Researchers at the University of California – UCLA – are investigating a 500-year-old Chinese hangover cure in the hope they can put its properties into a pill to help alcoholics and stave off hangovers. Alcoholism is a huge problem globally, killing 2.5 million people each year according to the World Health Organization. There has been serious research recently looking for drugs that stop people drinking, or at least encourage them to drink less.
In an article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, they describe how dihydromyricetin blocks the action of alcohol on the brain and neurons and also reduces voluntary alcohol consumption, with no major side effects, in an early study with rats. Only an estimated 13 percent of people identified as having an alcohol use disorder receive medical treatment, partly due to a lack of effective medications without major side effects.
Although alcohol impacts most organ systems, its effect on the brain in developing intoxicating, sedative, and addictive properties is critical. The compound inhibits alcohol’s effect on the brain’s GABA(A) receptors, relieving common symptoms of drunkenness.
The researchers say the ancient Chinese remedy – extracted from the plant Hovenia Dulcas – contains a compound which can prevent alcohol from having its usual intoxicating effects on the brain. The compound Dihydromyricetin – DHM – works by stopping alcohol from accessing the receptors in the brain, is extracted from an oriental raisin tree and has already proved its worth as an alcohol antidote in a series of experiments on rats.
Researchers injected rats with a dose of alcohol proportionate to the amount a human would get from downing 15 to 20 beers in two hours. Head researcher Dr Jing Liang said “when rats are drunk they behave like humans, just like that”.
In a bid to test coordination and clumsiness, Dr Liang looked at how long rats took to right themselves after being laid on their backs. Rats treated with DHM took just five minutes to recover, while those without the drug slept for more than an hour. As well as sobering them up, the treated rats also exhibited fewer hangover symptoms; for example, untreated rats were more likely to cower in the dark recesses of their maze. But Dr Liang says those dreaming of a magic antidote to drinking too much can think again.
The presence of DHM also reduced the cravings for alcohol, a factor Dr Liang says could prove invaluable in treating alcoholism in humans. “If from the beginning you drink alcohol with DHM, you never go to a high level of drinking,” she said. Human trials of DHM are expected to start soon.
RELATED: Alcohol Abuse Kills 2.5 Million People Each Year
The World Health Organization is calling for action to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, which kills 2.5 million people every year. A new WHO report notes nearly four percent of all global deaths is related to alcohol abuse. WHO says the harmful use of alcohol now is the third leading risk factor leading to illness and death from non-communicable and communicable disease.
It says most alcohol-related deaths are caused by injuries from drunk driving, cancer, liver cirrhosis, heart disease and stroke. It says alcohol abuse also contributes to 200 other diseases. Worldwide, the report finds more than six percent of all male deaths are related to alcohol, compared to just over one percent for females. It says one in five men in the Russian Federation and neighboring countries die from alcohol-related causes.
Director of the Department of Mental Health and substance Abuse at WHO, Shekhar Saxena, says alcohol is responsible for one-third of deaths among young people in some regions of the world. “Consumption and harmful effects of alcohol are increasing in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, which have less powerful regulations and which have less health services available…In Africa and Asia, the trend is for more drinking to be there, more per capital consumption and in Europe and America, it is a more stable pattern of drinking,” Saxena said.
In 2005, the report says worldwide per capita consumption of alcohol among persons aged 15 -years or older amounts to 6.13 liters of pure alcohol. Though alcohol use is widespread, WHO notes most people do not drink. Latest information shows almost half of all men and two-thirds of women did not consume alcohol in 2005.
Dr. Saxena says people who are dependent on alcohol live on average 10 years less than those who do not have problems with alcohol. “A large proportion of the deaths and disability because of alcohol is actually in the young and middle ages and not in the old ages. So, I think a large proportion of what we are talking about in the 2.5 million deaths are in the age groups of people who should not die at that age. These are premature deaths…The majority of deaths is below the age of 60,” Saxena said.
WHO says its Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol includes a range of proven effective measures. These include raising taxes on alcohol, reducing the number of outlets for buying alcohol, raising the drinking age limit, enacting effective drink-driving measures and banning some alcohol advertising.