A man dying from alcohol poisoning was saved after doctors in Vietnam pumped 15 cans worth of beer into his body.
The 48-year-old, Nguyen Van Nhat, fell unconscious and was taken to a hospital in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri on December 25 where doctors found that levels of methanol—a dangerous form of alcohol—in his body were more than 1,000 times over the recommended limit, the Daily Mirror reported.
When he arrived, medical staff at the General Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, led by Dr. Le Van Lam, immediately administered him with three cans of beer, equivalent to about 1 liter. Over the course of the day, doctors transfused a total of 15 cans of beer into the man’s body at a rate of about one every hour. This slowed down the rate at which his liver processed the methanol, allowing doctors to save his life.
There are two types of alcohol—ethanol and methanol—both of which produce similar effects and are toxic to the body to some degree. However, methanol—whose chemical structure varies slightly from its close relative—is not processed as well by the liver and thus can be far more dangerous when it is consumed in relatively large quantities.
The alcohol in consumer drinks tends to be mostly ethanol, although beverages such as beer and wine often contain very small amounts of methanol as well because it is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Commercial spirit manufacturers take steps to remove methanol from their products using special technology. However, methanol is often found in bootleg liquor, as well as in gasoline, antifreeze, paints, thinners, adhesives, cleaning products and inks.
Normally, when we consume drinks containing ethanol, an enzyme in the body known as alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down the compound into a toxic substance and known carcinogen called acetaldehyde. This is then metabolized into a byproduct known as acetate, which is further broken down into water and carbon dioxide, before being eliminated from the body.
Methanol—which can be fatal in far smaller doses than ethanol—gets metabolized by the same enzyme, but in a different way. It is converted into a highly toxic compound known as formaldehyde, which is then quickly broken down further into formic acid. These two substances are responsible for the dangerous effects of methanol poisoning—which can include permanent blindness, nervous system depression and, potentially, death—and are what caused the Vietnamese man to fall unconscious.
Administering beer—which contains significant quantities of ethanol—to a patient suffering from methanol poisoning can halt the process of formaldehyde being converted into formic acid. This is because the liver always prioritizes breaking down ethanol over methanol. In the case of Nguyen Van Nhat, this gave doctors more time to perform dialysis and remove the alcohol from his system completely, Vietnam Net reported.