All of Life is Chemistry

When I was chemistry student I had just one goal in mind: finishing my studies as soon as possible. Simple as it is, the other day I was walking down a hallway toward my classroom thinking about the upcoming weekend. What do you expect a young student to think about?

As I said, I was walking toward the classroom for my next biochemistry class. My biochemistry professor was a 60-something- year-old gentleman with an unbelievable ability to explain everything in plain words. To me it seemed that he knew “everything” about each topic related to biochemistry. Because of him I can call myself a medical biochemist.

I still remember him and his words: “All of life is just chemistry. Not simple chemistry; but still chemistry.”

This article explains my intention to follow in my professor’s footsteps. I would like to give you examples of the “chemistry of life.” If you want to learn how the “life works,” you need to read this article and see what’s going on in the body, every second of our life.

Why do we need to know the “chemistry of life”? If we know how everything “works” in the human organism, we can live a life of health and balance. Biochemistry, which is, in fact biology within the context of chemistry, is a fascinating science. Because of biochemistry we can find new medications and learn how to improve our lifestyle.

As always, my professor’s statement was absolutely right. Our whole body is a huge laboratory with thousands chemicals, and chemical reactions occurring every single second. Sometimes we call them hormones, sometimes vitamins, enzymes, oxidants or receptors, but they are chemical substances. We exist because of the chemistry in every single cell in our body. Not only do we exist, we learn, think, love, sleep, and feel well or bad, down or up, healthy or sick, due to the level of chemicals in our body. It’s not simple biochemistry, but it’s still chemistry, as my professor said.

To prove my professor’s statement I am going to give you some facts that show why his statement is correct.

If everything is well and in balance, our organism is in a state of homeostasis – a stable situation. If not, we are in trouble, more or less.

Let’s start with emotions. We like emotions. Because of the thoughts in our mind we feel chemical reactions, I mean emotions. Whenever we are exposed to any unusual situation or risk, or any kind of fear or stress, our brain sends message to the autonomic nervous system to help us deal with the situation. Actually, our brain sends chemicals that tell the autonomic nervous system to release other chemicals, known as hormones.

I don’t want to scare you with these hormones’ fancy names, but remember just one, very harmful hormone – cortisol. Because of this we are under stress. Not only cortisol, but its “classmate” hormone, adrenalin, is there to do some “stuff” to us. Now you know only 0.1% of the physiology of stress, but it’s enough for you to understand that fear and stress are just simple chemical reactions in our body, caused by stressors. Chemicals are responsible for the physiological expressions of our fear and stress.

If you believe that chemicals are responsible only for “bad things,” you are wrong.

Have you ever heard of a pleasure chemical, which increases pleasure? You haven’t? Maybe you have heard about dopamine, but you didn’t know its real name: the “pleasure chemical.” Dopamine produces feelings of bliss and pleasure. With more dopamine in our organism we feel more pleasure and less pain. Talking about pleasure, do you believe that chocolate can give you a feeling of bliss? You are absolutely right. You love chocolate partly due to a chemical called phenylethylamine. Feeling good and happy is a matter of human biochemistry.

What’s your definition of love? I’ll give you mine, which is not romantic at all. Love is a chemical process that occurs in the body when the body produces dopamine, noradrenalin, phenylethylamine and many other chemicals. I know this sounds desperately boring and unexciting.

Because of these substances you may experience flushed skin, sweaty palms and heavy breathing. If you go further, another hormone will be involved, called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a sexual hormone that gives us feelings of emotional attachment. As you become more and more aroused, more oxytocin is produced. I am sorry, but from the point of pure science, love is simply a chemical process. Next time you feel “chemistry” for another person, you know what’s going on within you.

Would you like to learn more about this subject, one more example of how the body’s chemistry works? No problem.

When you’ve traveled overseas, did you have problems with your biological clock? I mean, did you have problems with your sleep?

You couldn’t catch up with the time overseas? I understand that, but your level of melatonin doesn’t. This is another chemical that is “in charge” of your sleep patterns. Humans’ biological clock is just another chemical substance, with the name melatonin. When our melatonin level is low, we feel sleepy and go to bed. Our melatonin level gradually declines during the daytime. While we sleep our body produces melatonin in the dark. Our biological clock needs time to adjust to the local time. Also, our biological clock is not as simple as our regular clock, and we can’t do much to improve it.

I know you are tired of reading and thinking about such a complicated subject as chemistry within our body. If I have convinced you that life is chemistry, I’ve done my job.

I wish you the proper levels of chemicals in your body (all the best).