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No, Scientists Have Not Developed Hangover-Free Beer

Scientists added electrolytes to beer, which might help drinkers retain fluids but won't necessarily keep the hangover away

smithsonian.com

If you are like many people, you want to drink beer, but you do not want a hangover. Luckily for you, scientists are working on it. Unluckily for you (and despite what you might have read), they’re not quite there yet.

Last week, reporters in Australia started writing about scientists there who claimed they have developed a hangover-free beer. These scientists took their cues from the sports drink world, by adding electrolytes to the beer, hoping to cut down on dehydration. Jacob Davidson at TIME reports:

The new creation provides a third more hydration than a normal beer, and this increased fluid retention should also help prevent hangovers the following day. The scientists did have to reduce some of the beer’s alcohol content to about 2.3% (versus 4.8% alcohol) for best results, but they report the additional ingredients do not affect its taste.

The authors put it this way: ”A low alcohol beer with added sodium offers a potential compromise between a beverage with high social acceptance and one which avoids the exacerbated fluid losses observed when consuming full strength beer.”

But before you go out and get wasted to celebrate, know that this invention probably isn’t quite the cure-all you might hope. The experiment asked seven male participants to exercise until they lost 2 percent of their body mass. They then drank beer to replace that 2 percent. The researchers only got significant results for fluid retention out of these seven guys when they drank light beer juiced with electrolytes. Full-strength beer, even with electrolytes, didn’t help much.

But here’s the most important part. The researchers didn’t test whether the subjects got hangover or not. Nor did they test whether the men’s hangovers were better or worse with the electrolyte beer. They make the assumption that hangovers are due to dehydration. But that’s not necessarily the case. As Graham Templeton from Geek.com points out:

Additionally, we now know that alcohol is only part of the story when it comes to the hangover. A major component is, of course, the famous headache, and that headache is actually not linked to dehydration. Rather, acetate, a major product of alcohol metabolism, seems to cause it for the most part. Studies in rats have shown that stalling the metabolic process removes the headache — but that would either keep the molecules as the more dangerous acetaldehyde, or obviate the effects of alcohol entirely.

In fact, scientists don’t really know what causes hangovers at all. In 2008, a study called “The Alcohol Hangover – a Puzzling Phenomenon” admitted that “the alcohol hangover is an intriguing issue since it’s unknown why these symptoms are present after alcohol and its metabolites are eliminated from the body.” A 2010 study on the pathology of the hangover explained that “up to now there is no theoretical model explaining the pathology of alcohol hangover, an effective animal model is not available, and effective hangover cures have not been developed.”

So, all the scientists can really say is that their electrolyte beer allowed the most of the seven dudes who drank it to keep a little more fluid in them after drinking. But it won’t necessarily keep anybody from being hungover.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Hungover? There’s a Cure for That No Matter Where You Live
Experimental ‘Alcoholism Vaccine’ Gives Drinkers an Instant Hangover

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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