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Self-Help Patrol: The Power of the Hangover Powder

Will Japanese turmeric capsules help you dodge a well-deserved hangover?

I recently attended a bachelorette party that I can only describe as “lit”: Ten women, three nights and one beautiful and very well-stocked beach house in a remote part of Oregon. Needless to say, we consumed unspeakable quantities of alcohol. On only one of the three days I woke up there was I hangover-free: Saturday morning I woke up early feeling energized and excited for the day. I trotted right up to the kitchen and made myself an enormous breakfast sandwich. No headache. No nausea. I wasn’t even sleepy.

That lone pain-free morning followed the evening when the bride, Kelly, had summoned me and one other lucky bridesmaid to her lair and directed us to participate in her new pre-bender ritual — consuming a little plastic packet full of a mysterious orange powder, which we mixed with a bit of water and glugged with a grimace. Was it a coincidence that I happened to feel great the next day? I had to know.

The Product

On returning to MEL HQ the following Monday, I pinged Kelly to ask her for a link to the product. It turned out to be this: House UKON NO CHIKARA Turmeric Granules, procured from Amazon in a box of 30 1.5-mg packets. Multiple sources — including MEL’s own art director, who spent three years there — assure me this product is de rigueur for drinkers in Japan; I’ve never seen it here in the States, though turmeric itself is of course now featured in pretty much every product you can imagine. You can buy it in little tubs at the checkout counter in the trendy organic grocery store down the street from MEL’s office in Venice; for the purpose of scientific rigor,* however, I wanted to try to replicate my results from the bachelorette party using exactly the same product.

Goal

Even in my late lamented youth, I was never able to bounce right back the morning after a night of drinking. When I was 15 I spent a year at a crummy rundown boarding school in a bleak post-industrial town an hour north of Dublin, Ireland; my friends and I used to get wasted in sheep-dotted fields, parks and construction sites for lack of a damn thing else to do, and I distinctly recall spending almost every Sunday moaning and clutching my head in my friend Roisin’s bedroom, where we’d lie around watching soap operas and chain-smoking until three in the afternoon.

Now that I’m just a couple of weeks off from 30, things haven’t improved in the slightest — except insofar as I’m rather less likely to do anything involving Fireball, tequila shots or the hours after 2 a.m. (For the record, science can’t seem to agree on whether hangovers get better or worse with age.)

Yes, I have made progress with that most obvious and reviled tactic for preventing hangovers — just drink less, you idiot — but I’m not willing to give up Friday beers and, even now, the occasional bender. There has to be another way.

The science behind it

Can turmeric save me? Curcumin, a chemical that it contains, is widely touted as an anti-inflammatory — primarily by somewhat questionable natural health websites, but also by actual doctors. Evidence for turmeric’s specific uses remains sketchy and mixed; one doctor quoted in The New York Times noted that “the bioavailability is terrible,” meaning that our bodies can only absorb a small portion of what we consume. A close friend of mine who’s an M.D. speculated that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties might well make it a viable alternative to aspirin for treating a headache — but she wasn’t so confident that she wanted to be quoted here.

Method and results

For maximum scientific rigor,* I re-tried the turmeric packets two nights running. The first evening, a Friday, my friend Carrie and I each consumed one packet and headed out to the divey cocktail bar down the street from my house — I was trying to start slow. Predictably, things got a little out of hand; we each had probably five cocktails, plus a beer at the end of the night. Oh, and a glass of wine each before we headed out. Oh, and I finished the bottle when I got home.

The next morning was not glorious. Carrie was posting on social media about her copious vomiting before I even woke up, and I didn’t get out of bed until after noon. I did not, however, feel even the trace of a headache — and my usual primary hangover symptom is the kind of hours-long blinding agony that makes you long for death, and will not be soothed by ibuprofen.

Remembering the NYT quote about turmeric’s lousy bioavailability, I resolved to double down on Saturday night. Carrie, a champion of science, came over once she was done throwing up, and we each consumed a double dose of the turmeric packets before heading out to the Cabo Cantina in Brentwood, home of all the very worst decisions I’ve made since I moved to Los Angeles. We were joined by several other friends I recruited to increase this study’s sample size, each of whom drank down one packet of turmeric before the “mega marg” consumption really started.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much tequila was consumed, but I can tell you we arrived at six and stayed till closing, which means we spent a full seven hours at the Cabo Cantina. I will spare you the details.

Surprisingly, taking a double dose did seem to improve the outcome for Carrie and me. She reported no vomiting at all the next morning, and I… well, I ordered $60 worth of Thai food, but I still didn’t have a headache. I even managed a trip to IKEA. All of my friends who’d only taken a single dose said they didn’t feel amazing the following morning — but that they’d expected to feel much worse. (Sunday morning texts: Beth: “I wasn’t not hungover, but I didn’t have the vise-grip hangover I usually would and anything I did feel basically subsided by 10 a.m.” Sharone: “All I can think about is French fries.”)

Conclusion

Turmeric powder will not save you from getting a hangover, in the sense of feeling sleepy, groggy and filled with regret the next day. (That morning of the bachelorette party, alas, was an anomaly in that sense.) It might, however, keep you from getting a monster headache. If you’ve got something big planned — a bachelor/ette party, New Year’s Eve, any given Saturday at the Cabo Cantina — and the morning after tends to make you feel like Zeus immediately before the birth of Athena, well, you might as well give turmeric a shot.