lactic acid, CH3CHOHCO2H, a colorless liquid organic acid. It is miscible with water or ethanol. Lactic acid is a fermentation product of lactose (milk sugar); it is present in sour milk, koumiss, leban, yogurt, and cottage cheese. The protein in milk is coagulated (curdled) by lactic acid. Lactic acid is produced in the muscles during intense activity by the breakdown of glucose, and may be used by muscle cells as a source of energy. Calcium lactate, a soluble lactic acid salt, is used as a source of calcium in the diet. Lactic acid is produced commercially for use in pharmaceuticals and foods, in leather tanning and textile dyeing, and in making plastics, solvents, inks, and lacquers. Although it can be prepared by chemical synthesis, production of lactic acid by fermentation of glucose and other substances is a less expensive method. Chemically, lactic acid occurs as two optical isomers, a dextro and a levo form; only the levo form takes part in animal metabolism. The lactic acid of commerce is usually an optically inactive racemic mixture of the two isomers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on lactic acid from Fact Monster:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Organic Chemistry