The Healthy Skeptic: Hangover remedies

A grinding headache, an upset stomach, a sudden desire to turn down the volume on the entire world — a hangover is no way to start a new year.

Of course, there’s one foolproof way to avoid a hangover: Go easy on the alcohol. But if your New Year’s Eve plans call for something other than sobriety and restraint, you may be looking for ways to escape the post-party pain.

Folklore is full of hangover remedies, including pickle juice, raw eggs and the ever-popular (but ultimately unhelpful) hair of the dog. And yet the misery continues.

If you’re ready for a different approach, you might be interested in over-the-counter hangover remedies such as Hangover Formula. This supplement blasts hangovers with megadoses of vitamins, including 20,000% of the daily value of thiamin, 1,500% of the DV of vitamin B6, 500% of the DV of vitamin B12 and nearly 1,700% of the DV of vitamin C. Other ingredients include magnesium, manganese and silymarin, a compound found in milk thistle seeds that has a reputation for protecting the liver. Users are instructed to take three tablets when they’re done drinking. If they feel hung over in the morning, they are told to take three more.


Hangover Formula, manufactured by Source Naturals of Scotts Valley, Calif., is sold at many health food stores. A bottle of 60 tablets — enough for 10 stubborn hangovers at the recommended dose — costs about $20.

Blowfish for Hangovers is a new product from New York City-based Rally Labs that combines two old-school classics for hangover relief. Each tablet contains 500 milligrams of aspirin (what you’d get from a typical extra-strength tablet) and 60 mg of caffeine (about as much as in half a cup of strong coffee). The tablets — which dissolve in water like Alka-Seltzer — also contain sodium bicarbonate, an antacid.

Users are instructed to take two tablets fully dissolved in 16 ounces of water in the morning. According to the label, the product is safe for adults and children ages 12 and up, although one hopes that preteens aren’t regular users. The company is planning a national launch early next year, but for now it’s sold in only a few New York City-area drugstores. For those really planning ahead, it can also be purchased online at the company website, where a box of 12 tablets costs about $12.

The claims


The website for Hangover Formula says that the product is “specially designed to replenish nutrients that may be lost due to excessive alcohol consumption.” Susan Beck, the chief science officer for Source Naturals, notes that the product has been around since 1989 and that “consumers are pleased with the results.”

The Blowfish for Hangovers website says the product relieves “the major symptoms associated with a hangover — pain and fatigue.” The site also says that, unlike vitamins and other supplements, Blowfish is “recognized by the FDA as effective.”

Brenna Haysom, president and chief executive of Rally Labs, says the antacid in Blowfish helps calm and protect the stomach. “That’s why it’s better than just taking aspirin with a cup of coffee,” she says. She also notes that the directions call for 16 ounces of water, a bonus for anyone feeling dehydrated after a hard night. She says Blowfish can give hungover people energy and pain relief, although it probably won’t do much for feelings of depression or regret.

The bottom line

Hangovers have been around for thousands of years, but scientists still haven’t figured out the basic biology behind the affliction, says Joris Verster, an assistant professor of psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Verster is one of the world’s most active researchers in the field of hangovers.

According to Verster, nobody really knows why people who feel great while actually drinking alcohol fall into such a sorry state long after the alcohol has left their system. Dehydration may play a small role, he adds, but the process seems to involve a complicated mix of inflammatory compounds released by the immune system.

More to the point, he says, of all of the products marketed for hangover relief, “no hangover cure is proven to be effective.”

Verster says there’s no reason to think that the megadoses of vitamins in Hangover Formula or similar products would either prevent or treat hangovers. In a review of hangover treatments published last year in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews, Verster and a colleague noted that intoxicated participants in one study in the early 1970s said they felt less impaired after taking large doses of vitamin C and vitamin B6. But, according to the report, vitamins have never been shown to help anyone feel better after a hard night of drinking.


While many people do try to recover with the help of aspirin and caffeine, Verster says that the combination has never been put to the scientific test. In his view, the Blowfish site is misleading. While both caffeine and aspirin have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for pain relief, the agency has never endorsed Blowfish for hangover relief or anything else.

FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess says that, contrary to the claim on the Blowfish website, the agency has never ruled that the product is effective for hangover relief. In fact, the agency has proposed that products containing caffeine and antacids should generally not be considered safe and effective. According to Burgess, the FDA has yet to make a final decision on how to handle over-the-counter products that claim to treat hangovers.

Haysom responds that the Blowfish claim refers only to aspirin and caffeine, two ingredients that the FDA actually does consider to be effective for headaches. However, she says that she takes the FDA’s concerns seriously. “I wasn’t trying to be misleading,” she says. “We should probably change the website.”

Dan Levy, a headache expert at Harvard Medical School in Boston, says that Blowfish might be somewhat helpful for mild hangover headaches. But he doesn’t see how large doses of vitamins found in Hangover Formula could do anything for headaches or any other hangover symptom. (Like Verster, Levy is a member of Alcohol Hangover Research Group, an international collaboration of researchers.)

Levy says researchers shouldn’t give up looking for a hangover cure. If one were ever found, heavy drinkers would be less likely to try the hair of the dog, which is the last thing their body needs.

And he doesn’t worry that people would drink more if hangovers disappeared from the world. In his view, people drink what they want to drink without much thought to the consequences. “Hangovers are no deterrent,” he says.

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