A cure for hangovers sounds too good to be true, but Swedish firm Myrkl claims to have developed a pre-drinking pill to prevent the dreaded morning after. Myrkl’s probiotic supplement hit the U.K. market on July 4 and claims to be the first product in history to effectively break down alcohol.
But on closer inspection, the product seems like just another marketing ploy to prey on those out for a good time.
The science behind the product isn’t exactly solid, as University of Plymouth clinical scientist and hepatologist Ashwin Dhanda points out in a new piece for The Conversation. And the pills could crush your plan to have a good time—if having a good time includes getting a beer buzz.
Myrkl’s “Magic” Pill
The pills rely on two common probiotics, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans, to break down alcohol into water and carbon dioxide. Myrkl says their acid-resistant capsule protects the beneficial bacteria from stomach acid until they land in the intestine where alcohol is absorbed.
The company states taking 2 pills one to 12 hours before drinking alcohol will absorb 70 percent of booze before it hits your bloodstream and has time to dehydrate you—a main source of hangovers.
But there’s a catch.
“This reduction in the amount of alcohol absorbed by the body is mirrored by a reduction in the short-term effects of alcohol, such as euphoria and reduced anxiety,” wrote Ashwin Dhanda, Ph.D, hepatologist and associate professor at the University of Plymouth in the U.K., via The Conversation.
In other words: The pills take away hangovers by curbing your ability to get drunk in the first place.
And while absorbing less alcohol reduces your risk of dehydration, the supplement won’t stop the effect of booze on your stomach, like soreness or nausea, since they work after alcohol hits your large intestine.
Dhanda also questioned the study Mrykl is using to back its claims.
Mrykl’s evidence is based on one study, which was funded by Mrykl’s parent company, DeFaire Medical AB. In it, the researchers followed 24 “healthy” (the study didn’t define what this means), young, white adults who took either two Myrkl pills or two placebo pills for seven days. The study participants were then given a small amount of alcohol dependent on their body weight, and had their blood alcohol level tested over two hours.
After an hour, the blood alcohol level for the group who took the probiotic blend was 70 percent lower than those who swallowed a placebo.
These results appear promising, but Dhanda points out some holes.
“First, the researchers only reported results from 14 of the 24 people because ten had lower blood alcohol levels at the start,” Dhanda wrote. “Second, results varied between different people, which reduces the accuracy of the study.”
Dhanda also noted that while Myrkl claims you can take the pills an hour before drinking to get the purported benefits, the study participants took the probiotic pill for seven days before they consumed alcohol. Not exactly a mirror for real-world drinking.
The study also didn’t examine whether the pills would work for older people or people of color. Nor does evidence support the pills’ safety for people with gastrointestinal issues.
“It is already known that friendly gut bacteria are changed by long-term illnesses and lifestyle (smoking, regular alcohol consumption and diet),” Dhanda wrote. “It is also known that alcohol is absorbed differently according to weight, sex, physical activity and food consumption. These factors may reduce or increase the effect of the friendly bacteria in the Myrkl pills.”
As for whether the pills could cure a hangover, well, that’s unanswered, too.
“There is no scientific evidence that this product is effective against hangovers,” said Joris Verster, principal investigator at the Division of Pharmacology at Utrecht University and founder of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, to inews UK. It has never been investigated in this context.”
If you really want to avoid a hangover, you’re better off sticking to drinking less booze in the first place and spacing out your alcoholic drinks by alternating them with water to prevent dehydration.