By Benjamin Cost
Waking up with a post-binge migraine the size of a hate message on Ryan Fedoruk’s voicemail is no fun. Fortunately, researchers led by University of California pharmacologist, Jing Liang, have isolated a compound from a Chinese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis) proven to inhibit intoxication. The chemical, dihydromyricetin (DHM), has been revealed through multiple experiments on rats to remedy hangovers, prevent alcohol-dependence, and even maintain one’s sobriety after the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.
In fact, the extract was first famously employed in 7th century Asia to combat hangovers – though still several millenniums too late to treat China’s first winos. Here’s a peek at the age-old remedy’s effect on rats:
Liang first tested whether DHM blocks the clumsiness and loss of coordination caused by drinking too much. To do this, she measured how long it took for treated rats to right themselves after being laid on their backs in a V-shaped cradle.
After she injected rats’ abdomens with a dose of alcohol proportionate to the amount a human would get from downing 15 to 20 beers in 2 hours by a human, they took about 70 minutes, on average, to right themselves. However, when an injection of the same amount of booze included a milligram of DHM per kilogram of rat body weight, the animals recovered their composure within just 5 minutes.
DHM also stopped rats in a maze from behaving in ways resembling anxiety and hangovers. Rats given heavy doses of alcohol cowered away in corners of the maze, whereas those given the extract with their alcohol behaved normally and were as inquisitive as rats given no alcohol at all, exploring the more open corridors of the maze.
Finally, DHM appeared to discourage rats from boozing when they had a free choice between drinking a sweetened solution of alcohol or sweetened water. Over a period of three months, rats will normally get addicted to increasing volumes of the hard stuff. Rats given DHM, though, drank no more than about a quarter of the amount that the “boozers” eventually built up to. Moreover, boozy rats that had worked up to the higher levels suddenly dropped down to a moderate intake when given DHM after seven weeks.
These findings are quite seminal considering that rampant alcoholism plagues the world over, breeding a sizable population of “Dionysiacs” in just about every country. In China, the daily alcohol intake jumped fourfold from 1978 to 2004, so who knows how much alcohol the average Chinese person drinks today. A pill that curbs alcohol addiction could very well nip the nationwide binge in the bud-weiser (and maybe rid us Chinese folk of that unsightly “Asian glow”).
Not without its caveats, DHM is mired in doubt when it comes to long term consequences on the brain. While the compound does dull alcohol’s effects by attaching to GABA receptors (proteins that respond to alcohol) experts remain unsure if it actually blocks them all. And though results from the rat trial tests did not reveal any side effects, DHM has yet to be tested on humans.
We’re guessing if that magic little pill ever is invented for humans, it’s sole use in China will be besting fellow businessmen at baijiu banquets.