A group of Chinese scientists have developed a genetically modified probiotic that accelerates the metabolism of alcohol and safeguards the liver against alcohol-induced harm. The study was carried out on mice and suggests that this breakthrough might one day potentially alleviate hangover symptoms in humans, the researchers said.
A hangover refers to a set of symptoms that happen due to drinking too much, including fatigue, thirst, headache, stomach pain and anxiety, among others. Symptoms can last a full day or longer, peaking when the blood alcohol concentration in the body goes back to zero. Hangovers can be both painful and dangerous.
There’s no magic recipe for beating hangovers. Remedies are mentioned on the web and in social media but they haven’t been scientifically proven. A person has to wait for the body to finish clearing the toxic byproducts to rehydrate, heal irritated tissue, and restore brain activity – with no way to speed up the brain’s recovery from the effects of alcohol.
But all this could one day change, according to the new study’s findings. The researchers created a bacteria that can produce an enzyme meant to help the body break down alcohol faster. Mice that were administered the probiotic before being fed alcohol exhibited reduced intoxication and faster recovery.
The way forward for hangovers
Our body breaks down alcohol using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). However, not all ADH types are equally effective. Researchers then aimed to harness the best performers. They discovered that ADH1B, which is found predominantly in East Asian and Polynesian populations, is 100 times more effective than other ADH variants.
The team wondered if they could safely deliver this specific enzyme to an alcohol drinker. They found a solution using Lactococcus lactis, a bacterium commonly used in fermentation, to create a probiotic. Probiotics have gained popularity due to research into the gut microbiome’s effects on our health. This approach is safer than using viral vectors to deliver ADH1B.
In the experiment, the researchers gave a probiotic to fifteen mice, dividing them into three groups. Some groups consumed more alcohol than others. The level of intoxication of the mice was determined by assessing their ability to right themselves if placed on their backs. While untreated mice lost this ability within 20 minutes, treated ones retained it during the study.
The findings showed that the treatment reduced alcohol absorption and increased the mice’s alcohol tolerance. Additionally, it reduced the severity and duration of their hangovers. The probiotic also led to lower levels of lipids and triglycerides in the mice’s livers, both of which contribute to alcohol-related liver damage. Now, the next step is to try it on humans.
“We are excited about the improvement of recombinant probiotics in acute alcohol-induced liver and intestinal damage,” Meng Dong, one of the study authors, said in a statement, nothing that clinical applications may go beyond alcohol-induced health problems. “Genetically engineered probiotics will provide new ideas for the treatment of liver diseases.”
The study was published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.