Thursday, February 19, 2009

Can you be fooled by fake fats?

In order to please consumer’s taste (while keeping their health in mind), the food industry has developed “fake fats.” These “fake fats” possess the same taste and qualities of fat, just without the health hazards attached. There are two categories of “fake fats.” The first involves the same fatty acid chains found in real triglycerides, they’re attached to a substance other then glycerol. This produces a substance that looks and feels like fat, but is not digested by the body. They use sugars other than sucrose to attach fatty acid chains, use short fatty acid chains, or replace fatty acids entirely by long-chain alcohols. The second category of fake fats uses substances that don’t contain long-chain hydrocarbon components. They give humans the impression that they’re consuming fat. They have a creamy feel in the mouth but they consist of protein instead of fat. They are especially used in “light” foods, such as margarine.

Unfamiliar terms: triglyceride is glyceride in which the glycerol is esterfied with three fatty acids. Triglycerides are formed from a single molecule of glycerol, combined with three fatty acids on each of the OH groups, and make up most of fats digested by humans. It is the main constituent of vegetable oil and animal fats.

The innovation behind this idea is genius. It is a much healthier alternative then actual fat, and can ultimately end up saving people’s lives. People are always complaining that they need to lose weight, and this is an excellent way for people to start. The only downfall is that the “fake fats” may have a different taste and may not be as easily disguised in flavor as the author of this article makes it out to be. However, personally, I cannot tell much of a difference between butter and margarine. More people would probably be more in tune to “fake fats” if they knew how detrimental real fats really were for them. Therefore I feel that more awareness should be made to advocate ingesting “fake fats.”

Baird, Colin. “Fake Fats have the mouth-feel of real fat.” Chemistry In Your Life: Second Edition. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York. 2006. P. 284-5

Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?

Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?

Two kinds of proteins exist in the foods people eat: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins have all of the necessary amino acids in the correct ratios for the human body to convert into proteins. Complete protein exists in poultry, seafood, milk, cheese, and eggs. Soy protein is one of the rare plant-based complete proteins. On the other hand, incomplete proteins do not have all of the amino acids in the correct ratios for the production of proteins. Most plants do not contain all of the essential complete proteins. Although, combining certain grains and legumes can actually provide someone with all the essential amino acids. Grains are high in methionine, and legumes and beans are high in lysine and tryptophan, meaning these combined can provide adequate protein. Certain cultures incorporate this idea, such as how in Mexico corn and beans are eaten, in U.S. South rice and black-eyed peas are eaten, and in India rice and lentils are eaten. You need all eight amino acids to have a healthy amount of protein in your body. Extra amino acids not needed in your body are excreted as urea in urine. Some scientists say not to consume soy products by infants and pregnant woman, since it contains genistein, which can distress the immune system. Acrylamide is the result of the amino acid asparagine, and glucose, mix when baking/frying temperature surpasses 248 degrees F. Animal studies have revealed that acrylamide can act as a cancer causing carcinogen, although it has not been proven to cause breast, bowel, kidney, or bladder cancer, meaning the levels of acrylamide in food are most likely very low. Acrylamide exists in starchy foods such as potato chips, French fries, cookies, biscuits, processed cereals, and some types of bread.

No difficult terms.

I picked this article mainly because I am a vegetarian, and I always hear from my mom something along the lines of “I really think you are not getting enough protein, trust me I know these things. You are young and think you know everything, but really you don’t understand that…” Now I think I should show her this article and see what she says. Although, I still believe that even though I may be able to get enough protein, I am not sure whether an athlete can. Maybe if they also took vitamins then they could, but I highly doubt they would favor the idea of not eating meat (not to induce any stereotypes of athletes).

The funniest part about the misconception of vegetarianisms, is that so many people say that if you do not eat meat, then you will not get enough protein, and these people do not even know what protein is! It has just been a part of culture for people to think that meat protein is a necessity, but they do not know about the real story behind the food pyramid (how lobbying, dairy and meat farmers were involved). If more people would read articles such as this, then maybe they would be more open to vegetarianisms. Also, a benefit to not eating meat that might make people more open to vegetarianisms is that it is healthier for your body, since meat contains fats that the body does not always need. Another benefit, is being a vegetarian is better for the environment.

Colin Baird. What’s A Complete Protein? Chemistry in Your Life: Second Edition. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. 2006.

Do Vegetarians Get Enough Protein?

Pucker Up!

