Science & Tech

Scientists have finally created an actual cure for hangovers

Scientists have finally created an actual cure for hangovers
Hangovers May Actually Get Better As You Get Older
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We all know someone who “swears by” a particular “hangover cure”, whether that’s a greasy fry-up the morning after or a specially designed supplement.

However, scientists in Switzerland have now created an actual hangover cure, which works by breaking down alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract.

Researchers at the university of ETH Zurich fed the protein gel to mice and found that it quickly converted alcohol into harmless acetic acid before entering the bloodstream, where it would normally develop its harmful effects.

"The gel shifts the breakdown of alcohol from the liver to the digestive tract. In contrast to when alcohol is metabolised in the liver, no harmful acetaldehyde is produced as an intermediate product," Professor Raffaele Mezzenga, one of the study’s co-authors explained in a statement.

Acetaldehyde is toxic and is responsible for many health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, including that hangover feeling.

In the future, people could take the gel before or during alcohol consumption to prevent blood alcohol levels from rising and acetaldehyde from damaging the body.

“In contrast to many products available on the market, the gel combats not only the symptoms of harmful alcohol consumption but also its causes,” Dr Christoph Elhardt, also of ETH Zurich, noted.

Nevertheless, the researchers stress that the gel is only effective as long as there is still alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract.

This means it can do very little to help with alcohol poisoning once the alcohol has crossed into the bloodstream.

"It's healthier not to drink alcohol at all. However, the gel could be of particular interest to people who don't want to give up alcohol completely, but don't want to put a strain on their bodies and aren't actively seeking the effects of alcohol," Mezzenga noted.

To create the gel, the scientists combined ordinary whey proteins with iron and… gold.

They boiled the whey for several hours to form long, thin fibres, then added salt and water to form these fibres into a gel.

The advantage of a gel is that it is digested very slowly, but to break down the alcohol, the gel needs several catalysts.

The researchers used individual iron atoms as the main catalyst, which they distributed evenly over the surface of the long whey protein fibres.

"We immersed the fibrils in an iron bath, so to speak, so that they can react effectively with the alcohol and convert it into acetic acid," explained ETH researcher Jiaqi Su, the first author of the study, which has just been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

However, in order to trigger this reaction in the intestine, tiny amounts of hydrogen peroxide are needed.

Gold was chosen as a catalyst for the hydrogen peroxide reaction because the precious metal is not digested and so stays effective for longer in the digestive tract.

The team packed all these ingredients – iron, glucose and gold – into the gel, resulting in a chain of reactions that ultimately converts alcohol into acetic acid.

Su, Mezzenga and their colleagues tested the effectiveness of the new gel on mice that were given alcohol just once as well as on mice that were given alcohol regularly for ten days.

Thirty minutes after the single dose of alcohol, the gel reduced the alcohol level in the mice by 40 per cent.

Five hours after alcohol intake, their blood alcohol level had dropped by as much as 56 per cent compared to the control group.

Harmful acetaldehyde accumulated less in these mice, and they showed greatly reduced stress reactions in their livers, which was reflected in better blood values.

In the mice that were given alcohol for ten days, the researchers found that the gel not only resulted in lower alcohol levels but that it also had lasting therapeutic effects.

The mice that were given alcohol plus the gel daily showed significantly less weight loss and liver damage and hence better fat metabolism in the liver as well as better blood values.

Other organs in the mice, such as the spleen and the intestine, as well as their tissues also showed much less damage caused by alcohol.

In other words, the potential benefits of this gel on the human population is huge.

According to the World Health Organization, around three million people die every year from excessive alcohol consumption, a number that could be significantly slashed once this gel is rolled out to the public.

And the researchers are confident that it will be.

While several clinical tests are still required before it can be authorised for human use, the team feel sure of success, particularly since they’ve already shown that the whey protein fibres that make up the gel are edible.

The only question now is… if the gel stops alcohol from entering the bloodstream, could this spell the end of feeling drunk?

That's one major side-effect of alcohol consumption that people won't be so willing to forgo…

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