Magazine article Science News

Herbal Agent Limits Alcohol Absorption

Magazine article Science News

Herbal Agent Limits Alcohol Absorption

Article excerpt

A traditional Chinese herbal medicine, long rumored to squelch alcohol's intoxicating effects, appears to live up to its thousand-year-old reputation.

Masayuki Yoshikawa, a chemist at Japan's Kyoto Pharmaceutical University, reports that extracts from several Chinese plants and trees, when consumed by rats in the laboratory, indeed curb the absorption of ethanol.

By chemically separating components of the plant extracts, Yoshikawa's team identified the active ingredients as triterpene oligoglycosides, members of a class of sugar derivatives called saponins that have a tendency to produce soapy lathers.

Saponins appear in a variety of plants, particularly in the barks and roots of the Japanese angelica tree, the ovary of the soapnut tree, and the seeds of horse chestnuts and camellias.

Traditional Chinese and Japanese doctors use angelica root and bark to treat arthritis and diabetes, saving its decorative shoots as a culinary garnish. Horse chestnut extracts possess antiinflammatory properties, while soapnut derivatives yield an expectorant.

Yoshikawa and his colleagues prepared extracts from these plants and fed solutions containing different concentrations to rats. Then the researchers served the animals water spiked with as much as 20 percent ethanol, and monitored their blood-alcohol concentrations over the next several hours.

The saponins inhibited absorption of alcohol. The best extracts--from angelica bark--lowered the animal's blood alcohol levels by as much as one fifth in comparison to unmedicated animals, Yoshikawa reported this week in Chicago at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. …

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