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Wondering whether B vitamins are for a hangover? It's a common question and one that doesn't have a straightforward answer.
If you’re reading this article, the chances are that you’ve already tried many different supposed hangover cures in your time. Drinking water and taking painkillers help, but nothing quite does the trick.
Taking vitamin B supplements before and after drinking is common practice for many. But is there any science to back up its use?
Before we dive in, it’s important to mention that there are very few studies on the use of B vitamins for hangovers. The studies that are available are small and preliminary. There are a lot of sources that make unproven health claims about B complex vitamins and we aim to shed some light on this. Ultimately, B Vitamins do not prevent or “cure” hangovers.
What does vitamin B do?
There are a total of 8 individual B vitamins. All of which are water-soluble vitamins which means they are dissolvable in water. The other types of vitamins you may be familiar with such as vitamins D and A are fat-soluble.
As a result, most B vitamins aren’t stored in your body and, therefore, you need to get a certain amount from your diet to maintain healthy levels.
The exception to this rule is vitamin B12 and folate which your liver is able to store. B12 for 3-5 years and folate up to 4 months.
The B vitamins are essential for life and deficiency in any one causes significant disease. Thankfully, it’s not hard to get the right amount of each one if you have a healthy balanced diet.
Vitamins B1 to B6
These vitamins are the precursors and cofactors to many of the enzymes required for metabolism. This means the metabolism of all foods and drinks you consume, including alcohol.
What is a cofactor? well, it’s a molecule that is essential for the activity of an enzyme.
Vitamin B9 (folate) and B12
These two B vitamins are particularly important in DNA synthesis and regulation as well as the healthy functioning of your nervous system.
With the basics out the way, next up we’ll look into vitamin B and alcohol metabolism.
Vitamin B and alcohol
Chronic alcohol use is well-known to significantly affect the levels of vitamin B in your body. In chronic alcohol use, vitamin B deficiency is caused by several different factors.(1)
- Reduced intake due to a poor diet
- alcohol affects the absorption of vitamins
- Drinking increases the use of B vitamins due to increased metabolic demand
- alcohol increases vitamin excretion
On the other hand, less is known about the effect of alcohol on vitamin levels during "acute" consumption. In other words, drinking too much at the weekend.
A research group from a US emergency department tested vitamin deficiency in patients coming in who’d had a few too many drinks at happy hour. They found a deficiency in vitamin B1 levels in 15% of people, whereas B12 and folate levels were unaffected.(4)
The bottom line: Although it’s well-known that B vitamin levels are significantly affected by chronic alcohol use. Not much research is available about vitamin B and alcohol use within recommended limits.
What causes hangovers
To understand whether B vitamins could support recovery, we first need to go over how drinking too much alcohol causes hangovers.
There are several different factors that are responsible for your hangover symptoms including, but not limited to:
Alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes you produce more urine. It does this by blocking the release of a hormone called vasopressin from your pituitary gland. This hormone is essential for water regulation via your kidneys. As a result, drinking alcohol without proper hydration can lead to dehydration.
2)Poor sleep quality
Alcohol is well-known to reduce sleep quality by preventing your brain from reaching the deeper stages of sleep. In particular, studies show that alcohol blocks your brain from reaching the REM stage of sleep. It’s why you won’t feel fully rested even if you’ve slept enough hours.(5)
Alcohol is broken down by your liver to produce toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is broken down further into harmless acetic acid. Drinking over your limits can result in a build-up of acetaldehyde which is highly toxic. It breaks down to form free radicals which react with your cells causing cellular inflammation.(6)
In summary, the science of hangovers is complicated and involves a combination of damaging factors. The points listed above are just some of the main reasons that scientists believe contribute to hangover symptoms.
Are B complex vitamins good for hangovers?
Before we start this section, we must reiterate that the research into B vitamins for hangovers is very much limited. We aim to cover the available studies (at the time of writing) and highlight their weaknesses.
The question of: "are B complex vitamins good for hangovers" oversimplifies this topic.
The reason is that there are so many different vitamins that come under the "B complex" group. All of which have slightly different functions in the body.
At the time of writing, there are only two studies that have looked at this question:
1. Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
A study involving 23 test subjects found that those who have a high intake of vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) and zinc in their diet, reported less severe hangovers.(7)
2. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
A study showed that giving 400mg of vitamin B6 before, during, and after drinking reduced hangover severity in test subjects by 50%. But it’s important to emphasize that this is a huge dose of vitamin B6 and hundreds of times higher than your daily required intake.(8)
The bottom line: Vitamin B1 to B6 are involved in the metabolism of food and drink we consume. At the time of writing, there are only 2 studies that examined vitamin B3 and B6 in relation to hangovers.
Do B vitamins cure hangovers?
There’s one thing that’s for sure, Vitamin B will not "cure" or prevent hangovers.
Are there any side effects?
Problems with vitamin B use arise when high doses are taken, particularly on a regular daily basis.
For example, vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) can make your urine go a fluorescent yellow color.
High doses of Vitamin B3 (Niacin) are well-known to cause abdominal pain and facial flushing.
High dose regular use of Vitamin B6 is associated with peripheral neuropathy which is a disorder of the nerves in the limbs.(9)
Anything else to consider?
When it comes to hangovers, prevention is key. The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink less, increase the amount of time between each alcoholic drink, ensure proper hydration, and avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
At the end of the day, hangovers are caused by drinking more alcohol than your body can handle.
In addition, darker-colored drinks that are high in congeners can make hangovers worse.
B Vitamins for a hangover – Final verdict
So, that brings us to the end of our look at B vitamins for hangovers. There are only 2 small studies that have looked at this question. Therefore, it's an area that needs a lot more research, and nothing is proven yet.
We’ve walked you through some of the differences between the different types of B vitamins and how they are important for normal metabolism.
In general, vitamins B1 to B6 are involved in the metabolism of all the food and drink we consume, including alcohol. On the other hand, folic acid and vitamin B12 are not.