not too long ago for us. Our goal was to investigate how to help better the fight against poverty; so, my group decided to investigate a renewable source of energy, more specifically, algae. Now algae had already been known as a bio-fuel, but there are some difficulties in cultivating and growing enough algae for this to be a sufficient substitute for more commonly used fuels. We were to determine what pH value of water would the algae growth rate be the greatest. After much investigation, we determined that it would be best to test pH levels of 8-12. We took 5 different samples of the same species of algae and placed them into 5 different containers of different pH levels (from 8 to 12). Each container had the same variables affecting the algae growth; the humidity was constant, the amount of sunlight was constant, the amount of nutrients was constant. Naturally, it is our duty as scientists to ensure that the variables are controlled to ensure the data we collect retain its integrity.

But when deciding how to determine which algae had grown the fastest, we were stumped. We could not take the mass of the algae because algae absorb water and we do not want water masses and we could not measure the volume of the algae because it does not take a rigid shape. We had met our first roadblock.

Finally, Mr. Smith suggested that we use a bomb calorimeter to measure the energy given off when the algae are burned. Theoretically, the more massive the algae, the more energy will be given off. So we were back into action mode. We extracted the algae from their containers and placed each sample into an incubator to evaporate any remaining water.

The next day, all the water had evaporated from the algae. We promptly set up the calorimeter, stuck a needle into a cork, prepped a stopwatch, prepared the distilled water and lit the algae. It did not burn. We poked and prodded for minutes at a time but the algae refused to catch fire. We had failed. Lost in a world of our own misery my team looked down, ashamed of our brief role as scientists as I continued to light the algae without reward. And then something clicked. I could see the heads of my group mates slowly rise up as they realized what we have created. Algae that does not burn! More excited than ever, we decided to test our flame resistant plant by placing it on a stack of very flammable paper towels and lighting it. What we found was astounding. Not only, were the algae flame resistant, but it also helps preserve what was underneath. The paper towel surrounding the algae were all burnt, but the paper towel directly underneath was untouched.

asbestos

But why is this important? How does it help fight poverty? Usually, a substance known as Asbestos is integrated into building material to give that object a fire resistive property, but what my group 4 had done was create an organic substitute for asbestos. Though we do not know any side effects from using the algae to retard flames, we do understand that long term exposure to asbestos causes cancerous diseases as well as non-cancerous diseases to the throat, lungs and in some cases, the heart (shown above). We also must reinforce the fact that Algae is an organic substance, meaning it is both easily accessed and environmentally friendly. Hopefully, our findings are significant enough to call for further investigation such as determining how to reproduce such algae, and determining possible health risks from exposure. Perhaps in the future, houses will be lined with algae instead of asbestos.

———————————————–

“Algae Growing Conditions.” Growing Algae. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.growing-algae.com/algae-growing-conditions.html>.

Kriscenski, Ali. “POWER YOUR CAR WITH ALGAE: Algae Biocrude by LiveFuels.”Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World. 22 Oct. 2007. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://inhabitat.com/power-your-car-with-algae-algae-biocrude-by-livefuels/>.

“What Are Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases?.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, May 01, 2011. Web. 25 Sept 2011. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asb/>.