I like a pint. I like five pints. With mates, with families, on my own with a book – it’s all good. I even like non-alcoholic pints too, just not as much. But there’s a few things I dislike about pints: the health impact, feeling too pissed and hangovers. I’m the sort of person who takes an effervescent electrolyte tablet and attempts to cook something before bed to avoid hangovers.
Naturally, when I saw the headline “New £1 pill 'that prevents hangovers' launches in UK after 30 years of research” my eyes, and liver, perked up. A quick look on the website for Myrkl claims it breaks down 70 percent of the alcohol within an hour. It is £1 a pill, but there’s two in a packet, and you only need to take one per sesh. So: relatively reasonable, at least.
In the name of science, I decided to put these little capsules to the test. I even got some advice on how to do a semi-rigorous experiment from Professor Alan Wayne Jones, a researcher and scholarly writer on forensic toxicology and human physiology relating to alcohol consumption.
“You will need to do the drinking experiment twice,” he advises, “once with and once without taking whatever substance you are referring to – a so-called cross-over design experiment with the same subject.” Go out drinking two times in a row? You don’t have to tell me twice!
On the day of the test run I have some porridge before work, and a massive shawarma wrap at 1pm. Then at 5.45PM, I stroll out of work and into my preferred local. Fifteen minutes after the second pint, as per the breathalyser’s instructions, I give the breathalyser a go. It flashes up with “0.08%” Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), which is bang on the UK limit: Do not drive. (The UK, is also pretty tolerant when it comes to drink driving. The average tolerance worldwide is 0.06%.)
Anyway, I’m not driving tonight. After pint number three, I’m with a couple of mates and I’ve flipped into out-out mode. Once I sink my fourth pint, I clock in at 0.18%, which is firmly in the “legally intoxicated” section, according to this chart. Time feels slightly slower, and there’s that sweet smell of pollen(?) that booze seems to inexplicably bring out in the summer.
From there I walk 40 minutes to meet with workmates for someone’s leaving drinks. I figure this makes for a standard-to-busy Thursday: drinks after work, and then something else happening. There, I had… I’m not sure, but at least four drinks, according to my card, bringing the count up to eight.
On the way home, the breathalyser comes in at 0.24%. I’m pissed. Not like I’ll spew, but I did full-on trip over nothing on my way to the station (I basically sprained my ankle, it was completely bruised) and forget to record any evidence of the breathalyser (I do have have a swollen foot pic, though).
Anyway, I eat a chicken mayo and chips, get home and clock in again at 0.21% – still definitely very intoxicated by any measure – and I go to bed. It’s about 00:45am. By 8:20AM the breathalyser is at 0.05%, which would still place me over the limit in many countries, despite probably having my last beer about nine hours earlier. I feel dehydrated, groggy and I find it very hard to do much the next day except think about food, worry about a headache and whether I said anything stupid the night before, and sweat coldly. We’ll say the hangover was 6.5/10.
On the second night of my experiment, I have the same food in preparation and consume the pills just over an hour before my first beer, as per instructions. I had at least eight pints of ~4.5% ABV beer during the previous test – this time round I only have six, but they’re stronger beers that clock in at 6% ABV.
After the second pint, I clock in on the breathalyser at 0.12%. Of course, this isn’t a promising start so far as the miracle pill is concerned. By pint three, I’m at 0.14% and feeling like the sides had been touched – I’ve clocked off work and I’m singing “Saturday’s Alright For Fighting” in my head. Life is good! I drink two more pints.
After beer number five, things get very interesting. I’ve just eaten a pizza, but the breathalyser is still showing me at 0.14%. Either that pizza wiped out two beers immediately, or my body was breaking down the alcohol much quicker than normal.
At this point (11.45PM) I go home and pass out, but I wake up at 2:30AM and reach for the breathalyser. I’m on 0.11%. By 9AM, it’s at “Lo”, which means that I can get in a car and legally drive. I’m groggy the next day, but I’m not a zombie staring at a screen – I’m functioning as normal. It’s closer to a day where I haven’t been drinking than not – I’d go as far as to say my hangover is like 3/10, and all of it clears up by midday.
So what happened? Does that mean that Myrkl works, or did I just get lucky? I reached out to the manufacturers, but they postponed an interview and stopped replying at the time of writing.
Luckily, Professor Andrew Scholey, a psychopharmacologist and consultant specialising in hangovers, stepped in to help.
“Your data is quite interesting,” he says. “But of course, you can't really draw too much from just two occasions. If we were doing this properly, we'd get, say, 50 of your colleagues and friends to drink, half have the treatment with a night out drinking followed by no treatment, and the other half would do the opposite.”
He also pointed out that I was drinking different beers at different times – all variables that I could control for a more rigorous experiment. Unfortunately, I don’t have 50 friends to help me redo this test, but Scholey looked into the product formulation and gave me some insight into what happened to me on those nights with and without the pills.
“There are studies that suggest the elimination rate of alcohol can affect hangover severity,” he explains – as in, the quicker it breaks down, the less severe the hangover. This suggests the pill’s intention to minimise hangovers by breaking down alcohol quicker “could in theory work”, he says.
Myrkl claims that acetic acid, which the liver releases when breaking down alcohol, is what causes the hangover. "That's an interesting one, because it's not really known what causes the hangover,” Scholey says. “Even though there's a kind of widely held belief that all of this is what causes hangovers, the actual evidence is pretty poor. What seems to be the most promising conclusion at the moment, is that it is inflammation – an auto-immune response – which causes bad hangovers.”
That being said, he thinks the probiotic ingredients in the pill are “quite interesting”, given the current scientific interest around the microbiome – AKA the ecosystem of tiny microorganisms and bacteria on your body – and how it might affect our health. “There could be something there,” he says. “I’d like to see a larger-scale study before being convinced it works.”
What does he make of my significantly tinier hangover? “Really interesting,” he says. I agree: sinking pints of 6% ABV beers are usually a killer, especially if you’re clocking on at 9AM for work. I ask Scholey if he thinks, based on my findings, this product seems legit or not. “I would say it’s promising,” he says, “and then add the very boring science phrase: more research needed.”
I agree – I’m optimistic about this product, but I can’t claim if it’s the miracle pill everyone is looking for – and I’m not going to turn my nights out into a science experiment from now on to find out. But I will work through the rest of the packet and see what happens – and if I get a hangover, I’ll only have myself to blame.