Remember “powdered alcohol?” It was a thing for a little while, before people realized they were perfectly happy getting their booze in liquid form in the first place. But it turns out there might be a use for the stuff after all: Cleaning out your arteries.
Powdered alcohol is made by pouring booze over beta-cyclodextrin, a common compound that is hydrophilic, or water-loving, on the outside, but hydrophobic on the inside. That makes it really, really good at absorbing water-based things and not letting them go; in fact, you’ve probably had a cousin of this stuff today if you’ve eaten any mayonnaise or had a dessert with a whipped topping.
Researchers, noticing this, speculated that it might also suck up cholesterol, making it easier for your immune system to remove it without causing inflammation. Remember, it’s the inflammation that gets you with heart disease. Arterial plaque leads to inflammation, which leads to more arterial plaque and so on, until, well, you’ve seen Sanford and Son.
So, scientists, being scientists, fattened up a bunch of mice over a few weeks and then started injecting them with cyclodextrin. The results are fairly dramatic: The amount of arterial plaque inside these pizza-snarfing mice dropped by nearly 50 percent. That’s important not least because the preferred method of controlling cholesterol, statins, don’t work for everybody and make exercise more exhausting.
This is normally the part where we say cyclodextrin might have some sort of weird side effect we don’t know about, and it very well might! But if it does, it might be hard to find, because we’ve been using this stuff in medicines for years. In fact, cyclodextrins are being tested as a treatment for an incredibly rare and often fatal childhood disease called Niemann-Pick Disease Type C with some promising results.
This still needs more testing, of course, especially with such dramatic results. But this is a commonplace medicinal ingredient we understand extremely well and have been using for years. If the human trials are as promising as they sound, this may make heart attacks a much rarer disease. You will still have to exercise and eat salads, though. Sorry, there’s no getting around that one.