Historians may not know for sure, but I’d wager that the hangover has vexed humanity since the morning after alcohol was first discovered. In the millennia since, all manners of homemade, homeopathic, and even (pseudo)scientific remedies for the hangover’s symptoms have emerged. At this point, hangover cures are something of a cottage industry, involving everything from electrolyte-laden drinks to even IV transfusions.
Now, though, a Finnish study of 19 male volunteers claims to have cracked the code on what it takes to stave off symptoms of a hangover. Apparently, the secret to feeling human the day after a big night out (or, more recently, a big night in) lies with a little amino acid called L-cysteine, which other studies have shown can help to decrease levels of acetaldehyde, an organic chemical compound associated with hangovers.
In the University of Helsinki and University of Eastern Finland joint study, the participating Finns drank 1.5 grams of alcohol for kilogram of body weight, and then were given a tablet containing either a placebo or the L-cysteine. At a lower dose of 600 milligrams, the L-cysteine was observed to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, the mental hallmarks of a hangover. At twice that dose (1200 milligrams), physical components of the hangover like nausea and headaches were reduced as well.
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There are reasons to take these findings with enough grains of salt to line the rim of a margarita, however. First and foremost, the study was at least partially underwritten by Catapult Cat Oy, a Finnish company that’s already selling L-cysteine tablets. The small sample size was affected by the fact that some participants had to be left out because they couldn’t drink enough alcohol, and other heavy drinkers didn’t report any hangover symptoms at all.
So does this mean hangovers are now a relic of the past? Probably not. The scientific community will need a lot more data before it can officially declare L-cysteine anything remotely resembling an “approved” hangover cure. For now, the only reliable hangover cure drinkers around the world can agree is the same thing it’s always been: time.
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