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Can Anti-Hangover Pills Really Prevent The Aftermath of Heavy Drinking?

Can taking a pill or downing a concoction before a night of binge-drinking keep you from waking up with a hangover?

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What if you could feel just as good the morning after a night of heavy drinking as the evening before?

There are several products in the market from pills to potions that promise you just that - all the fun of drinking alcohol without any of the nasty aftermath aka the dreaded hangover.

Are the claims made by these products too good to be true, or do they really work?

FIT speaks to experts to find out.

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Do Anti-Hangover Elixirs Work?

Unlike other hangover remedies, these supplements are meant to be taken preemptively to prevent symptoms of a hangover the next morning.

Typically, these treatments claim to prevent the accumulation of acetaldehyde (a toxic metabolite of alcohol) in the liver, in turn preventing hangovers.

Unfortunately, "there are no drugs officially approved for treating hangovers," Dr Sarthak Malik, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, tells FIT.

He adds,

"None of these products have been approved by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) in India or even the Food and Drug Administration in the United States."

Moreover, there hasn't been any peer-reviewed clinical study proving their efficacy either.

Evidence or not, many swear by these supplements to soften the blow of heavy drinking. Others have devised their own home-made preventive treatments.

"Many people also take home remedies like concoctions made of ginseng, lime, and avocado to prevent hangovers, but it's all anecdotal," says Dr Harsh Kapoor, Chairman, Institute of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Metro Hospital, Noida.

"This could also be a placebo effect," adds Dr Malik.

While most of these anti-hangover supplements are safe to take, some can be dangerous.

'Avoid Taking Charcoal'

Activated charcoal tablets are also popularly thought to help prevent hangovers. However, according to the experts that FIT spoke to, they are "a big no-no."

Taking charcoal with alcohol could do more harm than good. Contrary to popular belief, activated charcoal doesn't 'absorb alcohol'.

In fact, Dr Kapoor explains,

"If taken before or along with alcohol, it prevents the alcohol from being absorbed, so you don't feel the high and may end up drinking even more."

Moreover, it can also worsen nausea and vomiting, making you feel sicker in the morning.

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What Does Help, Then?

To understand what can truly help counter the symptoms of hangover, here's a quick run-through of why you get a hangover in the first place.

"While accumulation of acetaldehyde in the liver can contribute to some symptoms of hangover there are other factors at play here too."
Dr Harsh Kapoor, Chairman, Institute of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Metro Hospital, Noida

"Whenever alcohol is consumed, it acts as a central nervous system depressant. It depresses the nerves in the brain. Hangovers actually occur when the alcohol level dips in your bloodstream and its effects wear off," explains Dr Kapoor.

All this causes the familiar nasty symptoms you associate with a hangover – headache, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, and irritability.

Some popular post-hangover remedies that do relieve hangovers include ibuprofen, aspirin, and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

"These drugs do help with headaches, migraines, and muscle pain that people tend to get after a night of heavy drinking," says Dr Kapoor.

But there are some downsides to these as well. “These drugs are very hard on the stomach. They can cause a lot of gastritis, ulcers, and other issues.

When you consume alcohol, you tend to drink less water and urinate more, which can leave you dehydrated, worsening your hangover. Which is why, taking electrolyte-based drinks the next morning or before going to bed after a night of heavy drinking can help ease the symptoms. Some even go as far as to get IV drips for quicker relief.

However, according to Dr Malik, "taking plenty of fluids, coconut water, or lime water with salt and sugar will work just as well."

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The Best Way to Prevent Hangovers...

...is to not drink at all. Not the answer you want to hear, but it is what all experts will tell you.

According to Dr Malik, "No amount of alcohol is considered safe for the body according to the World Health Organization."

Even if these anti-hangover products (as well as other remedies) do help prevent symptoms of hangover the next morning, "they don't help counter the long-term damage to the liver," he adds.

But, if you must, drink responsibly.

"You must understand how much you can drink. On average if you take 3-4 drinks spread over the week, I think you should be okay."
Dr Harsh Kapoor, Chairman, Institute of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Metro Hospital, Noida

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Hangover 

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