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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK
Cactus extract lessens hangovers
Image of full beer glasses
Cactus extract lessened the symptoms of a hangover
If you want to drink but you don't want a hangover, a plant extract could be the answer, a study suggests.

US researchers at Tulane University found extracts of a prickly pear cactus lessened hangover symptoms such as nausea and a dry mouth.

They believe the extract works by reducing stress caused to the body by impurities in alcoholic drinks.

Experts said the findings, reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, should not detract from alcohol's dangers.

Dr Jeff Wiese and his team asked 55 volunteers aged between 21 and 35 to take part in an experiment.

Dummy tablets

Half of the volunteers were given extracts from the skin of a type of prickly pear cactus called Opuntia ficus indica, five hours before consuming alcohol.

The other half were given a dummy tablet that contained no extract. Neither group knew which tablet they had received.

For a long time, science has held that the hangover is solely due to dehydration. This research suggests there's an inflammatory component as well
Lead researcher Dr Jeff Wiese

The volunteers were given dinner an hour later and then four hours later were asked to drink a quantity of alcohol that is known to produce a hangover.

One hour after the drinking had ended, the researchers tested the volunteer's blood alcohol levels.

The volunteers were driven home and asked to return the next day for testing.

The following morning, each volunteer was asked to rate any hangover symptoms and their overall well-being.

Two weeks later, the volunteers were asked to repeat the experiment, except those who had been given the cactus extract were given the fake tablet and vice versa.

Dr Wiese's team found three hangover symptoms - nausea, a dry mouth and loss of appetite - were significantly reduced by the cactus extract.

The people who took the cactus extract also had higher scores of well-being than those who had taken the dummy tablet.


Levels of a protein produced by the liver in response to stress and inflammation, called C-reactive protein, were also reduced by the cactus extract.

The volunteers who received the fake drug had C-reactive protein levels 40% higher than those of the volunteers who took the cactus extract.

Dr Wiese's team believe the extract reduces inflammation caused by impurities in alcoholic beverages and by-products produced when alcohol is broken down by the body.

This may be useful information for other medical conditions other than hangovers, which are self-inflicted. The obvious thing is not to drink too much
Dr Guy Ratcliffe, medical director of Medical Council on Alcohol

"For a long time, science has held that the hangover is solely due to dehydration. This research suggests there's an inflammatory component as well," said Dr Wiese.

"The next study for scientists will be to elucidate exactly what is happening in the hangover period with respect to inflammation," he said.

Dr Wiese hopes their findings can be used to protect people against the health hazards of alcohol.

"We are not interested in alleviating hangovers so people can drink to impunity. We want to understand the process so we can provide better counselling advice for patients.

"We know that in patients who have an increased risk of heart attack, being frequently hung-over doubles the risk of mortality," he said.

Dr Guy Ratcliffe, medical director of the Medical Council on Alcohol, said the study appeared to be well conducted and that it was not unreasonable to think that an extract might have such effects.

He said its action on C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, was particularly interesting.

"This may be useful information for other medical conditions other than hangovers, which are self-inflicted.

"The obvious thing is not to drink too much," he said.

Alcohol warning

Mr Andrew McNeil, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "It is quite possible that they are on to something, but it's not the complete answer.

"It's more magical than it actually is and if it were magical then it itself would be problematic given that hangovers are nature's way of saying you have had too much," he said.

Alcohol Concern said: "Drinkers should be very wary of any product purporting to provide a miracle cure for hangovers and which appears to give the green light to drink large amounts with no after-effects.

"Our advice to drinkers is to stick to the medically recognised limits of 2-3 alcohol units a day for women and 3-4 for men."

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