Adepocere change in the dead body is another modification of decomposition.
What is adepocere formation – It is formation of soft, whitish, crumbly, waxy and greasy material occurring in fatty or fat containing tissues of a dead body.
For some period, this change was used to be termed as saponification, on the ground and belief that the change occurs due to formation of soap in the fatty tissue. This idea now stands rejected and the original name “adepocere change” is again in use. This term indicates that the properties of the changed fatty tissue are partly, in between those of fat and wax. Some calcium soap is formed in the process involving the change, but only as a byproduct. Hence, soap formation is not the primary change.
Time required for adepocere formation
In hot and moist environment it is seen to occur sporadically, by the end of the first week (earliest recorded – in 3 days). In cold environment sporadic change takes 3 weeks to occur. Completion of the process may take 3 months.
The mechanism of adepocere formation –
Adepocere consists mainly of fatty acids formed due to postmortem chemical reactions of hydrolysis and hydrogenation of body fats. The process needs water and at the initial phase utilizes the body fluid and hence, we find other soft tissues being mummified and admixed with it. Normally, the body fat contains only about 0.5% free fatty acids. But in adepocere change, this figure may rise to 70 or more. So, the chemical reaction essentiilly involves change of fat to higher fatty acids like palmitic acid, stearic acid and hydroxvstearic acid, mostly palmitic acid.
Appearance, physical and chemical properties —
The change is whitish or greyish white in colour, has a sweet rancid smell, soft and waxy in consistency when fresh, but brittle when old. It bums with yellowish flame. After this change, the body buoyancy is increased and the body floats on water.
It dissolves in ether and alcohol. When treated with KOH, it liberates a little ammonia. As such, being chemically stable it remains unchanged for a long period.
At first it appears in patches and then gradually increases in size to be continuous over wider areas. The change is well marked over those body parts where there is excess deposition of fatty tissue e.g., on the cheek, over the female breasts and buttock. In case of a female body, this change will be seen almost all over the body due to presence of good amount of subcutaneous fat in the body The change is noticed in organs with fatty degeneration of the tissue,.e.g. a fatty liver.
Fate of the body —
Usual decomposition is prevented due to — (a) adepocere change is rather chemically stable, (b) the process of adepocere formation utilizes most of the fluid from the other adjacent tissue and
thus other tissue becomes dessicated and hence, are not grossly invaded by the organisms. These prevent putrefaction changes in them. As a result, the body stays preserved for a long period.
Factors which influence adepocere formation —
1. Atmospheric or environmental temperature – Heat favours and cold retards the process of adepocere change in a body. High atmospheric temperature helps in two ways : (a) It directly promotes the chemical reactions required for the change (b) High atmospheric temperature helps invasion of the fatty tissue by Claustradium Welchii, which liberates lecithinase that helps breakdown of the fat cells.
2. Mositure – Moisture or for that purpose, water is essential for the chemical reaction to occur. Intrinsic fluid (fluid present in the body tissue) is used at the initial phase for the starting of the process. But, for completion of the change, presence of water in the environment or presence of moisture in the air is necessary. After the body fluid from different tissues has been utilized they (other than fatty tissue) become partly dry for which usual decomposition or putrefaction cannot progress in them.
3. Air movement – This retards the process of adepocere formation, (a) by evaporation of the body fluid, and (b) by reducing the body temperature in this way.
4. Running water – In case of a submerged body, running water retards the process of adepocere formation by constantly washing out the electrolytes from the surface of the body which are necessary for completion of the change.
Medicolegal importances of adepocere change —
1. It is another surest sign of death.
2. It also gives rough idea about the time passed after death.
3. As the body and its contour is well preserved, indentification of the subject is possible even alter a long period.
4. Similarly, as the body is not destroyed, the injuries over the body remains intact and unchanged and these can be recognised even after long period. Thus the cause of death can be ascertained in such cases.
5. Here also, some idea about the place of disposal of the body can be made, which should be a warm place with high humidity or presence of moisture or water.