What’s the best hangover cure?
Not drinking in the first place.
What’s the second-best hangover cure?
Well, you may have some options.
When I started researching the impact of alcohol on longevity, I didn’t expect any of my findings to be good, and so I was surprised when it seemed like the published science-supported moderate alcohol intake (about 0.5-1 drink per day) for increasing lifespan.
But, of course, there may be some special occasions when even spanners go above the recommended healthy dose of alcohol intake.
As for me, I’m the type of person who will probably have a few times a year when I drink more alcohol than is likely good for me. Given that, I wanted to know how to minimize the possible damage when I do.
It turns out there’s a lot of research around compounds and practices that could ease, or even prevent, some of the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
But before we get into those, first, we need to understand how alcohol damages the body.
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How alcohol damages the body
Alcohol or, technically, ethanol, enters the body through the stomach and the small intestine (about 20% and 80%, respectively). Normally the liver tries to detoxify alcohol by converting it first to acetaldehyde (still highly toxic) then to acetic acid which the body can handle quite easily (by turning it into water and CO2 and excreting it).
However, the liver can only really handle about one dose of alcohol (equivalent to a shot) per hour; any more than that and you’re going to get un-detoxified alcohol passing through the liver (and lots of acetaldehyde sticking around and inflaming the liver) and into the small intestine, where it dissolves into the blood.
Once in the blood, alcohol distributes to the rest of the body and gets absorbed into just about every type of tissue.
One of the primary places alcohol causes damage is the brain, where it increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA and reduces the activity of glutamine. The interference with these two neurotransmitters can prevent new brain cells from forming. Alcohol can also deplete the brain’s stores of thiamine (vitamin B1), leading to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which can damage and kill nerve and brain cells.
Another main part of the body that alcohol damages is the liver. When there is too much alcohol for the liver to detoxify, the liver produces an excess of acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance that can bind to liver tissues and cause inflammation, while also releasing lots of harmful reactive oxygen species (also known as free radicals; those things that antioxidants are supposed to counter and a major candidate for why we age). Alcohol itself can also generate reactive oxygen species in the liver when present in large enough quantities and, unfortunately, acetaldehyde decreases the liver’s natural antioxidant, glutathione.
Alcohol can also directly damage mucosal cells in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, which may be causal of the higher incidence of mouth, larynx, and esophageal cancers in alcoholics.
So how can we mitigate that damage?
A hangover cure: which supplements reduce alcohol toxicity?
Now for the stuff you’re actually here for: how to minimize the damaging effects of alcohol when you do decide to drink (too much of) it.
There are a ton of different compounds and supplements and natural remedies or other practices people recommend to prevent and cure hangovers or fix some of the harm from alcohol. Not all (or even most) have any scientific evidence they work. Since we’re interested here in minimizing alcohol’s negative impact on longevity, I’m only including remedies with actual research studies backing up their effectiveness.
That said, the collection of science-backed of hangover cure supplements is still a surprisingly big list.
It encompasses everything from well-known supplements like melatonin and vitamin C to obscure Asian roots. So to make things a bit more manageable, I ordered the list by the number of times the compound plus “alcohol” shows up in a PubMed search and cut out any with fewer than 2,000 hits. Not the most scientific method, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better one.
There is a ton of research on magnesium and alcohol intake. Alcoholics are significantly more magnesium deficient than non-alcoholics, and some of the brain blood vessel damage caused by alcohol may be because ethanol depletes the cells of magnesium and thus causes “rupture of postcapillary venules and focal hemorrhages.”
Luckily magnesium supplementation seems to help prevent or ameliorate a lot of these issues.
For instance, intravenous magnesium supplementation prior to alcohol ingestion in rats led researchers to conclude, “[O]ur results indicate that Mg may possess some unique cerebral vascular protective properties against the vasculotoxic effects of ethanol.”
According to a 2017 study, it could also prevent liver injury from chronic drinking: “MgIG may play a critical role in protecting against chronic plus binge ethanol feeding-induced liver injury by regulating neutrophil activity and hepatic oxidative stress.”
Magnesium (and zinc) could also help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
And if you’re a dude, you may want to take some to help prevent alcohol-induced oxidative injury to your testicles and associated reduction of sperm count.
Again, quite a bit of research here on zinc and alcohol. Zinc deficiency is also associated with alcohol intake, and having a low dietary zinc intake also appears to make alcoholic liver injuries worse.
The good news is zinc supplementation may also prevent a lot of these negative side effects.
Zinc given to alcoholic mice helped prevent cell death in the liver, and maintained their cellular repair machinery better.
