Science Interviews


Sun, 19th Dec 2010

Getting Drunk Through your Feet

Dr Peter Kristensen, Hillerod Hospital

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Chris -   Now, can you get drunk by immersing parts of your body in alcohol?  Well, that was vaguely the hypothesis that a festive team of doctors from Hillerod Hospital in Denmark decided to investigate and Dr. Christian Hansen joins me from there now to tell us what this is.  Hello, Christian.

Christian -   Hello.

Chris -   Well they say that Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers fail to reach.  What were you trying to do?

Christian -   Well, in Denmark, we have an urban myth that alcohol can pass through your feet if you submerge them in alcohol, vodka mainly.  So, we thought that that was quite an important study to do because itís never been shown that alcohol can pass through your skin.  Itís been done from studies with cadavers and that didnít really show anything in particular.

Chris -   Itís hard to tell whether someone whoís dead is drunk though, isnít it?

Christian -   Exactly.

Chris -   So what did you do?

Christian -   Well, we bought some of the cheapest vodka we could get our hands on and we sat down for three hours, submerging our feet in this vodka at the hospital.

Chris -   When you say submerging your feet, do you mean as in Ė when you have those stereotypical pictures of someone with a cold and they sitSoaking Feet there in an armchair with their feet in a bowl of hot water, and a towel wrapped around their head, is that what you were sort of doing?  You had your feet immersed in a bowl of vodka?

Christian -   Yeah, except for the towel, thatíll probably be a fairly good image of what we did and we had the lab examine our blood for ethanol for three hours Ė the duration of the experiment.

Chris -   So blood samples were taken regularly during the experiment to determine what the concentration of alcohol was in the blood stream at any point?

Christian -   Exactly, every 30 minutes and they were of course, rushed to the lab to make sure that the ethanol concentration didnít reach lethal levels.

Chris -   And how many of you were participating in this study?

Christian -   Three of us and we all were employed at the hospital so we had no students or volunteers in the experiment.

Chris -   Did you find any alcohol getting into the blood stream?

Christian -   None at all.  Well at first, we felt quite confident and happy, almost intoxicated, but we actually measured if we had any spontaneous hugs occur in the stated hour of self confidence, but it didnít really show any significant changes.

Chris -   So in other words, as well as measuring the level of ethanol in the bloodstream, you were also doing subjective measures of whether you were experiencing inebriation - Dutch courage or in this case, Danish courage, and speaking too much and speaking too loudly, that kind of thing, and everyone had that, but they didnít actually register any alcohol.

Christian -   No, they didntít.

Chris -   Did anyone get tempted to drink the alcohol after the study when peopleís feet have been in it.

vodkaChristian -   Yeah, it was kind of a difficult subject because we didnít really know what to do with the alcohol.  It should have been disinfected and no bacteria should be present so it was quite difficult putting it in the toilet afterwards.  So it was quite a shame, but the study was effective, Iíd say.

Chris -   So talking seriously for a minute, the implication is that you can't actually absorb alcohol in any way, shape or form, at least at the level of detection of your assay, in other words, how sensitive the labís test is which is probably pretty good.  And so, this suggests that people are actually going to have to take alcohol through their mouth, or potentially through other routes, in order to get into the body, but definitely not through the skin.

Christian -   Yes, I say, through the mouth would probably be the golden standard, but weíve only measured vodka with 38.5% of alcohol.  So, there should be an experiment done with a stronger alcohol, Iíd say.

Chris -   So maybe onto the Calvados next year then?

Christian -   Yes, probably.

Chris -   Christian, thank you very much.

Christian -   You're welcome.

Chris -   Good to have you with us.  Thatís Christian Hansen from Hillerod Hospital in Denmark and you can actually find the paper where they describe doing that experiment in the December edition of the British Medical Journal. 


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