The worst effects of alcohol go far beyond the last hangover that hits the head and hurts the gut you’d rather forget.

Dehydration is part of it, but alcohol intake also inflames the gut and leaves the body with a host of toxic byproducts to deal with — which, over time, can lead to serious health damage.

Aiming to ease the burden of alcoholism, a team of Chinese researchers has been experimenting with a modified probiotic supplement that they say can protect mice — and perhaps one day humans — from the acute effects of consuming too much booze.

Because of its widespread use, alcohol remains a major contributor to death and disease worldwide, responsible for about 5 percent of annual deaths and roughly the same portion of the global burden of disease and injury.

“Alcohol intake has been shown to be associated with a variety of diseases, such as fatty liver, cirrhosis, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer,” medical researcher Xiaoxiao Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues explain in their published paper.

“Therefore, developing effective products to reduce alcohol intake is receiving increasing attention.”

Most of the alcohol we consume is processed in the liver with the help of two enzymes. One, called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), settles into action relatively quickly, breaking down ethanol into the less harmful compound, acetaldehyde. However, if you consume a lot of booze, your intestines will take a beating while taking ADH.

This new treatment – which has not yet been tested in humans – takes advantage of a naturally occurring variant of ADH (called ADH1B) that is found primarily in East Asian and Polynesian populations and shows greater activity than other forms of ADH. In other words, it breaks down ethanol faster.

But how is it delivered safely? The researchers rigged lactococcus, a bacteria used in the production of milk and cheese. inserting extra genetic instructions into their tiny genome, L. from milk It was engineered to produce the human ADH1B enzyme. Then it was tested on mice that were exposed to different levels of alcohol.

Mice treated with the modified probiotic recovered from alcohol exposure faster than untreated mice, which still showed signs of drunkenness and had higher blood alcohol levels two hours after drinking.

Researchers hypothesize that oral probiotics metabolize alcohol in the gut, thereby reducing the amount of alcohol that is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Other experiments showed that mice treated with probiotics had fewer signs of severe liver damage and less intestinal inflammation, which results from excessive alcohol consumption.

“Our results show that this recombinant probiotic can reduce alcohol absorption and protect the body from alcohol damage, including hangover, liver and intestinal damage,” the researchers wrote.

Clearly, the appeal of a pill that can mitigate the worst effects of alcohol is huge — and this isn’t the first time such a treatment has been tested.

In 2022, an anti-hangover probiotic containing two types of gut-friendly bacteria goes on sale in the UK, claiming to quickly break down alcohol in the gut before it reaches the liver.

But with limited data available to judge its effects, experts wondered how well it might work for different people because weight, gender, age, physical activity and food intake can all change how alcohol is absorbed. The same would be true of this latest therapeutic candidate if it is ever tested in humans.

Hormone injections to reverse drunkenness and a prototype breathing apparatus to help the body expel alcohol have also been tested as ways to counteract excessive drinking. Ideally, with further testing, such treatments could help wake up people who have fallen in for a night of heavy drinking.

However, mounting evidence suggests that even moderate drinking has harmful effects, so the general health advice remains the same: limit the number of drinks you consume to minimize the impact on your health.

This is easier said than done for some people struggling with addiction and substance abuse – people who need more comprehensive health care than some probiotic pill.

The study has been published in Spectrum Microbiology.

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