Zinc sulfate given to rats helped protect against “ethanol-induced acute gastric damage” and may act as a useful antioxidant. It also may help protect the tongue from the oxidative damage of alcohol as it passes through on the way to the stomach.
Zinc L-carnosine may protect mucosal tissues like those in the intestines from alcohol damage.
And zinc may even help prevent alcoholic liver disease.
Alcohol appears to target glycine receptors in the brain, lowering glycine levels. Glycine is an “inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter,” and lowered levels may explain some of the reason for the development of alcohol dependence.
In rats given glycine along with ethanol, “Hepatic steatosis and necrosis also were reduced significantly by glycine. Glycine dramatically increased the first-pass elimination of ethanol in vivo but had no effect on alcohol metabolism in the perfused liver.” Basically, liver damage was reduced, and more alcohol was detoxified without entering the bloodstream when taken with glycine.
Even after ingesting alcohol, oral administration of glycine in rats helped reduce “cholesterol, phospholipids, free fatty acids and triglycerides in the circulation, liver and brain, which was associated with a reversal of steatosis in the liver and edema in the brain.” Similarly, glycine reduced liver inflammation and brain edema in alcohol-fed rats when taken with alcohol.
It also “accelerates recovery from alcohol-induced liver injury” in male rats, even when taken after drinking.
For instance, in male rats, vitamin C prevented alcohol-induced blood vessel dysfunction by preventing “the increase on [reactive oxygen species] generation and the decrease in the cytosolic [nitric oxide] content induced by ethanol.”
In alcoholic rats, it may protect “against oxidative damage resulting from chronic alcohol ingestion” in the stomach.
Taking vitamin C with alcohol helped elevate the liver’s natural antioxidant, glutathione, and reversed liver damage caused by alcohol in male guinea pigs.
Human brain cells supplemented with vitamin C were observed to be more resistant to alcohol toxicity.
Another strong antioxidant that’s been studied regarding alcohol damage is vitamin E.
A study on male mice concluded, “This study supports the fact that alcohol promoted oxidative stress and is the major cause of alcohol toxicity in liver. Vitamin E can mitigate the toxic effects of alcohol and can be suitably used as a potential therapeutic agent for alcohol-induced oxidative damage in liver.”
In male rats, vitamin E can reduce “oxidative and inflammatory stress” in the small intestine caused by alcohol.
And combined with vitamin C and selenium, it seems to protect against alcohol-caused damage to the mucosal tissues of the intestines.
Green and white tea seem to be generally healthy and longevity-promoting (our article on the best tea for longevity found a loose-leaf white peony or gyokuro green tea to have the highest healthy polyphenol contents). In terms of alcohol, a lot of the elements of green and white tea, including EGCG, l-theanine, and other flavonoids, appear to have a protective effect.
For example, in female rats, a green tea extract lowered levels of oxidative stress and fat creation in the liver after high alcohol intake.
Again in rats, “The ingestion of green tea with ethanol partially prevented these aging and/or ethanol-induced changes [in the liver]. Long-term drinking of green tea partially prevents the changes in the structure and function of the cell membrane caused by chronic ethanol intoxication.”
Green tea extract also may protect “the heart and the liver from binge ethanol induced injury through attenuating oxidative stress” in rats.
White tea appears to “effectively prevent alcoholic gastric injury” in mice.
A component of white and green tea, l-theanine, “prevented ethanol-induced liver injury through enhancing hepatocyte antioxidant abilities” both in cell cultures and in mice. Another component, EGCG, seems to do similarly for rats.
As mentioned above, alcohol tends to severely deplete vitamin B levels, especially in the brain. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency can cause all sorts of negative neurological issues, including cell death, so a good amount of research has been done on vitamin B supplementation and alcohol.
Thiamine supplementation seems to address and reverse a lot of issues related to alcohol intake, particularly neurological ones.
In rats who’d drunk alcohol for 90 days, 30 days of thiamine supplementation reversed DNA damage, lowered inflammation, and reduced neuronal damage compared to controls.
According to a 2015 study, “thiamine pyrophosphate may have a protective effect against liver damage caused by alcohol toxicity.”
Thiamine pyrophosphate, taken concomitantly with alcohol in rats, prevented ethanol-induced optic nerve damage.
Three days of intravenous therapy with thiamine followed by 3-6 months of oral supplementation improved “left ventricular dysfunction in patients with alcoholic cardiomyopathy.”
Another B vitamin recommended for treating alcohol-induced brain disorders is B9/folate, which alcohol depletes. B9 deficiency can accelerate damage from alcohol, including “oxidative liver injury.”
