How It Works - the Detailed Version
Before delving into how alcohol consumption can result in a hangover, you need to understand how alcohol is metabolized and excreted by your body. While it may help if you happened to take some biochemistry in school, we’ll try to keep it as simple as possible. If you want to know even more, you can go here. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_metabolism]
As soon as you begin to drink and alcoholic beverage, your body begins to metabolize ethyl alcohol, which we will simply call 'alcohol.' Your body developed ways to remove alcohol because it produces small amounts of alcohol when it processes certain biochemicals and it needed a way to dispose of it. Your gut bacteria and fungi may also make very small amounts of alcohol depending on your gut flora, your diet and carbohydrate intake, as well as other factors.
Alcohol from your gut is delivered right to your liver and it is quickly eliminated by changing it to carbon dioxide and water. In people who did not have medical illnesses and were otherwise healthy, one study showed that the baseline blood alcohol concentration can range from zero to 0.15 mg/dL. Don’t worry, because this concentration of alcohol is equivalent to 0.00015 g/dL, which is a lot smaller than drunk driving limits of 0.02 g/dL to 0.08 g/dL, sometimes called 0.02% and 0.08%. There are a very small number of people who are ill and have a change in their gut flora. They can produce enough alcohol to actually cause symptoms of intoxication. This is called “auto-brewery syndrome” and if you want to look it up, you can find it here. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-brewery_syndrome]
There are several ways that we metabolize alcohol, but we will explain the main pathway This involves your liver, and two enzymes or catalysts in your liver that chemically change ethyl alcohol into acetaldehyde, and then from acetaldehyde into acetic acid or acetate, which is what gives vinegar its pungent smell and taste. Acetate is much less toxic than acetaldehyde, and your body can easily burn it into carbon dioxide and water. The enzyme that turns alcohol into acetaldehyde is called ‘alcohol dehydrogenase’ and the enzyme that turns acetaldehyde into acetic acid is called ‘acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.’ You can see the pathway in the cartoon picture below. On the left is normal alcohol metabolism, and on the right is shown the accumulation of acetaldehyde in people, usually of Asian descent, that have a variation of the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde which works slower than normal and allows acetaldehyde to accumulate to much higher levels.
[this is an example picture. I asked for public domain pictures but it came up from a journal. I can ask if we can modify it and use it.]
You have probably heard of embalming fluid, which is a solution of formaldehyde in water. It is used to preserve tissues by ‘fixing’ them. It works by chemically reacting with proteins and DNA and destroying their structure and function. Biochemists can read all about the process here. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519217/]
Acetaldehyde is a slightly larger molecular version of formaldehyde, it has one extra carbon atom in its chemical structure. It is slightly less chemically reactive than formaldehyde, but nevertheless, it also reacts with various components of your body, such as proteins and DNA, and it also destroys their functions. You can see why our bodies developed a way to quickly eliminate it to prevent damage to cells. A critical piece of science was reported back in 2005 by Japanese doctors who showed that alcohol hangover symptoms correlated very well with how fast Japanese individuals could eliminate acetaldehyde. In 2003, the same group reported that slow eliminators of acetaldehyde in the Japanese population had a higher risk of gastric cancer. The bottom line is that the most recent research suggests that acetaldehyde generated by alcohol metabolism is probably a key factor contributing to hangover symptoms. Emerging scientific studies also suggest that chronic excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cancer and organ damage, and acetaldehyde has been identified as the main culprit.
