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Medicine Science

The Medical Benefits of Carbon Monoxide 177

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-garage-is-my-laboratory dept.
tugfoigel writes with this excerpt from the Boston Globe: "For more than a century, carbon monoxide has been known as a deadly toxin. In an 1839 story, Edgar Allan Poe wrote of 'miraculous lustre of the eye' and 'nervous agitation' in what some believe are descriptions of carbon monoxide poisoning, and today, cigarette cartons warn of its health dangers. But a growing body of research, much of it by local scientists, is revealing a paradox: the gas often called a silent killer could also be a medical treatment. It seems like a radical contradiction, but animal studies show that in small, extremely controlled doses the gas has benefits in everything from infections to organ transplantation."
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The Medical Benefits of Carbon Monoxide

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  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:29PM (#29778565)
    NO!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:40PM (#29778637)

      NO is nitric oxide, not carbon monoxide.

  • Gee whiz! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcsnee (103033) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:31PM (#29778575)

    Something that is bad for us in high doses may be beneficial in low doses?! Next they'll be telling us that exposure to radiation and toxins can help cure cancer, or that the same stuff that rusts away unprotected steel and iron is actually necessary for animal life!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wjh31 (1372867)
      See, homeopathy works.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by imsabbel (611519)

        expicitely no.
        Homeopathy means not low dosage, but NO dosage.

        • by lxs (131946)

          Modern homeopathy works with doses of nitrogen monoxide? In my youth we just used plain water!

        • by Khyber (864651)

          "Homeopathy means not low dosage, but NO dosage."

          Bullshit.

          Homeopathy is the usage of (usually) plants in diluted doses that cause the symptoms you experience.

          It's like treating a HUGE forest fire with a smaller fire.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy [wikipedia.org]

      • by Eudial (590661)

        It isn't really homeopathy. The doses are larger than that.

        Like, you have a headache and take a painkiller and it goes away. If you on the other hand take 17 bottles of painkiller, you die. In this case, 1 pill was good, and 17 bottles was bad. .01% of a pill wouldn't do anything.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Mod parent down to the depths of Hell.

        Homeopathy DOES NOT WORK. And this is not homeopathy. Homeopathy is wrong for two reasons--one, it postulates that chemicals/herbs/medicines that cause a symptom will cure that symptom, and second, it postulates that water or whatever solvent they use will retain the "memory" of that chemical/herb/medicine, even if it is diluted to the point of receiving even one molecule of solute is statistically improbable. And they think the greater the dilution, the greater the

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by wjh31 (1372867)
          I know homeopathy is bull-crap, i was going for funny based on the parent of the post in question, not flamebait
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Artraze (600366)
          Actually, homeopathic remedies are surprisingly effective, and compete strongly with even the newest drugs. The story was posted here just recently:
          Slashdot: Placebos Are Getting More Effective [slashdot.org]

          Just because they're bogus science, not real medicine, etc. doesn't mean they don't work. The placebo effect can be very strong, and homeopathy causes in quite a lot of people. Take doesn't make it a replacement for real medicine, of course, but that doesn't mean it does not work.
          • by nog_lorp (896553)

            Actually, I'd say it does mean it doesn't work.

            If the sugar pill with 0.00001% of some drug has the same effect as a plain old sugar pill, clearly you should just buy some damn sugar pills.

            Or drink water upside down, or have someone scare you. Anything good for hiccups tends to be equally good at anything else with which placebo's are effective.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Idarubicin (579475)

              If the sugar pill with 0.00001% of some drug has the same effect as a plain old sugar pill, clearly you should just buy some damn sugar pills.

              The problem is that the effectiveness of placebos actually goes up when you increase their price: "Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy" [ama-assn.org].

              Oddly enough, the expensive sugar pills do work bette -- as long as the patients know the price.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                I wonder how the effects compare to patients in countries which reject draconian IP law and the idea that big pharma's interests should trump those of mankind, where people think they're getting an "expensive" sugar pill cheaper because they're special.

                • by x2A (858210)

                  The effect is based more on the value you give it than the value that it is given... eg, if something costs 1 money to buy, then you're only losing 1 money if it doesn't work... but you wouldn't throw 200 monies away on something unless you were a lot more certain it would work. It's that certainty that translates into the placebo effect (except for me, as I'm placebo resistant).

        • by jbengt (874751) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @04:45PM (#29780151)

          Homeopathy is wrong for two reasons--one, it postulates that chemicals/herbs/medicines that cause a symptom will cure that symptom, . . .

          Well, the same ethanol that caused my morning headache seems to have cured it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by JamesP (688957)

          Mod parent down to the depths of Hell.

          Homeopathy DOES NOT WORK

          Yeah, but Hell doesn't exist as well, so...

