UCLA researchers have identified how a component of an ancient Chinese herbal anti-hangover medicine called dihydromyricetin, isolated from the plant Hovenia, counteracts acute alcohol intoxication and withdrawal symptoms.
The research team found that dihydromyricetin blocks the action of alcohol on the brain and neurons and also reduces voluntary alcohol consumption, with no major side effects, in an early study with rats. Specifically, dihydromyricetin inhibited alcohol's effect on the brain's GABAA receptors, specific sites targeted by chemicals from brain cells. Alcohol normally enhances the GABAA receptors' influence in slowing brain cell activity, reducing the ability to communicate and increasing sleepiness - common symptoms of drunkenness.
The next stage of the research will involve human clinical trials, the researchers said.
The research team determined that dihydromyricetin may provide a molecular target and cellular mechanism to counteract alcohol intoxication and dependence, leading to new therapeutic treatments - all based on an ancient "folk medicine" treatment that has been used by humans for at least 500 years.
Alcohol use disorders are the most common form of substance abuse, affecting more than 76 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Only an estimated 13 percent of people identified as having an alcohol use disorder receive medical treatment, partly due to a lack of effective medications without major side effects. Although alcohol impacts most organ systems, its effect on the brain in developing intoxicating, sedative and addictive properties is critical.