Have you ever wondered how lipstick is made? What gives it its consistency? It's shape and strength? Well, lipsticks are made of a mixture of several substances: natural waxes, oils, emulsifiers, and synthetic dyes. The synthetic dye obviously gives lipstick its color and can vary in shade, but are most commonly red or orange-hued.

Lipstick gains its moisturizing properties from the oils and emulsifiers that are found in it. A common emulsifier that is found in lipstick is lanolin. An emulsifier is a moisturizing compound of oils and fats.

Another major moisturizing component of lipstick is the oils that are used. The most commonly used oil in lipstick is Castor oil. This same oil is often used in pharmaceuticals and other cosmetic products as a lubrticant. This ingredient gives lipstick its consistency. As an oil, it allows the makeup to remain as a solid, but to also flow easily when applied to the lips.

The natural waxes grant lipstick is hardness, strength, and shape. These natural waxes are mixtures of long-chain esters. A common natural wax used in lipstick is beeswax. Beeswax contains esters that are formed when alcohols (with 24 to 36 carbon atoms) react with carboxylic acids (with 36 carbon atoms).

This seemingly simple object is a great example of how pervasive chemistry is in our lives. The complex mixture of lipstick demonstrates fundamental chemical aspects while also demonstrating how such chemicals are so versatile.

Baird, Colin. "6.22 Esters form the waxes that are used in lipstick." Chemistry in Your Life. 2nd ed. Boston: W. H. Freeman & Company, 2006. 246-47.

Why Do People Smell Fishy?

Many Amines Have Odors That Disgust Us

Amines have “fishy” odor which is repulsive to many people. Trimethylamine Is what is generated in rotting fish, leaving that horrible smell behind. The reason we detect these scents is because the amines are water soluble and volatile liquids that make their way to the sensors in our nose. The nitrogen in animal flesh after decomposition turns into amines. Those amines that are released into the air are the rotten odors we smell. Stronger bad smelling odors come from diamines, the two amino groups purescine and cadaverine. Both of these amino groups are found in rotting meat and fish. These amines also contribute to the odor of urine, bad breath, and semen.

Amines- organic molecules that correspond to ammonia, in which one, two or all three of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by R groups consisting of chains or rings of carbon atoms (with their associated hydrogen atoms).
Diamines- amines that contain two amino groups.
Volatile- evaporating rapidly; passing off readily in the form of vapor.

I wanted to do a blog on this supplemental reading because I was curious what it was that made decomposing animals smell bad. Additionally, I found this particularly of interest because part of the reason I don’t like seafood is for its fishy scent. I also found it interesting that there is a human genetic disease that makes people smell like fish because of defects of enzymes that don’t convert to a odorless compound. Learning that fish only smell fishy when they start the decomposition process makes me more skeptical about eating fish because I don’t like the idea of eating a fish that smells knowing it’s decomposing.

Nicotine and Caffeine: Structurally too close for comfort?

Although nicotine and caffeine may at first glance seem unrelated they are in fact very similar. Structurally they both contain a pyridine ring and a pyrrolidine ring joined by a single bond. Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, meaning they can both induce heightened alertness and mental process temporarily. Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and production of adrenaline are also side effects. Both amines are found in plants and have been used throughout history as “stay-awake” drugs.

A pyridine ring is a ring of five carbon atoms and a nitrogen atom that is structurally similar to a benzene ring. A pyrrolidine ring is a ring composed of four carbon atoms and a nitrogen atom with a hydrogen atom attached.

These two legal stimulants are widely used today because of their long history of cultural acceptance. Today many people refer to caffeine as the only drug that kids can legally abuse. It is very interesting to think that the only thing that separates caffeine from nicotine is two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms.


Baird, Colin. Chemistry in Your Life. Second Edition. “Nitrogen atoms are found in nicotine and caffeine”. Page 297-300. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. 2006.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The history of alcohol in the body

