TORONTO, Ontario — For some drinkers, the effects of alcohol can stay with them long after a night of partying. Normally, the liver clears most of this from the human body naturally, but the process can’t be sped up. Now, scientists in Canada say a new device can help people end their intoxication three times faster — simply by breathing.
Researchers from the University Health Network in Toronto have developed a simple method that focuses on hyperventilating to eliminate alcohol through the lungs. Team leader Dr. Joseph Fisher says their proof of concept could become a game-changing therapy for severe alcohol intoxication or even just help average drinkers who are “sobering up.”
Ethanol, better known as alcohol, can impact every part of the human body. This includes brain function, blood circulation, and even nail growth. When drinkers reach a certain level of blood-alcohol concentration, their intoxication damages the organs and can lead to death. The World Health Organization says three million people die each year from harmful use of alcohol.
How can you breathe yourself out of intoxication?
The human liver is in charge of ridding the body of 90 percent of the alcohol it’s exposed to, but the rate it does this at is a constant figure. Until now, the only way to speed up the sobering process was through dialysis. Physicians can also help patients through severe intoxication by providing oxygen and intravenous fluids.
Researchers discovered that by breathing harder, the lungs could help the liver push more alcohol out the body. While the results find hyperventilation speeds this process up by at least three times, the team says you can’t just grab a paper bag and start huffing and puffing.
“You can’t just hyperventilate, because in a minute or two you would become light-headed and pass out,” explains Dr. Fisher in a media release.
Researchers add that hyperventilating also causes the body to rid itself of carbon dioxide along with the alcohol. Drops in this gas lead to light-headedness, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and fainting.
Fisher, an anesthesiologist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), says the new device allows patients to hyperventilate the alcohol out of their systems while returning carbon dioxide to the body. The machine produces just the right amount of this gas to maintain the body’s normal blood levels, regardless of how long the patient hyperventilates.
More importantly, the device is only the size of a small briefcase, making it capable of treating intoxication anywhere people are serving drinks.
“It’s very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required. It’s almost inexplicable why we didn’t try this decades ago,” Dr. Fisher adds.
The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.