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The effect of alcohol on the blood.

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In a lecture on alcohol delivered in England and the United States, Dr. Richardson, speaking of the action of this substance on the blood after it has been excreted from the stomach, says

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“Suppose a certain amount of alcohol is taken into the stomach, it will be absorbed, but before it can be absorbed it must pass through a proper degree of dilution with water, for when alcohol is separated by the animal membrane from a watery fluid like the blood, there is this peculiarity that it will not pass through the membrane until it is mixed with water to a certain degree of dilution. In fact, it itself is so voracious in absorbing water that it will draw water from aqueous substances and deprive them of it until it is saturated and its capacity to receive it is exhausted, and then it will diffuse into the flow of circulating liquids.

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It is this ability to absorb water from every texture with which alcohol comes in contact that creates a strong craving in those who use it freely and indulgently. Here’s how Dr. Richardson describes its action when it reaches the blood circulation.

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“As it circulates through the lungs, it is exposed to the air, and some of it is lifted by the heat of nature into vapor, which is thrown off on the exhalation. If it is present in large quantities, this loss may be considerable, and the spirit may be smelled in the exhaled air. If the quantity is small, the loss will be relatively small because the spirit is kept in solution by the water in the blood. Once it has passed through the lungs and is driven by the left heart through the arterial circuit, it enters the so-called microcirculation, or the structural circulation of the organism. Here the arteries extend into very small vessels, called arterioles, and from these infinitely small vessels emerge equally small venous roots or roots, which will eventually become the great rivers that carry the blood back to the heart. In the process of passing through this tiny circulation, alcohol finds its way to each organ. The brain, the muscles, the secretory or excretory organs, even the bony structures themselves, it flows with the blood. In some of these parts, where it is not excreted, it remains diffused for some time, and in those where there is a great deal of water, it remains longer than in others. From some organs that have open tubes to carry the fluid, such as the liver and kidneys, it is thrown out or eliminated, and in this way a part of the fluid is finally expelled from the body. The rest goes around with the blood circulation and may be broken down and brought out in the form of new substances.

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“When we know the course of alcohol through the body from absorption to elimination, we can better determine what physical changes it causes in the different organs and structures with which it comes in contact. It reaches the bloodstream first; but generally, the amount that enters the bloodstream is not sufficient to have any substantial effect on the fluid. If, however, the dose taken is poisonous or semi-toxic, then even the blood, which is rich in water, and which contains 790 parts per thousand, will be affected. The alcohol diffuses through this water and there comes into contact with other components, with cellulose, a plastic substance that clots when the blood is drawn, in a proportion of two to three parts per thousand; with albumin, in a proportion of seventy parts per thousand. Finally, there are those tiny round objects that float in groups in the blood (discovered by the Dutch philosopher Ruwenhoek as one of the first results of microscopic observation, around the middle of the 17th century), which are called blood cells or hemocytes. These last-named bodies are actually cells; their discs have a smooth outline in their natural state, their centers are depressed, and they are red in color; the color of blood comes from them. We have found that there are other, much smaller numbers of cells in the blood, which are called leukocytes, and these different cells float in the blood stream within the blood vessels. The red blood cells are in the center of the blood flow; the white blood cells are on the outside near the sides of the blood vessels and move more slowly. Our task is mainly to deal with red blood cells. They perform the most important function in the economy; they absorb to a large extent the oxygen we inhale in our breath and carry it to the extreme tissues of the body; they absorb to a large extent the carbonic acid gas produced during the combustion of the extreme tissues of the body and carry that gas back to the lungs, where it is exchanged with oxygen; in short, they are an important tool of the circulation.

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“When alcohol enters the blood, it comes into contact with all these parts of the blood, with water, fibrin, albumin, salts, fatty substances and cells, and if it is present in sufficient quantity, it will have a disturbing effect. I have observed this interference with the blood cells very carefully; for in some animals we can see these blood cells floating through life, and we can also observe them in persons affected by alcohol, by taking out a grain of blood and examining it with a microscope. The effects of alcohol, when it can be observed, are varied. It may cause the platelets to be too closely bound together and to form rolls; it may change the outline of the platelets so that the well-defined, smooth outer edges become irregular or crenulated, or even star-shaped; it may cause round platelets to become oval, or, in very extreme cases, it may produce what I call truncated platelets, in which the changes are so great that if we do not trace it through all its stages, we would be confused as to whether the object looked at was really a blood cell. All these changes are due to the action of the spirit on the water contained within the cell; to the ability of the spirit to extract water from the cell. At each stage of the cellular changes thus described, their function of absorbing and fixing gases is impaired, and other difficulties arise when the cells aggregate in large numbers, because the cells united do not pass easily through the fine vessels of the lungs and the general circulation, and obstruct the flow of water, thus producing local injury.

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“Another effect produced by alcohol in excess on the blood is on fibrin or plastic colloidal substances. Alcohol acts on this substance in two different ways, depending on the degree of its effect on the water that holds the cellulose solution. It can either fix the water with the cellulose, thus destroying the ability to coagulate, or it can extract the water, thus producing coagulation.