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06/06/2000

NO, NO, NO!

With the final episode of Frasier having aired, the season of TV
reruns is upon us. If they can do it on TV, why shouldn''t an
aging sci/tech columnist have the same privilege? Besides, I
need a vacation! It also occurred to me that you recent visitors to
this Web site probably have not delved into the archives to read
my first columns detailing my background for presuming to write
about some of the esoteric subjects I''ve treated. Accordingly,
here is the first column from a year ago on the subject of NO,
Viagra and my high school diploma. Of course, you''ll have to
add a year to any statements concerning my age or age-related
dates.

This is the first in a series of columns dealing either substantially
or peripherally with science, scientists, technology, technologists
or, to be honest, anything that strikes my fancy. The first
question you might have is "Who is this Bortrum fellow?"
Permit me to introduce myself. First, I am "elderly", 71 years
old to be exact. Readers over 65, were you as dismayed as I was
to find in your Social Security literature the official definition of
"elderly" as being 65 or older? You Boomers in the audience
may be closer than you think to this exalted state!

Second, you might question my educational background to
decide whether or not to trust anything I say regarding scientific
subjects. Let me assure you that I have a high school diploma,
from Mechanicsburg High School in Pennsylvania, awarded to
me just five years ago at age 66. It''s true! Some of us are just
slow learners. Now that I''ve established my academic
credentials, I should warn you that you won''t find the name Allen
Bortrum in the annals of Mechanicsburg High School. Indeed, I
confess right off the bat that I am using a nom de plume. Why?
Am I ashamed of my true name or do I have something to hide?
Nothing so scandalous as to get me impeached, I can say with
confidence. Then, again, Brian would comment that nothing
seems to get anybody impeached and convicted these days!
Actually the reason for using a nom de plume is that, ever since I
took a semester of French at Dickinson College, I have been
fascinated by the sound of the term and always hoped to employ
this device myself. Now, Brian Trumbore has given me this
chance.

This bit on aging is relevant to the scientific topic for today. I
popped into this world shortly after Christmas in 1927, a banner
year in which the pop-up toaster was invented, Lindbergh flew
the Atlantic and sex hormones were discovered. Sex itself, of
course, was discovered considerably earlier. Growing up in the
30''s and 40''s, any words describing virtually any aspects of
sexual activity were frowned upon for public discourse and curse
words and scatological terms were reserved for expressions of
severe disgust, pain, anger or contempt. Indeed, I can remember
the shock to the movie-going public when Clark Gable in "Gone
With the Wind" uttered the line, "Frankly, my dear, I don''t give a
damn."

Now the whole gamut of such words seem a part of the working
vocabulary of even the typical elementary school kid. We even
see on TV a former presidential candidate and charter member of
the "Greatest Generation" discussing the problem of erectile
dysfunction and, by inference, promoting the benefits of Viagra
in overcoming this problem. On the other hand, this presidential
candidate''s successful opponent is publicly chided for having just
the opposite problem. Is it possible that in both cases the origin
of the problem lies in having too much or too little of a simple
molecule, namely NO? You will recall that we all live in an
atmosphere consisting of nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) and we
shouldn''t be surprised that the compound NO exists. Indeed,
millions of dollars have been spent in efforts to reduce NO and
other emissions from automobiles to minimize greenhouse
effects.

What is surprising is the role played by NO in regulating our
bodily functions. A recent issue of Chemistry, a publication of
the American Chemical Society, contains an article titled
"Science Says "Yes" to NO". The gist of the article is that
scientists, after much skepticism concerning early work in the
field, are concluding that NO, an even simpler molecule than
H2O, plays an extremely important role in the human body.
Among its functions is control of the dilation of blood vessels
and therein lies its relation to the problems of our two candidates.
It is believed that the effect of Viagra is to increase the amount of
NO in the penis, thus dilating the blood vessels and allowing
more blood to flow into the penis and promote the solution to the
problem of ED. One can only speculate whether the opposite of
ED (OOED) can result from an excess of this simple molecule
and that the solution is to say "No" to NO?

