De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek
May18

De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek

Let me state unequivocally at the outset: I LOVE Think Geek. This purveyor of hip nerdgear – “Stuff for Smart Masses” – has saved me every Christmas, the occasional birthday, and brought me great personal pleasure with their clever offerings. But most important to me about Think Geek is that I know when giving a gift from them, I am giving someone solid science. A mini Van de Graaff generator. A USB plasma ball. And when my office visitors encounter my LED binary clock, I’m asked, “What the heck is that?” My next two purchases are likely to be the Pet’s Eye View Digital Camera for the PharmBeagle and the DIY Guitar Pick Punch for me (even though you could buy 80 top-quality guitar picks for the same price). But I will not be buying Rutaesomn® Sleep Aid – De-caffeinating Chill Pills. The product is billed as being a pill that speeds metabolism of caffeine from your day-long coffee and energy drink binges. Take it 2-4 hours before you want to go to sleep, “helps get rid of caffeine in your body keeping you awake.” Well, what is it exactly? Rutaesomn® is an herbal extract from Evodia rutaecarpa that is also known in Chinese traditional medicine as Wu Zhu Yu where it’s used for alleged weight-loss activity. The biologically-active chemical in the herb is called rutaecarpine. So, what does this have to do with caffeine? Well, rutacarpine influences the activity of our major caffeine-metabolizing enzyme called CYP1A2. This is one of a family of over 50 such enzymes that allow us to handle drugs and chemicals we’ve encountered throughout our evolution, including even chemicals that haven’t yet been made. These CYPs, or cytochrome P450 enzymes, could be thought of as the catalytic converters of the body. You’ll find them mostly in the liver and kidney but almost every cell of your body has some small amount. Most of the time they change chemicals into their less active forms (though there are important exceptions where they make drugs more active or even carcinogenic). Usually, the CYP clips off or modifies a part of the chemical to make it more water-soluble and, therefore, more easily excreted in the urine. This is how CYP1A2 works to metabolize and inactivate the stimulant activity of caffeine. But if you do a little reading, you’ll learn that rutaecarpine is an inhibitor of CYP1A2. Wait a minute. Doesn’t that mean that rutaecarpine would increase the length of caffeine action in the body? Wouldn’t taking rutacarpine keep you awake longer after a caffeine binge? Well, yes, if it’s taken in a high enough dose. But here’s what...

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Do you remember your PhD defense?

A new and already-dear friend is defending her doctoral dissertation tomorrow. I remembered that I had written a post awhile back on my feelings about my own defense, and how my perceptions at the time didn’t measure up to reality. The timing of this repost also coincides with the Diversity in Science Blog Carnival just posted at Neurotic Physiology, written by another remarkable woman scientist friend of mine, Scicurious. The theme of that carnival is “imposter syndrome” – the broad pathology of self-doubt that one is somehow not qualified for one’s career. I should have submitted this post for that carnival because it falls into that category. So, for what it’s worth, I’m reposting my feelings in 2008 from the 19th anniversary of my dissertation defense. (How quaint to see that I was using a Palm Treo back then!)   This post appeared originally on 13 November 2008 at the ScienceBlogs home of Terra Sigillata. For whatever reason, I woke up really depressed and exhausted today – pretty much for no reason, I think. I checked my schedule on my Treo – today marks 19 years since my dissertation defense. I remember being really depressed throughout writing my dissertation thinking, “is this all I have to show for this many years of public support for my training?” My defense was on a Monday so I spent most of Sunday practicing my seminar in the room where I’d give it – it sucked so badly that I couldn’t even get through it once. When the time came, it was the most incoherent performance I had ever given or ever would. I was a blithering idiot during my oral exam. There was a great deal of laughter in the room as I stood outside in the hall. How in the hell did they give me a Ph.D.? Several of my friends, and even those who were not exactly friends, said it was the best talk I ever gave. One of my committee members took his turn during the questioning to note this was one of the clearest dissertations he had read in awhile. I picked him specifically because he was outside of my field but was a scientist who I respected greatly and continue to admire. I was the first graduate student of my mentor – he was promoted with tenure six months later. Funny, the difference in my perception and reality. It still wasn’t great – I only got two papers out of it. One was in a pretty decent journal, although not Cell, Nature, or Science. I ended up with a few postdoc offers, several in great institutions that...

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