How to Hack Your Hangover

How to Hack Your Hangover

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu


Because time is wasted when you’re getting wasted.

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Scotland’s rolling green hills make for a peaceful backdrop, especially when you’re partaking of potent Scotch whisky. At 36, Aaron Margolis tends to feel the aftereffects of imbibing “more than a fair share” of liquor. Luckily, he has a cocktail of wonder drugs to help with that — not the kind you buy in a dark alley, but rather, the ones you can get in your friendly neighborhood pharmacy. A capsule of vitamin C, some charcoal pills and a good ol’ dose of antioxidants. Bottoms up.

The future of drinking has arrived — and the biohackers claim it’s hangover-free. Many of the unsavory effects of alcohol, from blackouts and nausea to your poor liver and the weary morning after, can be left in the past, they say. And though the clinical science on these biohacks’ effectiveness is scant, a growing constituency of drinkers and hackers are advocating supplements, charcoal pills and synthetic quaffs. Among them is Dave Asprey, the man behind the Bulletproof Coffee juggernaut, and a legion of specialist dieters, ranging from Paleo junkies to plain old vegans. 

Granted, we’re pretty sure that biohacking doesn’t count as “drinking responsibly.” There is no free lunch when alcohol is involved, warns William Corbin, who researches alcohol misuse and related risk behaviors at Arizona State University. There’s no evidence that such biohacks will save your brain or liver, and the smorgasbord of obscure supplements involved raises questions about long-term effects. 

And yet, there’s no question that these biohacks seem more sophisticated than a giant bottle of water and a handful of ibuprofen. Methods include opting for alcohols with fewer toxic byproducts, like potato vodka over beer; popping obscure chemicals — like glutathione, N-Acetyl Cysteine, vitamin C, PQQ and CoQ10 — to minimize the nasty byproducts of alcohol (acetaldehyde) while drinking; and topping it off with a few capsules of activated charcoal to mop up whatever toxins are left in your body. You can also throw in some folic acid, selenium and B vitamins to maximize the feel-good neurotransmitters you get when boozing, including serotonin and dopamine. Other biohackers have skirted the system altogether by creating a hangover-free alcohol called Alcosynth, which they say mimics the pleasurable effects of alcohol without the painful headache, brain fog and dry mouth the next day.

I guarantee you’ll feel better the next day.

Dave Asprey, “The Bulletproof Executive”

“You can have your cake and eat it too” — or in this case, an entire handle of tequila or whiskey, without paying the biological price, argues biochemist Steven Fowkes, CEO of the Cognitive Enhancement Research Institute. The goal here is about “decreasing the toxic burden of your life,” so that after a night of revelry, your liver will thank you too. So far, Fowkes has given away hundreds of his cysteine and N-acetylcysteine pills to ward off the bitter biological consequences of alcohol and formaldehyde, although he’s unsure how many. These methods are geared for anyone — “the young, where alcohol is a forbidden fruit and there’s still a learning curve,” and “middle-aged and older people who are losing their grace in handling alcohol,” says Fowkes. To be fair, his research dates back 20 years to 1996. Meanwhile, the rest of these biohackers weren’t willing to dish out on numbers on any profits made or products sold, only a goad to see for yourself: “I guarantee you’ll feel better the next day,” says Asprey, the so-called “Bulletproof Executive” who’s spearheading a diet and lifestyle that’s all about hacking your way to a better you.

Some are billing their methods as a way to stem the tide of alcohol-related deaths, which killed 3.3 million people in 2014, up from 1.8 million in 2004. Globally, alcohol remains one of the leading causes of preventable deaths. And unlike age-old hangover advice like morning mimosas, healthy hydration or, simply, suck it up, the same ragtag band of citizen scientists, amateur biologists and DIY engineers who slurp buttered Bulletproof coffee and swallow nootropic brain pills have also figured out ways to drink more booze with fewer repercussions.

But should we really be pushing our limits? Nay, say experts who fear the unintended consequences. A large body of research suggests that increasing your body’s tolerance for alcohol leads to more binge-drinking and increased risks for addiction, though the science is not yet clear on the safety and efficacy of trying to manipulate the way your body breaks down alcohol. “A hangover is like a mini withdrawal syndrome,” says Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The idea that you could take any drug with “no afterburn or reaction to that perturbation seems unlikely.” Plus, others such as public health professor Kari Poikolainen worry about the side effects and potential interactions between the drugs. Who knows if vitamin C jives well with rum, or glutathione with brandy? The jury is still out, says Poikolainen, a former World Health Organization alcohol expert. The only tried-and-true way: time, and lots of it.

So, before anyone starts touting biohacking as a miraculous way to combat alcoholism, research needs to take a sobering look at the facts. And in any case, hack or no hack, you’re still consuming all the empty calories of alcohol. If only there were a magic bullet to take care of that beastly beer belly.