There's a treatment for hangovers on the market, and it may offer more than relief from the queasy stomach and pounding head that so often follows a night of over-indulging. People who take the popular hangover remedy, DHM, may be doing their health a big favor, especially the health of their liver.

Whether it's binge drinking or a less intensive love affair, alcohol is bad for the liver, with fatty liver and cirrhosis two prime examples of the damage it can do. Yet drinking in its many forms still remains a popular pastime for much of the country.

“There's hope here. It could be a new lease on life for a lot of people.”

About 88,000 people die of alcohol-related deaths annually.

Dihydromyricetin (DHM), also called ampelopsin, is a substance that's produced by the Japanese raisin tree and a few other plants. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is available in the United States as an over-the-counter supplement.

Now researchers examining its mode of action more closely have found that it works through multiple biochemical pathways, and it may have much wider therapeutic uses than just a hangover remedy.

Mice were fed a diet rich in alcohol for two months while researchers observed the many changes this caused in their metabolism, both in the presence and absence of DHM supplementation. They focused on the liver because that's where alcohol is primarily detoxified, broken down, and it's also where a lot of the harm caused by alcohol shows up.

Those mice given DHM had less fat accumulation in their liver and produced fewer inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals that are signs of liver injury. They also made more alcohol detoxifying enzymes, which should enable them to rid their body of alcohol faster and more effectively. And these are just the highlights of the many changes in enzymes and other chemicals that were seen when DHM was used.

If it does the same for people, DHM could be used not only to combat the short-term effects of drinking, such as hangovers, but also longer-term health risks of drinking. The authors see it playing specific roles in helping people combat binge drinking, alcoholism and even liver damage.

Take binge drinkers. Those who use DHM as a stopgap would likely do much less damage to their liver before they're able to get the help to stop the habit.

“We may not be able to fix their problem overnight, but we can give them step-by-step improvements to help them drink less and gain health protection,” said Daryl Davies, study co-author and professor of clinical pharmacy in the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy.

DHM could also potentially help patients who show early signs of liver damage, using it to help restore or prolong their liver function. Even patients with more severe liver damage who are waiting for a transplant might benefit from DHM, since it seems to slow further liver deterioration.

“There's hope here. It could be a new lease on life for a lot of people,” Davies said.

The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.