Thursday, October 05, 2006

Harvard Stereotypes

Much of the time, Harvard students fail to resemble the Harvard stereotype. Occasionally, though, they really do go above and beyond. Here is an email exchange from one of the house lists.

First, something from the Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor:
?What will cure my hangover??

Sorry, we don?t have a silver bullet. But there IS a bad bullet: Tylenol. Don?t take it after drinking. Tylenol(acetaminophen) can react with the alcohol and seriously damage your liver.

It's also dangerous to drink alcohol if you're taking any medication that makes you sleepy (i.e. cough medicine, antihistamines, sleeping pills). The depressant qualities of the medication and alcohol can severely impair your motor skills and even suppress respiration.

A chemist's response:

I think just for fun I'll weigh in. While consuming alcohol and tylenol sequentially in either order is a horrible idea, acetaminophen does not react with ethanol (but it is soluble in ethanol for those that care).

Acetaminophen is metabolized via three different routes, and a small amount (ca. 5%) is metabolized by one of the cytochromes (can't remember which one *cough* premed tutors, which one?). The product of this initial oxidation is N-acetylbenzoquinonimine, and our chem17/chem30 veterans can attest to the electrophilicity of this fun compound (or can't you....). Living tissue + strong electrophile = dead tissue. Buildup of the benzoquionimine in the liver tissueis, as far as this humble chemist is aware, the origin of acetaminophen hepatotoxicity. Of course, the benzoquinonimineis rapidly dealt with by conjugation with glutathione. Ethanol competes with acetaminophen for interaction with thecytochrome, resulting in benzoquinonimine buildup, glutathione depletion, and therefore, increased toxicity of acetaminophen at low dosage, and increased incidence of liver damage.

Bottom line, don't drink and then take tylenol thinking you'll avoid a headache. But acetaminophen does not react with ethanol.

I shall put my soapbox away for now.

I love it. I've never seen a post with more words I've never heard of. Way to break it down for the rest of the house, Mr. Chemist.
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