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‘Sober up jab’ could cure hangovers

Scientists are exploring if a “sobering up” injection could help people recover from the negative effects of alcohol.

Researchers injected ‘drunk’ mice with a hormone called FGF21 (fibroblast growth factor 21), which is usually found in the liver.

They found that mice with lower natural levels of the hormone took longer to recover than others.

Large doses of FGF21 were shown to  “dramatically accelerate” the process of sobering up by stimulating brain cells linked to arousal – even when the level of ethanol in the body did not change.

The authors of the study said their conclusions show that the liver can help to send signals to the brain to protect against the harmful impacts of alcohol, as well as clearing it from the body,

Mice were tested on the righting reflex and balance following exposure to ethanol.

Dr Steven Kliewer, of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and lead author of the study, said he hoped that FGF21 could be useful for treating people in hospital who present with acute alcohol poisoning.

“Increasing alertness and wakefulness would be helpful both for avoiding the need for intubation (unconscious patients can choke to death on their vomit) and for speeding up evaluation and treatment of other concurrent injuries,” he said.

“We’ve discovered that the liver is not only involved in metabolising alcohol but that it also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of intoxication, including both loss of consciousness and coordination.”

According to Alcohol Change UK, there were 602,391 dependent drinkers in England, with only 18 per cent receiving treatment.

In 2020 there were 8,974 alcohol-specific deaths (around 14 per 100,000 people) an increase of 18.6 per cent on the previous year.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the NHS recommends both men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

A small glass of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol while a pint of beer has around 2.

The FGF21 hormone has already been used in clinical trials on humans for other conditions.

The team at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said it was “exploring avenues” to test it on helping people sober up. Their study was published in the Cell Metabolism journal.

Co-author Dr David Mangelsdorf said: “Our studies reveal the brain is the major site of action for FGF21’s effects.

“We are now exploring in greater depth the neuronal pathways by which FGF21 exerts its sobering effect.”

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