Obviously, the answer is Yes, we can easily avoid a hangover, by sticking to water, club soda and tea. But at a recent fundraiser for The Innocence Project, I met a cool attorney (two words doctors don’t often string together), and he raised the question: do any supplements “really” help prevent a hangover? I always love a good evidence-based supplement hunt, so I decided I’d look into it. Here’s what I found: There are many theories as to what causes a hangover, and the truth is it is almost certainly multifactorial. But most agree that congeners and acetaldehyde are major contributors to your misery. So let’s address those: Congeners are small amounts of chemical byproducts of fermentation such as acetone, acetaldehyde and tannins, that are much more prevalent in some alcoholic drinks than others. In general, the darker-colored alcohols have more congeners: so, bourbon, brandy, whiskey, tequila and red wine are the heavy hitters. Clear alcohols like vodka, rum, gin and white wine have fewer congeners. Because different alcohols have different types of congeners, mixing the various impurities—i.e. mixing dark liquors—increases your odds of a severe hangover. So, red wine followed by brandy (two of my faves) can be a rough mix. (Yet another reason to stick to vodka and OJ…) Obviously, most of us already knew that mixing liquors leads to splitting headaches, so I don’t expect you to give me credit for that one. But what about acetaldehyde? Here is a simplified view of alcohol metabolism:
That guy in the middle, acetaldehyde, generates free radicals that can cause liver damage unless you have antioxidants (primarily glutathione, but also vitamin C) handy to neutralize them. Glutathione can’t be taken orally (it doesn’t absorb well). However, taking a glutathione precursor by mouth (which your body turns into glutathione) in order to prevent liver damage, is well-accepted within mainstream medicine—in fact it is the treatment of choice for Tylenol overdose. Without it, Tylenol overdose can easily lead to a drawn out, painful death from liver failure. That precursor is called N-acetyl-cysteine, or NAC for short. I could not find any good human studies on NAC-vs-hangover, but I did find a really cool mouse study: They studied 16 different substances for their ability to save rats from the toxic effects of acetaldehyde. Four of the substances worked really well, including NAC, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and thiamine (vitamin B1): The column on the right shows how many of the mice died after 72 hours. NAC saved all of the mice, and Vitamin C and thiamine also did a great job. Even better, they also found that if they combined those three, they could use half as much vitamin C and just a small amount of thiamine. Now, normally I am the first to say that mice studies are not good enough to make supplement decisions… but in this case NAC, vitamin C and thiamine have been thoroughly tested in humans, both IV and orally, and their antioxidant and liver-protective effects are well established. So… Since our PhysioAge Premium Packs have 500mg NAC, 500mg Vitamin C and 50mg thiamine, I shall have a pack in my pocket when I
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this New Years’ Eve… and I just might bring a small pouch of fructose too. 🙂 Happy Holidays!