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        No it doesn't. There is no detectable trace of whatever it is supposed to be in their potions, and they are no better than placebos in proper double blind trials.

    • Re:Gee whiz! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xTantrum (919048) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:43PM (#29778655)
      seriously people this isn't that "paradoxical". Chem 101. As (arsenic) is also deadly but its also an essential biological trace element. Its about moderation.

      Sometimes i can't believe i still surf this place.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:57PM (#29778761)

        I can't believe you still use the word 'surf'.

        • by selven (1556643)

          Indeed, while we weren't looking they built a bridge over the water. It's called trolling now.

        • I can't believe you still use the word 'surf'.

          You can still use it, but only in moderation.

          Pyro

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 17, 2009 @03:12PM (#29779585)

        As (arsenic) is also deadly but its also an essential biological trace element. Its about moderation.

        That may be true, but there are clearly some very dangerous chemicals like nitroglycerin that couldn't possibly have any medical uses.

      • Water in small doses is absolutely needed for humans. Water in high doses get them drowned.

        The same apply to cholesterol and most substances.

        What's new here?

    • by mbone (558574)

      "You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
      Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
      Incredible.
      "

      (Woody Allen, Sleeper, 1973)

    • by perlchild (582235)

      I was just thinking you were right... Anyone notice this is exactly the case with botox?

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      No, it's no big surprise. Literally everything is lethal in high enough dosages, including water (it dilutes the electrolytes in the bloodstream and causes death.) I was somewhat puzzled that arsenic is both a known carcinogen and a treatment for some forms of cancer, but at this point it is not difficult to believe the CO can be a double-edged sword.
    • Re:Gee whiz! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gabrill (556503) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @10:16PM (#29781683)

      Because multicellular organisms like homo sapiens can survive a poison that virii or bacteria cannot. Hasn't that been the basis of a great deal of medicine for over a century now?

    • You had already surmised that carbon monoxide had beneficial uses in medicine, before reading the summary? I hope to fuck you're not a doctor.
    • by Khyber (864651)

      "Next they'll be telling us that exposure to radiation and toxins can help cure cancer"

      Imagine what it must've been like back in the 30s when irradiated water was the big health craze.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In Soviet Russia, carbon monoxidizes you....

  • So, basically, CO is a bit like digitalis, in that it's a deadly poison that has medical uses?
  • not a paradox (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:33PM (#29778591) Homepage Journal
    Almost anything is lethal in large doses, and many things are fatal in even small doses. Those same things are often of some benefit in very small doses. For instance, Botulinum toxin. We use small and weakened versions of virus to immunize ourselves. Most medicines can kill children who ingest a moderate overdose. A little alcohol can be antiseptic, which is why many places in the world used to drink with their food, but too much alcohol is lethal.
    • by mqduck (232646)

      I was about to remind you that the summary only said it *sounds* like a paradox, until I re-read it. Apparently my brain refused to process the line as written the first time. In Soulskill's defense, this is clearly the first advance in medicine he/she has ever heard of in his/her life.

    • For example, nitroglycerine is used as a heart medicine, yet if you ingest 100ml of it pure, your life expectency will be greatly reduced.

      (Actually there are gazillions of examples. Most pharmaceuticals are lethal in high doses, even over-the-counter ones like paracetamol or vitamin D.)

  • There seems to be some anecdotal evidence that CO exposure may affect the senses to such an extent that people experience "spooky" or ghostly behaviour. Certainly, this occurred when one family was exposed, and their spooky hallucinations ceased when CO poisoning was diagnosed, and the source removed. There a little more here [paullee.com]
  • by notdotcom.com (1021409) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:41PM (#29778639)

    Paracelsus, sometimes called the father of toxicology, wrote:

            German: Alle Ding' sind Gift, und nichts ohn' Gift; allein die Dosis macht, daß ein Ding kein Gift ist.
            "All things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."

    That is to say, substances often considered toxic can be benign or beneficial in small doses, and conversely an ordinarily benign substance can be deadly if over-consumed. Even water can be deadly if overconsumed.

    (Ripped right from Wikipedia [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracelsus [wikipedia.org] ] )

    So, 500 years ago, this would have been news?

    • It wasn't news to us that poisons can have benefits at low concentrations, it was the fact that Carbon Monoxide in particular may have uses beyond the ones we already know about like vaso-dilation and anti-inflammatory effects. That would certainly be news to us 500 years ago.

    • That is to say, substances often considered toxic can be benign or beneficial in small doses, and conversely an ordinarily benign substance can be deadly if over-consumed. Even water can be deadly if overconsumed.

