Massachusetts Beverage Business



Could it be that the cure to the dreaded hangover is as simple as a cup of coffee and some ibuprofen? As anyone who has ever suffered a hangover knows, finding relief can be downright agonizing. Many people try remedies such as greasy food or the ‘hair of the dog’ but any relief is usually temporary. Now, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania say they’ve identified a key agent in the brain chemistry responsible for hangover headaches: caffeine. The stimulant has long been an ingredient in over-the-counter headache medications but the Jefferson study is the first to link caffeine’s effectiveness to its ability to block the activity of a chemical called adenosine. The researchers, who conducted their study on laboratory rats, also found they could relieve alcohol-induced headaches with an anti-inflammatory drug in the same family as ibuprofen. While the research left some other scientists unconvinced, it represented a foray into an area of medicine that typically doesn’t get much study. That may be because hangovers generate little sympathy, said alcoholism researcher Robert Swift, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School. The new study was overseen by Michael L. Oshinsky, the director of preclinical research at the Jefferson Headache Center. Oshinsky and his team gave headache-prone rats small amounts of ethanol to induce hangover-like symptoms. Four to six hours after the rats were given the ethanol, they each began to exhibit symptoms of a headache, one of which is that the skin around their eyes becomes sensitive to touch. Some of the rats were then given caffeine and anti-inflammatory drugs. Oshinsky found that the combination of the two blocked acetate (a byproduct of ethanol) and relieved the headaches. Many have argued against drinking coffee because it’s believed that dehydration is a main cause of hangovers. Not so, asserts Oshinsky. The rats in the study were fully hydrated and still developed hangover-like symptoms. Therefore, adding coffee to the mix may not dehydrate you as much as you think. In a search of the literature, Oshinsky found another clue. Dialysis clinics used to administer acetate to kidney patients, and 25 percent of them would report getting headaches. “That was the real instant for me to say, ‘Oh, it’s the acetate,’ “ he said.

Swift, the Brown University professor, said the researchers’ use of the rat model was “reasonable” and said the breakdown of acetate may indeed contribute to headaches. But he cautioned that a hangover can include plenty of other symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue and aversion to bright light. “I don’t think we have a definitive answer about what causes hangover,” he said. “Nor do we have a definitive cure.” Another source of hangover malaise, Swift said, may be that alcohol causes the liver to release hormones called inflammatory cytokines – the same chemicals that play a role in making a flu patient feel lousy. If you decide to give coffee and ibuprofen a try, Oshinsky recommends taking them about four hours after drinking. And of course, consume plenty of water!

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