Opuntia ficus indica, a type of prickly pear cactus reduces hangover symptoms

Individuals who took a dietary supplement containing extracts of Opuntia ficus indica, a type of prickly pear cactus, before consuming alcohol, had reduced symptoms of alcohol hangover compared to individuals who drank but took placebo, according to an article in the June 28 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Alcohol hangovers cause substantial economic and health consequences, the article states. The severity of alcohol hangovers may be related to inflammation caused by impurities in alcoholic beverages and byproducts of alcohol metabolism. C-reactive protein, a protein produced by the liver, becomes elevated after injury or trauma and is thought to be involved in inflammation and alcohol hangovers. An extract from the skin of the prickly pear fruit, Opuntia ficus indica (OFI) has been shown to reduce inflammation, the article states.

Jeff Wiese, M.D., of Tulane University, New Orleans, and colleagues investigated the effect of OFI on the symptoms of alcohol hangover.

The researchers randomly assigned 55 young adult volunteers (aged 21 to 35 years) to receive either OFI or placebo five hours before alcohol consumption. The study participants were given dinner (cheeseburger, fries and soda) four hours before alcohol consumption started, and were able to choose a single type of alcohol to drink for the study: vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, scotch, or tequila.

Over four hours of drinking, volunteers consumed up to 1.75 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, a quantity that has produced hangovers in previous studies. One hour after alcohol consumption ended, the researchers measured blood alcohol levels, and the volunteers were driven home.

The next morning, volunteers returned to the study site and had their vital signs measured, and blood and urine samples were taken. Hangover severity (based on nine symptoms) and overall well-being were assessed on a scale (zero to six points, with six points indicating the worst well-being). Two weeks later, the study was repeated with the same volunteers except those that were previously given OFI were given placebo and vice versa.

The researchers found that three of the nine symptoms of hangover – nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite – were significantly reduced after taking OFI. The average score for well-being the next morning was 2.75 for volunteers who took OFI and 3.10 for volunteers who took placebo. The researchers also found that levels of C-reactive protein were strongly associated with hangover severity, and C-reactive protein levels were 40 percent higher in volunteers who took placebo compared with OFI.

“In this randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, we found hangover symptom severity to be moderately reduced by an extract of the prickly pear plant, Opuntia ficus indica,” the authors write.

(Arch Intern Med. 2004;164:1334-1340. Available post-embargo at http://archinternmed.com)

Everyone knows a sure the way to avoid a hangover is to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages, or at least to drink without over-indulging.

So why has a Tulane University medical professor conducted a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study where 62 participating med students got “hammered” at a barbeque & booze bash? What was the doctor looking to find? The answer to this question reveals some sobering insights into the many misconceptions related to alcohol hangovers. And the reason for the clinical test was to try to find a way to reduce some serious problems.

Dr. Jeffrey Wiese, the physician who led the unique investigation at Tulane is a respected medical researcher who has conducted extensive prior research on the subject of alcohol hangovers. As a result, he and his medical associates have uncovered convincing data that suggests that America needs a hangover-prevention “pill”. As one of the researchers of “The Alcohol Hangover” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, June 6, 2000, Dr. Wiese has long believed that a “pill” that could “prevent” the deleterious effects of a hangover would greatly reduce tremendous economical and societal costs in America and elsewhere. Why? Because in spite of the fact that many people may consider a hangover just punishment for a night of over-indulgence, it is proven that hangovers do not discourage drinking, as people believe.

Research shows that hangovers actually encourage more drinking (for example, the “eye-opener”, “hair of the dog”, the morning Bloody Mary, etc.). Plus, hangovers have staggering economic and societal consequences, as well. In addition to the fact that hangovers actually promote further drinking, the research study points out that $148 billion is lost in the workplace yearly in America due to hangovers (an average of $2,000 per working adult).

Closer to home for Dr. Wiese, a study of college students revealed that, “25% of college students reported experiencing a hangover in the previous week and 29% reported losing school time for hangover recovery. Even more important, the study shows that people with a hangover experience diminished cognitive abilities that “may pose a substantial threat to themselves and others, despite having a normal blood alcohol level.” The research also points out that, “ depression and other psychological disorders are more common in patients with hangover. And, hangover may also be an independent risk factor for cardiac death in patients with cardiac risk factors or coronary artery disease.”

It is a fact that hangovers are more common in light-to-moderate drinkers (70%) than heavy drinkers. Most people (who drink) do not set out to consume enough to get a hangover when they imbibe socially. But one drink can lead to another and it doesn’t take serious overindulgence to wind up with a serious hangover. So, when a company introduced a natural herbal extract formula called HPF Hangover Prevention Formula™ that users said actually “prevents” a hangover, instead of attempting to “remedy” one like so many other products on the market today, Dr. Wiese agreed to put the preventative two-tone green capsules to the clinical test. And where could he find more willing volunteers for a test such as this than on a college campus?

Dr. Wiese organized the clinical study and was the lead investigator of the first-of-its-kind test at Tulane. The study took place over three weekends to enable the crossover aspect to occur. The study group, comprised of sixty-two medical students, was invited (with no coaxing necessary) to a recurring “party” that looked, sounded, and smelled like most any other college barbeque drink fest-with the exception of strict clinical controls that included: careful participant identification; accurate alcoholic drink metering; monitoring and recording; blood draws; breath tests; and, of course, mandatory limo service.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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