The hangover cure of the future may well be a swallowable probiotic. In research conducted this week, Chinese scientists detail the creation of bacteria capable of producing an enzyme to help the body break down alcohol more quickly. According to the study, alcohol-fed mice that received the probiotic beforehand suffered less from drunkenness and recovered faster.
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As fun as the acute effects of ingesting alcohol can be, too much can be dangerous, even deadly. To protect us, the liver breaks down alcohol into less toxic byproducts using enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Studies have shown that there is a particular variant of ADH1B enzyme which appears to be particularly effective at breaking down alcohol. This variant is found more frequently in Asian and Polynesian populations, and it could help explain why these groups tend to drink less on average.
There have been attempts to use gene therapy in mice so they can produce the same variant, but that’s probably not a feasible approach in humans anytime soon. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and elsewhere have opted for a different strategy. They genetically modified a version of Lactococcus lactis— a bacteria used to create dairy products like cheese that is also commonly taken as a probiotic. Their version was packaged with the same version of the ADH gene in humans that makes the potent ADH1B variant.
The team confirmed that the bacteria produced ADH1B, stuffed it into a capsule tough enough to survive stomach acid, and calculated a dose that was most likely to consistently affect alcohol breakdown. in their laboratory mice. Then they fed the mice the probiotic for about an hour before trying to drink them.
Compared to mice that did not receive the probiotic, mice dosed with ADH1B absorbed less alcohol into their bloodstream, showed fewer acute symptoms of drunkenness (such as the inability to get up when they are placed on the back) and have returned to their normal state. itself faster, the researchers found. Some evidence also suggested that their livers were less injured than usual (with enough time and exposure, alcohol causes chronic liver problems like cirrhosis). The team’s findings were published Tuesday in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.
As intriguing as the findings are, they are still limited to mice. So more research is needed to see if it can be extended to humans. But while this specially designed probiotic continues to show promise, it may not just work as short-term hangover prevention. The researchers note that people with certain liver conditions, including those caused by chronic alcohol consumption, tend to produce less native ADH, which could make their disease worse. So it is possible that it can also help these people. And the team thinks the genetically modified probiotics could have other uses as well.
“Current research not only provides new strategies for treating and preventing the negative effects of alcohol, but also paves the way for potential large-scale application in the future,” they wrote.