alcohol consumption

A pill to prevent hangovers? Tests on drunk mice show it’s possible

A new pill may lower blood alcohol levels, helping a hangover and preventing alcohol overdose deaths.

“Civilisation begins with distillation,” said William Faulkner, a writer and drinker. Although our thirst for alcohol dates back to the Stone Age, nobody has figured out a good way to deal with the ensuing hangover after getting drunk.

As a chemical engineering professor and wine enthusiast, I felt I needed to find a solution. As frivolous as this project may sound, it has serious implications. Between 8% and 10% of emergency room visits in America are due to acute alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature deaths and disability among people aged 15-49 and its abuse leads to serious health problems, including cardiovascular and liver cancer. Despite these sobering facts, current treatments for alcohol overdose largely rely on the body’s own enzymes to break down this drug.

I decided to design an antidote that could help people enjoy wine or cocktails or beer without a hangover, and at the same time create a lifesaving therapy to treat intoxication and overdose victims in the ER. I chose to create capsules filled with natural enzymes usually found in liver cells to help the body process the alcohol faster.

Pop a pill

Together with professor Cheng Ji, an expert in liver diseases from Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and my graduate student Duo Xu, we developed an antidote and tested it in mice.

Inspired by the body’s approach for breaking down alcohol, we chose three natural enzymes that convert alcohol into harmless molecules that are then excreted. That might sound simple, because these enzymes were not new, but the tricky part was to figure out a safe, effective way to deliver them to the liver.

To protect the enzymes, we wrapped each of them in a shell, using a material the US Food and Drug Administration had already approved for pills. We then injected these nanocapsules into the veins of drunk mice where they hurtled through the circulatory system, eventually arriving in the liver where they entered the cells and served as mini–reactors to digest alcohol.

We showed that in inebriated mice (which fall asleep much faster than drunk humans), the treatment decreased the blood alcohol level by 45% in just four hours compared to mice that didn’t receive any. Meanwhile, the blood concentration of acetaldehyde – a highly toxic compound that is carcinogenic, causes headaches and vomiting, makes people blush after drinking, and is produced during the normal alcohol metabolism – remained extremely low. The animals given the drug woke from their alcohol-induced slumber faster than their untreated counterparts – something all college students would appreciate.

The ability to efficiently break down alcohol quickly should help patients wake up earlier and prevent alcohol poisoning. It should also protect their liver from alcohol-associated stress and damage.

We are currently completing tests to ensure that our nanocapsules are safe and don’t trigger unexpected or dangerous side effects. If our treatments prove effective in animals, we could begin human clinical trials in as early as one year.

This sort of antidote won’t stop people from going too far when consuming alcohol, but it could help them recover quicker. In the meantime, we plan on drinking responsibly, and hope that you do too.

Yunfeng Lu, Professor Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.