(The Herald Post) – A new study indicates that a hormone injection may offer a faster way to sober up from the effects of alcohol. Researchers have discovered that injecting mice with the naturally occurring hormone FGF21 helped them recover from a drunken state more quickly than they would have without the hormone. This finding, published in the March 7 Cell Metabolism, could have implications for treating alcohol poisoning, a potentially lethal side effect of heavy drinking that sends millions to the emergency room each year.
FGF21, a hormone produced by the liver, has already been associated with alcohol consumption. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, the liver increases the production of FGF21. Although it does not break down alcohol, studies have shown that this hormone can protect the liver from alcohol’s toxic effects and reduce the desire to continue drinking in mice and monkeys.
These findings prompted David Mangelsdorf, a molecular endocrinologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and his colleagues to explore whether FGF21 plays a role in recovering from excessive alcohol consumption. In their experiment, they fed mice enough alcohol to render them unconscious and measured the time it took for them to regain consciousness.
Mice genetically altered to lack FGF21 production took about an hour and a half longer to wake up compared to normal mice. However, regular mice that received an extra dose of FGF21 regained consciousness twice as quickly as those that did not receive the hormone injection. Additionally, the intoxicated mice injected with FGF21 were able to maintain their balance for a longer time when placed on a slowly rotating platform.
The research team believes that FGF21 helps mice sober up by activating nerve cells in the brain area responsible for wakefulness. If the hormone works similarly in humans, it could be employed to bring those suffering from alcohol poisoning back to consciousness more quickly. This could be a significant advancement, as doctors sometimes must wait for patients with alcohol poisoning to regain consciousness before addressing their symptoms.
Currently, there is no drug specifically for treating alcohol poisoning, according to Mangelsdorf. A drug that helps people wake up, similar to Narcan in the case of opioid overdoses, would be a “phenomenal” improvement for treating patients in emergency situations.
Though researchers have previously found ways to sober up mice, those treatments were not effective in humans. Mangelsdorf believes FGF21 could be different due to its successful use in previous research on monkeys, which are more closely related to humans than mice.
Besides treating alcohol poisoning, FGF21-derived drugs could also be used to treat liver disease and alcohol addiction. Lorenzo Leggio, a physician-scientist with the National Institutes of Health based in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study, says this research adds “an important piece to the puzzle” for understanding FGF21’s role and developing new treatments for alcohol addiction and other ailments.