Thus, under anaerobic conditions, the major portion of the pyruvic acid is converted into lactic acid, which diffuses readily out of the cells into the extracellular fluids and even into the intracellular fluids of other less active cells. Therefore, lactic acid represents a type of "sinkhole" into which the glycolytic end products can disappear, thus allowing glycolysis to proceed far longer than would otherwise be possible. Indeed, gly-colysis could proceed for only a few seconds without this conversion. Instead, it can proceed for several minutes, supplying the body with considerable extra quantities of ATP, even in the absence of respiratory oxygen.
Reconversion of Lactic Acid to Pyruvic Acid When Oxygen Becomes Available Again. When a person begins to breathe oxygen again after a period of anaerobic metabolism, the lactic acid is rapidly reconverted to pyruvic acid and NADH plus H+. Large portions of these are immediately oxidized to form large quantities of ATP. This excess ATP then causes as much as three fourths of the remaining excess pyruvic acid to be converted back into glucose.
Thus, the large amount of lactic acid that forms during anaerobic glycolysis is not lost from the body because, when oxygen is available again, the lactic acid can be either reconverted to glucose or used directly for energy. By far the greatest portion of this reconversion occurs in the liver, but a small amount can also occur in other tissues.
Use of Lactic Acid by the Heart for Energy. Heart muscle is especially capable of converting lactic acid to pyruvic acid and then using the pyruvic acid for energy. This occurs to a great extent during heavy exercise, when large amounts of lactic acid are released into the blood from the skeletal muscles and consumed as an extra energy source by the heart.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.