Bioengineering a hangover cure — could science end Sunday morning sickness

For centuries, humanity has been trying to solve one of science’s biggest problems. This isn’t the latest medical breakthrough, or discovering how humans can inhabit mars, it’s resurrecting ourselves from a hangover after a few too many glasses of wine with dinner.

We all have our own approach to dealing with the morning blues. Whether it’s a full english breakfast, diet coke, or bloody mary brunch, no solution is comprehensively, nor scientifically proven to work.

But news this week from a startup Zbiotics claimed that the company have bioengineered a hangover cure. For many, this might just be the most exciting scientific breakthrough of the year thus far. More than the science trends we predicted at the start of the year even.

Zbiotics as a company have been active for around two years developing their potential miracle cure. Unlike the hardy full english, however, with their product, you would need to take it before, or during your post-work drinks. But what exactly is it, and how does it work?

Essentially, Zbiotics’ solution is a probiotic. And it has been bioengineered to produce the enzyme that the body uses to break down the toxic byproduct, Acetaldehyde, that alcohol produces. This is the root cause of your morning hangover. Too many pints down the pub may usually cause a sickness to beat all sicknesses, but the product that Zbiotic produces is a supercharged probiotic that could end your weekly woes.

Probiotics aren’t something that are especially groundbreaking. Just think back to the Actimel adverts of a decade ago. Or the many dietary supplements you get from your local health store. They’ve also been a big part of the human diet for centuries. As the “friendly” bacteria in your gut, they are highly beneficial for our digestive health. It makes sense, then, that it would be a probiotic that would help solve the hangover sickness that alcohol induces.

What is different about the Zbiotics probiotic from those we have consumed in the past, is that it the company has used gene editing techniques to alter the DNA of the probiotic itself. This is in order to enhance its capabilities in fighting hangover sickness. How exactly this is done, and which bits of DNA have been edited is unknown. It is still exciting, of course, but for it to be truly groundbreaking, medical trials still need to be undertaking to prove its efficacy.

This is where the doubts around the science start to creep in. We’ve all heard of miracle cures before, for a number of different conditions. Most of which have turned out to be lies or folly. And at the moment, Zbiotics product is still very much unproven. As we’ve established, it hasn’t been through any peer-reviewed clinical trials. So where does that leave us?

At the moment, Zbiotics’ product shouldn’t be recommended from a scientific or clinical perspective. It is very much at an early stage of its development, though undoubtedly people will still want to try it, just as people engage with other dietary supplements -- from turmeric pills, to raw charcoal smoothies. The Zbiotics product shouldn’t be considered as anything more than a speculative health product, at least at the moment.

One thing that we can question, however, from a scientific and clinical perspective, is the way probiotics work, and how they could, potentially, help to reduce the pain of hangovers.

Firstly, what is it exactly that makes alcohol so harmful to our easy sunday mornings? The answer is pretty simple. When you consume alcohol, it aggravates the stomach lining by powering up your digestive system to produce more stomach acid. This means that all of the healthy gut bacteria -- probiotics -- are killed in the process, creating an imbalance. One of the reasons why you crave certain foods when hungover, or don’t want to eat anything at all.

When taking probiotics, however, some negative effects that are induced by alcohol could be reduced. This is especially the case when considering the damage alcohol does to your liver. A 2008 Russian study questioned whether “probiotics restore bowel flora and improve liver enzymes in human alcohol-induced liver injury.” Though the evidence isn’t conclusive, some participants of the trial who took a probiotic were shown to have reduced signs of inflammation after just five days. The reason for this? A healthier gut can deal with the toxic byproducts of alcohol more effectively.

With some understanding of the science behind probiotics, Zbiotics claim to have produced a miracle hangover cure in the form of a bioengineered product may have some legs. Though we don’t have any firm clinical evidence as to the efficacy of the product today, we can at least hold some hope that in the future, with scientifically-proven clinical trials, hangovers could become a thing of the past. Cheers to that!

For more fascinating insights into the ever-changing world of the life sciences sector, stay tuned to all SRG Blogs.

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