Hangover Cures: Do These New Flashy Ones Work?

Superficially I knew that too much alcohol leads to headaches, nausea, and exhaustion, but what I didn’t know was that, scientifically, an alcohol hangover is understood as when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level in a body returns to zero after being elevated while drinking. A hangover is the body struggling to return to normal. The struggle is alcohol withdrawal coupled with dehydration, and the abundance of acetaldehyde, a substance produced by the body metabolizing alcohol, which is toxic at high levels. On top of all that, drinking affects brain activity during sleep, so that explains why waking up exhausted is typical of a hangover.

In short, the more alcohol consumed, the harsher the drop in BAC and the worse the hangover. These new remedies claim to address all the symptoms in one fell swoop, and in one small dosage.

“We find that many people tend to dismiss the product as ‘just aspirin and caffeine,’” Brenna Haysom of Blowfish told me. “The effervescent formulation is specifically designed for hangovers, which means it works fast and it’s gentler on your stomach than aspirin pills and a cup of coffee. And at $1.25 a hangover it’s cheaper than a cup of coffee.”

Sports drinks and potassium rich foods can rehydrate, but they won’t cure exhaustion. The cysteine in eggs, bacon, and even broccoli might help with the absorption of acetaldehyde, and the nausea. But DHM, the liver detoxifier, is one of the secret links that supposedly ties it all together and produces a so-called cure. Similarly, acetaminophen (an analgesic used in Tylenol), and synthetic caffeine do the trick of combating headaches, drowsiness and nausea, as well as making the remedies that use it fast-acting.

After using Morning Recovery, the brand claims, you’ll feel 80 percent better. Less exhausted, less nauseous, less dizzy and less headachy. And More Labs, the company behind Morning Recovery, has done rigorous testing to support its product’s claims.

Ok, I thought, sounds pretty reasonable. But what did the academics and the medical community have to say? Well. “There are no scientific studies published that prove that these products are effective or safe,” said professor of pharmacology at Utrecht University, Joris C Verster, Ph.D. “Currently, the only effective way to prevent alcohol hangovers is to moderate alcohol consumption.”

I also checked in with three communities of academic researchers, two based in the UK and one in the Netherlands that study the effects of alcohol in humans. The response was unilaterally the same: Caffeine and acetaminophen merely act as Band-Aid solutions, masking the effects of a hangover. Vitamins and DHM may be effective in some cases, but because a hangover is metabolically complicated, varying from person to person, they can hardly be considered a solution for everyone.

As much as many of these products wanted to claim relief, the medical experts I spoke to told me that the science behind the brand studies is not universally accepted, and more trials need to be done. And, of course, as with all herbal supplements the brand claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.

But back to my unscientific study, where there were no double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trials at all. Instead, I invited seven friends over for dinner and to drink plenty of alcohol. Most of the seven were runners or pilates obsessives. All in their 30s, at least three considered themselves heavier social drinkers while the other four were the nurse-a-glass types. We all get hangovers, and many of us admittedly get very bad ones, the kind that leave you in a sad state of never getting out of pajamas and watching The Real Housewives of Whatever all day.

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