Exploring the Biochemical Basis of Lactic Acid Production and Disposal

Lactic acid is a natural byproduct of metabolism, particularly during periods of intense physical exertion or when the body lacks sufficient oxygen. In this blog post, we will delve into the biochemical processes that lead to the production and disposal of lactic acid in the body.

The Biochemical Production of Lactic Acid

Lactic acid production begins with a molecule named pyruvate, which is the end result of breaking down sugar through a process called glycolysis. This happens in the cell's cytoplasm, where glucose is split into two pyruvate molecules. During this split, a specific molecule called 3-phosphoglyceric aldehyde loses electrons, which are grabbed by NAD, turning it into NADH.

For our bodies to keep making energy without pause, NAD needs to be turned back into its original form (NAD+). Usually, this happens in a part of the cell called the mitochondria, where oxygen helps turn NADH back into NAD+, making water and energy in the process. But, when there's not enough oxygen, like during a heavy workout, pyruvate doesn't go to the mitochondria. Instead, it's turned into what we call lactic acid by a helper called lactate dehydrogenase, making NAD+ available again to split more sugar.

Now, lactic acid quickly splits into a lactate ion and a hydrogen ion. These hydrogen ions are the culprits that can make our muscles acidic and lead to that burning feeling when we push ourselves hard, signaling our muscles to take it easy.

To prevent too much of this acidity, our cells send the lactate out into the bloodstream. During a tough workout, the amount of lactate in our blood can shoot up to ten times the normal level. This not only helps keep our muscle cells in check but also lets other parts of our body use the lactate as fuel, showing how our bodies strive for balance even under stress.

The Disposal of Lactic Acid

Even though high levels of lactic acid can be harmful, it's not just a waste product. Our bodies can reuse lactic acid for energy, especially in the heart, which actually prefers lactic acid over glucose for fuel. Additionally, lactic acid can be turned back into glucose or glycogen, a process known as gluconeogenesis.

For this transformation to happen, an enzyme called lactate dehydrogenase changes lactic acid into pyruvate, a crucial step that also involves a change from NAD+ to NADH(H+). This pyruvate can then enter the Krebs cycle for complete breakdown, or it can be used to create new glucose.

When too much lactic acid is produced, it interferes with the normal workings of the cell. This causes the cell to push the excess lactic acid out through special channels in its membrane. If too many H+ ions, which come from the breaking down of lactic acid, build up, they can lower the pH inside the cell. This drop in pH can slow down an important enzyme called phosphofructokinase, which controls the speed of glycolysis, leading to a decrease in the production of lactic acid.

To deal with the potential drop in pH, our bodies use buffering systems, like the bicarbonate/carbonic acid system. This system works better when we breathe more during intense exercise, which lowers CO2 and carbonic acid levels in our blood. This helps balance out the H+ ions from lactic acid, preventing big changes in pH.


Understanding the biochemical basis of lactic acid production and disposal is crucial for athletes and those interested in physical fitness. Following an intense workout with a cool-down phase can facilitate the disposal of lactic acid, helping to prevent muscle soreness and fatigue. Although lactic acid is often associated with the discomfort that follows a strenuous workout, it plays a vital role in our body's energy production processes.

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