I’ve always been skeptical about hangover remedies. For instance, if it were me who stumbled across this very article, I’d probably have dismissed it out of hand. In my years of drinking, the only semi-reliable method I’ve found for preventing a hangover is pounding what always seems like too much water at the end of the night before pouring myself into bed. Unsurprisingly, this is often difficult to remember to do on a good night and nearly impossible to accomplish on a bad night.
Enter NAC (N-acetyl cysteine). I first heard about it through a respectable online community that was so fervent in its appreciation for it that I had to make sure I wasn’t being targeted by a pyramid scheme. Sure enough, it wasn’t a conspiratorial sales pitch—these were just people who all independently swear by the stuff.
There’s not much in the way of actual medical research when it comes to NAC’s efficacy in preventing hangovers, but there’s plenty of literature out there about how the supplement functions. NAC is an amino acid that is known to form glutathione, an essential antioxidant that, among other things, protects proteins from acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is the substance your liver is left with once it processes all of the wine, beer, shots, gin & tonics, more shots, and more beer you stupidly decided to drink last night. Acetaldehyde is the reason all you're left with the morning after you took things too far—other than a crumpled-up receipt that you're too afraid to look at—is a headache in the back of your eyeballs and unshakeable nausea.
Take a spin through online testimonials and you'll find people using NAC to treat all sorts of ailments: depression, bronchitis, and allergies, just to name a few. But there's no denying NAC's importance in emergency rooms, where (according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) it's administered to patients suffering from acetaminophen overdose.
Although the web is littered with articles singing NAC’s praises when it comes to preventing hangovers, the medical community doesn’t have much to say about using it this way. Thus, I had no choice—I needed to try it for myself. For, uh, science.
As it turns out, NAC is available on Amazon and at most of those New Age-y, alternative-medicine-and-vitamin stores, so tracking it down was a cinch. To date, I’ve gone through two bottles of NAC, so my—ahem— research has been extensive. The question, then, is does it work?
In my experience, yes, it does. I have to admit, I’ve been kind of blown away by NAC’s consistency. I must’ve used it over a dozen times and the results have been the same each time.
Here's my routine—I take two capsules of NAC before I start drinking and one before bed. I usually pair one of those doses with vitamin C (and yes, I still try to get as much water into my body as possible before bed).
And that's it: two capsules before the evening begins, one as the good times start to fade. The results the following morning are a little bizarre; there are certainly hangover symptoms present, but they’re all blunted. The pain associated with headaches, for example, is reduced to a curious sensation of pressure. I also experience that foggy hangover haze that makes it rather difficult to think clearly, but weirdly absent is the need to curl up in the fetal position and swear off drinking for the rest of my life. It's as though NAC is a local anesthetic that completely numbs my hangover; it's still there, I guess, it's just not making me want to die.
Yes, this is all anecdotal. Even if it does work for me, there’s no guarantee it’ll work for you. The fact is, there’s no air-tight scientific study to back this up yet, so all you have is people like me: a random guy on the internet.
It's also worth noting that this particular random guy on the internet is not a doctor. I am, in fact, the furthest thing from a doctor that a person can be. I mean, I'm hardly qualified to change lightbulbs in a doctor's office. Even though NAC is an over-the-counter supplement, it's important to make sure that you can actually take this stuff, so be sure to study the ingredients and consult your doctor if you're even the least bit unsure about it. Also, be responsible with the drinking, will ya?