The Loh Down On Science

Why So Blue?

Feeling blue today?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science, saying I mean that literally.

It's no smurf joke; people with the rare condition methemoglobinemia can actually appear blue. Why? Because their blood contains an abnormally high level of methemoglobin.

That's a blood cell that hoards your oxygen like your weird Aunt Thelma hoods--well, whatever she hoards.

Most humans? Have one to two percent methemoglobin. Those with methemoglobinemia, though, can have upwards of thirty percent. And all that extra oxygen causes their skin to turn a deep shade of blue.

Usually, the condition occurs in people whose parents each passed on one copy of the disorder's rare, recessive gene. But researchers at the CDC have found that it can also be caused by ingesting certain drugs, or chemicals like nitrites, which are used to cure meats.

Luckily, in mild cases, it’s completely reversible.

As for actual mood swings, when you're feeling blue? Try a funny movie. And stay away from cured meat!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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