Avery SmithMs. KumarAP Chemistry23 January 2018Vanity, Vitality, and Virility by John Emsley Report In Vanity, Vitality, and Virility, John Emsley unbiasedly educates his readers on the chemistry behind everyday products ranging from makeup to medications. He also decodes popular nutritional myths, explains how vasodilation drugs work, and explains the chemistry behind mental illness medication. This book uses authentic scientific evidence to educate individual consumers on healthy lifestyle and spending habits, but it presents all of its information in a simple manner that someone not educated in chemistry can comprehend.The first chapter, “Vanity: No More Wrinkles!” breaks down cosmetics such as lipstick, anti-aging creams, and tanning lotions.
The requirements for an effective lipstick are extensive: it must have a rich color, resist smears, have a mild taste, resist bacterial growth, and of course, must not be made with any toxic ingredients. Since the corneal layer of skin on the lips dries out easily, oil must also be a main ingredient in lipsticks in order to add proper moisture to the skin. Castor oil, lanolin, and petroleum jelly are all safe and effective oils. Beeswax is the most widely used wax in lipsticks.
Its melting point of 63 degrees Celcius prevents the lipstick from losing its shape under normal conditions. Dyes like 4′, 5′-dibromofluorescein and 2′, 4′, 5′, 7′-tetrabromofluorescein (Orange No. 5 and Red No.
22, respectively) are the most commonly used dyes in lipstick, according to Emsley. They are composed of “fluorescein, itself a yellow dye, which, when reacted with bromine, adds two atoms of bromine and turns orange.” (Emsley 5). When the lipstick is applied to the lips, the dye reacts with the amino groups (two hydrogens bonded to a nitrogen) of the protein found in skin. This reaction slightly alters the lipstick color. Emsley later describes a similar reaction when discussing the mechanisms of instant tans.
Dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, is the safest and most effective commercial tanner. It is added in small proportions to instant tanning lotions. When applied, it reacts with skin proteins to form melanoidins, compounds that make the skin appear browner. Emsley opens his second chapter, “Vitality: Food for Thought” by destigmatizing the word fat. The human body needs only around 25 grams of fat in the diet each day in order to take in an adequate amount of fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamins A, D, E, and K). We should aim “to take in twice as much unsaturated as saturated fat,” (Emsley 36). These two types of fat are distinguishable by the arrangement of the carbon atoms in their long carbon chains.
In saturated fats, every carbon atom is joined to another by single bonds, creating bond angles of 180 degrees between each carbon. Each carbon has two hydrogen atoms attached to it, since carbon can only create four bonds. Since each carbon bonds to the highest number of hydrogen atoms possible, the molecule is said to be saturated with hydrogens, hence the name saturated fats. The streamlined shape of these saturated fat molecules makes it easy for them to pack densely together, so saturated fats are solid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats, however, contain at least one double bond between carbon atoms. The carbon atoms involved in the double bond can only have one hydrogen atom attached to each of them, in order to satisfy the rule that carbon can only form four bonds. The electron domains on each of those singular hydrogen atoms impact the molecular geometry of the fatty acid chain, causing the carbon to carbon bond angle to become less than 180 degrees where the double bond is present. This creates a kink in that area of the molecule. The kink(s) present in unsaturated fats prevent the molecules from packing closely together, and as a result, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
This type of fat is easier for the body to break down, and it does not build up in artery walls. For those reasons, unsaturated fats are considered healthier than saturated ones. To begin the book’s third chapter, “Virility, Sterility, and Viagra”, Emsley explores how nitric oxide, (NO), a toxic gas, is actually essential to the human body. NO is a free radical, meaning that it has an extra unpaired electron on its oxygen atom. The extra electron present on free radicals frequently removes hydrogen atoms from carbon to hydrogen bonds, damaging DNA and other vital molecules in the body. However, NO is what Emsley describes as a “rare bird, a stable free radical,” (Emsley 76).
It is now known that nitric oxide acts as a second messenger to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in order to relax the muscles surrounding blood vessels throughout the body. When the coronary arteries surrounding the heart become partially constricted with fatty deposits, the heart muscle loses its supply of oxygen-rich blood and the patient begins to feel chest pains, or angina. To lessen the strain on the heart and widen the coronary arteries, nitric oxide must be introduced to supplement the body’s natural supply of the molecule. My late grandfather was prescribed oral nitroglycerin tablets after he suffered his first heart attack in this fifties. As the tablet dissolves in the mouth, nitroglycerine rapidly enters the bloodstream.
Within cells, nitroglycerin comes into contact with the mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme, loses one of its three nitro groups (NO2), and forms the nitrite ion NO2 with a charge of -1. This nitrite ion is reduced, meaning it loses the electron along with the one oxygen atom, and becomes nitric oxide NO with a neutral charge. The small polar nitric oxide molecule quickly diffuses through body tissue.Chapter five, “It’s All in the Mind” is, in my opinion, the most relevant chapter to students at Mission San Jose High School. Clinical depression is strikingly common: “One woman in five and one man in ten are likely to suffer from it at some time in their lives…” (Emsley 148). In the competitive and constantly stressful world of MSJ, depression and mental illnesses are likely even more rampant. Barbiturates alleviate depression by stimulating the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). The excess of this neurotransmitter alters the natural voltage difference across neuron membranes, inhibiting neurons from properly firing.
This depresses the nervous system and essentially sedates the patient. Because barbiturates can easy cause overdose, other methods of treating clinical depression are much more common today. Clinical depression’s biological cause is often a shortage of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and/or serotonin.
Within the synapse of a neuron, after the neurotransmitters have begun the action potential down the next neuron, the axon terminal reabsorbs the neurotransmitters through a process known as reuptake. This may lead to low levels of such neurotransmitters in the synapse, depressing the patient’s mood. Drugs that inhibit the reuptake of specific neurotransmitters are being developed in order to maintain healthy levels of these chemicals within the synapses.
Prozac is a common drug that inhibits reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, boosting mood exponentially. Its effects are long lasting because as the drug itself is metabolized in the liver, it becomes the molecule norfluoxetine. This also binds to reuptake receptor sites on neurons and achieves the same effects as Prozac.
Throughout Vanity, Vitality, and Virility, John Emsley solidifies the idea that unbiased information is the key to making healthy choices as a consumer. He states the benefits and possible drawbacks from a wide variety of chemicals, and he even backs up these claims with data from the studies that created them. This book is valuable to consumers of all ages and backgrounds; everyone can benefit greatly from increasing their knowledge base on the chemicals they encounter every day.Works CitedEmsley, John. Vanity, Vitality, and Virility: The Science Behind the Products You Love to Buy.
Oxford University Press, 2006.