It is now believed that the well-known effect of nitroglycerine in
relieving the pain of angina is to release NO into the
bloodstream. In this case, NO dilates clogged blood vessels,
allowing the blood to flow more freely and lessen the strain on
the heart. An interesting sidebar to this story concerns Alfred
Nobel, inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Prize. His
recipe for making dynamite involved mixing nitroglycerine with
an appropriate chemical back in the 1890''s. When his doctor
suggested that Nobel take nitroglycerine to relieve his own
angina, Nobel refused, thinking the doctor was crazy to suggest
such a remedy. His reluctance is certainly understandable! It is
only fitting that three of the early workers who demonstrated the
importance of NO shared Mr. Nobel''s prize of nearly a million
dollars last year.

Other roles attributed to NO include regulation of blood pressure,
causing migraine headaches (a counter to OOED), controlling
actions of body orifices, helping the immune system fight
infections, carrying messages between nerve cells and being
linked to memory, sleep, pain and depression. Unfortunately,
NO can be a bad actor under the wrong conditions, possibly
promoting brain damage in certain types of strokes, Lou Gehrig''s
disease, Alzheimer''s disease, etc. Free NO lasts only a second or
so in the body and must rely on other compounds to carry it from
one place to another. In 1992, Science magazine named NO
"Molecule of the Year". With future work revealing its effects
and ways to promote or inhibit its release in selected sites in the
body, NO could well become the "Molecule of the Millenium"!

Getting back to Viagra and NO, there have been warnings about
its use by men with certain physical problems, one being high
blood pressure. By this time, perhaps 100-200 or so men have
died who were using Viagra if reports in the press are correct.
How many of these would have died without taking Viagra is
unknown and a controlled study with placebos would not be
practical and probably not ethical to boot. We might speculate
that taking a Viagra pill releases the NO more generally, not just
in the penile vicinity. Hence, dilating other blood vessels and
lowering blood pressure as the blood vessels expand. If this
lowering reinforces the effect of other medication taken to lower
blood pressure, it might not be surprising that in some cases the
pressure would go too low and fainting or even death could
result. The old saw, "But what a way to go!", has to be evaluated
on an individual basis! There promises to be more on NO in the
future.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-06/06/2000-      
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Dr. Bortrum

06/06/2000

NO, NO, NO!

With the final episode of Frasier having aired, the season of TV
reruns is upon us. If they can do it on TV, why shouldn''t an
aging sci/tech columnist have the same privilege? Besides, I
need a vacation! It also occurred to me that you recent visitors to
this Web site probably have not delved into the archives to read
my first columns detailing my background for presuming to write
about some of the esoteric subjects I''ve treated. Accordingly,
here is the first column from a year ago on the subject of NO,
Viagra and my high school diploma. Of course, you''ll have to
add a year to any statements concerning my age or age-related
dates.

This is the first in a series of columns dealing either substantially
or peripherally with science, scientists, technology, technologists
or, to be honest, anything that strikes my fancy. The first
question you might have is "Who is this Bortrum fellow?"
Permit me to introduce myself. First, I am "elderly", 71 years
old to be exact. Readers over 65, were you as dismayed as I was
to find in your Social Security literature the official definition of
"elderly" as being 65 or older? You Boomers in the audience
may be closer than you think to this exalted state!

Second, you might question my educational background to
decide whether or not to trust anything I say regarding scientific
subjects. Let me assure you that I have a high school diploma,
from Mechanicsburg High School in Pennsylvania, awarded to
me just five years ago at age 66. It''s true! Some of us are just
slow learners. Now that I''ve established my academic
credentials, I should warn you that you won''t find the name Allen
Bortrum in the annals of Mechanicsburg High School. Indeed, I
confess right off the bat that I am using a nom de plume. Why?
Am I ashamed of my true name or do I have something to hide?
Nothing so scandalous as to get me impeached, I can say with
confidence. Then, again, Brian would comment that nothing
seems to get anybody impeached and convicted these days!
Actually the reason for using a nom de plume is that, ever since I
took a semester of French at Dickinson College, I have been
fascinated by the sound of the term and always hoped to employ
this device myself. Now, Brian Trumbore has given me this
chance.

