Antioxidant Limits Liver Damage in Alcohol Study

By Jeff Forester 05/09/11

New antioxidant prevents cirrhosis in liquor-loving mice.

MitoQ: here to save the day?
Photo via techdigest

Could an antioxidant soon be available that will protect an alcoholic's liver? The answer might well be yes. Researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham have developed an antioxidant they dubbed mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone, or MitoQ. When introduced to the livers of rats that had been given excessive alcohol, MitoQ prevented the production of fatty deposits that are the precursors of cirrhosis. 

When the liver processes alcohol, free radicals damage liver cells and create a low-oxygen condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to the formation of fat, which leads, eventually, to cirrhosis. The report, published in the April issue of Hepatology, showed that the anti-oxidant MitoQ intercepts and neutralizes the free radicals released when the liver metabolizes alcohol. If confirmed, this finding could be a breakthrough of major importance in the treatment of alcoholism. Cirrhosis is the leading cause of liver failure in the United States, killing 14,406 people last year. A pharmaceutical solution for alcohol-induced cirrhosis would save lives—and would also make a dent in the estimated $185 billion in costs associated with alcohol abuse. But MitoQ does nothing to resolve alcoholism itself.  Alcoholics will still drink. However, MitoQ, or something like it, might manage to block part of the destructive impacts of that drinking.

After researching how to prevent the liver damage associated with alcoholic drinking, we hope investigators will turn their attention to developing a pill to stop the "loud close talking" that seems to happen somewhere between that third and fourth drink.

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.