The Japanese raisin tree grows primarily in Asia, though recently it started invading Brazil. The scientific name for the tree is hovenia dulcis, and its seeds and fruit contain an interesting flavonoid compound called dihydromyricetin (DHM).
Traditional Eastern medicine has used this substance throughout the ages to reduce the effects of alcohol overconsumption, such as hangovers, withdrawal symptoms and liver damage. DHM traditionally also has other beneficial attributes as well, such as anti-oxidative, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties.
Of men and mice
Evidence based on historical use, common knowledge or cultural traditions does not count in Western medicine. Here in the West, only the “scientific” method of testing will do to prove safety and efficacy. However, clinical trials are expensive to conduct and naturally occurring substances that cannot be patented do not always pay off from a financial standpoint. Perhaps this may be one reason why natural “cures” do not undergo scientific testing in the West at the same pace as synthetic chemical compounds.
In any case, enough interest in DHM has resulted in scientific research studies on its mechanisms of action, primarily using rodents. A major claim is that DHM sobers people up. A study on mice showed that DHM lowered blood alcohol concentrations faster in mice who received it than in those who did not. Another study involved putting drunken rats on their backs and timing how long it took them to get up, which was about 70 minutes. Drunken rats who got DHM took only about five minutes, showing that DHM appears to sober rats up.
In addition to decreasing the intoxicating effects of alcohol, another claim is that DHM is a great hangover cure. Again, the scientists who studied the drunken rats also explored DHM’s effects on withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, hyperexcitability and total ethyl alcohol consumption in the same extremely informative study. The rats who were given DHM consumed less alcohol, were less excitable and anxious, and demonstrated normal, sober behavior much sooner than the rats who did not. The rats who did not receive DHM also did not move and stayed in the corner of the cage with their paws crossed (anxious, defensive posturing), indicating more severe hangovers and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Other claims about the traditional uses of DHM have been substantiated, though most in rodent studies. DHM does appear to protect from and promote regression of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer. It also appears to fight gastric cancer cells and heart disease. The anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic claims also appear to be valid in rodents.
Of mice and men
A major barrier to sobriety for many is the withdrawal symptoms that occur with alcohol dependence. People experiencing alcohol withdrawal are generally treated with benzodiazepines, but still experience uncomfortable symptoms. Few centers offer natural assisted detoxification or any other alternatives to the typically uncomfortable process. Because DHM works on the same (GABA) receptors in the brain that benzodiazepines do, it may provide symptomatic relief from withdrawal symptoms without risk of tolerance or dependence.
Because most men are not mice, more studies need to be done to show the safety and efficacy of DHM in humans before it can be accepted into conventional Western medical practices. Until then, those considering taking this or any herbal remedy should educate themselves and consult with licensed prescribers who are qualified to answer questions about naturopathic medications.
Sovereign Health of California offers state-of-the-art and holistic treatment for alcoholism, drug addiction and behavioral health disorders. Each treatment program is customized according to the needs of each individual patient. We also use a combination of therapeutic approaches to restore lasting health. To find out more about our programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group staff writer
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