CHINA TOPIX

Updated 11:48 PM EDT, Sat, Mar 28, 2020

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A virus of joy?

Human endogenous retroviruses (HERV) are part of the genetic code inherited from our distant ancestors during evolution. For the most part, this is the so-called junk or excess DNA, since the functions of its genes have not yet been established.

Some researchers have pointed out the possible connection of this "genetic garbage" with various autoimmune diseases and other diseases including certain types of cancer. However, it has not yet been able to confidently confirm the existence of such a connection.

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In this case, we are talking about the unusual integration of the HK2 retrovirus (it is found only in 5-10% of people) when it is integrated into the gene that regulates the level of dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine is known as the hormone of pleasure. In small doses, it gives a person a pleasant sensation. However, this same hormone can cause addiction and the brain begins to require an increasing dose.

Scientists investigated two groups of drug addicts in Greece and in Scotland who became infected as a result of their addiction to an infectious disease. It was HIV in Greece and hepatitis C in Scotland. In a control group, there were patients who had the same diseases but not due to drug use.

A genetic test showed that the retrovirus HK2 was present in the genes of drug addicts 2-3 times more often than in the corresponding control group. According to the author of the study, Gikas Magiorkinis, this is a very strong correlation, although it does not allow us to state the presence of a direct relationship.

Now scientists want to understand how this mechanism works: how the presence of the virus affects dopamine levels and increases the risk of addiction. This will not only help to better understand the nature of the disease but also suggest new methods of treatment or even help from national drug abuse hotline numbers: free addiction help 24/7.

These are the main conclusions of the last and most ambitious study ever conducted in this area: scientists analyzed the data of nearly 600 thousand people who periodically drink alcohol and never call rehab numbers. The result of their work sounds peremptory: even in small doses, alcohol does not bear any benefit, and its harmful effects begin to appear already with 50 grams of alcohol per week - it's about two small glasses of wine or two cans of beer.

How much do we really drink?

People who rarely drink alcohol are pleased to think that they only strengthen their bodies in this way. A glass of wine at dinner is considered to be useful not only for digestion but also for the cardiovascular system.

In Britain, for example, doctors recommend drinking no more than one and a half bottles of wine (or five pints of beer) per week without making any difference between men and women. But in Spain, this limit is 2.5 times bigger for men and 1.5 times for women.

The results of a detailed analysis of 83 independent scientific papers aiming at studying the long-term effects of alcohol on the body (and our health in general) were published in the Lancet. In total, the data of 599, 912 people with no signs of cardiovascular disease from 19 countries with a relatively high average income were analyzed.

Participants were divided into eight groups depending on the number of weekly alcohol amounts consumed. Other risk factors, such as smoking or diabetes, were also taken into account. Each subject was under long-term observation - from one and a half to 13 years. Over the years, more than 40 thousand participants of different ages died, more than 39 thousand were diagnosed with a particular disease of the cardiovascular system.

Regardless of the specific cause, the likelihood of death shows an obvious (albeit non-linear) dependence on the amount of alcohol consumed. Moreover, life expectancy begins to decline already at a minimum level - less than 100 ml per week (there's over 100 ml of alcohol in a bottle of dry wine).

Alcoholism treatment

The consequences of alcoholism were suitable for medical research, even when pathological drunkenness was recognized as a sign of moral weakness rather than disease. However, when we learned more about biological factors that interacted with physical and social factors that stimulated abnormal drinking, doctors were more involved in the study of alcohol and medical procedures that could reduce its effects.

The turning point was the emergence of the concept of alcoholism as a disease that was put forward by Professor Alvin Jellinek of Yale University in the 1940-1950s. In the framework of this concept, various types of pathological use of alcohol were considered as subtypes of a medical disorder called alcoholism. The first medical product for pathological drinkers (disulfiram) was invented in the 1920s but it was prescribed to patients much later. You can call drug help hotline to find out about treatment options for you.

When taken daily, this medicine inhibits aldehyde dehydrogenase. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down alcohol molecules called acetaldehyde. If you take disulfiram and drink alcohol, a high level of acetaldehyde will accumulate in the body, and this will cause malaise. Disulfiram can be very useful in refusing alcohol if taken regularly, but many people do not benefit from it because they lose their course. Some patients, for example, stop taking the medicine when they want to drink after calling drug hotline number. However, this medicine can be very effective if family members or other close people monitor the pills.

There are other drugs to treat alcoholism. Naltrexone blocks the action of opioids, such as morphine, and some believe that it reduces the beneficial effects of alcohol. Others suggest that it reduces alcohol consumption. Acamprosate is approved for the treatment of alcoholism in the United States, but its mechanism of action is not entirely clear, and this medicine did not show its effectiveness during the longest study to test this drug. The newer anticonvulsant drug, Topiramate, which has not yet been approved for use in the United States, is also promising. Other types of medications are used to relieve withdrawal symptoms.

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