How to use Science to Lose Weight #2 – carbohydrates

So your body runs on glucose. Glucose belongs to a class of chemicals called carbohydrates. And before we go any further we must look at what carbohydrates are and how they work.

Carbohydrates are very sensibly named – as their most basic structure is carbon + water. That is, their basic formula is CH2O, and every carbohydrate has this basic formula, but only in multiples of 6. So glucose is C6H12O6.

Image result for glucose

This 6 – carbon unit is the most basic structure possible, so it is referred to as a monosaccharide.

Table sugar (sucrose) is C12H24O12 and looks like this:

Image result for sucrose

So sucrose is a disaccharide, and is composed of two monosaccharides.

And the sky’s the limit – saccharide units can be added together to infinity, like chemical lego blocks. An example of a polysaccharide is starch:

Image result for starch

So a complex carbohydrate like starch is made up of many glucose units. Before your body gets fuel, therefore, it must break these complex molecules into its component glucose molecules.

But the real question is – how quickly does this happen? If the breakdown happens quickly, then your blood is flooded with glucose.  This can cause a serious medical condition called hyperglycemia, so your body removes the excess glucose by releasing insulin into your blood from your pancreas.

This has two long-term effects – firstly it causes you to put on weight, as the excess sugar is converted to fat. But it can also cause you to become a diabetic, as your pancreas eventually gets overloaded and just gives up – this is why fat people are often also diabetic.

The rate at which a food releases glucose is referred to as its glycemic index (GI), and is the single most important factor in determining whether the food is fattening or not.

Now, this results in some weird outcomes. For example, look on the label for Nutella and you’ll see it’s loaded with sugar and fat – but it’s low in GI. And the reason is simply that the fat slows down the rate at which the sugar breaks down.

And this is a pattern – often the fibre in something slows down the sugar absorption rate, so you are far better, for example, eating whole fruits rather than fruit juices.

For further reading, have a look at Eat Yourself Slim, which explains all this in fine detail

How to use Science to Lose Weight #1

The human body is the most complex chemical reactor in existence. Ultimately, the amount of fat on your body is the result of multiple factors, many of which are poorly understood in the marketplace.

The purpose of this series of posts is to explain what those factors are, so you can make informed lifestyle decisions decisions when choosing how and when you exercise, and what type of food you eat

This has been a particular issue for me for many years now, as I am one of the small number of men to have suffered from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are almost exclusively the domain of women (97%). I am one of the 3%.

If you are reading this article to quickly get to the bottom line (as I often do) I will very quickly summarise the conclusions I have come to, and the rest of this article and the ones that follow it will explain the logic behind those conclusions

In summary:

1. The concept of calories in, calories out is wrong. The number of calories a food contains doesn’t mean much,

2. The glycaemic index of a food is everything.

3. When looking at a food label the amount of sugar a food contains is far more important than the amount of fat it contains.

4. When selecting foods based upon the type of fat they contain, where possible consume monounsaturated fats.

The first issue to is how the body gets its energy to operate. In other words, where does the body get its fuel? Your car gets its energy from either petrol or diesel – what is the fuel that your body runs on?

The answer is that it is mostly glycogen (a form of glucose). I say “mostly” because under some circumstances the body has the ability to switch to different fuels, but for the purpose of this discussion we can stick with glucose as the main source of fuel.

In simple terms there are two main of glucose – carbohydrates and fat in extreme circumstances muscle tissue can be broken down to provide glucose, but this is not the normal mechanism of operation.
In my next post we’ll consider this fuel system in more detail, and start to understand how we can manage it to control our waistlines.

Are home products flammable?

From time to time I get asked whether any home products that we buy are a fire risk, particularly products with a flammable diamond like one of these:

What do these mean?

The flammable liquid label will be on many solvents such as metho, acetone, xylene or turps. The flammable gas logo will be on many aerosols, as they mostly use hydrocarbons such as butane or propane.

Flammability is determined by a test where they heat the liquid and expose the vapour above it to a flame. If the vapour flashes (ignites) below 61°C it is termed as flammable, and if it flashes above 61°C it is non-flammable. This means that it doesn’t need a diamond, and there are no special transport procedures involved.

