Background: The severity of the alcohol hangover may be related to inflammation induced by impurities in the alcohol beverage and byproducts of alcohol metabolism. An extract of the Opuntia ficus indica (OFI) plant diminishes the inflammatory response to stressful stimuli.
Methods: In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, 64 healthy, young adult volunteers were randomly assigned to receive OFI (1600 IU) and identical placebo, given 5 hours before alcohol consumption. During 4 hours, subjects consumed up to 1.75 g of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. Hangover severity (9 symptoms) and overall well-being were assessed on a scale (0-6), and blood and urine samples were obtained the following morning. Two weeks later, the study protocol was repeated with OFI and placebo reversed.
Results: Fifty-five subjects completed both the OFI and placebo arms of the study. Three of the 9 symptoms-nausea, dry mouth, and anorexia-were significantly reduced by OFI (all P<.05). Overall, the symptom index was reduced by 2.7 points on average (95% confidence interval, -0.2 to 5.5; P =.07), and the risk of a severe hangover (>/=18 points) was reduced by half (odds ratio, 0.38; 95% confidence interval, 0.16-0.88; P =.02). C-reactive protein levels were strongly associated with hangover severity; the mean symptom index was 4.1 (95% confidence interval, 1.2-7.1; P =.007) higher in subjects with morning C-reactive protein levels greater than 1.0 mg/L. In addition, C-reactive protein levels were 40% higher after subjects consumed placebo compared with OFI.
Conclusions: The symptoms of the alcohol hangover are largely due to the activation of inflammation. An extract of the OFI plant has a moderate effect on reducing hangover symptoms, apparently by inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators.