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Bonds of Friendship : Life Lessons from Chemistry

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Bonds of Friendship : Life Lessons from Chemistry

I have always enjoyed the sciences, especially the study of chemistry. Chemistry helps one to understand the interactions of matter down to the smallest particle. When I enrolled in my first class, I had much trouble grasping some of the basic concepts as a visual minded individual, especially the whole discussion of “mole”. For all of you who do not know this term, it deals with the mass of elements, given 1 x 10 ^23 units. It is like when you wish to compare apples and oranges, except in dealing with atoms you need to convert to another scale than pounds or kilogram. If you could go to the “ATOMIC STORE” and wish to buy a bag of zinc, it would not come in the same size bag as helium. So, given a standard weight of reference, one is looking for how many apples weigh as much as ten oranges. It is an over simplification but allow me to get to my topic.

Ok, so as I was saying, I am very visual in my thinking. Most of the students in my class would schedule to see the professor after class with their questions written on a sheet of paper. But for me to grasp concepts I often took a marble model of the molecule in question and ask the teacher to reassemble the solutions to a problem for me. It helped me to ‘really understand’ the workings of a reaction.

Given this tendency to visualize chemistry problems has been an asset to me in applying metaphors to other disciples. If there is one thing I have seen over my years of study, it is that the “truth in a discipline”, seems congruent to the “truth held” in other disciplines. Visual models help me to grasp truths more effectively, especially in social sciences. Now to the point of this blog, I wish to introduce a very interesting chemistry concept that can be very helpful to those who ever suffered losses in their life.

On stage the curtain is pulled back. Let us give a warm welcome to a “lipid molecule (people often just call him ‘fat’).”

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You will notice many repeating patterns in a lipid molecule. It has what is called a “carbon backbone” like many organic molecules in our world. But what I wish to point out is that you will notice a large set of Hydrogen molecules (white) hugging the carbons (black) in the chain.

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These chains stay together by charges, known as bonds. The positive charges of hydrogen share fields with available negatively charged carbons. When two or more different chains sit close together, side by side, they will try to repel each other. Maybe now, you can probably then understand why oils are slippery. The positive bonded charges of the hydrogen atom of one lipid molecule tries to move away from the hydrogen atom of another lipid molecule close to it. You probably heard somewhere that “opposites attract and same repel”.

So, maybe it then makes sense. Lipids (or fats) in compact spaces tend to push each other away…meaning less friction..meaning it can be quite slippery. Knowing this, you can probably think of other substances that you found slippery. So do you think slippery substances have similar properties? Yes, in fact they do; whether it is a drop of oil for a hinge or a banana peel that makes an actor slip for a good laugh.

There is great lesson we can grasp through their “structural behavior” when a small piece is removed (e.g. a hydrogen atom is removed). The loss of hydrogen from paired carbon makes that empty carbon more negatively charged. This often results in two carbons sharing a neighboring hydrogen, like two boys dating the same girl.

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Now instead of a single bond, the affected carbons create a double bond. Structurally, this makes the molecule more reactive to the environment. After all, the girl that is dating two boys at the same time, can more easily leave them both. In order for the whole molecule to become more stable, their will usually rotate slightly down the whole chain of carbons, permitting as much equal sharing to balance out the ionic shift.

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Now in contrast, enter Salt. He is often called sodium chloride, like the table salt your use to season your food.

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Notice, there are just two parts, a sodium atom and a chloride atom. What is very different here is there are not any other competitions happening for the bond they uniquely have. Usually a medium has to be available for them to let go of each other. This is what happens as it dissolves in water. The water (H2O) ,as a medium becomes aligned in ways that react with chloride and sodium, coming between them to disassociate.

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Now outside of a medium change, it would be very difficult to break the bond of salt. However, if sodium and chloride get separated without a stable medium, something very significant takes place. Both sodium and chloride become very unstable and search desperately to be united with anything, if not each other. These are radicals.

Now an unpaired Chloride would seek other Chloride atoms for stability. This ultimately results in Chloride gas; a poisonous and toxic gas.

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The Sodium, on the other hand becomes flammable and has the capacity to burn a hole through carpet!

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Ok, what profound truth can we extract from this?  We are all just like molecules, with bonds like relationships. Some people have only a few relationships like salt; those with whom they share memories, experiences and events. Living life without significant companions to reciprocate, may leave us more vulnerable to stress and ‘radical’ perspective after loss. It is much more likely to become reactive and may contribute to an emotional imbalance when an only friend or partner is unexpectedly lost.

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A unique Reality that two isolated partners share exclusively can be dramatically altered after a loss of a partner and in such circumstances a survived partner may not be able to function in their daily activities.

In fact, the survived ones identity may be essentially lost, until a limited strategy (despite its logical merit) can be employed in order to go on.

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Some people have a large number of people they share experiences . Such people tend to always have bonds with others and share on deeper levels, or on many levels with others. They are often a part of either a large family, a club, a church or community, or may have been raised with a community mindset. Such people are best equipped to share the loss they experience with others with whom they are intimately familiar. They can access the sympathy from others, and later when a similar loss is experienced by a close friend, the bond can be further reinforced by empathy instead of sympathy.

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As joys and sorrows come their way, it is the company of established, mutually regarded companions that permit strength to face life’s unexpected challenges optimally.

Now you may see a parallel here between the loss of ionic bonds in chemistry to loss which may occurs socially; as a lost relationship. How one deals with a lost family member or partner in life have much to do with how well that loss can be shared with others. Culturing quality relationships, sharing favorable experiences with others, making good memories with others of similar core values, all strengthen bonds of your relationships. When anyone shares a bond with another then life’s challenges take on a different impact.

