So far as scientific research has yet been able to reveal, that mysterious thing we call "life" resides in the cell which is the foundation of all living matter.
Myriads of cells of a certain type massed together constitute nerves; cells of another type make the brain; cells of still other types make up tissues, muscles, glands, organs, and so on throughout the body. These cells consist largely of water—from 70 to 90 per cent, They contain minute quantities of mineral salts and a small amount of protein, a component of protoplasm and of the covering of the cell.
If in a house built of bricks every brick is sound, the whole house is secure. Similarly, if every cell in all parts of the body is normal, there is no disease or sickness.
To maintain their normal condition and functions, these cells need three things,—water, nutrient, and oxygen. If they receive these in proper manner and proper amounts, and if their wastes are promptly removed, they usually remain normal; and normality is a state of health. If the cells do not secure these three things, or if other things are given them which they do not need and cannot use, their condition becomes abnormal, their functions are impaired, and illness results.
The effect of alcohol on the cell presents a marked contrast to the ministry of food, water, and oxygen in the life and work of the cell. Some of the contrasts between the effects of food and those of alcohol on the body were set forth in the preceding article. In the present article, some of the contrasts between the effects of water and those of alcohol will be presented.
Constituent Place of Water
It is fundamental to know that water comprises about 70 per cent of the weight of the body. The following percentages of water in the various parts are given in medical books: tissue, 70-90 percent; muscle, 75 percent; blood plasma, 92 percent; red blood corpuscle, 65 percent; kidneys, 80 percent; liver, 76 percent; glands, 80 percent; brain gray matter, 84 percent; spinal cord, 74 percent; nerves, 60 percent; bone, 40 percent; saliva, 99 percent; gastric juice, 99 percent; pancreatic juice, 98 percent; liver bile, 97 percent. Water is the chief constituent, by weight, of all the secretions of the glands, which are the life activators of the body. The life processes are dependent upon the presence of water in all parts of the body. No cell, gland, or organ can function without it. In starvation, an animal can survive after the loss of half of its protein, but it dies from the loss of one fifth of its water. This water is not idle, as it is when in a glass; it is at work to maintain life in the body.
Effects of Alcohol
We shall now consider some of the effects of alcohol on various substances, as stated by standard authorities:
1. Next to water, alcohol is the most useful solvent known to science; it dissolves things which water cannot dissolve. For instance, it will mix with oils, as castor oil, croton oil, and the volatile oils. It dissolves resin, camphor gum, and various kinds of substances used for coloring matter. Because it is such a powerful solvent, it is useful in the arts and sciences in making varnish, remedies, dyes, and hundreds of other things.
Here the question must be raised, If alcohol dissolves things which water cannot dissolve, and life in the body is dependent upon the ministry of water, might not alcohol as a solvent within the body interfere with the work of water? Might it not do violence to some of the cells and life processes being sustained by water?
2. Furthermore, alcohol is known in science as a dehydrant. It has a strong affinity for water; it removes water from substances, and thus shrinks them, making them smaller and harder. This can easily be demonstrated by placing alcohol upon a piece_of bread or meat, When, as a dehydrant, alcohol acts upon the organs, tissues, glands, and other parts of the body, an enemy is found to be at work to oppose and undo the work water is doing to sustain life. In this way a "tug of war" is introduced into the body, the water trying to maintain life, and alcohol pulling in the opposite direction—toward death.
3. But more: The scientist says that alcohol coagulates and precipitates protein. A representative statement follows:
"Being a coagulant of protein, alcohol tends to irritate and destroy cells. It is therefore a general protoplasmic poison."—Walter A. Bastedo, "Materia Medico, Pharmacology. Therapeutics, and Prescription Writing," p. 379, 1933.
The power of alcohol to coagulate protein may easily be demonstrated by placing some of it on the white of an egg.
It should now be noted that protein is a component of protoplasm, which is understood to be the living substance in the body cells. In that case, alcohol is destructive of life to the extent that it is present in the body. This is easily demonstrated in an exaggerated manner by placing a drop of alcohol on a drop of blood on a slide and looking at the slide through the microscope. The beholder will see only the ruins of cells. The alcohol has coagulated and precipitated the protein, and thus snuffed out the life of the cells.
Of course this never happens in human experience, as that concentration of alcohol is never reached in the blood; but the same thing happens in a lesser degree. When five to eight drops of alcohol to each thousand drops of blood are circulating in the blood, the person dies. When this percentage of alcohol is added to a drop of blood on a slide, and the slide placed under a microscope, one can immediately see the destructive work of alcohol beginning; hardly a single cell escapes the immediate effect. When these red blood corpuscles are injured or destroyed to such extent that their efficiency is lessened, the condition is known as anemia.
Whatever effects alcohol has on substances outside the body will be duplicated on similar substances inside the body, and all three of these effects—solvent, dehydrant, and coagulator of protein—are injurious to cells and cellular processes. Therefore, a knowledge of these properties of alcohol is of basic importance to an understanding of its effects within the body. To list the effect on the various organs, glands, and parts would require much more space than the amount allowed for this article, but the result in every part of the body would be the same. A person with a fair knowledge of physiology can understand the application, and present the lesson to others.
(To be continued)