Binge Drinking and Stem Cell Therapy
Since the very first human discovered spontaneously-fermented honey and water, alcohol has been an inextricable part of our history. In many ways, it has been a beneficial arrangement. Social drinking helps to strengthen bonds between friends and establish new connections with others, broadening our circles. There are even numerous studies that indicate limited consumption of alcohol can have positive effects on human health. However, there is a flip side to this particular coin. For some, consumption patterns can lead to serious issues. Binge drinking is one such pattern.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is defined as
“a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.”
It should be noted that binge drinking does not necessarily denote alcohol dependence or alcoholism.
The CDC goes on to note that one out of six adults binge drinks four times per month, consuming on average seven drinks per binge. Most binge drinkers are men, and they are generally between 18 and 34 years of age, although older men also binge drink. Older male adults generally binge less often, but consume more drinks per binge. Interestingly, binge drinking is more common in higher-income households and those with better educations.
What Are the Signs of Binge Drinking?
While binge drinking might not be a sign of alcohol dependence, it is dangerous and unhealthy. Identifying signs that you might be drinking too much at one time can help to reduce the chances of getting a DUI, being involved in a fight, unwanted pregnancy, contracting an STD and more.
One sign that you have consumed too much is a lowering of your inhibitions. If you are more of a risk taker after drinking, it could be that you’ve had a few too many. Another sign is if you go alcohol free all week long and then consume many drinks on a Friday or Saturday. Yet another sign is if you are unable to say no to just one more drink, despite setting limits for yourself before beginning. One excellent sign that you are drinking too much is if you black out – if parts of your night are foggy or missing completely, you definitely had too much to drink.
What Are the Treatment Options for Binge Drinking?
Currently, there really is no treatment for binge drinking. Even when binge drinking does lead to alcohol dependence, and then dependence leads to relapse bingeing, detoxification is really the only option. Some medications can help to somewhat lessen the desire to drink, but there is no cure. This is particularly dangerous for relapsing alcoholics bingeing. In this instance, an alcoholic might have been deprived of alcohol for a long period, long enough for the body to lose its previous tolerance for alcohol. A binge now could be dangerous, or even deadly.
How Can Stem Cell Therapy Help Prevent Binge Drinking?
While there are currently no cures for binge drinking or alcoholism, there is promising research. A 12-step program might be able to help alcoholics get sober and stay that way for a time, it seems that stem cells may be able to reduce chronic alcoholic intake and abolish binge drinking. At least that is the result of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports in early 2018.
According to the authors,
“Chronic alcohol intake leads to neuroinflammation and astrocyte dysfunction, proposed to perpetuate alcohol consumption and to promote conditioned relapse-like binge drinking. In the present study, human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) were cultured in 3D-conditions to generate MSC-spheroids, which greatly increased MSCs anti-inflammatory ability and reduced cell volume by 90% versus conventionally 2D-cultured MSCs, enabling their intravenous administration and access to the brain.
It is shown, in an animal model of chronic ethanol intake and relapse-drinking, that both the intravenous and intra-cerebroventricular administration of a single dose of MSC-spheroids inhibited chronic ethanol intake and relapse-like drinking by 80–90%, displaying significant effects over 3–5 weeks. The MSC-spheroid administration fully normalized alcohol-induced neuroinflammation, as shown by a reduced astrocyte activation, and markedly increased the levels of the astrocyte Na-glutamate (GLT-1) transporter. This research suggests that the intravenous administration of MSC-spheroids may constitute an effective new approach for the treatment of alcohol-use disorders.”
Ultimately, the study showed that a single dose of mesenchymal stem cells administered by IV or intracerebrally eliminated neuroinflammation caused by alcohol. It also inhibited voluntary consumption of alcohol, and prevented binge drinking in most cases.
Autologous Stem Cells and Allogeneic Stem Cells
It should be noted that the rats in the study described above were treated with stem cells harvested from human fat tissue. Many other studies use what are called autologous stem cells, in which a patient’s own cells are harvested and then re-implanted. While they do have some benefits, they are not ideally suited for treating most conditions. Instead, allogeneic stem cells should be used. These are harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue, and are young, energetic cells with no mutations and evoke no immune system response. It is also important to remember that animal studies are not always translated into the same effects in humans, In addition, altering stem cells (including expanding them outside of the body) is not allowed in clinical practice currently. Finally, interspecies stem cells may be especially risky.
Hope for Alcoholics
The study and others like it hint that there may be new, novel approaches to treating not only alcoholism, but to preventing binge drinking and its numerous harmful effects. However, it is important to understand that this research is in its infancy. There are currently no FDA-approved stem cell treatments for humans, and any such treatments should be considered experimental only. It’s also important to note that patients considering these experimental procedures should only work with a physician who understands the importance of using allogeneic stem cells, rather than autologous stem cells.