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3.1: Case Study: Chemistry and Your Life

  • Page ID
    22438
  • Case Study: Diet Dilemma

    Mohinder is a college student who has watched their father suffer from complications of type 2 diabetes over the past few years. Mohinder likes to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they, them, and their's. In type 2 diabetes, the hormone insulin does not transmit its signal sufficiently. Because insulin normally removes sugar from the bloodstream and brings it into the body’s cells, diabetes causes blood sugar levels to not be regulated properly. This can cause damage to the cells of the body.

    Insulin bottle and syringe
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) (CC BY-NC 2.0; Alden Chadwick via flickr.com)

    Diabetes can be treated with insulin injections, as shown above, as well as dietary modifications, but sometimes complications can still occur. Mohinder’s father has some nerve damage, or neuropathy, in his feet due to his diabetes. This made his feet numb and so he didn’t notice when he got minor injuries to his feet, which led to some serious infections.

    Mohinder is obese and knows that their weight plus a family history of diabetes increases their risk of getting diabetes themselves. They want to avoid the health issues that their father has suffered. Mohinder begins walking every day for exercise and starts to lose some weight. They also want to improve their diet in order to lose more weight, lower their risk of diabetes, and improve their general health, but they are overwhelmed with all the different dietary advice they read online and hear from their friends and family.

    Mohinder's father tells them to limit refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and rice because that is what he does to help keep his blood sugar at an acceptable level. But Mohinder’s friend tells them that eating a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat is a good way to lose weight. Mohinder reads online that “eating clean” by eating whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding food with “chemicals” can help with weight loss. One piece of advice that everyone seems to agree on is that drinking enough water is good for overall health.

    All of this dietary advice may sound confusing, but you can better understand health conditions such as diabetes and the role of diet and nutrition by understanding chemistry. Chemistry is so much more than reactions in test tubes in a lab — it is the atoms, molecules, and reactions that make us who we are and keep us alive and functioning properly. Our diets are one of the main ways our bodies take in raw materials that are needed for the important chemical reactions that take place inside of us.

    Chapter Overview: Chemistry of Life

    As you read this chapter, you will learn more about how chemistry relates to our lives, health, and the foods we eat. Specifically, you will learn:

    • The nature of chemical substances, including elements and compounds and their component atoms and molecules.
    • The types and mechanisms of the formation of chemical bonds.
    • The structures and functions of biochemical compounds including carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA.
    • What chemical reactions are, how energy is involved in chemical reactions, how enzymes assist in chemical reactions, and what some types of biochemical reactions in living organisms are.
    • Properties of water and the importance of water for most biochemical processes.
    • What pH is and why maintaining a proper pH in the body is important for biochemical reactions.

    As you read the chapter, think about the following questions regarding Mohinder’s situation and how diabetes and diet relate to the chemistry of life.

    1. Why do you think Mohinder’s father having diabetes increases his risk of getting diabetes?
    2. What is the difference between refined (simple) carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates? Why are refined carbohydrates particularly problematic for people with diabetes?
    3. Insulin is a peptide hormone. In which class of biochemical compounds would you categorize insulin?
    4. Why is drinking enough water important for overall health? Can you drink too much water?
    5. Sometimes “eating clean” is described as avoiding “chemicals” in food. Think about the definition of “chemicals” and how it relates to what we eat.