Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bodies are so clever...

Ok, so let's say you drink some methanol (a bad idea, since it's toxic and poisonous). But, maybe you were looking for something cheap and thought denatured alcohol would do the trick (ethanol with a splash of methanol, used for industrial purposes, sold at an auto parts shop).

Your body would take that methanol, oxidize it to formaldehyde, then to formic acid...then it would get stuck. If you'd drank Jim Beam instead, your body would oxidize it to acetaldehyde, then to acetic acid, which it can totally handle and break down into other things pretty quickly. But, your poor body is stuck with the formic acid. Bummer.

Since it's hanging out as an acid in your body, it starts messing with your overall pH. Your blood starts to get too acidic. Now, your body is prepared for minimal pH changes. There's a bunch of CO2 in your body that mixes with water to form carbonic acid. (Carbonic acid can give off a proton - which is what acids do, and then it is called bicarbonate which can take on a proton - what bases do). This is called a buffer system - it can flex either way and help "buffer" the effects of pH changes.

So, this is the cool part. If you've got that nasty formic acid causing your whole body to get too acidic, you will start involuntarily breathing really deep and fast (called Kussmal breathing). The idea is you will get CO2 out of your body way faster than normal. Thus, there's way less carbonic acid that can be made, so you will (theoretically) get less acidic. Depending on how much methanol you drank, your body might not be able to keep up, then, you'd need dialysis to get it out. But, it's still a cool impulse.

And, it's the same reason that people who hyperventilate when they get nervous might pass out. They're actually inducing an alkalosis (making their body too alkaline or "not-acidic") by removing too much CO2 too fast. Their body says, "that's no good" and stops the CO2 loss by knocking them out.

Isn't that cool?

1 comment:

Krista said...

Fabulously cool! I always wondered what caused you to pass out when you hyperventilated!