Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Vitamin B Cures hangovers
There are and have been numerous DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act) products to treat a hangover. The majority of these products claim to treat the effects of “alcohol” consumption, and all contain vitamin B. The theory that vitamin B is the cure for hangover symptoms is based on a very flawed and simplistic study done many years ago. The theory is that alcohol metabolism may cause additional requirements of B vitamins. Alcohol is a diuretic, causing drinkers to need to use the bathroom often. Frequent urination increases the loss of water and numerous vitamins. B vitamins are critical for metabolism in the body, and during a night of heavy drinking will be excreted in the urine, causing a deficiency. Therefore, taking vitamin B complex, which includes vitamin B-1 or thiamine, B-2 or riboflavin, folic acid, B-6 and B-12 may help alleviate some hangover symptoms.
However, hangovers are partially due to how alcohol inhibits vasopressin, a hormone secreted by the suprarenal gland. This hormone is responsible for maintaining liquid balance in the body, stimulating the kidneys to reabsorb water from the urine. If the vasopressin function is inhibited, the kidneys start to eliminate more water than is ingested and causes the organ to seek water from other organs. This causes the meninges (membranes covering the brain) to lose water and therefore, produces a headache.
Hangovers are a combination of effects from too much Acetaldehyde, Glutamine REbounds, and allergic-type reactions to Additives
Many of the products on the market claim to inhibit or block the production of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in coffee, bread, and ripe fruit, and is produced by plants. It is also produced in the human liver as a by-product of the oxidation of ethanol, and may be a contributing factor to hangover symptoms.
The acetaldehyde is created when the alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The acetaldehyde is then attacked by another enzyme, acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and another substance called glutathione, which contains high quantities of cysteine (a substance that is attracted to acetaldehyde). Together, the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the glutathione form nontoxic acetate (a substance similar to vinegar). This process works well, leaving the acetaldehyde only a short amount of time to do its damage if only a few drinks are consumed.
"When larger amounts of alcohol enter the system, your liver's stores of glutathione quickly run out."
When larger amounts of alcohol enter the system, your liver's stores of glutathione quickly run out. This causes the acetaldehyde to build up in the body, leaving the toxin in the body for long periods of time. Some of the most common hangover symptoms—fatigue, stomach irritation and a general sense of illness all over—are caused by the reduction of the body’s glutathione stores. These symptoms often occur due to something called glutamine rebound.
Stopping a Glutamine Rebound before it starts
Glutamine rebounds occur when, after a night of alcohol consumption, a drinker doesn’t sleep as soundly as normal because the body tries to produce more glutamine than it needs after the liver's stored amount has run out. The increase in glutamine levels stimulates the brain while the drinker is trying to sleep, keeping the person from reaching the deepest, most healing levels of slumber. This is a large contributor to the fatigue felt with a hangover. Severe glutamine rebound during a hangover also may be responsible for tremors, anxiety, restlessness and increased blood pressure.
B vitamins do not cure hangover symptoms as their depletion is not the cause of the symptoms. An effective hangover cure must address the glutathione rebound while also stopping the acetaldehyde from forming in the first place. This can be achieved by blocking the formation of the enzymes that cause the acetaldehyde from that intermediate step of the toxin formation.
Nullifying allergic-type reactions due to additives
Another vital component necessary to the success of a hangover remedy is treating the allergic-type reaction to the additives contained in alcoholic beverages.
The largest percentage of an alcoholic beverage is made up of additives; the alcohol itself is secondary. This is significant because the additives contained in alcohol beverages can cause more damage in terms of hangover symptoms than the alcohol itself. The effect of consuming these additives is similar to having an allergic reaction in that when you are experiencing an allergic reaction your body produces a compound called Histamine. Histamine is an organic compound involved in the body’s immune responses as well as regulating physiological function in the gut and acting as a neurotransmitter. After having a significant amount of alcoholic drinks, a significant increase in circulating histamine is produced. This is why the symptoms of a hangover are very similar to those of an allergic reaction. For example, the scientific explanation for a headache, common in all people suffering from a hangover is that it results from the dilation of the blood vessels due to the effect of some vasodilator substances (such as histamine) in the organism.