Inject, ingest or not? How do we decide?

To ingest or not to ingest, inject or not to inject, that actually is not the question.

The question is, would this substance help? The answer is: we don’t know yet. But the people best suited to address this question are those who know how to seek the answer.

Beware of the ones who claim to “know” the answer. There are plenty of them out there, with an assortment of blogs and articles, that will tell you they have the answer.

They may say, for instance, that they know the cure. Or they have discovered the solution. Or… and this is particularly compelling… that they have seen the results first hand so they can attest to its validity. And to show you just how smart they are, they’ll include a picture of the chemical structure of said substance. Wow! you say. They must really know what they’re talking about!

But do they? How can you know?

This very moment occurred in an anatomy and physiology class I was teaching many, many moons ago. A student — I remember his face like it was yesterday but I wish I could remember his name because I owe him a great debt of gratitude — raised his hand and asked me, “Professor LeBolt, lots of guys are using (nutritional supplement) and they’re getting huge results.” He went on to describe the “results.”

How come you won’t endorse this (nutritional supplement)? We know it works?” Immediately, I suspended the class lesson I was delivering that day because clearly this lesson was the one I was supposed to deliver.

Because, (inquisitive student), my professional reputation is at stake. I can’t stand behind something if I don’t know whether it works.

I’m pretty sure that at that moment, every pen and pencil in the room was set down because they knew this would not be on the exam. But, the upshot was, every eye was on me: showdown time. I had been handed the opportunity to demonstrate how a scientist, a teaching professor with a PhD, should approach such a question. As I look back, this may have been my most proud moment as a college teacher.

This, I told my students, was the reason why at the beginning of this course we spent several weeks reviewing the basics of biology and biochemistry of the human body. And, after that, why we spent so much time on the details of cellular biology. Because in order to ascertain what effect something (say, a nutritional supplement, something ingested or injected) will have in the human body, first you have to know whether it will arrive in its active form at its site of action and then, what it will do when it gets there.

This was the perfect moment to apply cellular anatomy and physiology to real life questions — which, after all, are where my students are going use what they’ve learned in my class.

This is what I am hoping they are using today, as widely disparate theories are tossed around about what might be effective against the corona virus.

I mean, after all, this should be so simple, right? Disinfectant wipes kill the virus on surfaces, why not ingest the disinfectant or inject it directly into the infected lungs? Well, let’s think about this… based on our SCIENCE.

Ingested ingredients must:

  • survive chewing and swallowing
  • move across the wall of the intestine (likely, in a modified form from their original structure)
  • now in the interstitial (between cells) space, they must be able to enter the blood stream; can they?
  • once in the blood stream, are they modified in order to to be carried?
  • the blood goes everywhere in the body, so the substance is delivered everywhere; does it cross from the blood stream to organ tissue? where needed?
  • once at the organ (let’s say the lungs), does it enter lung cells?
  • how? because cell membranes are quite selective
  • does it bind to a receptor which opens onto the cell? is it ushered in? is it modified so it can enter? does it enter at all?
  • once inside the cell, what does it do there?
  • does it transcribe a protein (create more instructions for it?)
  • does it translate a protein? (create more message to produce it?)
  • does it stop transcription of the virus instructions? stop translation of the virus message?
  • what is the message that is started or stopped?
  • how does the cell shut down this procedure when it has succeeded in eliminating the threat?
  • what does the cell do with the waste?
  • what is the proper dosage of the ingredient ingested or injected?
  • how does the body clear this ingredient?
  • how does the body activate its recovery from this battle at cellular, organ and organism levels?

Yes, if the chemical is injected, we skip the chewing, swallowing, ingesting and blood absorbing steps above. We “deliver” it right to its target organ, but that makes caution so much more important and the need to get it very right paramount. So much hinges on:

  • how much is needed?
  • how does it enter?
  • where? ( We certainly do NOT want to inject a fluid INTO the lungs. Anyone had “something gone down the wrong pipe”?)
  • what does it do?
  • how?
  • and, if it’s being delivered everywhere, what are its effects in the other tissues?
  • if other tissues (say, heart, intestine, kidneys) are also being impacted, is it having an effect there?
  • is it the right dose there?
  • is it detrimental there?
  • is it effective? is it safe? is it harmful? in what dose?

And then there is the population effect. What is the proper individual administration based on age, gender, weight, lifestyle? And the policy question: Who should get it first if we want to save the most lives?

So, as you can see, this is a complex business, which requires well-trained individuals to test all reasonable options in order to determine what is best for each of us.

As we wait, it remains our duty to critically evaluate the information coming to us, and to do our best to interpret it in light of what we were taught by our high school biology and chemistry teachers. Because plenty of folks who are skipping this step would lead us astray. Let’s not go there.

No one yet knows exactly how we’re gonna kill this virus on a large scale, nor how we’re gonna deliver this vaccine to billions the world over in a way that will protect these precious bodies from succumbing to this terrible illness. But our best scientific minds are diligently working on this. When they present the solution, it will make sound scientific sense.

And then, I will be the first in line, to ingest, inject or to stand down to let those who are more vulnerable receive the first doses of protection.

Until then, it is up to each of us to hold our standard high. Remember your high school science teacher and be grateful. Recall the moment when you scowled and complained, “When in the world will I EVER use this in real life?” … NOW! Now is the time.

Be smart out there, friends. Think critically. Don’t inject. Don’t ingest. Don’t abide what someone else is peddling. Not unless they can point you to sound reasoning and valid evidence gathered via scientific methods which produce repeatable, reliable results. As it’s been said, In God we trust; all others must bring data.

Whoever they are, make them bring data. Anyone seeking the right answer will not mind you’re asking. Actually, they’ll thank you.

Thank you.

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