Can You Cure a Hangover?

Dec 30, 2011 8:00am

Ringing in the New Year with too much bubbly might make for a rough start to 2012. But a new wave of hangover-fighting pills and patches, plus a handful of old standbys, claim to spare you the headache, fatigue and upset stomach brought on by booze.

The latest concoction, “Blowfish,” combines aspirin, caffeine and an antacid into an Alka-Seltzer-like effervescent tablet. When dropped into a glass of water, it fizzes up a lemony brew that packs the hangover-fighting power of two extra-strength aspirins, three espressos and a greasy breakfast.

“It’s the only over-the-counter drug that’s specifically hangover-related,” Blowfish creator Brenna Haysom told ABC News. “The [Food and Drug Administration] has specifically said our formula is effective for treating hangover symptoms.”

A hangover is a collection of symptoms that emerge as alcohol’s intoxicating effects wear off. Alcohol is thought to trigger an inflammatory response — a process blocked by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. The inflammatory response is similar to the body’s defense against flu, and is linked to lethargy — an energy lull boosted by caffeine. Finally, the chemicals produced by the body to break alcohol down are hard on the stomach — collateral damage tempered by an antacid.

Aspirin and caffeine are already FDA-approved, so Blowfish can be sold over-the-counter without being itself FDA-approved.

Because hangovers are so poorly understood, the jury’s still out on how best to treat them. And it’s unclear whether Blowfish, which contains acetylsalicylic acid and citric acid at doses likely to cancel out its stomach-soothing effects, is better than the age-old hangover remedy: aspirin and a cup of coffee.

“Almost no research at all has been done on the hangover state,” said Dr. Timothy Collins, associate professor of medicine and neurology at Duke University Medical Center’s Pain and Palliative Care Clinic. “Without any clinical trial data, it’s hard to really talk about how well any treatment’s going to work.”

Personal anecdotes, however, support Blowfish and a host of other hangover remedies — from banana smoothies to pickle juice — in preventing or at least minimizing hangovers. But when it comes to hangover hearsay, experts urge caution.

“One of the things we know from headache clinical trials is that at least 25 percent of patients getting a placebo say it worked really well for them,” said Collins. “One in four people are going to say this helps, but we just don’t know.”

A two-tablet dose of Blowfish (which is what the makers recommend for a typical hangover) contains 1,000 milligrams of aspirin, 120 milligrams of caffeine, 816 milligrams of sodium and 25.2 milligrams of phenylalanine. The makers, West Village-based Rally Labs, are so convinced of their product’s hangover-quashing effects they offer a money-back guarantee.

“People are skeptical because there have been so many weird hangover cures over the years,” said Haysom, describing herbal hangover remedies that skirt FDA regulation because they’re sold as supplements. “Word of mouth is really important for us.”

Bytox,” another hangover remedy sold as a skin patch, claims to prevent hangovers by replenishing nutrients lost while drinking. But unlike Blowfish, it has to be used before the heavy drinking starts — a tall order on a night out.

Despite questions surrounding their effectiveness, Blowfish and other purported hangover treatments have sparked worries that people might intentionally drink too much.

“Anything you advertise as being effective is going to be seen in some areas as promoting the overindulgence,” said Collins. “There’s this perception that if you drink too much and have a hangover, you deserve it.”

 

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