Can the little-known remedy methylene blue provide effective first aid for some cases of poisoning, and even improve your health in the long term? 

You probably haven’t heard of methylene blue before. However, this blue dye may be a safe and effective treatment for a number of health conditions, including methemoglobinemia, viral infections, and poor cognition. 

Let’s take a look at how methylene blue can not only rescue your red blood cells and cellular energy pathways from cyanide or carbon monoxide poisoning but also benefit your long-term health. 

The Origins Of Methylene Blue 

Since 1930, methylene blue has been used as an antidote for carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning. Both result in methemoglobinemia, a potentially fatal condition where hemoglobin becomes methemoglobin. This is a non-functional, metalloprotein form of hemoglobin that cannot carry oxygen, depriving your cells of and body of air.

Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy has taken over in the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning, methylene blue is still a common remedy for cyanide poisoning. It can be administered anywhere as an emergency measure until hospital treatment is possible. 

How Does Methylene Blue Work? 

The damage that cyanide and carbon monoxide cause to red blood cells is very difficult to reverse. This is why these poisons can be so deadly. Methylene blue can protect you against these gaseous poisoning effects in several ways. 

In the short-term, methylene blue converts the damaged hemoglobin into a functional form. The problem isn’t reversed, but the methemoglobin can now carry oxygen and keep you alive. 

In the long-term, methylene blue may protect you from the delayed effects of oxygen deprivation which carbon monoxide poisoning causes. At low doses, methylene blue acts as a powerful antioxidant and prevents free radicals from leaking out of the mitochondria, where most of your cells’ energy is made. As methemoglobin causes oxidative stress, restoring cellular balance is important in order to prevent long-term cell and tissue damage.

Methylene blue may protect your mitochondria too. It increases their energy-producing capacity, drives up NAD+ generation (a vitamin B3 derivative with antiaging power), and assists in removing damaged mitochondria so that new ones can take their place. Even better, methylene blue promotes cellular energy production when you’re oxygen deprived.

To top it all off, methylene blue increases the generation of new heme. Heme are the precursor to hemoglobin and are necessary in binding oxygen in the bloodstream. New, functional heme replaces damaged methemoglobin, so it can be cleared faster. As a result, your red blood cells can resume their normal appearance and carry oxygen sooner and more efficiently.

Who Needs To Treat Methemoglobinemia?

Although this may be the first time you’ve heard of methemoglobinemia, it is likely that you have been in situations where there is a risk of developing the condition. Accidents do happen, so it’s important to learn about emergency remedies. 

Of course, the benefits and accessibility of methylene blue don’t mean it’s advisable to take risks that may lead to methemoglobinemia. It does mean that you have an extra layer of protection in risky situations. Methylene blue is generally given orally for congenital methemoglobinemia, and intravenously for acquired forms of the condition, so home treatment may not be enough in severe cases (e.g. loss of consciousness). 

Methylene blue shouldn’t be a substitute for professional emergency medical treatment if you encounter someone with cyanide or carbon monoxide poisoning. You can use oral methylene blue as first aid, however, in an attempt to stabilize the person until an ambulance arrives or you’ve taken them to the hospital. Doctors can administer intravenous forms of the medicine if necessary. 

Cyanide Poisoning 

Cyanide poisoning isn’t always deliberate or difficult. One in three fire victims will have dangerous levels of cyanide in their bloodstreams. In 2007, there were 247 cases of chemical cyanide exposure in the US, but only five resulted in deaths. Milder cases of cyanide poisoning may feature dizziness, headache, and confusion; severe poisoning causes seizures or death. 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning 

Carbon monoxide is generated during combustion reactions when there isn’t enough oxygen in the air. If you’re living in a colder climate, you’re at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if you use fire to warm your home with minimal ventilation. 

The early warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include confusion, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, and blurred vision. Besides an emergency dose of methylene blue, you must put out the fire, open a window or door to restore oxygen and airflow, and seek medical attention. 

Nitrate Poisoning 

Another cause of methemoglobinemia is excessive nitrate exposure. This is an issue that babies are more sensitive to and can result from agricultural runoff. Nitrates can poison adults too, with cases recorded after the use of amyl nitrate “poppers,” an aphrodisiac. 

Other Uses For Methylene Blue 

Methylene blue has more uses than the treatment of methemoglobinemia. In the medical and scientific world, methylene blue is a dye that makes specimens more visible under a microscope. 

Brain Boosting

Clinical studies show that steady methylene blue use may prevent dementia and boost mental cognition. One trial of adults completing cognitive performance tests found improvements in their brain’s responses to the tasks and higher scores in memory retrieval. 

Methylene blue may therefore be an effective complement to other nootropics, a category of supplements and drugs that enhance cognition. These have different properties and are often taken in combination (“stacks”) for best results. For example, while ginkgo biloba boosts circulation, alpha-lipoic acid supports the mitochondria, and choline increases levels of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. 

Methylene blue can also act as an MAO inhibitor. These go beyond increasing serotonin, and boosting levels of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Some people with depression or anxiety use methylene blue. However, if you take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or supplements that raise serotonin, methylene blue may lead to excessive levels of the neurotransmitter. Excess serotonin causes a number of symptoms, ranging from diarrhea and anxiety to seizures or loss of consciousness

Apoptosis

Adding to the potential benefits of methylene blue are its effects seen in cancer treatment. Methylene blue may trigger apoptosis (cell suicide, which is meant to occur when a cell becomes too damaged) in cancer cells, and is being studied in combination with light therapy. More human research is needed, however. 

Could Methylene Blue Treat COVID-19 Infections?

Methylene blue has anti-inflammatory properties, which may be beneficial in both acute and chronic illnesses. One of the acute illnesses it could help with is severe COVID-19. 

By the time severe COVID-19 cases progress to organ failure or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), the viral load has already fallen significantly. A low viral load causes extreme inflammatory responses due to cytokine storms. Antiviral therapies alone aren’t enough unless they’re administered very early in the infection. 

Methylene blue may protect the body by inhibiting upstream inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways. When these inflammatory and oxidative pathways are partially blocked, so are their downstream effects that can cause serious damage even days after the viral infection has passed. 

A phase 2 clinical study on 80 people with severe COVID-19 found that methylene blue may speed up recovery from the disease. Their mortality rate was almost cut in half too. Just 12.5 percent of the methylene blue group died of COVID-19 infections, compared to 22.5 percent of people in the standard of care group. More research is needed for this potentially underappreciated medicine. 

Does Methylene Blue Have Side Effects?

There are some side effects of methylene blue. The most common is a blue-green discoloration of urine and feces, which clears once you stop taking it. Some people may suffer nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; while fainting, an irregular heartbeat, and fatigue are rarer. 

More serious complications include the potential for liver or red blood cell damage at higher doses, especially in babies. Avoid methylene blue if you have the genetic disorder G6PD deficiency.

Is Methylene Blue Worth It?

All things considered, methylene blue is a worthwhile addition to your first aid kit, and possibly to your everyday supplement regime. Providing an emergency “band-aid” to your cellular energy production pathways, methylene blue can be a safe and effective treatment for cyanide and carbon monoxide poisoning. 

HoneyColony is proud to announce our new product, BeeBlue. Intended for situations where our cellular health or cognition needs a little more support, BeeBlue can help you get through exam periods, cold and flu season, air travel, marathon work projects, and literal marathons. You can take it either as a stand-alone remedy or alongside other antioxidants or nootropics.  

Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.

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