If it burns at a temperature above 61°C it is termed “combustible” – like diesel. That’s why when you see a truck go past with “Combustible Liquid” written on the panel at the rear of the truck.

Now if these liquids are flammable then, yes, if you light them they will burn. So if you spill 20 litres of paint thinners on the floor, and then while you are thinking about how to wipe it up you light a smoke and toss the still-burning match onto the xylene you will have a problem. But that is about the only circumstance where you will have a problem.

But as far as the flammable gases go, there are unfortunately cases where explosions have occurred when people didn’t read the instructions. These have all been caused by foggers, such as this

Image result for mortein control bomb

What happens is this – people in a house or restaurant realise that  they have a  cockroach problem.  So they look on the back  of the can and realise that they will only need three or four cans for the entire  establishment .  But then they think ” if three cans will work then 30 cans will work better.”  And here’s where the problem occurs.

You see for a flammable  gas there is something called a lower  explosive limit (LEL),  which refers to the concentration of gas required to initiate an explosion.  Used according to the instructions you would never reach the LEL,  and there would be no problem. But  if you ignore the  warnings on the back of the can and use 10 times the number of tins required,  then you can reach the LEL,  and this is exactly what happened in a restaurant in Melbourne a few years ago.

But ordinary aerosols  use a  flammable gas in conjunction with a water based emulsion. This means that they won’t burn. But I can remember  many years ago, , before the advent of water based formulas, a can of Mortein made an excellent flamethrower. You simply spray the contents of the can over a burning match and voila. But these products are long gone.


How to Fix Your Own Teeth (with stuff you buy from Bunnings)

Sometimes I wish I’d been a dentist.

When I’m paying my bill, that is! Boy it’s expensive!

Now, I’m always looking for ways to save myself money using my chemical knowledge (which led me to design my own way to make biodiesel, but that’s another story), and now out of necessity I’ve turned my thoughts to dentistry.

This wasn’t planned of course, but the other day I was munching on a pizza with a particularly crusty crust when I felt an almighty CRUNCH as I bit down on it. When I fished the offending item out of my mouth it was a substantial part of one of my teeth.

The tooth in question has an almighty amalgam filling in the middle of it, and so the bits around the edge don’t have a lot of mechanical support, and hence the failure.

So now I had this tooth fragment sitting in my desk as I contemplated my options. The first option of course was the dentist. From previous experience I know what she’d tell me. First it’d need a temporary repair, and then she’d take a mould, and I’d I’d have to come back for a crown.

This of course would involve a couple of thousand dollars (I think – I had one done a few years back). Since this is more than I normally spend on cars that I buy, I figured there had to be other options.

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that there was indeed another option. When we get our teeth repaired these days, amalgams are no longer used. Rather, they have been replaced by UV-curing (epoxy) polymers. They put some white stuff in your mouth, zap it with a UV light for 30 seconds or so, and Bob’s your uncle.

So all I need to do to fix my broken tooth is to find a rapidly curing polymer that can be moulded for long enough for me to hold it in place while it sets. Then it occurred to me that I had just such a product in my garage. I had bought it a while ago because I thought it looked like a useful product, although I didn’t have a use for it at the time:

Here’s how it works.

Have I mentioned that I’m not a dentist? Not sure if I’ve mentioned that yet.

Now, to fix my tooth, I had to prepare the surface correctly, as with any adhesive. This of course was a little tricky, as it was inside my mouth, and moisture was obviously going to be a challenge.

Here’s how I did it:

1. I removed any bacteria (and food) from the surface to be repaired. Anaerobic bacteria are responsible for tooth decay (they produce the lactic acid that dissolves the calcium phosphate from which your teeth are made). This was easily done with a Listerine rinse.

2. I dried the surface to be repaired. For this, I got a cotton bud and soaked it in metho. Then I just rubbed it over the surface liberally.

3. I then repeated with acetone. I was careful with this – if you get it on your tongue the sensation is rather unpleasant.

The area was now (or should have been) dry. An alternative approach would have been a gentle stream of compressed air (if I had a compressor handy), as this is what dentists use.

