I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

Feel free to comment, to offer your perspective, or to give suggestions for subjects.
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Phosphorus and the Cola Controversy

As with my last blog, (M for Magnesium), this entry is expanding on one of the elements discussed previously in a frequently visited story, this time Phosphorus. The blog "Fire and Brimstone" is currently number three on the list, battling it out for second place with "Salt of the Earth." There must be schools out there somewhere that are looking at the third period of the Periodic Table regularly. All of the elements discussed in my top three blogs - Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminum, Phosphorus, Sulfur and Chlorine - are in the third period.

Phosphorus is the chemical element with symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the Nitrogen group, Phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, inorganic phosphate. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms — white phosphorus and red phosphorus — but due to its high reactivity, it is never found as a free element. Phosphorus was the 13th element to be discovered and the first element discovered in modern times.

White Phosphorus is the least stable, the most reactive and the most toxic of the allotropes. It consists of tetrahedral P4 molecules, in which each atom is bound to the other three atoms by a single bond. White Phosphorus gradually changes to red Phosphorus. Red Phosphorus is polymeric in structure. It can be viewed as a derivative of P4 wherein one P-P bond is broken, and one additional bond is formed between the neighboring tetrahedron resulting in a chain-like structure. Red Phosphorus may be formed by heating white phosphorus to 250 °C (482 °F) or by exposing white Phosphorus to sunlight.

Phosphorus is highly flammable and pyrophoric (self-igniting) upon contact with air. White Phosphorus is used as an additive in napalm. The odor produced on combustion has a characteristic garlic smell. Elemental Phosphorus glows in the dark (when exposed to Oxygen) with a very faint tinge of green and blue. The term phosphorescence (re-emitting light that previously fell onto a substance and excited it) is derived from Phosphorus but the reaction that gives Phosphorus its glow is properly called chemiluminescence (glowing due to a cold chemical reaction).

Due to its flammability, Phosphorus was used in "strike anywhere" matches, first produced in the 1830s. They were sensitive to storage conditions, toxic and unsafe, as they could be lit by striking on any rough surface. Their production was gradually banned in different countries starting in 1872 up until 1925. As a consequence, the "strike-anywhere" matches were gradually replaced by the "safety matches" we know today. White Phosphorus was replaced with Phosphorus Sesquisulfide (P4S3), Sulfur or Antimony Sulfide. Such matches are hard to ignite on an arbitrary surface and require a special strip containing red Phosphorus. The Phosphorus heats up upon striking, reacts with the Oxygen-releasing compound in the head and ignites the flammable material.

Phosphoric Acid binds Calcium
And may decrease Bone Density
So drink Cola in Moderation

Inorganic Phosphorus in the form of the Phosphate ((PO4)−3) is essential for most life, playing a major role in biological molecules. Phosphate is a key component of DNA, RNA, and Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). Nearly every cellular process that uses energy obtains it in the form of ATP. It is also found in the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Elemental Phosphorus was first isolated from human urine, and bone ash was an important early Phosphate source. The chief commercial use of Phosphorus compounds is for the production of fertilizers to meet the need for Phosphorus that plants require to grow. Elemental Phosphorus is highly toxic, causing severe liver damage. Ingestion of white Phosphorus can also cause a medical condition known as "Smoking Stool Syndrome" where the stool will emit white smoke when exposed to air.

One area of debate involving Phosphorus is around the use of Phosphoric acid (H3PO4) in carbonated soft drinks, primarily colas. Phosphoric acid is added to give colas their tangy flavor. It also slows the growth of molds and bacteria, which otherwise would multiply rapidly in the sugary solution.

Phosphoric acid has been linked to lower bone density in some epidemiological studies. One such study showed that women who consume colas daily have a lower bone density than those who don't. Total phosphorus intake was not significantly higher in daily cola consumers than in non-consumers; however, the Calcium-to-Phosphorus ratios were lower. Consuming highly acidic substances can promote a deterioration of the teeth, jawbone, pelvis and femur. From this study and others like it, drinking Phosphoric acid appears to dissolve away your skeletal system.

