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I recently came across a test in my chemistry book which says that potash alum, $\ce{K_2SO_4.Al_2(SO_4)_3.24H_2O}$ is used on cuts and bruises, because it coagulates the blood quickly. The explanation it gave, was that blood is a colloid of proteins in water and the $\ce{K^+}$, $\ce{Al^{3+}}$ and the $\ce{SO_4^{2-}}$ ions coagulate(=precipitate) them, causing a blood clot (quickly). However, from biology, I know that blood coagulation(=clotting) is brought about by formation of fibrin network which traps the WBC and RBC in blood. The formation of fibrin from fibrinogen involves a series of reactions with many factors like $\ce{Ca^{2+}}$ , but not $\ce{K^+}$ or $\ce{Al^{3+}}$.

So, I was wondering what the actual explanation might be.

  1. Do people actually use alum to stop bleeding, or only as a disinfectant? Does alum have any disinfectant effects?
  2. Does precipitation of proteins in blood help clotting?
  3. Does alum contribute in any way to the process of blood clotting?

Note: This is a question involving both chemistry and biology, but I posted the question here as I thought that this is more of biology than chemistry.

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  • $\begingroup$ If English is not your native language, please use a spelling checker, especially for the titles of questions which are indexed. Every web browser has one built in — just set the language temporarily to English. $\endgroup$ – David May 11 '17 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @David Point noted. $\endgroup$ – Shoubhik Raj Maiti May 28 '17 at 8:24
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I will answer the three questions one at a time. Lets begin with the first one:

  1. Do people actually use alum to stop bleeding, or only as a disinfectant? Does alum have any disinfectant effects?

    Yes, alum is also used as a disinfectant, and it works in the same way as it does in blood coagulation. In aqueous solution, potash alum dissociates as:

    $K_2SO_4.Al_2(SO_4)_3.24H_2O \rightarrow 2~K^+ + 2~Al^{3+} + 4~SO_4^{2-} + 24~H_2O$

    Now, as is known, blood is a colloidal solution, in which the plasma proteins are charged (see Rügheimer et al, 2008). These ions from alum neutralize the charges on plasma proteins, causing the blood to coagulate. Similar effect is observed in disinfectant where these ions react with the free organic acid and thiol groups of proteins on microbes and free proteins, resulting in their precipitation (Williams, 2001). Thus alum can act as disinfectant.

  2. Does precipitation of proteins in blood help clotting?

    Coagulation of both plasma proteins and RBCs takes place on application of alum, since both of them are charged (Fernandes et al, 2011) as is discussed in next point. However, it is difficult to say whether coagulation of plasma proteins plays a significant role in clot formation or not.

  3. Does alum contribute in any way to the process of blood clotting?

    Yes, alum does contribute in the process of clotting: it makes clotting faster. Although the term 'clotting' is generally used for formation of what is called as platelet plug, the actual process of clotting also depends on coagulation of colloidal particles in blood. When the blood is exposed to the extracellular matrix (due to damage to blood vessel), platelets activate and, via a cascade of reactions, lead to formation of a platelet plug. Red Blood Cells get tapped in this plug (which is actually a fibrin meshwork) and lead to formation of clot. A nice and simple representation of this process is below (from here):

    clotting

    Without alum, RBCs would take longer to coagulate due to mutual repulsion. By neutralizing them, alum makes this process easier and faster. Hence, alum helps in the formation of blood clot via coagulation of red blood cells.

I hope this helps.

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