      Hence my vigilant crusade to educate everyone I encounter about the dangers of DHMO [dhmo.org], and the carelessness given to its widespread use in virtually everything.

  • Cigarettes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellybear (96058) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:42PM (#29778645)

    Can cigarettes be good for you in small doses then?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nxtw (866177)

      Can cigarettes be good for you in small doses then?

      Nicotine is a stimulant. If you consider a stimulant's effects "good for you" (for example, if they help you perform better on an exam), then cigarettes in small doses could be good for you.

    • by Gerafix (1028986)
      You can get the nicotine without the cigarette and the smoke etc. It's called an electric cigarette, use your Google-Fu, grasshopper.
      • by treat (84622)

        You can get the nicotine without the cigarette and the smoke etc. It's called an electric cigarette, use your Google-Fu, grasshopper.

        Governments often make this difficult to distribute/obtain because the device can be considered a "drug delivery device", while nicotine incidentally contained in tobacco is not always legally considered a drug.

        Still, nicotine is not the sole psychoactive chemical in nicotine, readily apparent if you compare the effects of tobacco to vaporized pure nicotine.

        • by treat (84622)

          Still, nicotine is not the sole psychoactive chemical in nicotine, readily apparent if you compare the effects of tobacco to vaporized pure nicotine.

          Oops, Nicotine is not the sole psychoactive chemical in tobacco.

          Oddly I'd consider this an obvious typo that doesn't need correction, but there's already too much confusion here about the difference between a molecule and a plant that produces that molecule.

        • by Gerafix (1028986)
          I suppose in less civilized countries. Here in Canada it's no problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by treat (84622)

      Can cigarettes be good for you in small doses then?

      "cigarette" is not exactly drug. If you look at the component chemicals, there certainly are drugs in there that have differing effects in small doses. Nicotine has many effects, certainly some of which could have medical relevance.

      It's rare that a drug is "good for you". The criteria is improving one condition without undue risk of causing/worsening others.

      A person who smokes cigarettes for anxiety could easily be coming out on the positive end of things, if the anxiety was so severe as to risk the life of

  • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @12:50PM (#29778701)

    ...coadminister with tetraethyl lead.

  • "is revealing a paradox: the gas often called a silent killer could also be a medical treatment."

    Not much of a paradox. Every medical treatment suffers the exact same paradox. Morphine - great pain killer. Too much and it silently kills you. Anesthesias are the same. Cancer chemo treatments come very close to killing you, a small overdose may do it. Too much tylenol? Liver disease. Too much advil? Kidney problems.

    • by treat (84622)

      "is revealing a paradox: the gas often called a silent killer could also be a medical treatment."

      Not much of a paradox. Every medical treatment suffers the exact same paradox. Morphine - great pain killer. Too much and it silently kills you. Anesthesias are the same. Cancer chemo treatments come very close to killing you, a small overdose may do it. Too much tylenol? Liver disease. Too much advil? Kidney problems.

      Tylenol is in the same ballpark as the chemo drugs, as opposed to morphine. Double a normal (but high) dose of tylenol and you can destroy your liver. Tylenol is actually added to other drugs in the US in order to punish patients who choose to take a higher dosage of the medication actually needed.

      One of the most evil things the US government does is adding a poison to medicines in order to destroy the liver of someone who takes "too much". The "too much" amount is likely to be a perfectly safe amount and c

  • Sweet! (Score:3, Funny)

    by LockeOnLogic (723968) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @01:06PM (#29778815)
    Take that you health freaks! I chainsmoke like a chimney, so enjoy your tofu and cancer!!
  • by Jonah Hex (651948) <hexdotms.gmail@com> on Saturday October 17, 2009 @01:25PM (#29778919) Homepage Journal

    I wonder how this gels with the research into the dangers of giving oxygen when resuscitating people from death. I have a feeling we'll be seeing the new standard procedure in what gasses to give change radically over the next few years. HEX

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @01:43PM (#29779023) Homepage Journal
    Would not be the only beneficial peak [xkcd.com] around.
  • Most all posions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @02:00PM (#29779157) Homepage Journal

    Have their medicinal values. Most medicines become poisonous at a certain level too, so there is some symmetry to it all.

    • Most all posions have their medicinal values. Most medicines become poisonous at a certain level too, so there is some symmetry to it all.

      This may or may not be true for chemical and biological toxins ( I'm not qualified to tell ), but it is certainly not true for radioactive elements. In fact with the exceptions of a few isotopes used for radiation therapy ( like Iodine ) and some tracers used for PET scans, almost all isotopes with a significant activity are bad for you. There are some theories that very

  • Toxicology 101 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by niko9 (315647) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @02:50PM (#29779453)

    As any toxicologist will tell you: Dosage is everything.

