Scientists uncover metabolic mechanisms behind herbal “hangover cure”

A good night out is all too often followed by a bad day. Most of us would probably reach for a glass of water and some greasy food over a herbal remedy that’s claimed to be a hangover cure, but dihydromyricetin (DHM) does seem to have some effect. And now, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have investigated how it works.

DHM is a compound usually derived from the fruit of the Japanese raisin tree. It’s a traditional medicine that’s been used for 500 years and is sold in pharmacies as an over-the-counter hangover remedy. There is evidence that it works, but exactly how remains a mystery. So, the USC researchers set out to investigate.

“We know DHM helps the body to metabolize alcohol faster, but how does it work?” says Jing Liang, corresponding author of the study. “We found it activates a cascade of mechanisms that erase alcohol from the body very quickly.”

The team tested the drug in mice, by giving 36 animals ethanol every day for two months. Over time the dose was increased to about 30 percent of their daily food intake. Some mice were also given DHM, and then the team studied the animals’ livers to compare injury and other indicators of stress.

The researchers noticed several improvements in the livers of mice that had also received DHM. The drug appeared to have increased the production of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, and boosted their efficiency as well. The treated mice also had less fat built up in their liver tissue, and reduced levels of inflammatory cytokines, both of which can damage this vital organ.

“In total, these findings support the utility of DHM as a dietary supplement to reduce ethanol-induced liver injury via changes in lipid metabolism, enhancement of ethanol metabolism and suppressing inflammation responses to promote liver health,” the team says. “This line of research suggests that DHM acts on multiple pathways to promote liver health and counteract ethanol injury.”

This new understanding of DHM goes beyond just helping people stop feeling sorry for themselves on a Sunday morning. The researchers say that it could help alleviate liver damage in people with alcoholism, prolong liver function in people awaiting transplants, or boost the function in newly transplanted livers.

The research was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Sources: USC, The Conversation

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