Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD
A harmless compound blocks intoxication, hangovers and addiction to alcohol? I am suspicious of things too good to be true, but we are presented with compelling data that cannot be ignored from a reputable institution.
This is an old story. An ancient folk remedy, in this case Chinese, is found valid when scientifically tested. Digitalis, aspirin and some anti-cancer drugs have followed this scenario. Since China’s first pharmacopoeia, the Tang Materia Medica in the year 659, the Asian tree, Hovenia dulcis, commonly known as the Oriental or Asian Raisin Tree, has been listed as a sovereign remedy for hangover. As recently as 2O1O, extract of Hovenia was reported to ameliorate both alcoholic liver injury and hangover severity, particularly important in eastern Asia, where as much as half the population may be genetically deficient in alcohol-neutralizing enzymes. The tree, prevalent in China, Japan and Korea, is a distant relative of the rose and of many familiar fruits. Its key component may also be found in some teas.
Shen, et al., of UCLA published their work in the January 4 issue of the journal of neuroscience. They isolated a flavonoid (like resveratrol, a polyphenol), dihydromyricetin (DHM), from an extract of the seeds of Hovenia dulcis, and tested it on inebriate rats, which respond to alcohol much as humans do. Rats protected with DHM suffered less severe intoxication, less severe withdrawal problems, and less avidity for more alcohol on recovery than their untreated counterparts. No ill effects from the DHM were noted, unlike other candidates for a similar role. DHM is thought to work by counteracting alcohol’s effects on GABA receptors in the brain, thereby enabling control of brain excitation. GABA receptors respond to gamma-aminobutyric acid, the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brains of vertebrates.
Of course, this is only one study. DHM has yet to be tested on humans (planned). We don’t know whether alcohol’s tissue toxicity, especially of the liver, is blocked. One of my colleagues only half jokingly asked whether DHM might block the pleasure from a glass of wine. And somewhere there are those worrying that it may not.