Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'Synthehol' In Development!

If you're a fan of Star Trek, you may be thrilled to find out that researchers at Imperial College London are working on an alcohol substitute, that may have been inspired by the "Synthehol" from Star Trek. Ideally, this alcohol substitute would let the drinker experience the buzz without getting drunk or getting hangovers. Furthermore, it could potentially be "switched off" with a pill, so that drinkers could sober up immediately. The synthetic alcohol will likely be based on benzodiazepines, which are related to the active compound in Valium, diazepam, because these compounds affect the nerves in the brain in a similar way to alcohol, but are much easier to flush out of the body.

Chemtastic Designs: Phat Degree

That hard earned Ph.D. is definitely a Phat Degree.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Chemtastic Designs: The Dalton Chemical Symbol Series

These latest T-shirt designs are inspired by 19th century chemist John Dalton's chemical symbols.

The first one is an interesting-looking symbol for Quicksilver (aka Mercury). The ether and caffeine molecules are drawn using Dalton's chemical symbols.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The top 15 chemical additives in food

According to Coupon Sherpa, the top 15 chemicals that are added to food to make it look better and last longer are:
  1. 1-Methylcyclopropene: also known as "SmartFresh," this gas is used to keep fruit from producing ethylene, which causes ripening. Apparently, it preserves apples for a year and bananas for a month.
  2. Artificial coloring: many of the artificial colors developed since the early 1900s have been banned by the FDA as proven carcinogens. The artificial colors currently allowed in foods are: Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6. However, many are banned in other countries and still have potential health risks. The following have been restricted or banned: Greens #1 and #2, Reds #1, #2, #3, and #4, and Violet #1. As a safer alternative, look for natural food dyes, such as: caramel coloring, annatto, cochineal, betanin, turmeric, saffron, and paprika.
  3. Artificial flavoring: apparently these have been linked to behavioral changes...
  4. Aspartame: also known as Equal or NutraSweet, should be avoided by people suffering from phenylketonuria, who can't metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. The safety of aspartame is still debatable as it breaks down into methanol, phenylalanine, and aspartic acid, and then further into formaldehyde, formic acid, and diketopiperazine.
  5. Astaxanthin: is apparently added to the diet of farm-raised salmon so that their flesh acquires that pink color found in wild salmon. This is because farm-raised salmon don't get to eat crustaceans which contain a natural astaxanthin.
  6. Sodium benzoate: is a preservative that is often added to soft drinks, cereals, meats. It has been linked to digestive problems, headaches, asthma attacks, and hyperactivity.
  7. Antioxidants: such as BHA and BHT, are added to oil-containing processed foods, like crackers, cereals, and sausages, as a preservative to keep them from getting rancid. Both butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are possible human carcinogens.
  8. Canthaxanthin: is apparently used to make egg yolks look golden yellow. Large amounts of canthaxanthin can cause retinal damage.
  9. Emulsifiers: such as agar, albumin, alginate, casein, egg yolk, glycerol monostearate, xanthan gum, Irish moss, lecithin, and soaps. These help to improve the shelf life of bread products and help oil and water to mix homogeneously. Reduced-fat and low-calorie products tend to contain emulsifiers.
  10. High fructose corn syrup: is used as a sweetener and also helps to maintain moisture while preserving freshness. It is highly used in processed foods. In addition to causing obesity, its consumption has also been linked to diabetes, heart disease, as well as kidney and liver disease.
  11. Monosodium glutamate (MSG): is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, an amino acid. MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in processed foods, such as chips, condiments, and seasonings. Some people have reported tightening in the chest, headaches and a burning sensation in the neck and forearms after consuming food containing MSG.
  12. Olestra: also known as "Olean," is a fat substitute that doesn't get digested by the human body, and is often used in foods such as fat-free chips. Aside from the well-publicized "anal leakage" problem, consumption of large amounts of Olestra can also prevent our bodies from absorbing fat-soluble vitamins.
  13. Partially hydrogenated oils: are a cheaper alternative to butter and are found in many processed foods. The process of hydrogenating oil can lead to the production of trans fats as a side product. Trans fats have been linked to heart disease.
  14. Potassium bromate: is an oxidizing agent and is used to improve flour, so that bread dough rises higher. Most of the bromate breaks down during the breadmaking process, but traces of it can be a cancer risk.
  15. Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate: are commonly used to preserve meat and is found in cold cuts, hot dogs, and sausages. When heated to high temperatures (like frying), sodium nitrite in meat can form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic.
I'm not sure I can rid my diet of all of these additives, but it definitely makes sense to limit our consumption of processed foods (so hard!) Check out the ingredient list of foods that you commonly buy and see if you're horrified.