Reporter Andrew Long there – suffering so I don’t have to. But is he suffering from lactic acid build-up?
That lactic acid (measured in blood plasma as ‘lactate’ using a lactate analyser) causes muscle fatigue and cramps is one of those things that every schoolboy (and presumably school girl; unsure, I wasn’t one) knows – along with how to cook a hedgehog*.
However, like lots of things we grew up believing to be true (e.g. that you needed an enchanted salamander’s head to raise the dead) it seems the situation is more complicated than we were informed. That muscles produce lactic acid during ‘work’ is well documented, of course, and the ability of the muscle to ‘remove’ varies with exercise, and lactic acid can alter intercellular ph, so it all seems pretty obvious.
But it’s not clear-cut at all. It is not simply a case of more lactic acid = pickled poorly working muscles (there’s tongue twister in there somewhere).
There is actually a condition, McArdle’s disease, where the absence of a muscle enzyme interferes with glycogen metabolism and lactate does not accumulate upon exercise – sufferers still get muscle fatigue and cramps though!
I know a fair bit about muscles; looked at a few anyway. To be able to visualise the separate components of a muscle contractile unit, and how they interact during shortening, is an amazing thing and I always hankered after working on degenerative muscles diseases as well, but never have. It was thanks to muscles though that I met The Famous Scientist.
Of Famous Scientists
The Famous Scientist was moving to America. He’d reached the age of retirement and was being kicked out of his lab in the UK, for now taking up far too much room presumably. An American university, rather more interested in scientific brilliance than age, immediately offered him a laboratory suite and money for several post docs, to continue his muscle research. I applied for one job and met The Famous Scientist in an airport lounge, while he was in trans-Atlantic transit, for an interview.
It all went well. The Famous Scientist was everything you want a famous scientist to be and it was good solid fundamental muscle research. Several nail biting days later a letter arrived and I was offered the job.
I never took it.
I’m still not really sure why. Everybody else said I should, it was the obvious thing for me to do – obviously the best next step. But like the role of lactic acid in muscle contraction, what’s obvious is not necessarily all the story. And there was this very interesting multi-media project about to get underway…
So I never took the job with The Famous Scientist that could have changed my life.
Maybe it was just muscle fatigue.
* you bake it in clay as any fule kno