Phosphate binds Calcium and can lead to increased elimination of Calcium from your system. Another study suggests that the decreased systemic Calcium is due to the fact that if someone has a high soda intake, they have a low milk intake - substituting soda for milk as their source of liquids. This study concluded that the net effect of carbonated beverages — including those with caffeine and Phosphoric acid — is negligible, and that the skeletal effects of carbonated soft drink consumption are likely due primarily to milk displacement.

Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral. But if you're getting a disproportionate amount of Phosphorus compared to the amount of Calcium in your diet, that could lead to bone loss. Aside from this risk of osteoporosis, Cola consumption has also been linked to chronic kidney disease and kidney stones.

American consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell to 491 twelve ounce servings in 2009, down from 507 servings in 2008. (Per capita consumption peaked in 1998 at 576 twelve ounce servings.) Only a small fraction of the Phosphate in the American diet comes from additives in soft drinks. One twelve ounce can of cola contains approximately 37 mg of Phosphorus. The recommended daily intake is about 1000mg so drinking six sodas a day would constitute only about 22% of the daily allowance. Most Phosphorus comes from meat and dairy products. The amount of Phosphoric acid in soda is minimal compared to that found in chicken or cheese and no one's telling us to stop eating chicken. So your reason for not drinking cola should be its sugar content and artificial food colorings, not the Phosphoric acid.

There are a few things you can do to boost your bone health:

  • Cut down your cola intake by one or two cans a day or switch to a non-cola soda if you can not stop entirely.
  • For every soda you skip, reach for a glass of milk instead.
  • Add milk instead of water when you prepare pancakes, waffles, and cocoa.
  • Add nonfat powdered dry milk along with liquid milk to recipes using milk - puddings, cookies, breads, soups, gravy, and casseroles.
  • Take a Calcium and Vitamin D supplement if you still aren't getting enough Calcium.
  • Get plenty of weight-bearing and resistance exercise. Walk, walk, walk everywhere!
Proverbs 25:15 (NIV) - Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

M for Magnesium

Since starting this blog over a year ago, Magnesium has been, by far, the most frequently searched term. Not sure why but even to this day, after more than a year, the blog Magnesium & Aluminum tops the page count day after day, week after week and month after month. So I thought I would do an update, at least for Magnesium, so here it is.

"Remember, remember the 5th of November..." - V for Vendetta

(for those of us in the US we need to remember the 6th this year).

Guy Fawkes Night is an annual commemoration observed on November 5th, primarily in England. Its history begins with the events of November 5, 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London. Within a few decades Gunpowder Treason Day, as it was also known, became the predominant English state commemoration. Towards the end of the 18th century November 5th gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day. Present-day Guy Fawkes Day is usually celebrated at large organized events, centered around a bonfire and extravagant fireworks.

The film "V for Vendetta," based on the comic book series of the same name, plays on the Guy Fawkes theme as a futuristic political thriller where the key protagonist plans to destroy the House of Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day in the year 2021. Although V, a bold, charismatic freedom fighter, dies before his plot is carried out, the House of Parliament is destroyed and V is identified as "all of us" fighting political oppression.

The Magnesium post is by far the most popular. Why? Is everyone making bombs out there? Or is it a fascination with fireworks?

A sparkler is a type of hand-held firework that burns slowly while emitting colored sparks or flames. In the United Kingdom, a sparkler is often used by children at bonfire and fireworks displays on Guy Fawkes Night and in the United States on Independence Day, the 4th of July.

