Drinking enough to feel ill-effects the next day isn’t big and it certainly isn’t clever, but sometimes it happens – and now, there’s an industry of pills and potions dedicated to alleviating morning-after misery. But where is the trend going, and crucially, does it have any scientific backing? MoM peers inside the hangover supplement industry…
Hangover symptoms are far more complex than perhaps we give them credit for. Even doctors don’t fully understand the inner workings of your brain and body after one or two too many drams. And indeed there are many different factors that affect how your body processes alcohol – the type and quality of the alcohol being served to the age, sex, stature, ethnicity, heredity, diet and sleep habits of the drinker – which, in turn, have some influence on how you feel the morning after.
Generally speaking, though, there are a few biological processes we humans all share. Drinking alcohol suppresses the creation of a hormone called vasopressin, says Samantha Welsh, marketing director for NutriDrip and The Hangover Club, prompting your kidneys to send water straight to your bladder without absorbing it, “which is why when we drink we tend to use the bathroom a lot,” she says. Your dehydrated brain shrinks, causing tension and painful headaches the next day, and you’ll have lost “important minerals and nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and other B vitamins, which results in muscle pain and fatigue”.
Unfortunately dehydration is just a symptom, rather than a cause, of the hangover puzzle. The real problem isn’t, technically speaking, the alcohol (i.e. ethanol) you’re sipping – it’s a chain reaction that occurs inside your body after you’ve ingested that Piña Colada. “When you drink more alcohol than your liver can break down, toxins such as acetaldehyde build up,” explains Eddie Huai, founder of FlyBy. “This puts stress on your body, and you pay for it the next morning.”
Acetaldehyde is around forty times more toxic than ethanol, explains Laurence Cardwell, founder of Survivor. “The reason acetaldehyde is such a bad boy is because it leads to massive inflammation,” he says. “The goal, really, is to break it down as fast as possible into acetate, which is benign. The two main ingredients that make up Survivor do exactly that.” One of these breakthrough ingredients is dihydromyricetin, which has been proposed in the highly-respected Neuroscience journal as a novel potential anti-intoxication medication.
“In one of the studies performed they gave rats the equivalent of 20 beers,” says Cardwell. “I imagine these rats were absolutely plastered, wandering around in lederhosen singing songs. Being small rodents they have a fairly high metabolism and sobered up in 90 minutes. When injected abdominally with dihydromyricetin, they sobered up completely in five minutes.”
If alcohol-free spirits really aren’t your bag, popping a hangover supplement might seem like the next best option. But is there a danger that bottled ‘hangover cures’ will encourage people to drink more, or drink irresponsibly (like our rodent friends above) knowing there’s less chance of ill effects the next day?
“Hangovers are usually a sign from your body that you’ve probably had too much to drink and should consider cutting down,” says Pedram Kordrostami, creator of AfterDrink, who adds that hangover-related supplements aren’t miracle workers. There are also “very strict rules about making claims with health supplements, especially when it comes to phrases around ‘cure’ or ‘treating symptoms’, as these are only authorised for medicines,” he says.
Rather than a ‘hangover’ fix, Cardwell prefers the term alcohol health supplement. “Firstly it’s not a very accurate label, but also it’s not very credible,” he says. “Hangovers are effectively the extreme of alcohol consumption – you don’t tend to get a serious one unless you’ve been slugging it back. But even one or two glasses of wine or beer will affect your performance the following day.”
The ritual of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a pint after work with colleagues is a huge part of cultures around the world, and it’s one that seems unlikely to disappear any time soon. Instead, the shift is towards balance. “People want to be able to combine that lifestyle, they don’t want to give it up entirely,” he continues. “They want to maximise their performance on all fronts: socialise with friends in the evening, work hard in the office and get a good night’s sleep.”
Losing a day or two to a hangover just isn’t an option for most people, adds Kordrostami. “Drinking plenty of water and making sure you have a meal before going out helps a lot. However, it’s not usually enough. People are always on the lookout for natural and effective ways to support their recovery and supplements – like AfterDrink – provide a helping hand towards a solution.”