A new anti-hangover supplement has just for sale United Kingdom. It is marketed by the Swedish firm Myrkl as “the pre-drinking pill that works”.
The pill is said to break down up to 70% alcohol after 60 minutes. This means that if someone drinks 50ml of 40% spirits, which contains 20ml of pure alcohol, as little as 6ml of alcohol will enter the bloodstream. It is the same as the person who drinks only 15 ml of alcohol.
This reduction in the amount of alcohol absorbed by the body is reflected in a reduction in the short-term effects of alcohol, such as euphoria and decreased anxiety.
The company that makes this supplement recommends taking two pills one to 12 hours before drinking alcohol.
The probiotic supplement contains two gut-friendly bacteria – Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans – produced from fermented rice bran. These bacteria naturally break down alcohol into water and carbon dioxide. An acid-resistant capsule protects bacteria from natural stomach acids so they can reach the intestine where most alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.
What the science says
The pill is for those who don’t want to have a hangover after drinking the night before. But can these pills really prevent hangovers?
A hangover is mainly due to dehydrating effects of alcohol, which can cause a headache. The direct effect of alcohol on the stomach can also cause stomach upset and nausea. If less alcohol is absorbed by the body, the chances of dehydration are lower. But since the pills only work after the alcohol has passed from the stomach to the intestine, they will not stop the effect of alcohol on the stomach.
Myrkl’s proof is based on a unique published research study. Twenty-four healthy young white adults were asked to take two Myrkl pills or dummy pills (placebo) every day for seven days. They were then given a small amount of alcohol (between 50 and 90 ml of alcohol) depending on their weight. Their blood alcohol levels were tested for the next two hours.
The researchers found that during the first 60 minutes, the amount of alcohol in the blood was 70% lower in those who received Myrkl compared to the dummy pill.
Although this study was well designed, including randomly assigning people to the Myrkl or dummy pill groups, several issues weaken the results. First, the researchers only reported results for 14 of the 24 people because ten had lower blood alcohol levels to begin with.
Second, the results varied from person to person, reducing the precision of the study. And third, the researchers tested seven days of treatment before a single alcoholic drink, but the company recommends just two pills one to 12 hours before drinking any amount.
The study also leaves many questions unanswered. Does the pill work in people who are not young, healthy and white? Does it work in people with bowel or liver disease? Are there differences in the effect of the pill between men and women? What happens when food and alcohol are taken together? Do drugs affect the action of pills?
We already know that the good intestinal bacteria are modified by long-term illnesses and lifestyle (smoking, regular alcohol consumption and diet). We also know that alcohol is absorbed differently depending on weight, sex, physical activity and food consumption. These factors can reduce or increase the effect of the good bacteria in Myrkl pills.
Probiotics are safe and widely available. They can be purchased as yogurts, drinks, or pills at many supermarkets and health food stores. The two bacteria in Myrkl pills are also likely to be safe for most people. Yet probiotics given to sick people can upset the natural balance of healthy gut bacteria, causing intestinal infection or symptoms.
A pill before drinking to prevent a hangover the next day would be beneficial for some people. However, with all the unanswered questions surrounding Myrkl, the best cure for a hangover is to drink less alcohol the night before.