21 Dec 2018

The quest to find a cure for the hangover

From Nine To Noon, 11:25 am on 21 December 2018

Intrepid Canadian reporter Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall went on a decade long quest to investigate whether or not there is a cure to the hangover, using himself as the test subject.

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Photo: By Angie Garrett from Ridgely, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

He tried everything from charcoal to IV drips in the name of science and says he has managed to find something that works for him. 

His findings are the basis for his new book, Hungover: The Morning After and One Man's Quest for the Cure.

He tells Nine to Noon's Kathryn Ryan about what he learned about the history of hangovers, the earliest records of which go all the way back to Homer.

"Going back to the Odyssey," Bishop-Stall says.  

"When Odysseus finally left Circe’s island after having been seduced into a year-long binge of drinking wine with her and her nymphs, there was a young sailor [Elpenor] who drank too much the night before they were to sail off and he saw Odysseus’ ship leaving as he woke up hungover and he was on a roof.
"He realised that he’d missed the ship and he fell off the roof - that’s one of the first mythological hangovers ever … and now it’s called Elpenor syndrome, which is when you bodily injure yourself grievously when you have a hangover."

The search for a cure

Bishop-Stall says he travelled the world, going to 25 different countries, "to dozens and dozens of cities around the world to try to find both the cure and some sort of meaning over what the hangover is".

He started in what he calls the "ground zero" of hangovers - Las Vegas. 

"A place called Hangover Heaven ... where there’s a doctor who claims he's cured more hangovers than anybody on the planet. 

"I tried to put him to the test and I did that by just imbibing too much every night and then he would try to remedy the situation and then I would try to test out his remedies by doing things you would never ever want to do with a hangover. 

17435964 - victorian chimney sweep wearing his old clothes & carrying his brush

Photo: 1markim/123RF

"I drove a Ferrari racecar around a 10-turn track; I flew a fighter jet - which you can actually do without a pilot's licence in Vegas - and did hammer drops and barrel rolls in the air in a mock dogfight; I shot bazookas; I went to a mariachi concert. 

He didn't stop there in his search for heady knowledge, however - and sometimes the cures themselves were quite bizarre. 

"There’s so many interesting ones through history. For this time of year in Victorian England the chimney sweeps used to try to make a few extra bucks by selling soot in little bags to people as  a hangover cure -  you would mix the soot in with a little hot eggnog or milk before you go out imbibing.

"I did that a couple of Christmasses ago, just scraped some soot from my parents’ fireplace and mixed it in with some milk, turned my teeth purple. It might have worked if I hadn’t mixed it with another folkloric remedy from a different culture which is the Mediterranean remedy of drinking olive oil before you imbibe.

"I did both of them on the same night and I think they caused some sort of conflict within my body and I woke up to the worst boxing day ever, so I didn’t go back and retest those ones again."

A mysterious malady

Bishop-Stall says there's very little medical knowledge or agreement about exactly what a hangover is and what causes it.

"I'm not a scientist, but I did spend much of a decade pretending to be one and talking to various smart people about this. Almost none of them can agree: the hangover is a mysterious malady." 

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Photo: 123rf.com

He says as far as he can figure out, it's mostly the immune system's overreaction to toxicity. 

"When alcohol’s broken down it does create a certain amount of toxicity. 

"It’s an overreaction and in that reaction one of the things that happens is all of our cells within our bodies become inflamed ... it’s a huge amount of inflammation that causes even our internal organs to go rigid.

"They’re unable to do things like absorb water, or hold nutrients that they should have, and also our body reacts by sending out what we call ‘free radicals’ that are sent out to sort of neutralise these toxic invaders that they’ve found 

"Especially if you keep drinking, these free radicals keep pouring into your body and they are basically looking for fights wherever they can throughout your system ... it’s this sort of domino effect where once the immune response starts, it can’t really stop itself so we end up in this kind of 24-hour hellish battleground of our own making."

A cure?

Despite the lingering headache of uncertainty about the whole process and its precise cause, Bishop-Stall says he did manage to find a cure of sorts. 

"One of the interesting dichotomous things, I think, about the hangover is we believe we can put people into space and robots into our blood and what have you - but nobody seems to believe there’s a simple cure for the hangover. 

"Yet I did find what I would consider a cure, at least it worked for me every time."

 He says the cure is detailed accurately in his book, with a whole chapter on the science behind it and the exact proportions laid out. 

"Essentially it’s a mix of certain B-vitamins, an amino acid supplement called N-acetylcysteine - which actually can be found in eggs which explains why eggs have been a staple of breakfasts dating back to ancient Rome.

"Then you need a strong natural anti-inflammatory - the one I use is actually frankincense dating back to the wise men and it’s sold under the name , that's the Latin name - and I mix that with magnesium."

15915182 - businessman doing mixed use of drugs and alcohol.

Photo: 123RF

He says it's also important to know when to take this cure. 

"Take the right amount of these things at the right time: and that’s after drinking and before you fall asleep. 

"Once you’ve fallen asleep the mechanism of hangover - through the withdrawing of alcohol from your body and the breakdown of the methanol the toxicity - begins, and that begins a chain reaction that we were mentioning earlier and once that starts there really is no way to stop it."