“The history of a can of beer in the body”
Alcohol is metabolized and processed in a series of six steps: alcohol in the stomach is absorbed into the bloodstream, the alcohol in the small intestine is then absorbed into the blood before other nutrients in the body, the liver enzymes break the alcohol down into water and carbon dioxide, a small amount of unmetabolized alcohol is excreted through urine and sweat, the unmetabolized alcohol in the blood moves into the lungs and is inhaled, and lastly, the alcohol in the blood is transported to the brain and begins to affect the central nervous system. There are some factors that influence how fast the alcohol is delivered to the brain; for instance, eating a high-fat meal while drinking a beer, for instance, slows down the absorption of the alcohol into the brain, while drinking a carbonated drink has the opposite effect. Effects of alcohol consumption begin to fade about thirty minutes after the first drink is consumed, while it is about a fourth of its original level after an hour. This can change, however, is multiple drinks are consumed, which influences the “race” between the ethanol absorption into the blood and how fast the liver breaks it down. When alcohol concentration in the blood stream is low, it interferes with the brain’s inhibitory brain centers, which results usually in uncontrolled emotional displays, mood changes, and the loss of social constraint. At higher concentrations, motor coordination is partially lost, speech becomes slurred, and at even higher levels the ethanol effect becomes dominant, so that people can pass out, undergo a coma, or die.
Unfamiliar terms:
Ethanol: a straight chain alcohol, and a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid
This process I think is really important to know, as well as the effects of speeding it up or ignoring its effects. To me, because alcohol is in such common use throughout the world, and especially on college campuses, it is incredibly important to know about how your body reacts to alcohol, as well as what can be done to speed up or slow down its effects, as well as the less dramatic effects it has on your body, such as dehydration.
Baird, Colin. Chemistry in Your Life. New York: W.H. Freedman and CO, 2006.
“Ethanol” Wikipedia. Feb 17 2009.

Chemistry's Sway on Legal Proceedings

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cocaine: A Deadly Distraction

Many have experienced the effects of Cocaine, be it first-hand, experiencing the damages it can cause a friend or family member, in the media or just in concept of a commonly used “party drug,” however, chances are, the origins of cocaine are not as widely known. In fact, cocaine is a nitrogen-containing compound, which in the human body acts as a stimulant as well as a depressant. The leaves of the Erythroxylum coca plant contain the amine, which are an “organic molecules that correspond to ammonia, NH3, in which one, two or all three of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by R groups consisting of chains or rings of carbon atoms (which are associated with their hydrogen atoms), which can be extracted from the crushed leaves of the plant. The extraction is then treated with aqueous hydrochloric acid. The transfer of the amine to the ionic hydrochloride form changes the substance from a non-water soluble one into one that is highly water soluble. The product of this is leaves that become watery acid. Once this has taken place, the water can be evaporated leaving behind the salt, cocaine hydrochloride, in the form of  a white residue that is more familiar to our eyes.

Once in this powder form, the cocaine can be snorted by users and quickly dissolve in the mucus of the nostril. This then, quickly enters the bloodstream and creates a stimulated feeling in the body. The powder can also be dissolved in water prior to use and injected, know as a “mainlined” injection, into the blood stream creating a more powerful and faster acting effect due to the increased concentration of the drug.

Due to the ionic solid structure of cocaine, it cannot be smoked because of it’s high melting point. Instead, it would decompose. However, the substance known as “crack” has been developed from the free base of cocaine (as opposed to the hydrocholiride salt), which has a lower melting point and when smoked transforms to a volatile liquid that can vaporize into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

Whichever the mechanism of using, cocaine is a highly addictive substance. From a biochemical standpoint, it affects the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is produced in the brain to regulate movement, mood and attention. By blocking the dopamine from sites that it naturally goes to, cocaine increases the concentration of dopamine in the synapse region of the brain. The “high” sensation is a result of this concentration. However, the blockage of this from its normal function leads to a depressed state following the high. Using again presumably reverses this effect at the consequence of developing a faster metabolism of the drug and creating a cycle of addiction.

Despite its historical use as a treatment for depression, topical cures and by native cultures, cocaine today is often mixed with other chemicals adding to its danger and dependency, creating more problems than even pure cocaine does. The risk of this can be great and it is often a losing battle that science, nor society, should embark upon. 

Baird, Colin. Chemistry in Your Life. Second Edition. “Cocaine is a highly addictive amine..” Page 303. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. 2006.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Peter, A limited necessity

The Baird text speaks about the limited supplies of fossil fuels but also on how more efficient ways to extract fuels in a more efficient and and conservative way. Nevertheless, according to the text there should be enough fuel to last mid-century but as the text notes and as well as our current economic situation has shown, at a much higher price then we have expected. Another interesting statistic is that according to Baird's text it took about a half a billion years for all these fossil fuels to get created, yet almost all of it has been used up in 200 years starting in the late 19th century.