This bit on aging is relevant to the scientific topic for today. I
popped into this world shortly after Christmas in 1927, a banner
year in which the pop-up toaster was invented, Lindbergh flew
the Atlantic and sex hormones were discovered. Sex itself, of
course, was discovered considerably earlier. Growing up in the
30''s and 40''s, any words describing virtually any aspects of
sexual activity were frowned upon for public discourse and curse
words and scatological terms were reserved for expressions of
severe disgust, pain, anger or contempt. Indeed, I can remember
the shock to the movie-going public when Clark Gable in "Gone
With the Wind" uttered the line, "Frankly, my dear, I don''t give a
damn."

Now the whole gamut of such words seem a part of the working
vocabulary of even the typical elementary school kid. We even
see on TV a former presidential candidate and charter member of
the "Greatest Generation" discussing the problem of erectile
dysfunction and, by inference, promoting the benefits of Viagra
in overcoming this problem. On the other hand, this presidential
candidate''s successful opponent is publicly chided for having just
the opposite problem. Is it possible that in both cases the origin
of the problem lies in having too much or too little of a simple
molecule, namely NO? You will recall that we all live in an
atmosphere consisting of nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) and we
shouldn''t be surprised that the compound NO exists. Indeed,
millions of dollars have been spent in efforts to reduce NO and
other emissions from automobiles to minimize greenhouse
effects.

What is surprising is the role played by NO in regulating our
bodily functions. A recent issue of Chemistry, a publication of
the American Chemical Society, contains an article titled
"Science Says "Yes" to NO". The gist of the article is that
scientists, after much skepticism concerning early work in the
field, are concluding that NO, an even simpler molecule than
H2O, plays an extremely important role in the human body.
Among its functions is control of the dilation of blood vessels
and therein lies its relation to the problems of our two candidates.
It is believed that the effect of Viagra is to increase the amount of
NO in the penis, thus dilating the blood vessels and allowing
more blood to flow into the penis and promote the solution to the
problem of ED. One can only speculate whether the opposite of
ED (OOED) can result from an excess of this simple molecule
and that the solution is to say "No" to NO?

It is now believed that the well-known effect of nitroglycerine in
relieving the pain of angina is to release NO into the
bloodstream. In this case, NO dilates clogged blood vessels,
allowing the blood to flow more freely and lessen the strain on
the heart. An interesting sidebar to this story concerns Alfred
Nobel, inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Prize. His
recipe for making dynamite involved mixing nitroglycerine with
an appropriate chemical back in the 1890''s. When his doctor
suggested that Nobel take nitroglycerine to relieve his own
angina, Nobel refused, thinking the doctor was crazy to suggest
such a remedy. His reluctance is certainly understandable! It is
only fitting that three of the early workers who demonstrated the
importance of NO shared Mr. Nobel''s prize of nearly a million
dollars last year.

Other roles attributed to NO include regulation of blood pressure,
causing migraine headaches (a counter to OOED), controlling
actions of body orifices, helping the immune system fight
infections, carrying messages between nerve cells and being
linked to memory, sleep, pain and depression. Unfortunately,
NO can be a bad actor under the wrong conditions, possibly
promoting brain damage in certain types of strokes, Lou Gehrig''s
disease, Alzheimer''s disease, etc. Free NO lasts only a second or
so in the body and must rely on other compounds to carry it from
one place to another. In 1992, Science magazine named NO
"Molecule of the Year". With future work revealing its effects
and ways to promote or inhibit its release in selected sites in the
body, NO could well become the "Molecule of the Millenium"!

Getting back to Viagra and NO, there have been warnings about
its use by men with certain physical problems, one being high
blood pressure. By this time, perhaps 100-200 or so men have
died who were using Viagra if reports in the press are correct.
How many of these would have died without taking Viagra is
unknown and a controlled study with placebos would not be
practical and probably not ethical to boot. We might speculate
that taking a Viagra pill releases the NO more generally, not just
in the penile vicinity. Hence, dilating other blood vessels and
lowering blood pressure as the blood vessels expand. If this
lowering reinforces the effect of other medication taken to lower
blood pressure, it might not be surprising that in some cases the
pressure would go too low and fainting or even death could
result. The old saw, "But what a way to go!", has to be evaluated
on an individual basis! There promises to be more on NO in the
future.

Allen F. Bortrum