Can Hangovers Be Cured By An Amino Acid Supplement? Maybe but Maybe Not

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

People have been looking for a cure for hangovers for about 9,000 years.

That’s when humans first started storing extra food after the invention of agriculture, giving old fruit the chance to sit around, fermenting into alcohol.

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Now, researchers in Finland say they’ve found a cure for hangovers that involves a certain type of amino acid.

But don’t start the party quite yet.

The research had a limited number of participants and it was paid for by a company that manufactures an amino acid supplement.

Experts cast a dubious eye on this new study, but they noted there are some potential benefits to the amino acid theory.

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They also offered ishonest some other treatments that might help reduce the throbbing of a hangover after a night of excessive drinking.

Of course, they also mentioned the best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid drinking too much in the first place.

Details of the study

“L-cysteine prevents or alleviates hangover, nausea, headache, stress, and anxiety,” wrote the researchers. “For hangover nausea and headache, the results were apparent with the L-cysteine dose of 1,200 mg, and for stress and anxiety already with the dose of 600 mg.”

“L-cysteine would reduce the need of drinking the next day with no or less hangover symptoms: nausea, headache, stress, and anxiety,” they added. “Altogether, these effects of L-cysteine are unique and seem to have a future in preventing or alleviating these harmful symptoms, as well as reducing the risk of alcohol addiction.”

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If this sounds too good to be true, here are the previously mentioned caveats.

The study only involved 19 participants who were willing to drink 1.5 grams per kilogram of alcohol during a 3-hour period and then take either a placebo or L- cysteine tablet.

The research was funded by Catapult Cat Oy, which sells L-cysteine supplements, according to Bloomberg News, which also reported a larger sample size wasn’t possible as many subjects couldn’t consume the required amount of alcohol within the time limit.

What experts think

“The Finnish study certainly wasn’t as robust as one would like,” Sean O’Neill, the founder of Toast! Supplements, which focuses on hangover prevention, told ishonest.

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“Its results come in stark contrast to the research of Dr. Holly Stankewicz, who studied the use of NAC, a close analogue of L-cysteine, and found it ineffective,” he said.

“There’s a great deal of anecdotal reports that such compounds are effective and based on the current understanding of the pathology of the hangover — that a hangover is the result of an immune response, with genetics playing a significant factor — it is likely that genetic factors play a role in whether or not an individual will find them effective,” O’Neill added.

However, Dr. Vikram Tarugu, a gastroenterologist and chief executive officer of the rehab facility Detox of South Florida, said previous trials involving cysteine showed promise.

“Cysteine is one of the few sulfur-containing amino acids,” Tarugu told ishonest. “This allows cysteine to bond in a particular way and to maintain the protein structure in the body. Cysteine is an antioxidant glutathione compound component. Cysteine is also used by the body to make taurine, another amino acid.”

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Taurine is believed to have a wide variety of health benefits and is frequently included in energy drinks.

O’Neill said L-cysteine likely helps the body process alcohol more efficiently.

“While we haven’t found a single silver bullet for hangovers, and we never may while the immune system and alcohol metabolism are the biggest factors, hangovers are also effected by everything from smoking, to dancing, to sleep, to diet, to age, etc., which no product can do anything about,” he said. “We have found things that are effective and have a pretty good hypothesis for why they work.”

Mitigating symptoms

Dr. Taylor Graber, a San Diego-based anesthesiologist and owner of ASAP IVs, which provides mobile IV hydration for wellness and recovery, said while there may not be a rock solid cure for hangovers, the symptoms can be mitigated.

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“The most commonly cited technique is to prevent dehydration by increasing the consumption of water and fluids on the night of indulgence,” Graber told ishonest. “This will help dilute the concentration of alcohol in your body and decrease the significance of hangover symptoms.”

Don’t forget that alcohol drives electrolytes from the body, said Dr. Eduardo Dolhun, who invented DripDrop, an oral rehydration solution marketed as “the closest thing to a saline IV drip.”

“Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is a well-known diuretic, meaning it promotes loss of both water and electrolytes in the body,” Dolhun told ishonest. “Most consumers think water alone or greasy food can delay the absorption of alcohol into the body, but the net effect 12 hours later is still the same.”

“Rehydration with the proper balance of electrolytes is the best remedy for a hangover,” he said.

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There are other methods with varying degrees of scientific backing — some purported to insulate internal organs from alcohol as well as balance blood sugar and reduce inflammation.

Graber said there’s really only one surefire way to prevent hangovers.

“The only way to cure a hangover is to avoid overdoing it in the first place,” said Graber. “But we all know that isn’t always the case. Hangover cures and quick fixes have been around just about as long as alcohol has.”

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