June 28, 2004 -- Mixing prickly pear cactus with margaritas may sound like the happy hour offerings at a Mexican restaurant, but a new study suggests it may actually temper the effects of a tequila-induced hangover.
Researchers found that taking a dietary supplement containing extracts of a type of prickly pear fruit before drinking alcohol may reduce some common hangover symptoms, such as nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite.
Hangovers affect more than three-fourths of the people who drink alcohol at least once per year, and 15% experience the condition on a monthly basis, according to researchers.
Researchers say their findings suggest that the severity of alcohol-related hangovers may be related to inflammation caused by impurities in alcoholic beverages and byproducts of alcohol metabolism. The prickly pear extract may help alleviate these effects by reducing that inflammatory response in the body.
Plant Extract May Curb Hangovers
In the study, researchers compared the effects of giving 55 healthy young men a dose of the prickly pear extract or a placebo five hours before drinking alcohol.
Each of the men ate dinner four hours before the drinking began and then selected one of the following types of alcohol to drink for the next four hours: vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, scotch, or tequila.
The participants were allowed to drink up to 1.75 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight over four hours, which is equivalent to what an average drinker would consume on a heavy night of drinking (5-10 drinks). This amount of alcohol has also been associated with hangover symptoms in previous studies.
The next morning, the men had their vital signs measured, and the severity of nine major hangover symptoms was evaluated (nausea, headache, loss of appetite, dry mouth, soreness, weakness, muscle tremors, diarrhea, and dizziness).
The study showed that three of the nine symptoms of hangover -- nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite -- were significantly reduced when the men took the dietary supplement. The average score for overall well-being among the men was also higher after taking the supplement compared with the placebo (2.75 vs. 3.10 on a scale from zero to six, with six being the worst).
In addition, researchers found the levels of a protein that indicates inflammation, known as C-reactive protein, were strongly associated with hangover severity, and levels of this protein were 40% higher in those who took the placebo compared with the prickly pear extract.
"Whereas the best prevention for the hangover would obviously be abstinence from alcohol, the impairment associated with the alcohol is well documented and a reasonable goal would be to attenuate the effects of a hangover," write researcher Jeff Wiese, MD, of Tulane University in New Orleans, and colleagues in the June 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Based on this study, researchers say the beneficial effects of prickly pear extract on reducing hangover severity merit further investigation.