A possible game changer to reverse alcohol intoxication
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3 million deaths occur each year as a result of harmful alcohol use.
Ethanol, commonly called ‘alcohol’, is found in alcoholic beverages, affecting every part of the human body. Brain function, circulation and even nail growth are affected. When a certain level of blood alcohol concentration is reached, drunkenness can damage organs and lead to death.
In a study published today in Scientific reports, a Nature Research Journal, a team of researchers led by dr. Joseph Fisher, provides evidence of the concept of a simple method that can become a game changer in rescue therapy for severe alcohol poisoning, as well as ‘sober’.
Normally, 90% of the alcohol in the human body is purified exclusively by the liver at a constant dose that cannot be increased. Currently, there is no other method but dialysis, by which alcohol can be removed from the blood. It is the only option to support life-threatening alcohol levels, such as giving oxygen, intravenous fluids, breathing aids and treating heart problems with drugs.
The principle behind the UHN team’s approach is simply to recruit the lungs to exhale the alcohol. The harder the breathing, it is argued, the more alcohol is eliminated. The team found that hyperventilation indeed eliminated alcohol three times faster than through the liver alone.
“But you can not just hyperventilate, because within a minute or two you will become light-headed and disappear,” explains dr. Fisher, anesthetist and senior scientist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI).
When he hyperventilates – breathing deeper and faster than normal – the body removes carbon dioxide from the blood along with the alcohol. The decrease of this gas in the blood is the cause of symptoms such as lightheadedness, tingling or numbness on hands and feet and fainting.
Dr. Fisher and his team used a device that allows the patient to hyperventilate the alcohol while returning exactly the amount of carbon dioxide to the body to keep it at normal levels in the blood – regardless of the degree of hyperventilation. The equipment is the size of a small briefcase and uses a valve system, single connecting tubes, a mask and a small tank with compressed carbon dioxide.
‘It’s a very basic, low-tech device that can be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters needed.
“It’s almost inexplicable why we did not try it decades ago,” says Dr. Fisher.
This study is the first scientific evidence that the basic dose of alcohol elimination can be significantly exceeded by using hyperventilation.
This study is a proof of concept performed in the laboratory with volunteers. The authors recommend following up further validation studies to understand how this technology can be applied in a clinical setting.
Reference: 12 November 2020, Scientific reports.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-020-76233-9
Dr. Joseph Fisher is the co-founder of Thornhill Medical, a lucrative business of UHN. He is one of the inventors of the ClearMateTM, developed by Thornhill Medical for the elimination of volatile hydrocarbons, including the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning.