Mercy and Other So-Called Hangover Cures
It doesn't matter what country I happen to be in at the time: walking around on New Year's Day is always a pleasure. No matter how busy the city, on the first of January, the streets are always considerably quieter -- most likely due to the amount of partying that goes on the night before. Not surprisingly, in the days ramping up to New Year's Eve, publications are full of useful articles and advertisements offering hangover cures.
"Drinking champagne" via Shutterstock.
Among the ads I happened to see was one for the the non-caffeinated, lightly carbonated supplement drink Mercy, which promises those who imbibe it the ability to party like the world is ending and still make it to brunch well-rested and alert the next morning. Fantastic! Or is it?
Humans have been trying to solve the problem of hangovers for as long as there has been alcohol. In fact, some of those old recipes have gained such popularity that they are now staples. As Julie Bindel wrote for the Guardian last year, in 1894, New York socialite Samuel Benedict tried to get a head start on his impending hangover by asking the Waldorf Astoria staff to cook him up a serving of ham and poached eggs over a slice of English muffin, and to top it off with some creamy Hollandaise. The result, which we now know as eggs Benedict is a breakfast favorite.
It has been said that eating can help the body cope by speeding up the metabolism and replenishing the body with amino acids, but is anything really a hangover cure? And how does Mercy fit into all of this?
I hit up, Dr. Rubidium, an analytical chemist and blogger who has covered so-called hangover cures a few times over the years to help me understand how things worked -- or didn't.
"A hangover is really just a collection ailments," she told me. "Dehydration, headache, perhaps nausea -- one can take drugs and stay hydrated to deal with these ailments."
Mercy's site describes the drink as "a blend of amino acids, antioxidants and vitamins to help boost the body's natural defenses, ridding the body of acetaldehyde, alcohol's unhealthy by-product. Mercy works by restoring nutrients and eliminating toxins, so hangover symptoms like headaches and nausea do not have a chance to set in."
Our analytical chemist was not amused.
"Alcohol is changed or metabolized to safer chemicals in the body by alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes," she told me. "If those are working properly, the body can detox all on its own. There are limits, of course -- you can overwhelm our alcohol metabolism system either acutely or chronically. This is where Mercy says it can help pick up the slack -- it contains ingredients that could theoretically be used to help metabolize alcohol, except, there is no clinical evidence that it actually works. You can't just put some ingredients in a potion, ingest them and think bam! -- this will combine to make what we need."
When Time's Meredith Melnick asked nutrition expert Marion Nestle if the science behind the drink made sense, Nestle echoed our good chemist: "Sounds like a great placebo. I'm not aware that [dietary] glutathione or vitamins help with alcohol toxicity." Melnick also noted that there is no data to suggest the potion works.
"The idea sounds logical, but it's not a given that simply ingesting various components of glutathione will actually boost levels of the compound in the liver," she wrote.
Melnick linked to a review of 15 clinical trials of such hungover cures found in the British Medical Journal, which failed to find any that worked. Researchers concluded: "No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover. The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practice abstinence or moderation."
So besides being inconvenient -- you're supposed to chug a can of Mercy during a drinking spree every three or four drinks -- it's not 100 percent certain. At $28.50 a pop, I think we'll pass.