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December 15, 2008
Volume 86, Number 50
p. 56

Chemical-Free Gifts, Viagra

It's that time of year again. Everyone's struggling to find the perfect holiday gifts. To help consumers make these important decisions, a number of organizations provide advice on the best and worst gifts to give and receive. And like years past, children's toys take center stage.


One of the major worries that organizations such as U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, and HealthyToys.org always exacerbate is that TOYS CONTAIN CHEMICALS. Their often alarmist information is perpetuated far and wide with the help of advertising and marketing professionals and news organizations. From these sorts of campaigns, society's perennial attachment of "toxic" to "chemical" is reinforced.

It's no wonder that so many people become and remain chemophobic. Some product makers that are confident they are peddling safe goods claim that their products are "100% chemical free." There will be many disappointed children this holiday season if parents are looking for the perfect gifts—ones free of chemicals—to give them.

If you are so lucky as to come across that perfect gift, you might be interested in the approximately $1.5 million bounty that Neville V. Reed, a director of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is offering.

"I'd be happy to give a million pounds to the first member of the public who could place in my hands any material I consider 100% chemical free," Reed said in a press release. RSC is anticipating many submissions from people wishing to claim the prize.

Reed fears the day anyone should pull off the stunt. "Should anyone do this, we will see thousands of years' worth of knowledge evaporate before our eyes," he said.

Although it is true that some chemicals are toxic and can damage the environment, there is the little fact that chemicals are the stuff of, well, practically everything, and lots of those things are good.

Consider dihydrogen monoxide, most often referred to as water. The very people seeking those chemical-free consumer goods are made mostly of dihydrogen monoxide. What should they do with themselves?

That may be an over-the-top example, but consider the number of prescription drugs—chemicals—that people are benefiting from. There are cancer-fighting chemicals, cold-relief chemicals, and chemicals to relieve indigestion and flatulence.

The benefits of some of these chemicals are also going beyond their intended purpose. Take sildenafil citrate, or VIAGRA, the first erectile dysfunction prescription drug. Athletes are now using it to outpace their opponents outside of the bedroom, a use the drug's makers likely never intended.

Viagra, originally developed to treat high blood pressure and angina, is currently marketed for treating impotency in men. The drug suppresses an enzyme that controls blood flow, allowing vessels to relax and widen. This presumably would increase cardiac output and allow for the more efficient transport of oxygenated blood to the muscles, thus enhancing endurance.

Scientists are currently investigating whether Viagra can indeed enhance athletic performance. According to a recent New York Times article, the World Anti-Doping Agency is financing research into whether the blue diamond-shaped pills may create an unfair competitive advantage in sporting events. The investigations are exploring how the drug affects men and women differently in terms of athletic performance. A previous study has shown that Viagra lessens the physical effects of high altitude on some study participants. And in an ongoing study, researchers are exploring how Viagra benefits individuals exposed to pollution.

To those who aim for a 100% chemical-free existence, my best holiday wishes.

Rochelle Bohaty wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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