A term that I felt the book could have given a bit more information about was kerogen, more info on this particular material would be appreciated.

I find that this part of the book to be incredibly relevant today. There are many concerns about humanity's rapid depletion of fossil fuels. Many efforts, such as alternative fuel sources have been proposed as well as finding ways to cut back on gas usage. The information discussed is of extreme impotrance in the long run and as are fuels start to run out more and more we may face an uncertain future in nothing is to be done to help solve this problem.

Baird, Colin Chemistry in your Life 2nd ed., pg.145-6

Kory, Global warming to kill all that exists!

In the future there could be a significant amount of global warming. This would have a drastic effect on circulation patterns in the water of the Atlantic Ocean. The warmer surface water temperature move north from the tropics toward the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. This brings heat to Europe and eastern North American, but not to the same extreme. If there was a drastic change in the temperature of the surface want, along with the increase of rainfall, this could have an effect on the circular pattern. There has been a geological record of this happening in the past. The time when this happen, the temperatures in Europe dropped by a significant amount. Some scientists believe that unstoppable global warming could be a factor. They have named this possibility "runaway greenhouse effect". If this were to become turn, almost all life on earth would be in danger, because of rising temperatures, changes in the oceans currents, and there would be difference in rainfall patterns.

I do not believe that this "extreme" global warming will occur. There has always been a shift from warming to cooling on our planet. I do agree that we have to reduce pollution immediately and eventually all together, but I do not believe that it will cause this case of global warming to occur. It is a scary thought that we could potentially kill off life on earth because of our daily tasks and luxuries. Sciences needs to event better ways of transportation and i believe that this will happen and happen soon.

Baird, Colin. Chemistry in Your Life. 2nd Ed, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York. 2006. (604-605)

Rebecca, The prospect of "clean" coal

Coal is deemed a “dirty” fuel because it contains many natural chemical substances. When coal is burned, it emits: sulfur dioxide, fluoride compounds, mercury, uranium, and other radioactive metals, all highly toxic substances. Coal plants continue to be the largest emitters of mercury into the atmosphere within North America. Soot is also a result of burning coal. Soot is proven to be a severe respiratory agitator, causing and irritating asthma attacks, decreased lung function, and overall respiratory complications.

It is thought that coal can be burned “cleanly” in large-scale factories, meaning it would not emit as many harmful pollutants. However, it is expensive to install the necessary machinery to “clean” coal burning. Coal is still the most widely used source for electricity in industrialized and non-industrialized nations. In the United States, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions (a greenhouse gas) outweighs the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Coal burning is the largest source of atmospheric sulfur dioxide. Cleaning coal involves the costly process of removing sulfur from the coal before it is burned. Another means of reducing sulfur dioxide emission levels is to substitute coal with oil, natural gas, or low-sulfur coal, though these are much more expensive.

With all this in mind, is it even possible to have “clean coal?” Even if sulfur is removed and measures are taken to reduce pollutants, there are still emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The idea of “clean coal” is especially intriguing at the moment because newly elected President Obama claims that he will work toward using safer, “clean” coal; however, it seems apparent that even “clean” coal is dangerous. So is calling it “clean” coal an attempt to lessen the scrutiny of electricity production or is it a fact that coal can be burned with a significant reduction in toxic and polluting emissions?

Baird, Colin. "4.24 Coal is called a "dirty" fuel." Chemistry in Your Life. 2nd ed. New York: W. H. Freeman & Company, 2006. 159-161.

Amanda W., Systematic illness

People throughout the world suffer from the chemical imbalance of Bipolar Disorder. It is an illness that can, and does, destroy lives if untreated. The treatment for such an illness often includes very powerful medications, which can lead to the same devastating consequences if not properly administered. Many systematic problems exist surrounding the diagnoses and treatment of Bipolar Disorder and within the context of out Westernized medicine, thee problems are increasing not only with older generations but with youth being medicated at very early ages. Dr. Laurel L. Williams recounts a story in which a mother, who had only recently regained custody of her 10-year-old son, came to her for the first time asking for refills for her sons eight medications. His previous doctor for Bipolar Disorder had treated him with a variation of anti-depressants, mood-stabilizers, antipsychotic medications, and a medication to curb the side effects of the other prescriptions. Taken back by this, she recommended alternate routes of treatment to which the mother rejected, asserting that the Doctor had discriminated against her for being of a lower socioeconomic class. She admits that this is not an uncommon scenario and that in order for a better system to be in place, doctors and consumers must work together to build better relationships and create better diagnosis.

