Happy Late Patty’s Day everybody! If you’re town was anything like mine, you’ve probably seen your fair share of blissfully intoxicated co-eds in electric green t-shirts, shiny green beads, and glazed over smiles, glittering the local bar patios like grass clippings. Speaking of blissfully intoxicated…
What do yeast, fruit flies, and human beings all have in common? We can all hold our alcohol. More accurately, we each come equipped with our very own alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes that allow us to convert that toxic, nasty ole alcohol into more user-friendly byproducts that our cells can use.
In case you didn’t know, alcohol is toxic to the body. [That’s right, I’m looking at you, Ethanol…I haven’t forgotten about New Year’s!] Not only do our bodies have no real nutritional use for it (which is why you won’t find it in your Flintstone vitamins) but when set loose in the body it can sabotage our organ systems one by one.
Luckily, we have a generous helping of miracle-working, alcohol converting enzymes in our liver and stomach to soften the blow. We actually have 3 different enzymes in our anti-alcohol arsenal but the vast majority of the damage control is carried out by that smooth talker, alcohol dehydrogenase. These 80 kilodalton molecules step in like a bomb squad to disarm the alcohol molecules by stripping away their hydrogen atoms (that’s why we call them de-hydrogenases). This converts them into acetaldehyde, but we aren’t out of the danger zone yet. The acetaldehyde (close cousin to formaldehyde) is even more toxic than the alcohol we started with. Not unlike disarming a bomb (like I’d know) just because you snipped the red wire doesn’t turn the C4 into pound cake. What is left still packs a
punch. The acetaldehyde gets converted further into acetic acid radicals (acetic acid gives us vinegar). Alcohol dehydrogenase joins those nasty radicals with Coenzyme-A molecule to form happy little Acetyl-CoA molecules that our cells can now use in their metabolism.
Yes I do love a happy ending, but just because a few fancy-pants liver enzymes allow us to convert ETOH (alcohol) into useful cellular byproducts doesn’t mean we can go out chugging margaritas like protein shakes. Be safe. Hey, look at me….I care.
Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends 🙂