We live in a world where drugs are more accessible than ever. Many Americans keep ibuprofen or Advil on hand and have experience with a certain type of prescription drug.
Yet the normal person knows very little about the drugs they put in their body – and what we don’t know can hurt us.
As an individual you should be very concerned about anything you ingest, especially if it is a chemical. Your health will be directly affected by what and how often you put into your system. So if you are going to use a drug you really need to know what is in it.
Of course, there are many components that go into our medicines, but this article focuses on enantiomers.
Enantiomers may sound complicated, but they’re pretty straightforward. To help you understand enantiomers, take a second to look at your hands.
Your left and right hands are mirror pictures one of the other. If you were to reflect your left hand in a mirror, you would get your right hand, and vice versa. However, even though they are mirrors of each other, your left and right hands are not the same. If you want proof, try putting your left hand in a right-handed glove.
Likewise, enantiomers are molecules which are mirror images that are not identical to each other. Like your left hand and your right hand, they look very similar and are made of the same thing. However, they are vastly different and more importantly they cause different reactions in the human body.
To distinguish the two, chemists call one enantiomer (R) and the other (S). Whether you know it or not, the (R) and (S) enantiomers have impacted your life for years.
Almost 65 years ago, the drug thalidomide has been approved for sale in Germany and sold over the counter to help pregnant women cope with symptoms of nausea. The producers assured everyone that thalidomide was perfectly safe.
Doctors began to think differently when more than 10,000 of women who took thalidomide during pregnancy have given birth to children with birth defects.
What people didn’t know or didn’t know was that thalidomide was sold as a mixture of two enantiomers – (R) thalidomide and (S) thalidomide. (R) thalidomide helps relieve the symptoms of nausea. However, his malicious doppelganger, (S) thalidomide, causes a very different reaction in the human body, resulting in birth defects in children.
Thalidomide itself will probably never impact your life, but many other enantiomers will. In fact, more than half of the drugs used today are enantiomers (either (R) or (S)) and among these drugs, 90% are sold as a mixture of (R) and (S). Among these drugs are ibuprofen, ketamine, citalopram and many others.
As with thalidomide, there is usually an enantiomer present in a given drug that has the effect that we want. (As a note, the enantiomer having the desired effect can be (R) or (S). It depends on the drug.) The other enantiomer either has positive side effects or no effect on the human body, or it causes unwanted side effects. effects.
Whether or not it is beneficial or harmful to sell a drug as a mixture of its enantiomers depends on the drug. With certain medications (such as ibuprofen) selling it as a mixture is more advantageous for you, with others it does not matter, and with still others it can have serious consequences in the long term.
The best way to determine if a drug may have unwanted consequences because it is a mixture of enantiomers is to do some research.
Start by determining if the drug you are considering taking is chiral – this is a fancy way of saying that it contains enantiomers. If so, take the time to learn a little more.
Does the (R) or (S) enantiomer cause the desired effect? Is it sold as a mixture of (R) and (S) or is it a pure enantiomer? If it is a mixture, what is the effect of the other enantiomer? Is This A Side Effect Right For You? In a world where limitless knowledge is at your fingertips, all of this can be accomplished with a quick Google search.
In this COVID -19 pandemic, your health is more important than ever. Take charge of your health and do a little more research on the things you put into your body. When deciding whether or not to take a medicine, take a minute to find out a little more about what to take.
Emeline Haroldsen is a double major in Mathematics and Biochemistry. She is originally from Maryland and enjoys most forms of physical activity, playing the piano and doing her homework on time.