Do over-the-counter hangover cures work?
Hangover cures promising to minimise the pain of a big night out are all the rage right now. But, according to one medical expert, they might be a "waste of money".
In the build-up to Christmas and New Year's festivities, with office parties and celebrations in full swing, it may be tempting to grab a packet or box of pills that promise to limit the headaches and fatigue you may experience the next day.
Those products are being sold in pharmacies, supermarkets, and bottle stores – right next to the very thing that can cause the problems these products are promising to help alleviate.
Hangover cure products make hefty claims, including "detox and liver function support", "support for protein synthesis and nutrient absorption" and "relief from the classic symptoms of a bad hangover".
Many contain scientific-sounding ingredients like dihydromyricetin, nicotinamide, isoleucine, Arogyavardhini Rasa, Kalmegh Ghan and L-cysteine.
But Rob Walker, professor of medicine at the University of Otago, told Consumer NZ you may be better off exercising and drinking more water than spending money on products that promise to cure a hangover.
Unless claims can be backed up by peer-reviewed scientific studies, he suggests a run or cycle, Panadol, or a drink of water might do more to alleviate your symptoms.
So where do these products come from, what's in them, and how do they work?
Company: Myrkl (it's pronounced "miracle") is a Swedish brand that launched in 2022. Its manufacturers, de Faire Medical, say its product is based on "30 years of R&D".
Price and usage: $32.99 for 12 capsules through Myrkl’s website. Myrkl recommends taking two pills 1-2 hours before drinking.
Ingredients: A "patented" formula of fermented rice bran, L-Cysteine, Microcrystalline cellulose, Magnesium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide, Dextrin, Vitamin B12, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans.
Claims: Mrykl says its product offers "detox and liver function support" and has the ability to “break-down alcohol effectively/ next day”.
Those claims are based on a single study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Metabolic Insights in June 2022.
That study tested 24 people who drank "a moderate glass of light spirit" after taking two pills every day for a week. Breath and blood alcohol levels were measured for the following 6 hours in a randomised placebo-controlled double-blind crossover study.
It concluded that use of the product "resulted in a substantially reduced absorption of alcohol into the body".
The study includes a disclaimer: “The study reported in this manuscript has been funded by DeFaire Medical AB.”
De Faire Medical didn't respond to Consumer's request for comment. On its website, it says more studies are underway.
Our verdict: With no evidence of independent scientific studies, it’s hard to trust the company’s claims that its product provides hangover relief.
Company: Hundy is the biggest and only local brand on the market and has also been around the longest – about four years.
Price and usage: It’s $35 for five packets of two pills through the company's website with a money-back guarantee. Consumers are told to take two pills with a large glass of water after finishing their night and before they go to bed.
Ingredients: Hundy’s managing director, Tejada Stark, told Consumer the formula includes an imported extract from the Japanese Raisin Tree, dihydromyricetin, or DHM, combined with vitamin B12, sodium and Amino acids.
Claims: Hundy is careful not to promise its product can cure a hangover in its marketing as it could run foul of New Zealand’s Medicines Act, Stark says.
Yet Stark admits that's what most of their customers use it for.
She says dihydromyricetin was chosen as it has been "used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years”.
She claims it “accelerates your body's ability to break down the bad toxic byproducts".
When asked for research to back up those claims, Stark sent Consumer links to eight different international studies looking at the effects of dihydromyricetin on rates of alcohol absorption in the body.
Those mostly independent studies found dihydromyricetin could counteract ethanol intoxication. Most of those studies were undertaken using rats and mice.
Those studies did not investigate Hundy itself, just the ingredient dihydromyricetin. None were funded by Hundy.
Our verdict: Hundy was the only company contacted by Consumer to respond to our queries. It also supplied more scientific-backed evidence that its product could have the effect promised by its marketing than any others.
Company: Hydrodol - Before is an Australian product marketed by the company BioRevive.
Price and usage: $46.90 for 30 capsules through netpharmacy.co.nz. Users are told to take two capsules "once or twice daily".
Ingredients: It contains a mix of nearly 20 ingredients, including nicotinamide, isoleucine and leucine.
Claims: The product is marketed as “hangover relief capsules” and claims to “reduce free radicals formed in the body”.
Our verdict: Consumer couldn’t find any scientific studies examining the abilities of Hydrodol to provide hangover relief.
In 2020, the Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration warned Biorevive’s “claims related to hangover relief were not substantiated”.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Company: Dr. Vaidya's bills itself as a "new-age online Ayurvedic store" with formulas that have been passed from "generation to generation". Products are manufactured at a factory in Silvassa, near Mumbai. Livitup, promoted as a preventative hangover “shield”, is one of many products it sells internationally.
Price and usage: $9.99 for five capsules through the Ayurveda Store. Dr Vaidya’s tells consumers to take two pills before a drinking session "every time".
Ingredients: It contains Arogyavardhini Rasa, used to “support indigestion and liver infections for centuries”, and Kalmegh Ghan, which it says has “multi-faceted properties in alleviating numerous health issues”. It calls those products "super herbs".
Claims: On its website, the company claims the product will ensure “you will not have to go through the terrible phase of a hangover or any side effects.”
“The hangover cure pill ensures that you can enjoy partying with your friends without having to worry about hangovers.”
Our verdict: When contacted for comment, Dr Vaidya’s responded by saying: “Claims are based on references from classical Ayurvedic textbooks.” No links were supplied to those textbooks. Consumer could not find any scientific proof to back its claims up.
What an expert told us
Rob Walker says many off-the-shelf products promising to cure a hangover will likely be pointless.
"Some are a waste of money," he says. "But it depends on what's in the product."
If they contain paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen, they could help get rid of a headache caused by a hangover, he says.
None of the products we looked at contained these ingredients.
Consumers should be wary of any product that claims to help prevent alcohol absorption, says Walker.
"Your liver breaks down alcohol at a very set rate, and you can't change that rate," he says.
Anything claiming otherwise could be an advertising “gimmick” says Walker.
“It’s just marketing. If it has not been put through the proper scientific peer review, then it's completely meaningless.
“I wouldn’t waste my time looking at them.”
Are there free and natural remedies?
You may not feel like it the following day, but your best bet for fixing a hangover caused by excess alcohol may be exercise.
That, says Rob Walker, can help use up stores of excess aldehyde from the alcohol you’ve been drinking.
“If you go out for a run or jump on the exercycle, despite feeling absolutely lousy, you might speed up the breakdown by your muscles utilising those aldehydes as an alternative energy source.”
Water can also help alleviate symptoms. However, Walker warns not to flood your system.
“You can get water intoxication, which can be just as dangerous.”
Your best bet to avoid a hangover might be the same as it always was: drinking a little less the night before.
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