Health & Wellbeing

Hyperventilation device can clear alcohol from your system faster

Hyperventilation device can cl...
Dr. Joseph Fisher demonstrates the use of ClearMate in his lab, with the help of Dr. Olivia Sobczyk
Dr. Joseph Fisher demonstrates the use of ClearMate in his lab, with the help of Dr. Olivia Sobczyk
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Dr. Joseph Fisher demonstrates the use of ClearMate in his lab, with the help of Dr. Olivia Sobczyk
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Dr. Joseph Fisher demonstrates the use of ClearMate in his lab, with the help of Dr. Olivia Sobczyk

A fascinating new proof-of-concept study is proposing a novel, cheap and surprisingly simple way to rapidly reduce blood alcohol levels. The research suggests a low-tech device aiding safe hyperventilation can more than triple the rate of alcohol eliminated from the body.

Our liver is fundamentally responsible for clearing alcohol out of the body. However, the rate of clearance by the liver is relatively constant, regardless of blood alcohol levels. This can sometimes leave individuals in precariously toxic positions when they have consumed too much alcohol too quickly.

Canadian researcher Joseph Fisher looked to the lungs as a possible solution to speeding up the body’s ability to clear alcohol. For nearly a century it has been known that ethanol, and other volatile compounds, are present in exhaled breath. So Fisher hypothesized hyperventilation could be a way to accelerate the body’s rate of clearing toxins such as alcohol.

"But you can't just hyperventilate, because in a minute or two you would become light-headed and pass out," says Fisher, an anesthesiologist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.

The reason we get dizzy or light-headed when we hyperventilate is because the rapid pace of breathing eliminates carbon dioxide from our blood faster than the body can replace it. This causes a condition called hypocapnia.

To allow a person to safely hyperventilate without developing hypocapnia Fisher and a team of colleagues invented a device called ClearMate. The simple invention delivers subjects a mix of carbon dioxide and oxygen, allowing hyperventilation without negative side effects.

"It's a very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required," says Dr. Fisher. "It's almost inexplicable why we didn't try this decades ago."

The device was initially developed to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and in 2019 the FDA approved ClearMate as a marketable treatment for this following several clinical studies showing the device to be effective.

The new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, describes a very small proof-of-concept experiment testing the ClearMate device’s ability to eliminate alcohol from a human body. Five subjects were recruited for the study.

Each subject underwent two experimental days, one testing the rate of blood alcohol clearance through normal ventilation and the other testing the rate using Clearmate for up to three hours. Each subject consumed a vodka-based drink to bring their blood alcohol up to 0.1 percent before commencing the experiment. The study found hyperventilation increased blood alcohol elimination rates more than three-fold.

The researchers note more work is needed to better validate the findings but it is suggested this could be applied to clinical settings as a kind of acute treatment for alcohol intoxication. Fisher and several other researchers working on the project have founded a company called Thornhill Medical to commercialize the ClearMate technology.

While the findings do effectively demonstrate how controlled hyperventilation can speed up the body’s ability to clear out alcohol, it is unclear whether this method could be usefully clinically deployed. It has previously been found clinically useful for carbon monoxide poisoning but it is difficult to envision how a semi-conscious subject suffering from acute alcohol poisoning could actively hyperventilate for up to three hours.

In the study, the researchers do hypothesize heavily intoxicated patients could be administered the treatment via endotracheal intubation. It is suggested with manual ventilation, in a critical care setting, blood alcohol levels may be reduced to below a lethal range in less than 40 minutes.

The new research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University Health Networks

3 comments
jerryd
So that is what happens when I hyperventilate to go to sleep. I found deep breathing an excellent way to go to sleep fast.
nick101
I remember working a wedding reception as a server, we were told we could go home early, and we all got drunk. Just as we were leaving we got told we had to work another 2 hrs, that would have come in handy!
Eric Blenheim
Surely, huffing on a paper bag would achieve just the same effect to speed up the dissipation of a hangover if this thing about carbon-dioxide depletion through hyperventilation extending hangovers is true. The equipment proposed to give this dubious treatment (of course) costs over 20,000 dollars in one report, I think huffing on a paper bag would be a cheaper method for self experimentation and far less injurious to the wallet.