Hangover-Free Holiday Season (cont.)

New Hangover Prevention Strategies?

You may have seen ads for products that promise a night of excessive drinking with minimal hangover residue, simply by popping some pills or even changing the way you consume alcohol. But do they work?

As for the hangover prevention pills, many in the medical community remain unconvinced of their effectiveness. "They haven't been carefully studied," Hetzler says.

A few "hangover helper" pills contain a single key ingredient designed to ward off the unpleasant aftereffects of alcohol. Artichoke extract is one of them. While the product manufacturer touts this natural substance's effectiveness against hangovers, scientists at the UK's Peninsula Medical School found artichoke extract ineffective at curbing alcohol's aftereffects.

Of all the hangover helper pills, HPF Hangover Prevention Formula? -- an herbal supplement containing derivatives of the prickly pear cactus -- has shown the most promise. Researchers found it reduces three of nine hangover symptoms: nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite. It's believed to work by reducing the body's inflammatory response that alcohol causes.

But skepticism remains high.

"The supplement [HPF Hangover Prevention FormulaTM] is designed mostly to address allergic reactions that cause headaches. It does nothing for things like abstract memory impairment linked with learning, nothing for the central nervous system suppression, the diuretic effect, etc.," asserts Patrick Breslin, an alcohol and drug prevention facilitator at Western Wisconsin Technical College.

"The only evidence is their [manufacturers'] own internal reports. To the best of my knowledge, there's no evidence that there's any supplement you can take that will prevent a hangover. These claims have not stood up to scientific scrutiny by unbiased researchers," White tells WebMD. Incidentally, the study that demonstrated the prickly pear derivative's defense against hangovers was supported by the product's manufacturer.

Vaporized Alcohol

If hangover prevention pills don't work, there's also a whole new way to consume alcohol intended to curb the nasty aftereffects of consumption. The alcohol-vapor machine, or "alcohol without liquid" (AWOL) device, works by turning shots of liquor into an inhaled alcohol mist. The vaporized alcohol then mixes with oxygen and is inhaled through a tube, creating an immediate high and, according to product claims, no hangover.

But is it safe? With AWOL, alcohol bypasses the liver, which normally filters the body's toxins, and goes directly into the brain -- even before reaching the bloodstream. That means someone heavily under the influence of AWOL could very likely pass a breathalyzer test if, in fact, the alcohol hadn't yet reached the bloodstream.

That's why Diageo, the world's leading beer, wine, and spirits company and an industry leader in promoting responsible drinking, recently announced that it supports proposed New York State legislation banning AWOL machines until further research clarifies possible risks. And, at least one New York City suburb has banned AWOL due to concerns over possible health risks.

So where does that leave those of us who want to dodge the hangover, despite having imbibed a bit more than planned? Resort to old-fashioned remedies. "Two aspirin, a glass of water, sleep, and a multivitamin in the morning -- if you can stomach it -- are probably the best things to do," Hetzler suggests.

SOURCES: Aaron White, PhD, assistant research professor, Duke University Medical Center. Bruce Hetzler, PhD, psychology professor, Lawrence University. Jeffrey Wiese, MD, associate professor of medicine, Tulane Health Sciences Center, New Orleans. Patrick Breslin, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Problem Prevention Facilitator, Western Wisconsin Technical College. Adele McKinney and Kieran Coyle, researchers, department of mental health, Queens University Belfast.

©2004 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 12/9/2004 6:16:03 PM