The "classic" type of sparkler consists of a stiff metal wire approximately 8 inches long that has been coated with a thick batter of slow-burning pyrotechnic material and allowed to dry. It contains one or more from the following categories:
  • A mandatory Metallic fuel - to make sparks
  • Optional Additional fuel - to modify the burn speed
  • A mandatory Oxidizer
    • Potassium nitrate
    • Barium nitrate
    • Strontium nitrate
    • Potassium perchlorate
  • Optional pyrotechnic colorants - to color flames
    • Chlorides and nitrates of metals - barium, strontium, or copper
  • A mandatory Combustible binder - hold the fuel together
    • Dextrin
    • Nitrocellulose

Magnesium is explosive when finely slivered, spontaneously bursting into flame when exposed to air. Once ignited, it is difficult to extinguish. Magnesium is capable of reducing water to highly flammable Hydrogen gas, and as a result, water cannot be used to extinguish Magnesium fires; the Hydrogen gas produced will only intensify the fire. Magnesium also reacts with Carbon Dioxide to form Magnesium Oxide and Carbon, hence, Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers cannot be used for extinguishing Magnesium fires either. Burning Magnesium is usually quenched by using a Class D dry chemical fire extinguisher, or by covering the fire with sand to remove its air source.

The spark of explosive Magnesium
Reminds us of the flash that split the darkness
when God said "Let there be light"

On burning in air, Magnesium produces a brilliant white light which includes strong ultraviolet rays. Thus Magnesium flash powder was used as a source of light in the early days of photography. Later, Magnesium ribbon was used in flash bulbs. And, of course, Magnesium powder is used in the manufacture of fireworks and marine flares where a brilliant white light is required.

Magnesium is the chemical element with symbol Mg. It is the second element in Period 3, with an atomic number of 12, located between Sodium and Aluminum. Magnesium is the fourth most common element in the Earth as a whole (behind Iron, Oxygen and Silicon) and makes up 13% of the planet's mass. It is highly soluble in water and is the third most abundant element in seawater.

Magnesium ions are sour to the taste, and in low concentrations they help to impart a natural tartness to fresh mineral waters. In 1618, a farmer in England attempted to water his cows from a well. The cows refused to drink because of the water’s bitter taste, but the farmer noticed that the water seemed to promote healing of scratches and rashes. The substance, hydrated Magnesium Sulfate (MgSO4·7 H2O), became known as Epsom Salts, named for the farmer's town, and its fame quickly spread.

In the human body, Magnesium is the eleventh most abundant element and its ions are essential to all living cells, playing a major role in manipulating important biological polyphosphate compounds like ATP, DNA, and RNA. Hundreds of enzymes require Magnesium ions to function.

Magnesium is a vital component of a healthy diet. Spices, nuts, cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea, and vegetables are rich sources of Magnesium. Green leafy vegetables, being high in chlorophyll, are also rich in Magnesium. Low levels of Magnesium in the body has been associated with the development of a number of human illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Alcoholism can also produce a Magnesium deficiency. Taken in the proper amount, Magnesium plays a role in preventing both strokes and heart attack. Magnesium can shorten the length of a migraine and the symptoms can be less severe. Excess Magnesium in the blood is freely filtered at the kidneys, and for this reason it is difficult to overdose on Magnesium.

In manufacturing, Magnesium is the third most commonly used structural metal, following Iron and Aluminum. It has been called the lightest useful metal. Its main applications are, in order: as a component of Aluminum alloys, in die-casting (alloyed with Zinc), to remove Sulfur in the production of Iron and Steel, and in the production of Titanium. In its purest form, Magnesium is strong and light so it is used in automotive and truck components. Specialty, high-grade car wheels of Magnesium alloy are called "mag wheels", although the term is often more broadly misapplied to include Aluminum wheels.

Magnesium is also extensively used in electronic devices. Because of its low weight, good mechanical and electrical properties, Magnesium is widely used for manufacturing of mobile phones, laptop and tablet computers, cameras, and other electronic components.

The spark of explosive Magnesium reminds us of the flash that split the darkness when God said "Let there be light: and there was light." Genesis 1:3 (KJV)