Roommates Katharine Critchlow ’03 and Emma Span ’03 have been dispensing the same hangover remedy advice for years: two Excedrin washed down with a gulp of Diet Coke.
But they are not the only ones with that idea.
Alka-Seltzer recently entered the hangover treatment market with their own remedy, Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief. Its active ingredients are pure and simple — caffeine and aspirin.
The theory is that adding 130 mg of caffeine (roughly a Starbucks Tall skinny mocha) to a regular dose of common pain relievers (aspirin and acetaminophen), makes the little white tablets relieve headache pain about 40 percent better than they would without caffeine, according to the Bayer Web site. Caffeine also helps the body absorb these medications, allowing you to get back to your daily life faster.
“They have taken some very basic compounds — some salt, a painkiller, something to settle the stomach, and something to wake you up,” said Dr. Ravi Durvasula, medical director, University Health Services. “I don’t think it’s a magic bullet from a pharmacological standpoint, but it’s not a bad idea.”
According to a study by Dr. Jeffery G. Wiese, published on WebMD.com, about 25 percent of college students experience a hangover in a given week.
Not surprisingly, Bayer plans to give away 750,000 samples to spring-breakers across Florida, Arizona and Texas, the Bayer Web site said.
Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief, though, is the new kid on the block.
Other hangover prevention remedies have proliferated across the Internet like doctored photos of Britney Spears. While Bayer Pharmaceuticals, the parent company that markets Alka-Seltzer, peddles its product as a “morning after” solution, other entrepreneurs have enlisted scientists to develop magical pills that can stop hangovers before they start.
Two “Chaser” pills, sold by Living Essentials, taken an hour after your first drink, will leave you feeling refreshed and hangover free the next morning. According to the Living Essentials Web site, the pills absorb the deleterious molecules found in alcoholic beverages, eliminating the body’s typical immune response to excessive drinking — a reaction that is the alleged cause of the hangover.
Perfect Equation’s “Hangover Prevention Formula,” taken before you begin to drink, will elevate the body’s natural recovery mechanisms before alcohol consumption, reducing the pain and fatigue associated with “physical stress caused by alcohol toxicity,” according to the Perfect Equation’s Web site.
Pushed to drive home early one morning after a raucous high school graduation party at the beach, Ali Pruet ’04 said she tried one of those “Dr. somebody’s hangover morning pills.”
“It didn’t work at all,” she said.
The active ingredients in the Chaser pill are calcium carbonate, or chalk, and vegetable carbon, while the nutritional information for the Hangover Prevention Formula pill looks like a half-baked multivitamin with some prickly pear cactus extract for good measure.
“I think it’s a load of piss. I can go eat chalk under my own volition, thank you,” Katelin Carr ’04 said.
As magical and exciting as these remedies’ claims may appear, they may be too good to be true.
Because the active ingredients in these two drugs are classified under the category “Generally Regarded as Safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they are lumped under the category “dietary supplement.” No rigorous clinical trials are required before the products can be marketed to the public.
Even so, Carl Sperber, a spokesperson for Living Essentials, said two clinical studies have been done by reputable alcohol research centers, like the one at the University of Chicago, which show the effectiveness of the Chaser pill. These studies are not yet available online.
A MAGIC BULLET?
The lack of any published data on these “dietary supplements” makes Yale pharmacology professor J. Murdoch Ritchie a little suspect of them. The idea that congeners (the supposed harmful molecules found in fermented beverages that elicit the body’s immune response and cause a hangover) were the source of hangovers was a bit far fetched for this veteran faculty member.
“Most of the negative effects from drinking alcohol come from the metabolic products from ethanol, specifically acid aldehyde, which does nasty things to proteins all over,” Ritchie said. “It all comes down to the way that alcohol is metabolized. It simply takes time to the get the resulting acid aldehyde out of your system [regardless of the treatments used].”
His soothing British accent was not the only thing Ritchie had going for him as he spoke about the body’s complex biochemistry. He happens to lecture to medical students each year about this very topic in his neuropharmacoloy class.
Durvasula added that dehydration is a main contributor to the symptoms associated with hangovers.
“What often happens when people consume too much alcohol is the alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to retain water,” Durvasula said. “There are so many ways that people think about preventing hangovers, and so much folklore surrounds it, but really it is a matter of staying hydrated.”
“With some of the over the counter remedies, one must be careful,” he added. “There might be a line to draw between simply helping the body replenish vitamins and salts [as the Chaser and the Hangover Prevention Formula likely do], and working through some complex biochemical pathway.”
Ritchie hypothesized that the potential effects of the chaser-like drugs are enhanced by the “placebo effect.”
“If you believe it is working in your head, your body will follow suit,” Ritchie said. “It’s a well-known psychological effect.”
Sperber said his Chaser pill is superior to an aspirin and caffeine regimen like Alka-Seltzer, because his product eliminates hangovers altogether, and because “aspirin and caffeine are acidic, and it’s the last thing you need in your system when you are not feeling well.”
“There are even warning labels on products containing aspirin or acetaminophen that advise against taking the products after consuming alcohol,” Sperber added.
Both Ritchie and Durvasula agree that Alka-Seltzer’s straightforward mixture of caffeine and aspirin may be a more reliable solution to hangover woes than other pills, but they both emphasize not drinking is an even better strategy.
“The problem about taking aspirin, is that it has nasty effects on the stomach, among other things, gastric bleeding,” Ritchie explained.
“So, someone who has just had a lot of alcohol to drink, will likely have an irritated [stomach lining], and may react very badly if they take [the very acidic] aspirin.”
But Ritchie sees the brilliance in Alka-Seltzer “Morning Relief” formula as the plop, plop, fizz, fizz we so closely associate with Alka-Seltzer that may be more than an advertising gimmick. The carbonation is produced by sodium bicarbonate, a basic substance, which helps to neutralize the acidity in your stomach.
“Alka-Seltzer, if you have to take aspirin, is the best way to take it,” Ritchie said, adding that there is a generic version of this Alka-Seltzer known as “soluble aspirin” available at local drug stores.
From leaving a bottle of water on the pillow to drinking before falling asleep or taking a shot in the morning, Yalies have tried everything to avoid the dreaded morning-after hangover.
But many Yalies are too suspicious of the outrageous claims made by the various “dietary supplement” pill manufacturers to try them.
“It’s probably more a marketing ploy than anything else,” said Brian Kendig ’05.
The Alka-Seltzer remedy was received much more optimistically, as its simple aspirin and caffeine makeup was attractive to boozing bulldogs.
“I would absolutely use it,” said Johanna Halfon ’04. “That is what [those medications] are for.”
Rather than go to the drugstore and pay for the Alka-Seltzer medicine, Pruet said she’d “just drink some coffee and take some aspirin,” the next time the occasion arose.
But while Alka-Seltzer is marketing its magic morning after tablets, making millions of dollars on college kids everywhere, Span and Critchlow are content to party on, Malibu Rum and blender in hand, giving Bayer all the business it can handle. Although, Critchlow is skeptical that the drug company’s new cure will last: “Alka-Seltzer is for old people and it tastes bad,” she said. “Why are they trying to sell medications to college kids?”
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