As you get ready to celebrate the New Year, you’ve likely come across articles about different food ‘cures’ that can prevent or reduce alcohol hangovers. Aside from anecdotic ‘evidence’ that greasy foods or burn toast are remedies for hangover symptoms, is there scientific evidence that certain foods to effectively prevent or treat hangovers?
Different media outlets have recently picked up a press release about a 2009 study (open access) evaluating the effectiveness of asparagus on easing of alcohol hangovers. What I found interesting about this story wasn’t just the findings (spoiler alert—asparagus is a potential candidate for treating hangovers).
After a little searching through some journal databases, I learned that our knowledge on the pathology of alcohol hangover is incomplete according to Penning et al. (2011). Lee et al. (2012), Vesster (2008) both point out that numerous hangover ‘cures’ are available yet few have been scientifically studied and none are significant in preventing or relieving hangovers.
In fact it seems to me a lot of ‘cures’ just treat specific symptoms rather than the cause of hangovers. We know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to feeling tired, headaches, weakness, nausea, thirst, concentration problems, and people experience a variety of symptoms and severity. So foods like bacon, eggs, and toast replenish blood sugar and/or electrolytes to rehydrate the body (Anderson et al. 2010).
So what did we learn from the asparagus study by Kim et al. (2009)? The researchers evaluated the effects of extracts from asparagus shoots and leaves on the physiological functions in human liver cells. They also evaluated if the extracts affect the concentration of the ADH and ALDH enzymes (key enzymes for alcohol metabolism) in rat liver cells.
It turns out the presence of the asparagus extracts does promote higher ADH and ALDH activities. The researchers conclude that asparagus extracts have strong antioxidant activity and is effective in stimulating the enzymes needed to metabolize ethanol. So asparagus is a potential candidate for protecting the liver since rapid and efficient removal of ethanol is important for detoxification (and easing hangover symptoms).
As far I can tell, there have not been any follow up studies with actual people to evaluate the effectiveness of consuming asparagus for preventing or treating alcohol hangovers. But Kim et al. (2009) also showed in their study that asparagus is a good nutritional source of inorganic minerals like calcium and potassium, and other organic nutrients like protein. And even more interestingly they found asparagus leaves contain several times the nutrients as the asparagus shoots does.
While I’m not suggesting you should drink until you get a hangover but if you end up with one, maybe it’s worth giving asparagus a shot? At the very least it’s a nutritious vegetable to start your new year with.
Anderson, K. (2010). Hangover, How to Change Your Drinking: A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol (pp.180-191).
Kim, B.-Y., Cui, Z.-G. Lee, S.-R. Kim, S.-J., Kang, H.-K., Lee, Y.-K. & Park, D.-B. (2009). Effects of Asparagus ofﬁcinalis Extracts on Liver Cell Toxicity and Ethanol Metabolism Journal of Food Science: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01263.x
Lee, H., Isse, T., Kawamoto, T., Woo, H., Kim, A., Park, J., & Yang, M. (2012). Effects and Action Mechanisms of Korean Pear ( ) on Alcohol Detoxification Phytotherapy Research, 26 (11), 1753-1758 DOI: 10.1002/ptr.4630
Verster, J. (2008). The alcohol hangover-a puzzling phenomenon Alcohol and Alcoholism, 43 (2), 124-126 DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agm163
Penning, R. (2011). Caffeinated Drinks, Alcohol Consumption, and Hangover Severity The Open Neuropsychopharmacology Journal, 4 (1), 36-39 DOI: 10.2174/1876523801104010036
B.-Y. KIM, Z.-G. CUI, S.-R. LEE, S.-J. KIM, H.-K. KANG, Y.-K. LEE, & D.-B. PARK (2009). Effects of Asparagus ofﬁcinalis Extracts on Liver Cell Toxicity and Ethanol Metabolism JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE : 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01263.x