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Alcoholic drinks may make you feel ‘merry’ while you’re drinking, but you may not feel merry next morning if you wake with a dreadful hangover! Can a hangover be avoided and what causes the symptoms? Do probiotics help with hangovers? Read on to find out more.
As a nutritional therapist I wouldn't ever recommend over-indulging on alcohol, but even with the best intentions, a fun outing sometimes ends up being ‘boozier’ than was intended! When this happens, chances are that you will be crawling out of bed the following morning with any or all of these typical hangover symptoms: headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, an upset stomach, and an overwhelming sense of fatigue.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for hangovers, but there are many natural remedies and recipes which people swear by to help ease their symptoms. Not many of these remedies are backed by science, but research is beginning to indicate a role for probiotics in hangover prevention and management. But before we find out how probiotics can help hangovers, we need to understand why hangovers happen.
There are a number of reasons why people feel ill after drinking to excess:
The first stage of the conversion of alcohol (or ethanol) involves its breakdown in the liver to acetaldehyde. This is then later broken down further to acetate. Acetate is completely non-toxic, however the intermediate break down product (acetaldehyde), is known to cause many of the symptoms associated with that ‘morning after’ feeling.
Dependent on your liver function, some people metabolize acetaldehyde more quickly than others, which partially explains why some people suffer more than others for their ‘indulgences’!
As well as its systemic effects, alcohol is also known to impact the digestive tract in various ways:
Gut function and the health of the microbiome can have far reaching effects on overall health, so it's not hard to see why hangover symptoms are so varied. Let's find out more about how probiotics might help hangovers.
There has been some research in the past few years looking at the effects of probiotic bacteria on the symptoms resulting from excess alcohol intake. Results do seem to suggest that yes, probiotics are good for hangovers!
A Russian study1 showed that study participants that drank alcohol regularly had lower levels of three types of gut bacteria, namely: Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli and Enterococci. Within 5 days of supplementing probiotics, their levels of both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli had significantly increased.
However, more interestingly, the study participants liver enzymes which had previously been elevated, had decreased to within normal levels after the probiotic supplementation. Elevated liver enzymes in a drinker, are usually a sign of liver inflammation from alcohol exposure. The fact that these enzymes dropped following probiotic supplementation, means that there was some sort of improvement in liver inflammation as a direct result of the probiotic treatment.
Probiotic bacteria were also featured in a 2022 study3 with 24 participants. Results indicated that the proprietary blend of live cultures in the supplement helped to reduce alcohol absorption from the intestines, which subsequently reduced the absorption of alcohol into the body systems. This was a very small study and further research needs to be done but so far the limited research does seem to suggests that probiotics may have a part to play in hangover prevention.
Bifidobacteria are believed to help break down and detoxify acetaldehyde4. By preventing the accumulation of this toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, Bifidobacteria are thought to help prevent symptoms of a hangover. Naturopaths often recommend taking Bifidobacterium bifidus before going to bed, and again the following morning to reduce the severity of a hangover.
People with a healthy, balanced gut, and good levels of friendly bacteria may therefore have the capacity to better deal with over-indulgences, than those people that have depleted probiotic colonies. This may explain why some people seem to ‘bounce back’ faster after any dietary, or alcohol-related, ‘faux pas’ than others, presenting us with yet another compelling reason to look after our gut flora!
My own hangover tips are below, though the best cure for a hangover will always be to drink less alcohol the day before!
As you can see there are lots of simple steps that you can take to reduce the effects of drinking too much alcohol. The simplest of course, is not to over-do it in the first place, but if that doesn't sound like much fun, at least you know you can rely on a few natural remedies to help put the spring back in your step.
How our gut health impacts on our general health is a fascinating topic. If you would like to read more on related topics, see: Gut Health - all you need to know or All about the microbiome.
For more about the effects of the occasional 'tipple' you might like to read this fun article: Is wine a probiotic?.