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A Cure for Alcoholism May Rest in Our Bellies

posted 10:14 AM EST, Mon July 06, 2009
A Cure for Alcoholism May Rest in Our Bellies © Photo by ElektraCute

A Swedish research team has determined that a hunger regulating hormone, Ghrelin, may play an important role in the development of alcohol addiction. The team is hopeful that future research will lead to effective treatment medications for alcoholism.

Down the hatch and into the belly - the key to an effective treatment for alcoholism may actually lie in medications that block a hormone produced in the stomach.

Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden say that a stomach hormone that sends hunger signals to the brain may play an essential role in the development of alcohol addiction; and that blocking the effects of this hormone may lead to effective treatments for alcoholism, and possibly other addictions, such as food addiction.

The hormone, Ghrelin, kick-starts feelings of hunger through signaling in the brain and also affects neural reward system activity. The researchers, led by Prof Suzanne Dickinson and Prof Jorgen Engel, ran experiments to determine what impact, if any, modified levels of Ghrelin had on alcohol consumption amongst mice.

They found that mice who received elevated levels of the stomach hormone increased their alcohol consumption but when the researchers used a Ghrelin antagonist to block the effects of the hormone in the brain, mice lost their preferences for alcohol associated environments.

Mice losing their preference for alcohol associated places translates in human terms to alcohol losing its addictive properties, explain the researchers.

The researchers hope that further study on the stomach hormone will lead to effective medications for alcohol addiction. Prof Engel commented on the research, enthusing, "If we can develop drugs that block the receptors for Ghrelin, we could have a new effective treatment for alcohol dependence." He tempered his statement by saying, "It may however take several years until such a pharmacological treatment will reach the patient."

The research team published the study findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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