Want a reason to get drunk?

An incredibly risky one? If you happen to drink methanol, then you’ll end up in the emergency room with an IV intended to get you drunk as fast as possible.1 2 If the treatment isn’t applied immediately you could end up blind or worse.1,2p426

Methanol may be good for certain racing cars, but it’s toxic to human beings because the body’s liver oxidizes it to produce formaldehyde.2p387,426 This particular aldehyde is highly reactive in the body, damaging cells and their vital proteins including DNA.2p426,4 Even the fumes of formaldehyde may be cancerous.1,3 Formaldehyde in the body will lead to loss of eyesight, respiratory failure, convulsions and death.2p426

To keep the liver from oxidizing methanol to formaldehyde, the ER personnel will use ethanol as a distraction.2p426 Ethanol, the by-product of yeast found in alcoholic drinks, is oxidized by the liver using the same enzyme that oxidizes methanol.2p387,426 In fact, it is preferred by the enzyme, which helps minimize production of formaldehyde through “competitive inhibition”.2p426

The product of ethanol oxidation is acetaldehyde, which is less toxic.2p426 Acetaldehyde will give a person a hangover in the morning and too much over time can lead to fatty liver disease, but its effects are nowhere near those of formaldehyde.2p430 The liver detoxifies acetaldehyde to etanoic acid and then used as an caloric energy source.2p430

1. Antizol. Methanol poisoning overview. Available at: http://www.antizol.com/mpoisono.htm. Accessed on September 30, 2008.

2. Denniston, KJ, Topping, JJ & Caret, RL. General, Organic, And Biochemistry, 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill; 2007:426.

3. National Cancer Institute. Formaldehyde and cancer: Questions and answers. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/formaldehyde. Accessed on September 30, 2008.

4. Salariino, AJ, Wiley, JC, Lechner, JF, Grafstrom, RC, LaVeck, M & Harris, CC. Effects of Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Benzoyl Peroxide, and Hydrogen Peroxide on Cultured Normal Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells. Cancer Research, vol 45; 1985 June. Available at: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/reprint/45/6/2522?ck=nck. Accessed on September 30,2008.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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