  • Water will kill you if you drink too much of it. So it's not much of a surprise that supposed bad things can be beneficial when used sensibly.
  • Hrmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @03:14PM (#29779599) Homepage

    From TFA:

    But given the deeply entrenched fear of carbon monoxide as a toxin, he said it is unlikely that the gas would be directly given as a therapy to many people. Instead, research into the mechanism by which carbon monoxide works could allow scientists to design a drug that could act in the same way.

    REALLY? Because CO has a scary reputation we'd rather give patients a new expensive patented drug that we think works just like CO rather than just give them a well controlled dose of a well understood, inexpensive, and easily available gas?

    No wonder nobody can afford health care.

    • Mod way up (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wurp (51446)

      Congress & the prez are talking about bad incentives in the health care system. IMO this is one of the most obvious wrong incentives: the fact that there is no research into and marketing for cheap, widely available remedies, because you can't get a government-sponsored monopoly on them.

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @03:24PM (#29779645)

    Radiation is generally bad for you, but we use it as a medical treatment.

    Pick your favorite medical prescription, now eat 10 lbs of it. Oh look it's bad for you.

    • by selven (1556643)

      Take water and eat 10lbs of it. You could get hospitalized or worse.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by treat (84622)

        Take water and eat 10lbs of it. You could get hospitalized or worse.

        Or this could be the amount you need to drink in a day to be healthy, if you're physically active in hot weather.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)
          Actually, that makes it worse. Sweat is not pure water, it is water with a lot of salt and other chemicals that your body needs. If you replace the sweat that you lose with pure water, then you will become short on salt very quickly, which can kill you in a very short amount of time.
  • Finally! I don't need to switch my A/C to recycle on the way to work.
    Just suck in the fumes and feel health benefits baby!!

  • Small quantities of DiHydrogen Monoxide are also beneficial to health.

  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gs@o v i .com> on Saturday October 17, 2009 @04:29PM (#29780047) Homepage

    A lot of you here are to young to remember the big boat station wagons that parents would pile full of stuff and kids and head off to places like Yellowstone and the like. Many of these had rear facing seats and power rear windows. The only problem was that if you let the window down a little, the car exhaust would be sucked into the car, especially near the rear facing seats where the kids were. Now many would think this is a problem, but parents of that day, after having to listen to the little brats giggling, and yelling would crack that rear window and let a little CO in to quiet the kids down. It worked, they went to sleep, and the only drawback was a few points off the ACT scores later in High School.

    • and smoked cigarettes while driving (and pregnant, mom at least). A couple of times the hot ash would go out their window and back in ours and hit us in the face. I remember getting splitting headaches on long road trips.
  • I failed tribalism 101, so I never get these apparent paradoxes, which seem to be rooted in the us/them, good/evil, they rape/we liberate cognitive homunculus.

    Chlorine is also known as a deadly poison. That's how Ghandi liberated India: by extracting a deadly poison from the sea water and spreading it throughout the British subway system. And don't get me started on dihydrogen monoxide. Can kill someone with as little as one teaspoon, and it's found just about everywhere.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @08:34PM (#29781341) Journal
    One of the final breakdown products of hemoglobin is carbon monoxide [wikipedia.org], which we produce constantly since red blood cells only live a few days and after they die, their contents are cut up to recover the iron. We only produce one molecule of CO per hemoglobin, so it's very tiny overall quantities. But, since we make it, it's not too surprising that our systems have optimized to cope with it in those same small quantities. The other main constituent of the broken-down porphyrin ring, bilirubin, is what makes feces brown.
  • by bobbuck (675253) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @10:08PM (#29781651)
    Does this mean I should be cuckoo for CO CO puffs?
  • It doesn't surprise me. Whilst many substances are unsafe at any dosage (e.g. mercury), some things are downright deadly in large quantities.

    Like Paracetamol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracetamol_toxicity [wikipedia.org] Apparently, it's one of the worst ways to die.

    And warafin, an excellent anti-blood clotting agent is also used as rat poison.

    • And warafin, an excellent anti-blood clotting agent is also used as rat poison.

      That's how it works in the rat, too. The rat bangs into things, developing hundreds of internal bleedings during the course of it's day. The rat has evolved to deal with that. But when the rat's blood can no longer clot, that internal bleeding kills the rat.

      Trivia: it's also what cocaine is cut with, because really good cocaine also causes nosebleeds.

  • Nobel, after finding nitroglycerine, was proscribed it for his heart condition later in life. He said something along the lines of "Are you trying to blow my heart up??"

  • Will someone please tell Glenn Beck the medical benefits are of *large* doses of CO? Thanks your friend the direct action radical commie, pinko, fascist...

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