A prickly pear cactus extract might reduce the symptoms of a hangover, researchers said in a study released yesterday.
“We wouldn’t say that it prevents it totally, but it certainly lessens the severity of the hangover symptoms,” said Gerald Stefanko, a spokesman for PerfectEquation, the company that is marketing a dietary supplement made from the extract.
The extract, known as Tex-OE, is removed by a patented process from the skin of the prickly pear cactus fruit. It works by speeding up the start of the body’s existing response to stress.
Mr. Stefanko explained that the human body produces a protective and restorative mechanism called heat shock proteins, which “maintain the integrity of cells and tissues in the body.”
The level of these proteins typically takes three to four hours to elevate to a point where it can protect the cells from the damaging stress of alcohol, after much of the damage already has been done, Mr. Stefanko said. His company’s supplement, marketed as Hangover Prevention Formula, accelerates the synthesis of these proteins so that they are ready to work in 10 to 15 minutes.
The study on the extract, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, was conducted at Tulane University.
Researchers hosted a barbecue with free drinks for 55 graduate students. About half the students were given the supplement, and the rest received a placebo five hours before imbibing five to 10 drinks of gin, vodka, scotch, rum, bourbon or tequila. Researchers monitored their alcohol consumption and the severity of their hangovers the next morning.
“It was all very, very scientific,” Mr. Stefanko said.
Participants who had been given the supplement experienced less severe instances of nausea, dry mouth, appetite loss and other hangover symptoms. They also had less “C-reactive protein,” a protein produced by the liver that is thought to be involved in hangovers.
“We found hangover symptom severity to be moderately reduced by an extract of the prickly pear plant,” the authors of the study wrote.
Mr. Stefanko said it is “the first study … that is statistically significant at protecting against alcohol hangover and providing improved cognitive function.”
The hangover-preventing properties of the extract were discovered by accident, when the lead researcher in the Tulane study, Jeffrey Wiese, used it to prevent a condition associated with scuba diving and found that it could prevent hangovers as well.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the extract can help prevent such problems as sunburn and jet lag, although these have not been the subject of clinical studies. PerfectEquation also markets an anti-exhaustion product made from the extract.
Mr. Wiese had studied hangovers in the past. According to his 2000 study titled “The Alcohol Hangover,” $148 billion is lost annually in the workplace because of absenteeism and low productivity attributed to hangovers, and 29 percent of college students reported having missed class during the previous week while recovering from a hangover.
Mr. Stefanko thought it important to note that the supplement is not an excuse to drink to dangerous levels.
“We’re not saying to college students, go buy a bottle of vodka and … think you’re superperson because you can really hurt yourself if you go to extremes with alcohol. I mean, you can die from it.”
The best way to avoid a hangover, he said, is to drink in moderation or not at all.