This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chemophilia - Part II

Continuing in the vein of Wednesday’s chemophilia post, some non-chemists enjoy doing chemical experiments on their own bodies. For example, the LA Times has an article describing the current fad of self-chelation therapies. For those that don’t know, a chelating agent is a molecule that binds to metal ions at multiple sites, generally leading to a very stable metal-chelate complex. Although chelation therapy is performed by doctors intravenously to remove metals from the body in cases of severe metal poisoning, there are various “health” promoters who suggest that ingesting small amounts of these same chelating agents can also remove low levels of toxic metals. There are a variety of reasons why self-chelation is a scam and possible health risk, but that doesn’t stop the websites from selling these concoctions.

A website named "Vibrant Life", for example, describes the benefits of self-chelation. (Sounds pornographic, doesn’t it?). A check of their chelating product ingredient list reveals that it contains a standard mix of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and 500 milligrams of EDTA as the chelating agent. Considering how poorly EDTA is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, you might as well drink Mountain Dew if you want to ingest EDTA. On the other hand, the makers of Chelorex say that oral EDTA chelation is a scam, which is why their self-chelating formula has no EDTA in it. In fact their product doesn’t appear to have much in the way of metal chelators at all – just vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Hmmm…. Where’s the FDA when you need them?
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Obligatory story from the past about self-chelating… well, sort of, anyway.

A professor back in grad school once told me about a friend of his who was using the old school habit of mouth-pipetting. As you might have guessed, he accidentally swallowed some of the reagent, which turned out to be rather poisonous. (I want to apologize here since I don’t really remember which chemicals were involved, so bear with me.) He immediately began to panic and proceeded to rush from lab to lab yelling for someone to help him. Since no one responded quickly enough for his liking, he ran back to his lab where he had the bright idea of swallowing a second chemical to counteract the first. Again, I don’t remember which chemical it was, but it would have precipitated out the first reagent. Oh, and it was poisonous too. But he drank it anyway.

After calming down a bit, the chemist within began to reassert itself and he wondered if these 2 chemicals would really react at the low pHs present in the stomach. Calmly, he performed the calculations and found that, yes, they would indeed not react under those conditions. So now he had 2 poisons in his system. As far as I know, he ended up suffering no ill effects.

Woo hoo! I made it through an entire post about chemistry and didn't use a single subscript or superscript. Good times, indeed!

3 comments:

Mitch said...

Instead of vomiting, he decided to drink an other poison.

::shakes head::

Chemgeek said...

I sure hope he did a stoichiometric calculation before consuming the "antidote" so he would consume only one equivalent.

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