New Gel Could Make Alcohol Less Harmful

Researchers have developed a protein-based gel that breaks down alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract, reducing its harmful effects.

Scientists now agree that there is no safe amount of alcohol, while its regular consumption can cause liver disease, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and cancer. Around three million people die every year from excessive alcohol consumption, according to the World Health Organization.

Despite the detrimental effects it can have on health, alcohol is widely consumed — 62% of American adults drink alcoholic beverages, a Gallup survey shows.

A new whey protein-based gel that breaks down alcohol in the gastrointestinal tract, developed by ETH Zurich researchers, may soon be used to mitigate harmful alcohol’s effects.

A trial recently published in Nature Nanotechnology tested the gel in mice: some were given alcohol just once, and some received alcohol regularly for ten days.

The gel converted alcohol quickly into acetic acid before it entered the bloodstream, where it would typically develop its intoxicating and harmful effects.

Thirty minutes after the single dose of alcohol, the application of the gel reduced the alcohol level in the mice by 40%. Five hours after alcohol intake, their blood alcohol level had decreased by as much as 56% compared to the control group.

Mice who received the gel accumulated less harmful acetaldehyde, which is responsible for many health problems caused by excessive drinking. Moreover, they exhibited significantly reduced stress reactions in their livers.

In the mice that were given alcohol for ten days, the gel not only lowered alcohol levels but also provided a lasting therapeutic effect: they experienced significantly less weight loss, less liver damage, better fat metabolism in the liver, and better blood values.

Moreover, the gel reduced the damage of alcohol on other organs, such as the spleen or the intestine.

“The gel shifts the breakdown of alcohol from the liver to the digestive tract. In contrast to when alcohol is metabolized in the liver, no harmful acetaldehyde is produced as an intermediate product,” Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from the Laboratory of Food & Soft Materials at ETH Zurich said in a statement.

Several clinical trials are required before the gel can be approved for human use. Meanwhile, avoid drinking alcohol or reducing its intake to the minimum — take a look at mocktail ideas that may help to resist temptations.

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