Nerdsday Wednesday… Self medication is encouraged!
I ran across this article today that details a Kenyan hospital’s poison control practices: beer consumption.
After people were brought in after drinking methanol-laced drinks (lame attempt at homebrew, guys), the doctors would dose ethanol to the patients in the cheapest way possible: beers. This is, in fact, is an effective treatment when used in combination with fluid consumption. Why, if these people have been poisoned with alcohol, should you give them more alcohol?
The answer is enzyme kinetics. Alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme in your liver that will eventually break down that Jägerbomb you just swallowed, will process both methanol (CH3OH, the smaller toxic alcohol) and ethanol (C2H5OH, the longer, also toxic alcohol). The problem is, when you drink methanol, the alcohol-killing enzyme will change it into formaldehyde and then eventually into formic acid or formate, which will essentially starve all the cells in all the tissues in your body of oxygen. Ethanol, in comparison, is broken down into acetaldehyde, then Acetyl CoA, where it can then be used to create energy (ATP). Thus, ethanol is nutritious (hooray!); but acetaldehyde is toxic and in large quantities will cause cancer and other bad diseases.
When you ingest both methanol and ethanol at the same time, the ethanol is broken down first, no matter in what order you ingest the chemicals. This is called competitive inhibition, where an enzyme favors munching on one thing as opposed to the other for “energy conservation” reasons. Either way, if you keep drinking beer (with ethanol) at a moderate pace, then you can keep the methanol and its bad byprocuts out of your bloodstream and allow your kidneys to take care of business. Bad Ass.
References: Boggan, Bill. “Metabolism of Ethyl Alcohol in the Body”. Chemases.com; Vale A (2007). “Methanol”. Medicine 35 (12): 633–4.; Liesivuori J, Savolainen H (September 1991). “Methanol and formic acid toxicity: biochemical mechanisms”. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 69 (3): 157–63.