September is for science.

This semester I am taking Chemistry and Biochemistry and Cellular Biology. The science courses are the toughest but they really help put everything into perspective for me.

It’s like taking a microscope to food and asking “why” until you are left with just the raw building blocks – atoms and molecules. Being able to understand the chemical reactions of what we eat and the molecular composure of things like carbohydrates and sugars is really something fascinating.

With chemistry it’s really easy to get caught up in the equations and numbers and letters. But when you stop to see the big picture and apply it to the things you can see and hear and taste, that’s when the magic starts. And everyday details begin to make so much sense.

For example, if I brush my hair quickly I can hear a faint crackling sound. This is the sound of the electrons in the atoms of my hair jumping from my brush back into my hair. Electrons are the particles that orbit each atom and can become easily dislodged.

When it comes to food, it gets even more interesting. Free radicals are foreign compounds that enter our bodies through environmental pollution or the chemicals in processed foods. The reason they cause damage is because they are compounds with unpaired electrons. They travel our bodies looking for electrons to stabilize them, and they do this by stealing electrons from other healthy cells in our body. When enough healthy cells break down, that’s when we begin developing serious health problems.

CHEMISTRY IN THE AIR

I feel like a science teacher when I say this, but chemistry is literally everywhere. All around us and in the air we breathe. Most particles found in the air have a positive charge. However, in natural settings there is a greater concentration of negative ions. These are generated by things like sunlight, lightening, waves, and waterfalls. Because we usually find it easier to breathe in natural settings, the theory is that negatively charged particles play a vital role in air quality.

Today you can buy a “negative ion generator” which produces a density of ions comparable to Niagara Falls! The science behind it is all chemistry.

The negatively charged ions attract positive ions in the air. Things like dust and pollen are all positively charged. When these particles join, they become too heavy to be airborne and fall to the ground where they are swept or vacuumed away. This allows us to control conditions like asthma, allergies, or other respiratory problems.

Not all studies surrounding these theories have been conclusive, but the USDA found a 95% reduction in salmonella in a poultry farm after using a negative ion generator. The Journal of Hygiene reported a similar reduction of bacteria in a human burn unit. And another study by Toyota Car Company found that the alertness of drivers was improved with a negative ion generator. They have also been used to treat depression, seasonal affective disorders, fatigue, and improve sleep quality.

At the same time, the question of whether or not these generators are safe is another issue that continues to be studied.

CHEMISTRY IN FOOD

It’s a true wonder when our body itself uses atomic building blocks to form molecules that help us function. The glucose molecule is a fairly simple compound that our body builds for energy. But other molecules are so complex that their structures are still not completely known to us. Although we may understand the formula, we don’t know exactly where each atom in those molecules are located.

This is important when it comes to supplements and synthetic vitamins/minerals. When vitamins are manufactured or foods are processed, the chemical structures of these nutrients do not exactly match the real thing. Because our bodies are so good at recognizing true nutrients and identifying foreign invaders, manufactured products can be damaging or ineffective or just not as good.

This is why natural food sources are always the absolute best source for our nutrients. And whenever possible, we should seek to improve our diet before turning to supplements. Often, great health includes a balanced combination of both.

Of course, atomical structure isn’t something that a nutritionist would talk about everyday. But it is much easier to understand and communicate good health when you can respect the science behind it.