Will we ever be able to drink alcohol without worrying about the risk of an alcoholic coma? Perhaps so, according to a study from Southwestern University in Dallas, USA, published March 7, 2023 in the journal Cell Metabolism. The authors show that mice treated with the hormone recovered the ability to stand and exercise faster after taking a large dose of alcohol. However, only the effects of heavy drinking will be reduced, not the health effects of alcohol, such as irregular heartbeats and an increased risk of cancer, from which nearly 40,000 people die each year in France.
The hormone that protects us from the effects of alcohol
The hormone in question is a growth hormone produced primarily in the liver and named FGF21 (for fibroblast growth factor 21 in English). This hormone is produced after several metabolic stressors, particularly after drinking alcoholic beverages, and will act directly on the brain to protect us from the effects of alcohol. This, for example, is what makes us want to hydrate ourselves after drinking too much alcohol. Researchers have also noticed that this hormone is essential for a good recovery after a drunken evening. Indeed, mice genetically engineered to no longer produce this hormone took about an hour and a half longer than normal mice to get back on their feet after a high dose of alcohol (5 g/kg, equivalent to the volume required for weight loss training). ). human consciousness).
Direct effect on the brain
However, FGF21 does not directly affect alcohol or our ability to break it down: there was no difference between mutated mice and normal mice in terms of the rate at which alcohol is eliminated into the bloodstream or into the brain. Growth hormone is more likely to act directly on the brain to speed up awakening after an alcohol coma. Thus, this hormone will only protect against some of the short-term effects of alcohol, but not against the health consequences of excessive drinking, as this excess is not counteracted.
To cause this acceleration of wakefulness, the FGF21 produced after drinking enters the brain, although researchers do not yet know how it crosses the blood-brain barrier that protects this organ. Once there, the hormone acts on a receptor in noradrenergic neurons, activating them and causing them to release norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in wakefulness and alertness, among other processes. “We found that the liver not only metabolizes alcohol, but also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of intoxication, including loss of consciousness and coordination,” the article summarizes. reported Stephen Cleaver, author of the study.
An injection of FGF21 further speeds up the recovery process.
The researchers then studied the effect of an additional dose of FGF21 on these mice while they were unconscious due to alcohol ingestion. An injection of this hormone (almost 1,000 times the dose naturally produced by the liver) reduced the recovery time of normal mice by 50% and allowed the mutated mice to recover as quickly as untreated normal mice. In addition to waking up faster, GH-treated mice also regained their coordination faster and were therefore able to run without problems after a lower dose of alcohol (half of what was previously given, not enough to cause an alcohol coma, but enough to affect locomotor activity). coordination). According to the authors, such treatment could be envisaged in humans, not to allow us to drink at will without remorse (because the very serious long-term consequences of drinking persist), but to treat cases of alcoholic coma.