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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Scientists Have Discovered Booze That Won't Give You A Hangover

Booze, for all its magical wonder, still has big drawbacks: You can't sober up quickly, and you often get a hangover. Now Korean researchers have found a way of tweaking booze to limit the fallout — without cutting its strength.

Doctors Kwang-il Kwon and Hye Gwang Jeong of Chungnam National University studied the properties of oxygenated alcohol - booze with oxygen bubbles added - which is a popular concoction in their country. In these drinks, oxygen is added the way carbonation is usually added to soda, and the scientists wanted to know if these oxygenated beverages affected people differently than non-oxygenated ones. The answer was a resounding yes.

They ran three experiments using 19.5% alcohol drinks, and measured the speed at which people's blood alcohol dropped to 0.000%. In other words: How fast did they sober up?

The drinks with the added oxygen content sobered people up 20-30 minutes faster, under the influence of the rather potent alcohol they used for the trials. 20% alcohol is around the strength of fortified wine, soju, or a very strong mixed drink, so while shaving a half hour off your drunken tomfoolery might not seem a great deal, when you're trying to fall asleep at night and combating the spins, you'll appreciate it.

The researchers also asked what would change if someone were to drink multiple oxygen-enriched drinks over the course of the night. Would there be a cumulative effect? Again, the answer was yes: People who drank oxygenated booze had less severe and fewer hangovers than people who drank the non-fizzy stuff.
The alcohol these scientists used for testing was created by the Korean firm Sunyang Co, and on the English language version of their site, they market their oxygenated soju — O2 Lin — as a a drink that "helps clarify your brain, energizes your body cells, and maintains healthy and resilient skin." There's some more wonderful eco-marketing associated with the drink here.

So why does adding O2 to booze lessen the nasty after effects? When you drink ethanol, you body needs to oxidize it to water and carbon dioxide in order to process it. This occurs via hepatic oxidation, where the liver does its thing to counteract the liquor you've just poured down your gullet. The enzymes that process alcohol require oxygen to function, and it's thought that by storing the oxygen in the alcohol itself, the system functions more quickly and efficiently.
Kwon said:
The oxygen-enriched alcohol beverage reduces plasma alcohol concentrations faster than a normal dissolved-oxygen alcohol beverage does. This could provide both clinical and real-life significance. The oxygen-enriched alcohol beverage would allow individuals to become sober faster, and reduce the side effects of acetaldehyde without a significant difference in alcohol's effects. Furthermore, the reduced time to a lower BAC may reduce alcohol-related accidents. It seems that these drinks can maintain a high dissolved-oxygen concentration for about 10 to 20 days before the stopper is removed, and for 70 minutes after removing the stopper, respectively, at room temperature.
There are plenty of questions this raises. How does oxygen affect the taste of the alcohol? What drink types does it work with? I can't image you'd want to add oxygen to beer. While more research is needed, this study is one more step towards not spending a morning feeling as though someone's kicked your skull in with jackboots, and stuffed the cavity with cotton wool.
Maybe this is the first step towards synthahol, the intoxicating drink on Star Trek that people can sober up from instantly.

Results published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Creative Commons image "soju bottle" by Flickr user riNux

Send an email to Tim Barribeau, the author of this post, at