Inside One Man's Quest To Make Alcohol Safer For The Body

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/25/17

The ongoing 12-year quest has been met with opposition from some health experts as well as the federal government.

friends clinking beer bottles

Harsha Chigurupati has spent over a decade and approximately $35 million to create an alcoholic drink that could protect the liver from damage associated with alcohol consumption.

“I don’t believe in abstinence,” the 33-year-old told the Wall Street Journal. “What I do believe in is using technology to make life better. I’m not going to stop drinking, so why not make it safer?”

This question has led Chigurupati on a 12-year, ongoing quest to use technological advances to make drinking alcohol safer for the human body.

His company, Chigurupati Technologies, has created a compound called NTX (short for "no-tox”) that can be added to alcohol and, Chigurupati claims, can protect the liver and DNA from drinking-associated damage.

To prove it, Chigurupati funded multiple studies, both on rats and humans.

The studies seem promising: rats given NTX-infused vodka showed a 40% to 70% reduction of biomarkers that indicate liver damage. Human trials found that biomarkers that predict liver damage were 93% lower for the subjects who drank NTX-infused vodka.

However, despite Chigurupati’s best efforts, he has been unable to get NTX—and its purported “health benefits”—cleared for labeling on spirits infused with the compound. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, makes decisions about whether such claims can be made on labeling. The TTB has reportedly rejected Chigurupati’s petition for the health-claim label multiple times.

In one case, the TTB reportedly rejected the claim because they believed that consumers might mistake NTX for naltrexone, a popular opioid addiction treatment medication.

Shortly after being denied the health-claim labels, Chigurupati Technologies got back to work. The company did more studies with NTX so they could petition for more health-claim labels.

The WSJ reports that back in May, the TTB denied the company's health-claim labels yet again. This time citing that “the proposed labeling and advertising statements create a misleading impression that consumption of alcohol beverages infused with NTX will protect consumers from certain serious health risks associated with both moderate and heavy levels of alcohol consumption.”

Basically, they worry that making claims about the reduction in liver-related damage that NTX provides will make alcohol seem healthier than it is, and encourage consumers to ignore the other health risks that come with drinking (for example, addiction or dependence).

Last year, VinePair reported on Chigurupati’s studies regarding the efficacy of NTX. The sample size was small—just 33 people—and the research concluded that the compound was “likely” to protect from liver damage ("likely" means the claim has yet to be proven).

There has yet to be a long-term study on the effects of NTX on the human body.

Despite this stumbling block, Chigurupati has forged ahead. His company has partnered with the spirits brand Bellion to created NTX-infused vodka; tequila, gin, and bourbon are in the works.

According to the WSJ, Bellion is currently available in 11 states and will be available even more widely in 2018.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.