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Chinese Herbal Hangover Remedy May Fight Alcoholism

Chinese remedy Hovenia

For more than 500 years, some people have been using an ancient Chinese herbal hangover remedy called dihydromyricetin, which is derived from the Hovenia plant. Now researchers believe this remedy may be a natural way to fight alcoholism.

Could Chinese medicine reduce alcoholism?

For centuries, fruit from the Hovenia dulcis, also known as the oriental raisin tree, has provided people on the Asian continent with a folk medicine remedy for excessive alcohol consumption. The extract, called dihydromyricetin, was approved by the Korea Food & Drug Administration in 2008 to help recover the liver among people who abuse alcohol.

What makes the flavonoid dihydromyricetin capable of counteracting alcohol intoxication? To answer that question, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted an experiment in rats.

The investigators found that dihydromyricetin inhibited the effects of alcohol on the brain’s GABAA receptors. This is important, because alcohol typically enhances the influence of GABAA receptors in processes that results in symptoms of drunkenness, such as slowed brain cell activity, increasing drowsiness, and a reduced ability to communicate.

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are different

Alcoholism is one type of alcohol use disorder (AUD), while alcohol abuse is another. The difference is that in alcoholism, the person’s need for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food and water. Alcoholism is chronic, and those affected will go to any length to drink.

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In alcohol abuse, people may drink too much and too often, but they are not dependent on alcohol. However, both alcoholism and alcohol abuse can be equally harmful to one’s health and the ability to work, maintain relationships, and perform regular activities of everyday life.

The need for an effective treatment for alcoholism and alcohol abuse is enormous. According to the World Health Organization, harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths annually. In the United States, more than 15 million Americans are dependent on alcohol, and 500,000 of those people are between the ages of 9 and 12 years old.

Despite the high rate of AUDs, few people get help. The new study noted that only about 13% of people who have an AUD receive medical treatment. One reason for this low figure may be that there are no effective treatments that don’t come with significant side effects.

Human clinical trials now need to be conducted using dihydromyricetin, according to the authors of the UCLA study. They concluded that “We demonstrated pharmacological properties of DHM [dihydromyricetin] consistent with those expected to underlie successful medical treatment of AUDs; therefore DHM is a therapeutic candidate” for alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

Shen Y, Lindemeyer AK, Gonzalez C, Shao XM, Spigelman I, Olsen RW, Liang J. Dihydromyricetin as a novel anti-alcohol intoxication medication. J Neuroscience 2012 Jan 4; 32(1): 390-401
World Health Organization

Picture credit: WIkimedia Commons