Chemicals – The ingredients of life
When it comes to chemicals, it can be hard to untangle the facts from the fear (some of it necessary fear). In this series, we’ll explore the chemicals that make up our lives and the products we use.
April 8, 2019 - Author: Elisabeth Anderson
What do you think when you hear the word chemical? Do you imagine toxic chemical spills or maybe you flashback to a particularly frustrating chemistry teacher or perhaps you visualize the compounds that make up our everyday lives? Whatever you imagine, you are not wrong.
We make unconscious associations with words and situations based on our background and our experiences. This diversity of thought is important to recognize as we talk about the chemicals and the chemistry around us.
Humans have particularly strong reactions to words and situations that cause us to fear for our wellbeing. If any topic causes us to feel distrust, confusion, or fear we’re doing exactly what we’re biologically programmed to do in order to protect ourselves and our families. That is good news!
Once we recognize and validate our feelings and reactions we can begin to explore if those reactions are always warranted in every situation.
When it comes to chemicals, it can be hard to untangle the facts from the fear (some of it necessary fear). Our goal at CRIS is to help you make informed decisions about the food and products we interact with daily. In this series, we’ll explore the chemicals that make up our lives and the products we use.
What’s a chemical?
Chemicals are the building blocks of life. Every living, breathing creature is made of chemicals. Every building we’ve entered is made of chemicals. Every product we’ve ever purchased and used is made of chemicals!
When we think of chemicals it’s easy to think of them as artificial, man-made additions to our lives, rather than the foundation of our lives.
The foundation of our world and the chemicals that make up our world is found in the periodic table of elements. Everything around us, including us, is made of these elements or different combinations of these elements. Essentially the periodic table shows us the recipes of life and everything that surrounds us!
Let’s look at water for example. In order to make water, we need to know the recipe. Each ingredient in this recipe is an element from the periodic table of elements. The scientific term for this recipe is the molecular formula.
Water’s molecule formula is H2O. So, the recipe to make water is 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen bonded together.
We can look up the molecular formula, or recipe, for everything we interact with daily.
How does this work with other foods?
Let’s look at a familiar food; the banana. It’s easy to think that a banana is a singular ingredient, just banana, but in reality, each banana is made up of numerous ingredients. These ingredients each have their own chemical makeup. So that simple banana isn’t just a banana, it’s a complex assembly of different chemicals.
The same is true for the flowers, apples, wood, humans, anything you can think of has a list of chemical ingredients expressed in its recipe or molecular formula.
Are all chemicals safe?
Chemical and ingredient safety is based on our understanding of toxicity. There are specialty scientists, called toxicologists, who work to determines the toxicity of an ingredient or chemical. Toxicologists have a saying, “the dose makes the poison,” which means that anything even seemingly “harmless” chemicals can cause toxicity in a large enough amount.
Let’s use water as an example. We need to drink water in order to live. It’s advised that we consume around 8 glasses of water a day, let’s call this the recommended dose.
When we consume the recommended dose of water, we are doing what is best for our health. However, when we far exceed a recommended dose we can experience negative, toxic, effects. Water intoxication can lead to death and can be caused by consumption of as few as 6 liters of water drank consecutively by a 165-lb. person.
The dose makes the poison and in the case of water, the recommended dose leads to good health where the excessive dose can lead to death.
This is true for virtually every chemical we encounter daily, including vinegar, baking soda, and more! These chemicals are staple ingredients in our lives and we use them without fear and without focusing on their potential for a negative outcome if we do not exceed the recommended daily amount.
Next in our post, we will explore areas that relate ingredient safety.