Lactic acid reflux

If you’ve ever been sore a day or so after a workout, you’ve probably “known” that the cause of the pain was a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.

After all, that’s what “they” always told us.

Well, turns out, “they” were wrong. (NY Times article; registration required.)

Not just a little wrong. Really, really wrong. Not only is lactic acid no culprit where post-exercise muscle soreness is concerned. On the contrary, lactic acid is a good thing.

Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.

But here’s the part of this article (reported by Gina Kolata) that really made me roll my eyes. George Brooks, the guy that figured this out, was pilloried by other scientists.

Dr. Brooks said he published the finding in the late 70’s. Other researchers challenged him at meetings and in print.

“I had huge fights, I had terrible trouble getting my grants funded, I had my papers rejected,” Dr. Brooks recalled.

Look at those dates. The late 1970s. Some thirty years he has to fight for this.

I’ll tell you something. You hear all the time about how the public mistrusts journalists, and the public mistrusts Congress. Well, the public isn’t very well-served when scientists heap scorn on other scientists for challenging received wisdom, either.

And lest you think, “no big deal, it’s only muscle soreness,” may I introduce you to Gilbert Ling, a highly credentialed scientist who’s been arguing (also for decades) that one of our most treasured beliefs about human cells — that they are sacks of liquid that use a “sodium pump” to transmit molecules across their exterior membranes — is also totally bogus.

Ling furthermore claims that our erroneous assumptions about how cells work has perverted much of contemporary medical research.

Is he right? I don’t know.

Can we lay people trust other scientists to set aside their egos long enough to give his arguments the merit they deserve?

I’m not holding my breath.

/end rant.

[tags] lactic acid, religion of science [/tags]

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