March 13, 2024/Digestive

Hangover Pills Aren’t Worth the Hype

Misleading claims, lack of scientific evidence and the risk of over-doing it are all concerns

Female and male waking up with hangovers in aftermath of a party

Sure, the idea of hangover pills is inviting. Who doesn’t want a promise of no fatigue, headaches or stomach issues the morning after drinking alcohol?

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From innovative to the supposed power of plain ol’ coffee, many have searched far and wide for the perfect “hangover cure.” Now, there are pills on the market that claim to stop your hangover before it even hits.

But before we get too excited, let’s find out if hangover pills have enough of a leg to stand on. Registered dietitian Devon Peart, RD, MHSc, explains what we know about hangover pills and how they claim to work.

What are hangover pills?

Hangover pills, also known as “hangover cures,” claim to alleviate or prevent the symptoms associated with a hangover. If you consume alcohol, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced that lousy feeling from drinking the night before. While the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person, it’s common for many of us to experience it.

Some common symptoms of hangover include:

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dehydration.
  • Dizziness.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound.
  • General discomfort.

Enter Myrkl — one of the more popular supplement companies that’s claiming not just to relieve your hangover, but also to prevent it completely. It’s not the only brand out there, but it may be the one you’ve heard about. Other similar brands have popped up promising hangover relief (either before or after a night of drinking), including H-Proof, ZBiotics and DHM Detox, among others.

But the concern over these products is the same, starting with their ingredients. Take Myrkl, for example. Through their formulation called AB001, the supplement claims to be able to break down alcohol in your gut before it hits your liver. This specific supplement contains probiotic bacteria, the amino acid L-cysteine and vitamin B12, and it claims that it can break down and metabolize alcohol before it reaches your liver.

Essentially, the idea is that if you take two pills before drinking, it’ll help you feel more refreshed in the morning and prevent or reduce hangover symptoms.

The ingredients used in this pill are technically approved as safe by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But other brands use ingredients that haven’t been approved.

Do they work?

The jury is still out on whether these hangover pills actually have the effect they claim to have.

A small 2022 study examined the effects of the Myrkl supplement and found that there were no effects on cognitive function after alcohol consumption. However, the study also observed that after a week of people taking the supplement, there was significantly less alcohol absorption into their bodies.

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But according to Peart, this study still leaves much to be desired in terms of efficacy. This is mainly because the study was small, and only had participants that were caucasian and assigned male at birth.

While some of the ingredients in these pills do have health benefits, it doesn’t mean they work as a hangover cure.

“To be honest, I’m pretty skeptical of this,” states Peart. “There is something to it. The probiotics, for example, can start to break down alcohol in the digestive tract. But it won’t fully metabolize it — not even close. That’s because most of the alcohol we drink (90%) is metabolized in the liver, not the gut. So, that’s of minimal benefit.”

Peart also points out that all the hangover symptoms you know and hate — fatigue, nausea, etc. — are mainly a result of the alcohol upsetting your stomach.

“Makers of hangover pills claim that probiotics help counter these effects by improving gut flora, and that the antioxidant effects of probiotics can help reduce oxidative stress associated with alcohol,” she explains. “But the effects of probiotics don’t happen overnight, and would not significantly impact the stomach upset associated with too much alcohol.”

It’s also worth noting that the FDA released a statement in 2020 warning different hangover pill companies that were illegally selling unapproved pills for curing hangovers. One company, for instance, was claiming that they can cure hangovers through IV therapy, while another marketed that their pills can metabolize alcohol.

“Consumers may get the false impression that using these products can prevent or mitigate health problems caused by excessive drinking,” said Steven Tave, director of the FDA's Office of Dietary Supplement Programs, in a statement. “Dietary supplements are not a substitute for responsibly limiting one’s alcohol consumption.”

Is there harm in taking them?

It’s always important to talk to a healthcare provider before taking any new supplements. After all, there are a lot of brands marketing hangover pills and each one can have different formulas.

In the case of Myrkl, you should be informed of the appropriate dosage of ingredients like vitamin B12 and L-cysteine. H-Proof, which is another popular hangover pill brand, includes magnesium and folate, while DHM Detox has ingredients like milk thistle and prickly pear.

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Again, you should always talk to a healthcare provider before starting any kind of supplement or medication, as many of these have a combination of substances that your body may not be used to.

While there isn’t sufficient evidence that hangover pills prevent a hangover before it hits, Peart cautions that even if they do, taking something to prevent a hangover may not be as good of an idea as you might think.

This is because the reaction your body has after a night of too much drinking is its way of sending you a message. If you start using hangover pills as a “get out of jail free” card, it may lead to you overdoing it with drinking — and not listening to your body’s limits.

As a refresher, the general U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have outlined their 2020-2025 dietary guidelines, which state that adults of drinking age should stick to no more than two drinks a day. More recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a statement that even alcohol in moderation is considered unhealthy.

Peart reiterates that something like a hangover pill may be doing more harm than good in terms of how people develop their drinking habits.

“If you believe you’re able to take away a hangover with a pill, then I think you’re removing some of the disincentives for drinking too much, which are ultimately protecting your health,” she adds. In turn, this can cause someone to drink more than their body can handle because they feel like they can just wipe away the symptoms.

Hangover pills or not, consuming alcohol in excess amounts raises your risk of negative health outcomes associated with alcohol. Peart reminds us that our “brain, heart, cholesterol and liver are still being affected, whether or not you get a hangover.”

“The potential of a hangover is what leads a lot of us, especially as we get older, to moderate how much we drink. And I think that's a good thing,” she adds. “A hangover is, in some respect, your body’s natural mechanism for limiting behavior. So, I don't think it’s a good idea to mask that.”

Tips on preventing a hangover

Overall, the best tips for preventing a hangover are probably some you’ve already heard, but let’s go over them anyway. Even though a magic pill may not be able to take away your symptoms, there are other ways to take care of your body when consuming alcohol.

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Here are some tips on how to avoid a hangover the next morning:

  • Pace yourself when drinking.
  • Drink plenty of water. Drinking water helps in two ways — it helps counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol and, more importantly, helps slow the pace of intake of alcohol. Peart recommends a 1:1 ratio — a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having food in your stomach slows the rate at which alcohol reaches your small intestine and increases the rate at which alcohol is eliminated by your bloodstream.

The bottom line

The final verdict on the efficacy of hangover pills? “The evidence is not there,” Peart concludes. “They may have health benefits, but they are not likely to prevent, or cure, your hangover. Only drinking less can do that.”

As far as the process of clearing the alcohol from your system — that’s a matter of time (you can’t speed it up, not even with coffee!).

In terms of whether or not you should try and take them, it’s up to you. While there are supplements available that use ingredients deemed safe, it’s important to understand how taking them may affect your drinking habits. 

And, again, as there are a lot of different brands out there, it’s always a good idea to talk to your provider about what supplements you’re planning on taking and what their ingredients are.

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