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One writer once put it , ” friendship halves our sorrow and doubles our joy”. It brings more meaningfulness and stability to endure the unexpected hardships in our lives. Take the time to invest in your friendships. It is an investment you can not effectively live without.

Greg

 

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Oxytocin: Remember the good times, but don’t forget the Bad

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 The Bond of Love


 

I have read a number of  articles related to oxytocin and its effects on our behavior. This hormone has a wide variety of influences upon different brain-body mechanisms. It has been more recently studied for its impact on “attraction” and “bonding”. I realize that some readers may believe I am specifically dealing with sexual interests, however this hormone is not only influential in sexual interests.  In fact, it has been shown to be also important in maintaining faithfulness to your partner as well.

“Oxytocin affects social distance between adult males and females, and may be responsible at least in part for romantic attraction and subsequent monogamous pair bonding. An oxytocin nasal spray caused men in a monogamous relationship, but not single men, to increase the distance between themselves and an attractive woman during a first encounter by 10 to 15 centimeters.” (“Oxytocin”).

Furthermore, studies have shown that oxytocin can enhance the trust attributed to another individual, but only when there was no reason not to trust.  However, in relationships which have proven harmful or dangerous, Oxytocin will not enhance trust, but enhance the vigilance to avoid a repeat offense.  

“oxytocin only increases trust when there is no reason to be distrustful.[44]” (“Oxytocin”).
“ oxytocin increases approach/avoidance to certain social stimuli. The second theory states that oxytocin increases the salience of certain social stimuli, causing the animal or human to pay closer attention to socially relevant stimuli.[93]” (“Oxytocin”).

 

References:

“Oxytocin.” Oxytocin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin.


 

With this in mind, the following article may seem more clear in the context discussed. Enjoy.

Greg E. Williams, MD


 

Study Finds Oxytocin Strengthens Memories of Both Bad and Good Events

by Marla Paul on Jul 22, 2013

It turns out the love hormone oxytocin is two-faced. Oxytocin has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding, and wellbeing. It’s even being tested as an anti-anxiety drug. But new Northwestern Medicine® research shows oxytocin also can cause emotional pain, an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.

Oxytocin appears to be the reason stressful social situations, perhaps being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, reverberate long past the event and can trigger fear and anxiety in the future.

That’s because the hormone actually strengthens social memory in one specific region of the brain, Northwestern scientists discovered.

If a social experience is negative or stressful, the hormone activates a part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increases the susceptibility to feeling fearful and anxious during stressful events going forward. (Presumably, oxytocin also intensifies positive social memories and, thereby, increases feelings of wellbeing, but that research is ongoing.)

The findings are important because chronic social stress is one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression, while positive social interactions enhance emotional health. The research, which was done in mice, is particularly relevant because oxytocin currently is being tested as an anti-anxiety drug in several clinical trials.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve wellbeing instead of triggering negative reactions,” said Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD, the senior author of the study and the Dunbar Professsor of Bipolar Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The paper was published July 21 in Nature Neuroscience.

This is the first study to link oxytocin to social stress and its ability to increase anxiety and fear in response to future stress. Northwestern scientists also discovered the brain region responsible for these effects – the lateral septum – and the pathway or route oxytocin uses in this area to amplify fear and anxiety.

The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule – ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) – that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. ERK causes enhanced fear, Radulovic believes, by stimulating the brain’s fear pathways, many of which pass through the lateral septum. The region is involved in emotional and stress responses.

The findings surprised the researchers, who were expecting oxytocin to modulate positive emotions in memory, based on its long association with love and social bonding.

“Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research,” said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student in Radulovic’s lab and the study’s lead author. “With this novel animal model, we showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system.”

The new research follows three recent human studies with oxytocin, all of which are beginning to offer a more complicated view of the hormone’s role in emotions.

All the new experiments were done in the lateral septum. This region has the highest oxytocin levels in the brain and has high levels of oxytocin receptors across all species from mice to humans.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Experiments with mice in the study established that 1) oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and 2) oxytocin increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

Experiment 1: Oxytocin Strengthens Bad Memories

Three groups of mice were individually placed in cages with aggressive mice and experienced social defeat, a stressful experience for them. One group was missing its oxytocin receptors, essentially the plug by which the hormone accesses brain cells. The lack of receptors means oxytocin couldn’t enter the mice’s brain cells. The second group had an increased number of receptors so their brain cells were flooded with the hormone. The third control group had a normal number of receptors.

Six hours later, the mice were returned to cages with the aggressive mice. The mice that were missing their oxytocin receptors didn’t appear to remember the aggressive mice and show any fear. Conversely, when mice with increased numbers of oxytocin receptors were reintroduced to the aggressive mice, they showed an intense fear reaction and avoided the aggressive mice.

Experiment 2: Oxytocin Increases Fear and Anxiety in Future Stress

Again, the three groups of mice were exposed to the stressful experience of social defeat in the cages of other more aggressive mice. This time, six hours after the social stress, the mice were put in a box in which they received a brief electric shock, which startles them but is not painful. Then 24 hours later, the mice were returned to the same box but did not receive a shock.

The mice missing their oxytocin receptors did not show any enhanced fear when they re-entered the box in which they received the shock. The second group, which had extra oxytocin receptors, showed much greater fear in the box. The third control group exhibited an average fear response.

“This experiment shows that after a negative social experience the oxytocin triggers anxiety and fear in a new stressful situation,” Radulovic said.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, grants R01 MH078064 and MH092065.

Members of the media, please contact Marla Paul via e-mail or at (312) 503-8928 for more information about this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Managing Frustration

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