Welcome to the weekly Ask Doctor Zac column on news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zach Turner talks about the so-called hangover pills.
QUESTION: Hi Dr. Zach, my brother was just overseas in Europe and came back with a suitcase full of “hangover pills”. Apparently they are all the rage in London and only cost $4!
He says they have bacteria in them that break down the alcohol you drink before it causes a hangover. Is it even possible? He says everyone out there calls them “miracle pills” – could it ever be a miracle to save us from the hangover? – Miles, 23, Perth
REPLY: I don’t know how many times I’ll have to say this, Miles, but the only miracle cure for a hangover is to stop drinking! Such “miracle” pills appear in our pharmacies every few years and gradually disappear from the shelves when customers realize that they are more like a placebo than anything useful.
Often these pills are sold as “solutions before use.” to reduce the effects of a hangover, and we recommend taking them before drinking. I wish the TGA had stricter rules against this type of marketing as people often drink too much because they think these pills will save them. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but these pills are not miracles.
Before we break down this “alcohol-destroying gut bacteria” theory, let’s quickly recap. what is a hangoverand what caused it.
A hangover is the onset of unpleasant symptoms, due in part to the dehydrating effects of alcohol. The most common of these are headache, nausea, eye pain, dry mouth, and anxiety.
Let’s not forget that alcohol is a poison. When we drink, our liver does all the hard work of breaking down the alcohol we consume. As the saying goes, “pick your poison” and if you pair alcohol with energy drinks and then tons of sugar, you can get drifting.
During the metabolism of alcohol, acetaldehyde is formed. This unpleasant-sounding by-product is the cause of all the nasty hangover side effects and is actually a poison that our bodies need to get rid of. This metabolic process can be enhanced in some people who drink regularly.
Our liver tries to protect itself by making more acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (the chemical that breaks it down). That is why some people and ethnic groups can stimulate an increase in the amount of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and break down the “toxic” acetaldehyde much faster, i.e.
This, I must stress, does not make alcohol safer or less poisonous, it just delays a hangover effects for later. You should also consider that some people get the effect immediately, turning red, feeling nauseous and drunk even after one glass.
The idea behind these hangover pills is that the injected bacteria will break down the alcohol in the stomach into water and carbon dioxide before it reaches the liver, thereby limiting the amount of acetaldehyde that needs to be broken down.
There are two factors to consider.
First, the gut bacteria in our stomach can be affected by a range of lifestyle choices, so it’s hard to rely on them.
Second, alcohol absorption varies dramatically with weight, gender, physical activity, and food intake.
These two factors reduce the effect of these miracle pills.
You should always be careful when taking dietary supplements with gut bacteria, as probiotics taken by sick people can upset the natural balance of healthy gut bacteria, causing infection or intestinal symptoms.
Research on these pills is sparse and I’m not sure if they even work. And I don’t think that Australians should spend money on these “miracles” when there are easier options to alleviate a hangover.
First, you should always calculate in your head how much you will drink. You must know your limits and respect them.
A great trick is to always make sure you drink a glass of water every second. If it bothers you, try sparkling lime water. Regularly moisturizing your body will reduce the effects of a hangover the next morning.
If you’re in a pub, sneak into the games room and eat a handful of nuts. Eating these nuts will replenish the B vitamins, which are quickly depleted when you drink. Pro Tip: Don’t Invest in Slot Machines! They are designed in such a way that you end up losing your money.
Before you drink, instead of taking a pill, eat an avocado on smoked salmon toast. This will slow down stomach motility during the night, which means your body takes longer to break down the alcohol.
Miles, I recommend that you flush your brother’s miracle pills down the toilet and tell him to wise up and stop drinking so much if his hangover gets to him.
Got a question:
Dr. Zach Turner holds a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery degree. from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and co-owner of a telemedicine service. Concierge doctors.
He was also a Registered Nurse and a qualified and experienced Biomedical Scientist and PhD in Biomedical Engineering.
Originally published as Dr. Zack Turner on the $4 Hangover Miracle Cure