Prickly Pears for Hangover
A prickly pear fruit (Opuntia ficus indica) extract may reduce alcohol hangover symptoms, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine (2004;164:1334–40).
An alcohol hangover is a constellation of unpleasant symptoms that occurs 8 to 16 hours after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Characterized by headaches, tremors, nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, soreness, weakness, dizziness, and loss of appetite, hangover also causes impaired vision, cognitive function, and spatial skills. Symptoms may be related to dehydration, hormonal changes induced by alcohol, direct toxic effects of alcohol, and inflammation caused by metabolizing alcohol or by impurities in the beverages. Poor work performance and absenteeism due to hangover result in huge economic losses. In addition, people who have frequent hangovers have an increased risk of suffering a fatal heart attack.
The prickly pear fruit increases levels of substances known to protect the body during stressful situations (similar to that of the alcohol hangover) and it also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving activities. Based on these properties, the new study evaluated the effect of an extract from the prickly pear fruit for the treatment of hangover symptoms. Fifty-five healthy people aged 21 to 35 years were randomly assigned to receive either (1) 1,600 IU of prickly pear extract or (2) a placebo five hours before drinking alcohol. Participants ate a standard meal, followed by four hours of drinking in a controlled social setting in which they drank an amount of alcohol shown to safely produce hangover symptoms. Blood alcohol levels were assessed at the end of the evening. The next morning, hangover symptoms were evaluated, blood alcohol levels were measured again, and blood samples were taken to measure the amount of inflammation in the body. After a two-week period, the study was repeated with the treatment groups reversed. The participants drank the same type and amount of alcohol during the second phase of the study that they did during the first phase.
Compared with the placebo, the prickly pear extract produced significant improvements in nausea, dry mouth, and appetite. Participants with the highest blood alcohol concentrations had the greatest symptom reduction from the prickly pear extract. The risk of suffering a severe hangover was 50% less with prickly pear extract than with placebo. Inflammation measures in the body increased by 50% in people taking placebo, but did not increase in people taking the prickly pear extract. This suggests that much of the benefit of the prickly pear extract was due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
This is the first study to investigate markers of inflammation in the body during an alcohol hangover. An extract from the prickly pear fruit appears to reduce inflammation in the body, leading to decreased hangover symptoms. While there is no evidence that alleviating hangover symptoms leads to increased alcohol consumption, it would be inadvisable to use this remedy to enable excessive drinking as that would put drinkers at risk for other health conditions.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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