University of Alabama researchers believe their findings may pave the way for treatments that could reverse steatosis, or fatty deposits in the liver, that lead to cirrhosis and cancer.
The antioxidant is called mitochondria-targeted ubiquinone, or MitoQ. Researchers administered it to rats that were given alcohol every day for five to six weeks in an amount sufficient to mirror excessive intake in a human.
Chronic alcoholics typically expierence a build up of fat in the liver cells. When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it creates free radicals that prevent the liver’s mitochondria cells from using sufficient amounts of oxygen to produce energy. This protomotes the formation of fatty deposites that can cause cirrhosis.
Lead researcher Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., professor of pathology at UAB, and his team say that the antioxidant MitoQ is able to intercept and neutralize free radicals before they can damage the mitochondria. This, of course, prevents the cascade of effects that ultimately leads to disease.
If proven effective in humans, MitoQ would be the first treatment of its kind able to prevent, or even reverse, the damaging effects of alcoholism on the liver. The antioxidant has already been shown to decrease liver damage in hepatitis C patients.
Alcohol abuse costs $185 billion annually in the United States and 2 million people have some form of alcoholic liver disease, according to statistics from the Annals of Heptology. 90 percent of cirrhosis of the liver and 30 percent of liver cancer is related to alcohol abuse.
The study was published in the journal Heptology.