MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Can a deer's liver suck out venom from a snake bite from an arm of a human?

Date: Tue Feb 8 07:52:09 2000
Posted By: Regina Skarzinskas, , Toxicology, Technical Assessment Services
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 949433775.Zo

The simple answer is no, it can't.  

Snake venom contains numerous protein compounds called enzymes.  It is 
these enzymes that are responsible for the symptoms one experiences when 
bitten by a snake.  Snake venom is injected directly into the blood and is 
quickly circulated into the body.  An old time remedy for snake bite used 
to be to cut an "X" over the area of the snakebite and "suck" out the 
venom.  We now know that even vigorously trying to suck the venom out, has 
little to no impact whatsoever and in most cases causes more harm than 
good. (Nerves and muscles have inadvertently been damaged from the cuts.)  
So, even if the liver could have an effect, by the time you found some and 
placed it on the area, timewise it would have little effect.

Now let's look at the liver.  The primary job of the liver is to change 
the form of a substance in the body, called biotransformation.  The liver 
changes a substance that is difficult for the body to handle into one that 
it can handle.  Most often the liver changes substances from "fat-loving" 
or lipophilic, which means it can easily dissolve in fat to "water-loving" 
or hydrophilic which means it can easily dissolve in water.  Substances 
that dissolve in water are handled much more easily in the body and can be 
excreted in the urine.  We often think of the liver as the organ 
that "detoxifies" the body.  However, sometimes the changes that the liver 
makes can be more harmful to the body, than less.  To use a deer liver 
means it has to be removed from the body.  Without the blood supply, the 
liver would cease to function, and the liver biotransforms chemicals which 
are carried into it by the blood supply.  The liver doesn't "suck" 

As to whether they did the right thing in The Yearling, literature often 
reflects the beliefs at the time.  They thought they were doing the right 
thing.  This belief was most likely based on experience.  In many cases, 
someone who was treated with deer liver back then, more often lived than 
died.  That was proof enough of the effectiveness of this "treatment".  We 
now know that a high proportion of snake bites are actually dry bites.  In 
other words, no venom, or very little venom is injected.  Snakes use venom 
to disable their food.  If a snake bites because it is startled and it ate 
not long ago or has not yet built up a store of venom to inject, no 
symptoms, other than the open wound will occur.  That is why these old 
time "cures" were believed to work.

We now know that the best equipment to carry in case of a snake bite is a 
set of car keys.  No snake in North America kills instantly; old fashion 
remedies may cause more harm than good; and, if someone does experience 
severe symptoms from snakebite, hospitals are equipment with snake 
antivenom which can effectively treat snakebites.

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