The articles states that in recent years, Bipolar Disorder as a diagnoses has increased tremendously. This can possibly be attributed to a few issues. One reason may be that although science and medicine has progressed very much, it remains a mystery of the brain that does not seem to have any preventative treatment, only reactionary treatment. This, paired with the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs to consumers, puts pressure on Doctors to aid patients with the “cure” to their ailments. Within the relationship of Doctor/Insurance company lies more complex troubles with the need to tend to more housekeeping chores in order to treat patients. These phone calls, stacks of paperwork and time spent dancing with insurance companies has left Doctors with less time to assess their patients true needs, at the devastation of the patient.Due to the added complications of mental illness in children, this is time that is crucial to properly treating a consumer.

Williams suggests a collective effort in mending this pressing matter. First, time with the family, the patient, and the institutions that the young person is involved with is crucial. Next, she suggests that Doctors themselves must stand up to companies pushing drugs, insisting that they do not take the promotions offered to them for peddling various prescriptions. She suggests that as a society, we must require better systems of health care in which these incidents cannot occur, and finally it requires consumers to take charge of their health and while recognizing that medication can be a life-saving tool, it is not magic and must be thoroughly understood before simply swallowing.

She ends by admitting that treating young people can be very difficult. As a consumer who was diagnosed at twelve with early-onset Bipolar Disorder, nothing rings more true. In my experience, the time needed to treat such an illness cannot be taken in the fifteen minute appointments allotted by many psychiatrists today. Even when managed this isn’t enough time to maintain stability in a person’s mental health. The increasingly lack of attention and lack of caring physicians is clearly a problem, and dealing with these medications as a consumer with no guidance is not an option. The responsibility, as Williams expresses, does not fall in one place but in many and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Laurel, Williams L. "A Prescription for Failure." Los Angeles TImes [Los Angeles] 14 Dec. 2008, A-33 ed.

Amanda S., The future of genetics

The Human Genome Project opened lots of possibilities for the use and circulation of the new-found information about the genetic make-up of human beings. One of the most alluring possibilities has to do with the future of one's children. Researchers are working with the possibility of using genetic information to determine the probability of a child being born with a disease such as Down Syndrome. This is called genetic counseling. First "genetic counselors" create a family pedigree, which can be especially relevant to two parents with history of genetic disease. The two parents undergo a series of tests to see if they are carriers of any fatal diseases by carrying a disease allele alongside a normal allele. But the counselling goes as far as to test embryos to see if they have been at all negatively affected, and then make sure that only healthy embryos are implanted and allowed to grow to maturity.

Genetic counselling has gained enormous popularity recently, especially with families with histories of genetic problems. Only time and research will tell how the Human Genome Project will be able to improve and increase this foundation.

Hewitt. 'Genetic Counseling.' Conceptual Integrated Science. Pearson, San Francisco, 2006. p 362.

Mia, Minorities living in toxic waste

According to a study conducted by researchers at four different California universities, California has the highest concentration of minorities living near hazardous waste facilities. All across the country, the study concluded that the majority of toxic waste sites were located near minority neighborhoods. But in Los Angles Country, of the 1.2 million people living less than two miles from toxic facilities, 91percent of them are minorities.

The effects for these individuals are extremely harmful. Yet top officials claim they are doing all that is within their power to improve the standards of these facilities. Sue Briggium, vice president of federal public affairs for Waste Management, says that she cannot deny the facts and recent legislation will hopefully turn things around. Under the presidency of George Bush, a recommended 28 percent cut in funding for programs working to make changes makes taking action difficult.

It is no surprise to me to read stories such as these. Gentrification and segregation continues to push minorities into certain areas of urban cities with little property value, and in this case harmful toxins. The problem becomes greater, too, when you consider the voice that minorities have in our governments, educational institutions, etc. With little power to speak up about issues such as these, little progress is being made. Imagine if toxic waste sites were located in a prominent neighborhood near the University of Redlands. Pressure and influence in local government would see a drastic end to the problem. However, with little influence many minorities simply must take the wrongs that others commit. This is extremely troubling for me, yet I am confident that the new Obama administration will address issues such as this, and not ignore them like previous administrations have done.

Wilson, Janet. "California Has Largest Number of Minorities Near Hazardous Waste." Los Angles Times [Los Angeles] 17 Apr. 2007.