A new way to prevent a hangover

Had too much to drink last night? A new compound native to China may help with your hangover

A new way to prevent a hangover

Source: Best Health Magazine, May 2012

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have isolated a plant extract that not only may help hangovers, but could treat alcoholism.

What it is

The compound, a flavonoid called di hydromyricetin (DHM), occurs naturally in the fruit of hovenia dulcis, a tree native to Asia. Lead researcher Dr. Jing Liang says hovenia has been used as a flavouring in Chinese cooking for hundreds of years. She’s been to dinner parties in her native China where people didn’t seem affected by alcohol, and she suspected something in this cooking spice was counteracting it. ‘I started screening herbal medications and finally found this DHM,’ she says.

What it does

In Liang’s animal experiments, published recently in The Journal of Neuroscience, DHM appeared to prevent alcohol dependence and withdrawal symptoms, along with easing hangovers. DHM binds to special brain-cell receptors, preventing alcohol from acting on these receptors. Unlike current pharmaceutical treatments, there are no side effects, says Liang. ‘It works with a tiny amount,’ and can be taken while drinking.

She says DHM also increases the activity of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, helping the body eliminate it faster and lessening the effects on the liver and other systems.

When it will be available

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates that alcoholism costs Canadians $14.6 billion per year. There are drugs available, such as disulfiram and naltrexone, to reduce alcohol cravings and prevent alcoholic relapses. But these drugs aren’t perfect, says clinical researcher and addictions expert Rob Gilbert, of Dalhousie University’s School of Health Sciences in Halifax. Their effects can be minimal and may depend on the person’s genes. ‘It’s difficult to predict if a drug will help certain individuals,’ he notes. These medications can also cause side effects such as nausea and anxiety.

Gilbert points out that animal research does not always translate into human treatment. ‘It’s really early times,’ he says. ‘I think this is worthy of pursuing, but until there is a clinical trial associated with it, I’m cautious.’

Liang plans to proceed with human trials and expects they will show that people taking DHM won’t get drunk, crave alcohol or experience a severe hangover.

Extracts and teas with hovenia are made in Asia. They’re sold in the U.S. for liver health and hangover relief. Liang hopes to have a purified DHM nutraceutical on the U.S. market this year, and then have it approved for sale in Canada.

This article was originally titled "Help for hangovers?" in the May 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!