Monday, November 23, 2009

Beer is the cure


If you ever find yourself or someone else poisoned by methanol or ethylene glycol and without access to proper medical attention, beer is there for you. This is not as implausible as perhaps you might think as these poisonings cause dozens of fatalities in the US every year. How would these poisonings come about? Ethylene glycol is sweet tasting and is consumed as a substitute for ethanol and is found in antifreeze, and methanol can often contaminate homebrew alcohol aka moonshine. In either of these situations I bet that proper medical attention is not often close at hand.

After ingestion these molecules cause intoxication but are also converted by alcohol dehydrogenase into formic acid, in the case of methanol, and eventually oxalate, in the case of ethylene glycol. These are the actively toxic compounds. Formic acid poisoning can result in damage to the optic nerve and blindness while oxalate causes more general neurological damage followed by general cardiopulmonary depression and renal damage.

If proper medical attention is available fomepizole can be administered. This drug is a competitive inhibitor of alcohol dehydrogenase.

Another competitive substrate for alcohol dehydrogenase, ethanol, fortuitously can be found in therapeutically relevant concentrations in beer.

According to my calculations, the largest assumption in which I think is that you would absorb 100% of the ethanol in your tasty beverage, for methanol poisoning drink 3 beers in the first hour followed by 1 beer every two hours for as long as three days while for ethylene glycol poisoning drink 5 beers right away and maintain that blood alcohol level. These doses are based on 341mL 5% alcohol beers for an average weight guy. Also note that these doses are purely therapeutic and do not include any additional recreational alcohol consumption.

Treatment of methanol poisoning with ethanol.

Treatment of ethylene glycol poisoning with ethanol.


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can we see your calculations?

rob said...

Will I get partial marks for showing my work?

rob said...

For ethanol:
The indicated dose is 600mg/kg + 109mg/kg for 1 hour then 109mg/kg for as much as three and a half days.


53175mg ethanol / average human male (75kg) first hour 8.175g ethanol/hour afterwards


341mL/beer = 341 g
5% alcohol in beer
17.05g ethanol/beer

3beers in the first hour
followed by 1 beer every two hours for as much as three days.

Quite a few approximations here, but I think they are all reasonable.

Kamel said...

Damn, I thought you were going to do it from first principle and throw down some Michaelis-Menten or something. This is a bit less impressive, but still cool info.

kanefer said...

It's true, I read long ago that even emergency rooms administer beer for ethylene glycol/antifreeze poisoning. It works, the article said, by causing the toxic substance to join with the ethanol, and then it bypasses the organs and is excreted in the urine. So, I'm wondering if beer also assists with other poisoning, such as by food additives or pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. that may be in some foods. Maybe, many people who drink beer are unconsciously self-medicating...

rob said...

@kanefer
My beer self-medication is entirely conscious. However, unless there is a toxicity of a particular poisoning that is due to metabolism in the body by alcohol dehydrogenase then ethanol is unlikely going to be broadly beneficial for various toxins. If you read the article, the methanol and ethylene glycol toxins are produced by alcohol dehydrogenase metabolism and ethanol keeps this enzyme busy so it produces less toxins derived from the methanol or ethylene glycol.
cheers