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Did scientists discover a hangover cure?

Researchers from the University of Helsinki claim to have discovered what centuries of trial and error has failed to produce; a hangover cure.

National media outlets were captivated last week by a study carried out by two Finnish universities into a potential hangover cure.

The amino acid L-cysteine can calm down alcohol-related nausea and headaches, according to a study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism last week.

It found that 1,200 milligrams of amino acid L-cysteine could reduce alcohol-related nausea and headaches, while a dose of 600 milligrams helped alleviate stress and anxiety.

L-cysteine is an essential amino acid which can be found in meat, dairy products, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as some protein powders. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, it has been used previously to help treat arthritis and the hardening of arteries.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland carried out a double-blind study, where 19 men were dosed with 1.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight over the course of three hours in a controlled setting.

They were then offered either a placebo, or a L-cysteine tablet with added vitamins. These tablets were supplied by Finnish supplement startup Catapult Cat, which launched in 2016 and funded the study by the two universities.

The company recommends taking one tablet just before you start drinking alcohol, then take the following tablets every one to two hours, “as long as your alcohol consumption continues”.

The study found that the amino acid was effective in preventing or alleviating “hangover, nausea, headache, stress and anxiety” in the volunteers.

The researchers said its effects were “unique” and could play a role in “preventing or alleviating [hangover] symptoms as well as reducing the risk of alcohol addiction.”

Supposed hangover cures are big business for health supplement producers, but cause headaches for advertising watchdogs. This is due to the fact that medical regulatory bodies in countries such as the UK and Germany list hangovers as medical conditions or illnesses, so supposed “cures” would need thorough regulation. The US’ Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to seven companies last month for illegally selling unapproved products labeled as dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent hangovers.

A German court ruled that hangovers are an “illness” in a landmark case against the maker of an anti-hangover drink last September. The court said in its ruling that illnesses included small or temporary changes to the body’s normal state, and added that drinks cannot be marketed as being able to prevent or treat illnesses.

In January, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority banned a health drink company’s advert for containing overblown statements about its ability to cure hangovers. It is against the ASA’s code to claim that a food could prevent, treat or cure disease, and hangovers also come under this category.

E-commerce platform Firebox was forced to remove a hangover patch it had listed in 2012 after the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has ruled that it was essentially an unlicensed medicine. The product was invented by plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Leonard Grossman and was launched in the US 2011, but had not received any official medical backing either in the US or UK.

While the Finish supplement study is a step in the right direction to affirming its hangover cure claims, the researchers also faced a few difficulties during the study. One researcher, Markus Metsala, told local media that some participants couldn’t consume all the alcohol required and had to be excluded, some had such high tolerance levels that they didn’t display hangover symptoms; and some were excluded because they insisted on topping up their own alcohol dosage.

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