Do you drink? How often do you get drunk? What is your best hangover cure? Perhaps it’s time to throw out those egg yolks and try needles instead, as new research suggests that acupuncture on certain points on the body can reduce liver damage caused by alcohol.
It is widely known that over-consumption of alcohol can cause liver damage. There are three main stages of liver disease caused by alcohol: alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. According to NHS Choices, it is estimated that 90-100% of heavy drinkers have alcoholic fatty liver disease, one in four drinkers with fatty liver disease will develop alcoholic hepatitis and one in five drinkers with fatty liver disease will develop cirrhosis. Death rates linked to alcoholic liver disease have risen by more than two-thirds (69%) in the past 30 years in UK.
The best way to treat alcoholic liver disease is to stop drinking alcohol. Western medicine use Disulfiram (sold under the brand name Antabuse), and Acamprosate to help people abstain from alcohol. However, this may lead to a severe and sometimes fatal reaction known as a disulfiram–alcohol reaction. It is widely known that drinking alcohol can be harmful to the liver, however habitual alcohol abuse remains a problem deeply ingrained into British society. Often, heavy drinkers find it difficult to abstain from alcohol due to the addictive nature of the drug.
A recent study in China  suggested that electric acupuncture on Taichong (LV3) – the third point on liver meridian, could protect the liver from alcohol damage. Researchers used 40 rats divided into a control group, a model group, a group using electro-acupuncture on LV 3 and a group using electro-acupuncture on non-acupuncture points. The rats were administered 40ml/kg of distillate alcohol for 12 hours – enough to overwhelm the liver and create mild liver injury. Rats were then treated for 30 minutes using the acupoint LV3. At the conclusion of the study, liver tissues were collected and ALT and AST liver markers, enzymes present in the blood at elevated levels when there is liver damage, were measured. Within the acupuncture on LV3 group, ALT and AST levels were significantly reduced, whereas the control group exhibited elevated levels of these enzymes. Another study , utilising the same experiment model whereby fatty liver disease is measured in rats, suggested that electro-acupuncture at Zusanli (ST36) could significantly reduce fatty degeneration of hepatic cells. These research results could spell good news for heavy drinkers.
If you find it difficult to give up drinking altogether, why not try to minimize the damage that can be caused by alcohol? Acupuncture could provide a convenient solution for the heavy drinker. Apart from the two acupoints mentioned above, a variety of acupoints can be selected, creating a ‘point prescription’ according to the different symptoms of each individual case. Some Chinese herbs may also be effective in protecting the liver from alcohol damage. The best time to seek acupuncture treatment is the day after a night of heavy drinking, or few hours before a heavy drinking session. Remember: no acupuncture whilst drunk!
There’s no harm in enjoying a night out, but don't forget your liver! A happy liver makes for a long and healthy life.
1. Chen BJ. 2011. Effect of electroacupuncture of "Taichong" (LR 3) on liver function in mild alcoholic liver injury rats. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu 36(6):419-22.
2. Wang Wei. 2004, Effects of electroacupuncture at “Zusanli” (ST 36) on alcoholic fatty liver rat model. Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion 2004 -12.