Sadly, science has yet to deliver on a surefire cure for a head-pounding alcohol-induced hangover, but a recent analysis of past studies has found a sliver of hope. Scientists from King’s College London and South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust analyzed multiple studies of purported hangover treatments, some of which showed promise. Unfortunately, most of the studies did not meet high standards.
“Given the continuing speculation in the media as to which hangover remedies work or not, the question around the effectiveness of substances that claim to treat or prevent a hangover appears to be one with considerable public interest,” lead author Dr. Emmert Roberts said in a statement. “Our study has found that evidence on these hangover remedies is of very low quality and there is a need to provide more rigorous assessment.”
Scientific literature on the causes of hangovers and potential cures is lacking, which is why Dr. Roberts and his team wanted to collect and consolidate current evidence for hangover treatments and conduct a systematic review of the findings. Their review, published in the journal Addiction, collected data from 21 randomized trials conducted around the world. The studies analyzed data from a total of 386 participants ages 65 and younger. Tested hangover treatments included clove extract, red ginseng, Korean pear juice and 20 other remedies. All the studies included a placebo control group.
The results showed statistically significant reductions in overall hangover symptoms in subjects who took clove extract, tolfenamic acid (an anti-inflammatory painkiller used to treat migraines), pyritinol (an analog of vitamin B6), Hovenia dulcis fruit extract, L-cysteine (an amino acid), red ginseng and Korean pear juice. Subjects who took clove extract and tolfenamic acid had the highest reduction in symptoms, 23.5 percent and 34 percent, respectively, followed by pyritinol at 17.9 percent. The review states that these remedies warrant further research.
But Dr. Roberts and his team also found that the research had flaws. His study is the first review of hangover studies to use GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) methodology to assess the quality of evidence in each result. GRADE was launched in 2000 by a network of biostatisticians, public health scientists and others as a way of assessing the strength of health studies. Research findings are given a rating of high, moderate, low or very low quality based upon scores in five categories: risk of bias, inconsistency, indirectness, imprecision and other considerations. Dr. Roberts and his co-author Dr. Rachel Smith independently scored the quality of each study.
The hangover studies received a low quality score due to several factors: no two studies reported on the same intervention, no results have been independently replicated, imprecise measurements (i.e. differences in type of alcohol) and the fact that eight of the 21 studies were conducted exclusively with male participants.
The authors write that future studies should be more rigorous in their methods, for example, using more accurate scales to assess hangover symptoms. Studies should also include more women.
So even though several of the remedies showed evidence of helping, Dr. Roberts is hesitant to say a cure has been found. “For now, the surest way of preventing hangover symptoms is to abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation,” he said.
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