4. I mixed the epoxy (while holding my mouth open). Took about 30 seconds to get a consistent mix.

5. I pressed it into my tooth, and held it there with firm pressure, attempting to mould it to the approximate contour of my teeth. I poked the unused portion occasionally to get a feel for when it set (about 3 min). Then I just gently removed my fingers from the epoxy and it stayed behind.

When I did this I immediately felt the roughness of the material in my mouth. But it seemed to work, so I was happy, and I figured I’d just let it set fully and then sand it smooth the next day.

But the next day when I woke up it felt smoother. Over the next few days it seemed to smooth out naturally, and a week later it now seems to have conformed to the contours of my teeth naturally.

I haven’t been game to give it any serious bite work, but it’s OK for mushy chewing. And it’s perfectly safe chemically, as the product is certified for use with drinking materials.

And now a disclaimer or two – this technique should certainly not be used to repair a decayed tooth.

Here’s why.

Decay is caused by lactic acid, which gradually dissolves the calcium phosphate from which your teeth are made. The lactic acid comes from the breakdown of sugars, caused by anaerobic bacteria, which inhabit plaque. At the microscopic level, therefore, the cavity is a very irregular shape, with little channels and pores in which the bacteria sit, producing the lactic acid. This is why dentists drill before filling – they need to completely remove the decayed area, thus creating a smooth mechanical surface to which the filling can adhere.

If you just plonk an epoxy on top, the bacteria are free to continue their decaying process, and probably at a greater rate, as the lactic acid is not now being washed away.

So I would only use this technique, as I have, for a situation where the failure was purely mechanical, and I was attaching the epoxy to a clean, undecayed surface.

Once again, I am not a dentist, so I’m not recommending this to anyone – I’m just telling you what I did.

Just thought I’d mention that….

One other thing – chemical safety. Is this stuff safe to put in your mouth? As it happens, it is – if you look on the documentation for this stuff it says that it’s safe to use on drinking utensils. The reason is that it’s a thermoset polymer, which means that the polymerisation process is irreversible – it sets into an inert solid that has no chemical toxicity whatever.


Is Water Fluoridation Safe?

The short answer is yes, it is, but it’s easy to understand why some people think it isn’t.

When we look at chemical toxicity, we need to understand that there are several different classes.

Firstly, there are chemicals for which any level of exposure is undesirable, as with sufficient exposure over time they will have an effect on our health, possibly with lethal outcomes. In this category we have asbestos, lead, and any of the tars and other combustion products in cigarettes.

There are other chemicals, however, which although toxic in higher concentrations, are either completely harmless, or even beneficial at low levels. In this category we have most transition metals such as copper, zinc and iron.

And fluoride.

But the trouble is that this is not obvious if you look at the data, and fluoride is a case in point. If you look at the MSDS for sodium fluoride you find that it is an S7 poison – the highest category. Little wonder that some people are leery about having it in their water.

So what does fluoride do in your body?

Mostly, it reacts with your bones. In this regard it is unusual, as most other toxins attack your organs somehow. But the fluoride attacks your bones. This is why in Breaking Bad it is the chemical of choice for disposing of bodies…..

So if you are exposed to enough of it to be harmful it causes horrible internal burns which are very difficult to treat. Whenever I have had to handle hydrofluoric acid (it’s used to make industrial strength brick cleaner) I’ve gone the full monty in terms of protective gear.

But in water it’s nowhere near this strength. The fluoridating agent in municipal waters is fluorosilicic acid, a by-product of aluminium production, and it gives a level of fluoridation of about 2mg/L.

At this concentration it is too low to be harmful – no matter how much water you drink – but it still reacts with your teeth. I don’t think anyone quite understands the mechanism, but it would be some sort of inorganic composite where the fluoride combines with the calcium phosphate (that your teeth are made of) to produce some sort of calcium fluorophosphate, that is in some way chemically resistant to the chemical decay process (caused by lactic acid that is made by anaerobic bacteria).

And this has certainly been confirmed by every study in this area – so you may drink municipal water – and use toothpaste, with absolute confidence that your teeth are being protected.