What if it was possible to help the body eliminate acetaldehyde by administering something that is non-toxic that could react with the acetaldehyde before the acetaldehyde had a chance to damage cells? Remembering basic organic chemistry, Dr. D. recalled that acetaldehyde could chemically react not only with what are called amino groups in a protein, but that acetaldehyde was also highly reactive with sulfhydryl groups as well. So if something could be given prior to the start of alcohol consumption that contained plenty of sulfhydryl groups, it might soak up excess acetaldehyde and therefore might have an impact on alcohol hangover symptoms, if those symptoms were due to excess acetaldehyde. We will not go into the chemistry of these reactions, but there were at least two organic sulfur compounds that fulfilled the criteria of having sulfhydryl groups in their chemical structure and were safe to give to humans. The best part is that both are found naturally in the body, and their names are L-cysteine and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
The first chemical, L-cysteine, is an amino acid, present in all cells in your body. The second one, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), is made in your body and is used by certain enzymes to carry out their functions. Unfortunately, L-cysteine is not well absorbed when given orally, but a slight chemical modification makes it much easier to absorb, and the modification is removed by your body after absorption. This chemical is called N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). It has one sulfur atom that can react with acetaldehyde. N-acetyl-cysteine has an excellent safety profile in humans and it was first studied as an antidote to acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose. NAC is the first ingredient in Heddrite. Alpha-lipoic acid is the second ingredient in Heddrite. Like NAC, it has been found to be very safe in long term studies as it is used as a treatment for a complication of diabetes called diabetic neuropathy. It has two sulfur atoms that can react with acetaldehyde.
Why does Heddrite contain two compounds, NAC and ALA, and not just one or the other of them? The reason that we use a formulation with both NAC as well as ALA is that the two compounds differ in how they dissolve in fat or water. L-cysteine is soluble in water, but not very soluble in fat, whereas ALA is soluble in fat and sparingly soluble in water. Together they help clear acetaldehyde from the body whether it appears in the water phase, or the fat phase. This is important because there are organs like the brain that contain a lot of fat.
There are no other ingredients in Heddrite. The reason is that the formulation in Heddrite is based on an understanding of how NAC and ALA can remove acetaldehyde before it has a chance to cause any damage. There is a lot of scientific evidence that even when used alone, both ALA and NAC protect animals from alcohol toxicity. There are many other hangover reduction agents that contain a lot of other chemicals, plant extracts, vitamins, and minerals. However, there is little data to support a mechanism by which they act to decrease alcohol hangover symptoms. Also, many of these chemicals, plant extracts, and compounds do not have the published safety record of NAC and ALA.
Unlike many other drugs, alcohol is not very potent, if you go by actual weight. For example, lets take a drug like morphine. A usual dose is 15-30 mg orally every four hours for pain. Now let’s take alcohol as an example. If we standardize “one drink” to be 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor, each of these contains somewhere between 12 to 14 grams of alcohol, or, to compare with 10 mg of morphine, 12,000 to 15,000 mg of alcohol per ‘dose.’
Remembering that alcohol is broken down first into acetaldehyde, you can see that your body has to process a large amount of acetaldehyde for each drink you take. Granted, some alcohol is removed without being metabolized or chemically changed, as it appears in urine and sweat. For the large portion that is metabolized, your liver and tissues in your body process most of it into acetaldehyde. Happily, a lot of the acetaldehyde is quickly turned into acetic acid, which is, to your body, a food. The problem is that there is still a lot of acetaldehyde that may escape the process. In many people of Asian descent, it is acetaldehyde building up that causes the blushing, the nausea, and the headache because the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde works at a slower pace. However, everyone gets a rise in blood acetaldehyde when drinking alcohol. Since there is a lot of acetaldehyde produced, and since each molecule of the formulation in Heddrite can react with one molecule of acetaldehyde, you have to take enough weight of NAC and ALA to help clear the acetaldehyde from your body that escapes normal metabolism. This is why we suggest up to 3 capsules of Heddrite before you drink, and 3 capsules after you drink. If you take 3 capsules, you are getting 1200 mg of NAC and 600 mg of ALA.
If you want to try Heddrite, we suggest that you start by taking 3 capsules beforeupi drink and 3 capsules after you finish drinking, but we also suggest some experimentation. If you don’t drink more than 2-3 drinks in one sitting, you may be able to get good anti-hangover effects with a 2 capsule before and 2 capsule after regimen.