/ 13 March 2008

The Holy Grail of drinking

Whether it’s a bacon-and-cheese sarmie dripping with oil, a slice of plain toast or simply cracking open another beer, the perfect hangover cure has long been the Holy Grail for barflies and near-teetotallers alike.

However, pharmaceutical companies hope to save the drinkers among us from pursuing a culinary cure to the beat of an aching head by stocking shop shelves with a range of pills and powders said to relieve the pain of overindulgence.

During drinking, dehydration from excessive trips to the toilet causes the brain to shrink away slightly from the skull, resulting in headaches and nausea. Another contributing factor is the effect of ethanol on the liver, causing a lack of glucose in the body.

Many of these supposed hangover cures contain basic nutrients such as vitamin B6 and vitamin C, which help the body recover. They often include some form of charcoal too, which absorbs alcohol in the body — though not instantly.

On a weekend of tipsy testing by the Mail & Guardian Online editorial team, one antidote turned out to be the magic bullet of hangover remedies.

The herbal Anti Hangover Patch, available at pharmacies, garnered high praise from M&G Online news editor Matthew Burbidge. “I can now report that you never need to suffer through another day of misery,” he says. “The patches should become de rigueur for those for whom alcohol consumption is an occupational hazard, such as bankers, judges or journalists.

“You attach the patch — white and odourless, about the size of a stamp — to a clean, dry area of your body and hit the town, secure in the knowledge that whatever you pour down your throat will be rendered harmless. The patches will prevent hangover symptoms for 12 to 24 hours.”

Each patch contains, among other ingredients, vitamin C and B, the antioxidant lycopene, milk thistle, taurine and, would you believe, prickly pear.

Some “cures” are liver-detox products, which are not specifically for hangovers — for example, Guronsan C and Prohep. Overindulgence is Clicks health and beauty store’s own brand of liver booster, specifically for drinkers.

M&G Online editor Riaan Wolmarans took Overindulgence capsules before and after drinking. “I wasn’t quite on a booze binge, to be fair, but I did feel fine in the morning — I think it’s similar to Prohep. The catch is to plan ahead and take the pills before the party starts,” he says.

Other panaceas available at Clicks are Babalas and SoBa, which come in capsule form, to be taken before, during or after drinking. There’s also the KGB Anti Hangover tin of capsules, generally available at liquor stores, which also stock Alcohol Killer (a 250ml canned drink), Party Pack (three capsules) and SoBa powder concentrate.

But who can remember to swallow a pill during or after drinking? “Well, people don’t think about hangover remedies until they have hangovers,” says Lydia Thompson, a pharmacist at the Weleda pharmacy in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

M&G Online sub-editor Keith Nicholls tested SoBa capsules, which claim to be “the alcohol antidote”. Says Nicholls: “I was, I must admit, romanced by the hope that the pills inside would, in fact, ‘reduce the effects of alcohol’.

“Now, as far as I’m aware, there aren’t too many more unpleasant effects of booze than the hangover. And, being more than happy to do some extra weekend drinking at the bidding of my employer, I put SoBa to the test. Properly. No messing around. I mean, if you are going to rely on a hangover cure, you want to know that it really works.”

The result? “I spent a good part of the next day lying on my bed, sweating and fighting off a few vicious waves of nausea,” says Nicholls. “‘Maybe you would have felt even worse if you had not taken the SoBa,’ said one person. In that case, an ambulance would have had to cart me off.”

Burbidge, freshly off the high of painless drinking thanks to the herbal patch, was much less successful with the bright red Babalas capsules. “These also contain milk thistle and vitamin B, but 20 minutes after taking one, I felt distinctly unwell. I felt flushed and unsteady on my feet, but then again, that just may have been the booze,” he reports.

Despite the promises of these products, some drinkers still swear by home-made cures. There is banana for its potassium content, cold Coke or cream-soda cooldrink, dry toast, tea, hot honey water, honey and milk, power drinks such as Energade and Powerade, KFC chicken for its greasiness, Chinese green tea — and lots and lots of water.

Raul Teixeira, owner of Melville Liquor Discounters, agrees that the best cure is simply drinking a lot of water before going to bed. “It’s also the cheapest way.”

But regular beer drinker Sibusiso Hlongwane insists: “I just cure my babelaas with another bottle of beer. Trust me, it works.”