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Vietnamese doctors use beer to save patient from alcohol poisoning

Vietnamese doctors use beer to save patient from alcohol poisoning

Thursday, January 10, 2019, 12:58 GMT+7
Vietnamese doctors use beer to save patient from alcohol poisoning
Nguyen Van Nhat is treated for methanol poisoning at a hospital in Quang Tri Province in north-central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Doctors at a hospital in north-central Vietnam took an unorthodox approach to treating a patient suffering from alcohol poisoning – feeding him 15 cans of beer in a bid to save his life.

Nguyen Van Nhat, 48, was hospitalized on December 25 with symptoms of severe methanol poisoning after consuming a massive amount of alcohol at a party earlier that day.

Nhat was unconscious and in a life-threatening condition by the time he made it to Quang Tri General Hospital in Quang Tri Province in north-central Vietnam, according to Le Van Lam, head of the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Doctors took blood samples from Nhat and found that the level of methanol in his blood was 1,119 times higher than the legal limit.

Three cans of beer were immediately administered to the patient to slow down his liver’s processing of methanol, Lam said.

It took 15 cans of beer administered at a rate of one can per hour before Nhat had finally recovered to the point that doctors could discharge him from the hospital.

According to Dr. Lam, using beer to save alcohol-poisoned patients is not unheard of in the medical world.

In essence, there are two variants of alcohol - ethanol and methanol. 

The human liver prioritizes breaking down ethanol over methanol, Lam said.

When methanol is broken down, it releases formaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical compound that can be deadly when consumed in high levels. Meanwhile, ethanol does not lead to serious poisoning when it is broken down by the liver.

As beer contains ethanol, administering beer into a methanol-poisoned patient actually helps stop the liver from breaking down methanol, giving doctors enough time to perform dialysis and remove alcohol from the patient’s system, Dr. Lam explained.

In addition, excess methanol that is not broken down by the liver can be naturally discharged from the body through urination, he said.

Tran Van Thanh, director of Quang Tri’s health department, said the department will look into this treatment method to see if it fits any standard medical practices.

“Even if it does not conform to any medical standard, this method should be scientifically studied if it has been proven effective in practice,” Thanh said.

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Tuan Son / Tuoi Tre News

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