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If you've landed on this article, chances are you know a thing or two about herbal hangover remedies.
Prickly pear is the fruit of a cactus plant and is hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties.
But is prickly pear actually good for hangovers?
In this article, we're going to take a closer look at the benefits of prickly pear and whether it can help with hangovers.
What is prickly pear?
Prickly pear fruits come from the prickly pear cactus (also known as the Nopal cactus).
It's found natively in the southwestern regions of the United States and in Mexico.
The colorful fruits are packed full of polyphenols. Polyphenols are organic compounds that are found in colorful fruits such as berries, citrus fruits, and apples to name a few.
Diets rich in fruits which contain high amounts of polyphenols have been linked to several health benefits.(1)
And these benefits are thought to be because polyphenols are antioxidants which reduce levels of inflammation among other things.
With that said, the research is still ongoing and there's a lot that is unknown about the role of antioxidants such as polyphenols in health.
You can get prickly pear as an extract in supplements and also pressed as a juice.
So, with the basics out the way, next up we'll take a closer look at how alcohol affects the body and where prickly pear fits into the picture.
Causes of a hangover
Before we get into whether prickly pear is good for a hangover or not, we first need to go over how alcohol causes hangovers.
After all, without knowing why we get hangovers, it'll be hard to know if anything works.
Hangovers are ultimately caused by drinking too much alcohol, too quickly. Your liver breaks down alcohol from your bloodstream to get rid of it from your system. When your liver is overrun, your blood alcohol levels rise which is when the problems start.
Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes your kidneys flush out extra water. over the course of a night out, drinking too much alcohol can lead to dehydration as you pee out more fluid than you are consuming.
Secondly, when alcohol is metabolised in your liver, toxic by-products are formed such as acetaldehyde. These are also known as free radicals which react with your cells causing inflammation.
Finally, alcohol significantly reduces your sleep quality. Even small amounts of alcohol can prevent your brain from reaching the deep stages of sleep which is also known as the REM stage. Despite the fact that alcohol can help you fall asleep easier, the actual sleep quality is massively reduced.
In summary, dehydration, inflammation and poor sleep quality are just some of the main causes of a hangover. So it's important to appreciate there are a combination of factors that all play a part.
So, with the science out the way, let's move onto whether prickly pear can help with hangovers.
Is prickly pear good for hangovers?
So, now on to the all-important question, is prickly pear good for hangovers?
Prickly pear is one of few hangover remedies which has actually been tested in a clinical trial.
In 2004, 64 healthy young adults received either prickly pear cactus extract or placebo 5 hours before drinking alcohol.(1)
Prickly pear cactus extract did not reduce overall hangover symptoms, but it did reduce the risk of having a severe hangover by 50%.
The researchers also found that levels of inflammation were reduced in those who took prickly pear before drinking alcohol.
So, to answer the question, is prickly pear good for hangovers?
These initial results are interesting. But it's certainly not enough to draw concrete conclusions from.
When should I take prickly pear for hangovers?
At the time of writing, we only have the research study mentioned above to to give us an idea of when to take prickly pear for hangovers.
With that in mind, taking prickly pear before drinking alcohol is what the researched did.
And it seems like a logical approach. That's because by the time you've woken up with a hangover, the damage caused from the by-products of alcohol metabolism has already taken place.
Is prickly pear a hangover cure?
No. Prickly pear is definitely not a hangover cure.
In fact, a hangover cure doesn't exist and is unlikely to every do so. The reason being, we explained earlier that the cause of hangovers is complicated and involves several different damaging pathways.
At the very most, prickly pear may support your body's antioxidant system.
Anything else to consider?
Hangovers are a sign from your body that you've been drinking too much alcohol for it to handle. Taking prickly pear to help hangovers is the wrong approach.
The best way to help hangovers is to prevent them from happening the first place. Drinking less alcohol is usually all that's required.
Aside from this, eating before going our and making sure you keep well hydrated is also very important.
Prickly pear for hangovers - The verdict
Whether prickly pear is good for hangovers is still up for debate. There's only one study that has shown it can potentially reduce the severity of hangover symptoms.
Despite the research results showing promising results for the use of prickly pear as a hangover recovery aid, a lot more research needs to be done to show it works.
If you're interested in this topic, you should also check out article on the best vitamins for a hangover.