May 8, 2015
Humans have been trying to find ways to prevent hangovers more or less since the day after they invented alcohol. While there are certain things you can do to help soften the after effects of the drink, we’ve yet to develop an effective hangover “cure” or prevention method. That’s why it’s all the more insulting that IntoTheGloss, which I’m told is usually a little smarter as far as these “cool girl” sites go, published this piece shilling for some hocus pocus bullshit called Liver X:
“Liver X is a natural enzyme made from milk thistle, which aids in liver detoxification. You can take them as a daily supplement or when your liver is compromised—like if you’re on certain medications, you’re really stressed out, or you know, drinking heavily. It’s sold like a vitamin, so I can’t point to any FDA-backed claims about how exactly it works, but I can tell you this: I take one every time I have a glass of wine (…or half the bottle) and when I do, I’ve never once felt hungover.”
Any readers with an IQ above 70 immediately grimaced at the word “detoxification,” and for good reason. But aside from that, I don’t have a problem with some girl believing in the power of the placebo effect and evangelizing her homeopathic nonsense to her friends. What makes it a problem is that it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what hangovers are and why they happen. Basically, if you wake up with a hangover, your liver is functioning as it should. Here, this handy video by the excellent AsapScience (partially) explains:
So, to recap, the known causes for a hangover are:
Acetaldehyde: This is what your liver enzymes break ethanol into, and then more enzymes along with something called glutathione turn it into acetate, which we pee out. The liver only has so much glutathione, though, so as you drink it struggles to produce more to keep up, which it usually can’t. That lets acetaldehyde into your blood, which makes you feel like shit. Can some spooky, unregulated pill full of sawdust and milk thistle somehow turn your liver into a glutathione powerhouse? Doubtful! N-acetyl-L-cysteine, the product’s most prevalent ingredient, is in fact used to replenish glutathione stores in cases of acetaminophen overdose. However, taking it orally requires super high doses, so high that they can cause nausea and vomiting. Odds are that if they don’t make you feel awful, there’s not nearly enough of that shit in these pills to have any meaningful effect.
Dehydration: As everyone knows, alcohol makes you piss a lot, which leads to dehydration. Being dehydrated, aside from depleting your body of all kinds of vitamins and nutrients, causes your brain to shrink and literally pull away from your skull. Ouch! That’s all fine and good, but alcohol’s dehydrating effects happen in the kidneys, not the liver. Liver X has some vitamins in it, but so do multivitamins. And, like, 5 Hour Energy, which lets you rage longer. Win-win.
Low Blood Sugar: Notice how you always want to eat when you’re drunk, and feel fuzzy and weak the next morning? That’s because alcohol causes the pancreas to secrete insulin, which suppresses blood sugar. The pancreas, not the liver. This shit isn’t going to help with that.
Poor Sleep: While there’s glorious satisfaction in pounding six shots of fireball and passing the fuck out, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. While alcohol can help induce sleep, it’s terrible for REM sleep, the kind that actually helps restore brain function. Because alcohol is a depressant, your nervous system goes into overdrive to keep you from falling into what’s basically a coma when you sleep while drunk. Anyone who hasn’t gotten enough sleep lately knows that when you’re tired, you may as well be hungover. A bullshit liver pill, you may notice, does fuck all to help with that.
So out of four major hangover causes, this “hangover cure” could only possibly help with one of them, and it’s unlikely it can even do that. If you want to spend $20+ on magic pills that make outsized claims because it makes you feel like you’re being proactive in your debauchery, that’s your prerogative. Me, I’d rather spend the money on a restorative brunch the next day, or more drinks. That’s, like, five more beers at happy hour prices.