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3.1: Case Study: Chemistry and Your Life

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  • Case Study: Diet Dilemma

    Joseph is a college student who has watched his father suffer from complications of type 2 diabetes over the past few years. 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

    Diabetes can be treated with insulin injections, as shown above, as well as dietary modifications, but sometimes complications can still occur. Joseph’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.

    Joseph is obese and knows that his weight plus a family history of diabetes increases his risk of getting diabetes himself. He wants to avoid the health issues that his father has suffered. He begins walking every day for exercise and starts to lose some weight. He also wants to improve his diet in order to lose more weight, lower his risk of diabetes, and improve his general health, but he is overwhelmed with all the different dietary advice he reads online and hears from his friends and family.

    Joseph’s father tells him 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 Joseph’s friend tells him that eating a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat is a good way to lose weight. Joseph 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 mechanism of 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 Joseph’s situation and how diabetes and diet relate to the chemistry of life.

    1. Why do you think Joseph’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.