Vitamin B6 supplementation seems to prevent “ethanol-induced hypertension in rats.”
A 2011 study on male rats found “combined treatment of folate and vitamin B12 can alleviate alcoholic liver injury.”
Niacin, or vitamin B3, supplementation also may have a whole host of protective effects against alcohol damage, including ameliorating alcohol-induced fatty liver in rats and possibly protecting the liver if taken before drinking.
Anecdotally, my wife and I have had good success with Bytox patches, which are basically a mega-dose of B-vitamins, applied directly to (and absorbed through) the skin about 30 minutes to an hour before drinking. They seem to prevent the splitting headaches and some of the brain fog I usually get with a bad hangover, so I’ve found them well-worth their relatively high cost of $3 each.
This ubiquitous energy drink ingredient actually has some pretty good scientific evidence showing it has a protective effect against alcohol.
For example, a 2009 study in male rats concluded that liver disease “caused by chronic alcohol consumption can be prevented and cured by administration of taurine.”
A 2019 study on mice suggested, “alcohol administration led to a significant influence on antioxidant system in the liver and kidney, but simultaneous intake of taurine, along with ethanol, partly attenuated the antioxidant changes in these organs.”
Taurine intake also helped reduce nutrient deficiencies caused by alcohol in male rats in another 2009 study.
A 2005 study of male rats found “Simultaneous administration of taurine along with alcohol attenuated the rise in lipid levels and normalized ATPase activities” in the liver and kidney, suggesting “a bioprotective effect of taurine in ethanol intoxication.”
That said, you need to be careful with your taurine dosage, as a 2013 study found “taurine at a dose of 2 g/kg saves about 50% of dying cerebellar neurons from ethanol-induced apoptosis in 7-day-old mice. However, a further increase in the taurine dose to ethanol-treated mice had a toxic and in some cases lethal effect.”
Remember how alcohol reduces the activity of glutamine in the brain?
Turns out supplementing with glutamine might help prevent some of the harmful effects of alcohol.
A 2016 study in mice found l-glutamine supplementation “ameliorates alcohol-induced gut and liver injury.”
A 2021 study on rats suggested glutamine supplementation can improve intestinal health and mitigate liver damage with chronic ethanol intake.
A 2019 study on rats concluded, “probiotic and glutamine treatments can potentially serve as therapies for the prevention and treatment of” alcoholic liver disease.
Also in rats, a 2011 study found “pretreatment with glutamine improved the plasma inflammatory responses induced by ethanol.”
It may also reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans.
Omega 3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA, which are present in large amounts in fish oil, seem to be protective of both the brain and the liver.
In binge-drinking rats, DHA both lowers brain inflammation and prevents brain cell death.
Omega 3 supplementation can “restore glutathione levels and prevent oxidative damage caused by prenatal ethanol exposure” in rats.
Again in rats, a 2020 study found, “fish oil replacement exerted ameliorative effects on ethanol-induced liver injuries in rats by acting through alterations in the microbiotic composition.”
Another 2020 study in alcohol-drinking rats replaced olive oil with fish oil in their diets and found the fish oil “exerted protective effects against ethanol-induced liver injury.”
A ton of other compounds and supplements have been explored as possible hangover cures and ways to prevent alcohol damage. Many have good science behind them, but I didn’t have time to explore them in-depth (maybe in a future follow-up article!). I’ve included what looked like the most promising to me here, along with the studies I could find in a quick search supporting their use for avoiding alcohol-induced injuries.
- Polyunsaturated Lecithin
- NAD+ boosters like NR and NMN
- NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
- SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine)
- AKG (Alpha-ketoglutarate)
- Silymarin/Milk Thistle
- Chlorogenic acid
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- Mulberry and dandelion extract
- Myrtle berries
I did notice many of these ingredients are present in Life Extension’s “Anti-Alcohol Complex” if you want to try taking them all in a single pill instead of buying everything separately.
Or you could just drink the traditional Chinese liquor Maotai, which is associated with lower levels of liver damage and cirrhosis than other types of alcoholic beverages, possibly due to the presence of protective antioxidants (Just kidding! Kind of.).
Any other favorite hangover cures?
Have you found anything to be effective in preventing alcohol damage or hangover when you overindulge that’s not on this list? Add your findings in the comments!
I’m the co-founder of Longevity Advice and have been passionate about radical life extension ever since I was a teenager. Formerly I was a content marketing director in the B2B software space. I’m also a sci-fi novelist, wargame rules writer, and enthusiast for cooking things in bacon fat. My sister once called me “King of the Nerds” and it’s a title I’ve been trying to live up to ever since.