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Off With the Hangovers

March 7, 2013

Eva Gusnowski

On Saturday afternoon, as you groggily wake up from your stupor, wondering where that one earring went to and debating who you switched shoes with, and when such an event occurred, you curse the heavens for damning us with that ever accessible nectar of the gods: alcohol.

Why does your head pound and your stomach contents want to leave its new home so urgently the morning after indulging in a little (lot) of grog?

Blame it on the enzymes.

For the most part, alcohol gets metabolized by a series of enzymes in the liver: alcohol dehydrogenase turns alcohol into acetaldehyde, then aldehyde dehydrogenase turn acetaldehyde into acetate. A small amount of acetate gets used for energy immediately, but most of it gets stored as long chain fatty acids (this is why chronic alcoholics have “fatty livers” in the earlier stages before scarring, or cirrhosis, sets in). What of the hangover?  Alcohol itself causes dehydration, which can lead to headache and an overall feeling of ickiness, but acetaldehyde is thought to be a major culprit of a hangover. If it accumulates (like after drinking larger quantities of alcohol that overwhelm the system used to get rid of it in the liver) it can cause headache, flushing and nausea/vomiting. The question is: how do we prevent this from happening?

And the enzymes are also the answer.

 

 

                            Liu et al., 2013



A group of collaborating researchers have grouped enzymes involved in alcohol processing together into a “nanocomplex”. Having these enzymes in close proximity to each other means that any toxic compounds produced can be broken down swiftly to other non-toxic materials. These compounds were tested as both a prophylactic and antidote to alcohol intoxication in mice.In other words, they got mice drunk and then tested out their theories about these nanocomplexes.

 


The first set of experiments looked at the prophylactic ability (taking the nanocomplexes prior to intoxication) of the enzymes. Mice were given the nanocomplexes and then fed a diet filled with alcohol. After partying down for a while, the mice all fell asleep within 20 minutes (little boozehounds). The reearchers found that mice given the nanocomplexes before becoming intoxicated woke up 1-2 hours before their drunken brethren. Nanocomplex-treated mice had a significantly greater reduction in BAC levels and had lower indicators of liver damage (although it must be said that an indication of liver damage in this group was still observed). This implies that the nanocomplexes can be used prophylactically to help prevent extensive hangover and liver damage.

The second set of experiments looked at the antidote ability (taking the nanocomplexes after intoxication) of the enzymes. Mice that were treated with nanocomplexes had the lowest level of liver damage indicators, and the most significant reduction in BAC. These types of nanocomplexes can therefore be used to quickly help reduce BAC levels after heavy alcohol consumption.

Before you all run to the store trying to find nanocomplexes, lets explore the primary reason that this can help us; and it isn’t necessarily to avoid a nasty hangover and have “just one more drink.” The efficacy of these nanocomplexes implies first and foremost that science is awesome (I just needed to get that out of the way). Second, and perhaps more important, is that these nanocomplexes can be used in emergency rooms to prevent death due to alcohol poisoning. And if this can work with alcohol, there may be future enzyme combinations that can work against other drug overdoses, preventing many unnecessary deaths. Aaaaaaaaand maybe generic versions that can be used to prevent hangovers in the future. That might be nice too.

Nanocomplexes: miniature size, big implications.

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