Have you heard about the asparagus hangover trick? It's been floating around the internet for decades -even before TikTic made it famous -, but since I don't drink, I was not aware of it until a friend showed me a picture of asparagus in a supermarket containing a claim that it could enhance ethanol alcohol metabolism and potentially reduce morning after hangover symptoms. Intrigued by the idea, I delved into the research to see if there was any truth to this unconventional remedy. Needless to say, I quickly discovered some facts about the proof that few who talk about this alleged natural cure care to discuss.
How Does Asparagus Prevent Hangovers?
The evidence seems to point to a different mechanism than traditional over-the-counter morning-after pills that contain combinations of caffeine and aspirin.
Asparagus is touted to work because of its potential to improve the body's ability to metabolize ethanol in alcoholic beverages. In other words, if you can get rid of ethanol faster, there will be less around the next day to cause you problems after a night of over-indulging.
What Causes A Hangover After Drinking Alcohol?
Most of us know that alcohol is a poison, which is the reason people often look for natural detox solutions like eating asparagus stalks. The toxic effects of alcohol may not seem apparent immediately, but short-term (and sometimes long-term) damage is indeed occurring.
A hangover is the most common short-term symptom of drinking too much alcohol. Some evidence points to compounds called congeners, which are produced during the aging and fermentation of alcoholic beverages, as a culprit in hangovers. Congeners, which exist in greater concentration in darker-colored drinks like bourbon and wine, include acetone, methanol, and tannins.
Several factors contribute to you having a hangover after drinking, including:
- Changes in electrolytes. These are minerals such as sodium and potassium. As electrolytes become unbalanced in your blood, you may experience headaches and feelings of weakness.
- Dehydration. Alcoholic drinks are diuretics. This makes you urinate more often and results in fluid and electrolyte loss, contributing to headaches.
- Increased inflammation. Hanovers are associated with an increase in C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, which are biomarkers of cellular inflammation.
- Vasodilation of blood vessels. Spirits like whiskey, wine, and beer expend blood vessels in your brain, which contributes to headaches.
- Toxic effects on the GI system. Alcohol harms your gastrointestinal tract, resulting in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Hangover?
After a time of imbibing more than you should, the common after-symptoms include:
- severe headaches being dizziness (room spinning/vertigo)
- being sensitive to sounds and light
- being thirsty and having a dry mouth
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- trouble sleeping even though you feel tired
Another scary symptom may include increased heartbeat (tachycardia) due to disturbances in electrolytes in the blood, such as sodium and potassium. These unpleasant side effects of alcohol abuse usually begin to go away within 24 hours as your blood alcohol level returns to zero.
Asparagus Nutrition Values
Asparagus (asparagus officinalis) is a power-packed vegetable that is low in calories and sodium and is a good source of vitamins A and K, as well as minerals and antioxidants.
Asparagus shoots (stems), and leaves contain a broad spectrum of amino acids too. As you can see from this table, asparagus leaves and shoots contain both essential and non-essential amino acids, including branch-chain amino acids.
Source: Kim BY et al. (2009). J. Food Science Vol 74, 7, H204-H208. Click the links in the table for additional insights.
Both the young shoots and leaves have a diversity of amino acids; however, the concentration is greater in the leaves. Also, notice proline is not found in asparagus. Likewise, freshly harvested asparagus stems do not contain either tryptophan or methionine.
Asparagus Hangover Research (The Good)
At the heart of the asparagus hangover cure is the claim that this nutritious food can enhance the body's production of alcohol-metabolizing enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P4502E1.
Unlike many natural cures, surprisingly, there is some scientific backing to the notion that eating asparagus might have an impact on alcohol metabolism and hangovers.
However, to best understand if this green vegetable really works, we must look at the proof.
The study behind the popularity of this simple herbal cure was conducted in Korea in 2009. Researchers bathed liver cells from a rat in ethanol for up to 24 hours and treated those cells with extracts of asparagus leaves or shoots.
Remarkably, it was reported that liver cells treated with asparagus showed these benefits:
- Protection against liver cell death due to the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide made during ethanol metabolism
- Enhanced anti-oxidant protection against free radicals
- Greater activation of liver detox enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde de-hydrogenase
In other words, asparagus seemed to shield liver cells from the harmful effects of alcohol.
Points to Consider (The Not-So-Good)
Before you jump on the asparagus bandwagon for hangovers, there are a couple of important considerations:
The research involved bathing liver cells in alcohol and treating them with asparagus extracts. This differs significantly from the real-life scenario of drinking alcohol and consuming asparagus before or after drinking.
Even though this seminal study came out in 2009, it seems nobody has tested if consuming asparagus alongside alcoholic beverages really stops hangovers in people.
Thus, If you are wondering how much asparagus to eat to prevent a hangover, good luck because no accepted amount is known to work in humans.
And that's odd because this would be very easy to figure out. Any college student could design a clinical trial to answer whether it worked or not.
Also, your guess is as good as mine if you are trying to figure out if it's better to eat asparagus before or after drinking alcohol or if eating the vegetable cooked is better than raw.
Asparagus Leaf vs. Stem
Another key finding from the research is that both the freshly harvested stems (shoots) and leaves of asparagus showed soberine effects. However, the most significant increase in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes was observed in cells treated with extracts of asparagus leaves—the part of the plant that often goes uneaten.
This is a massive problem for makers of asparagus hangover supplements, which often include only the shoots (no leaves).
While the idea of using asparagus to alleviate hangovers is intriguing and has some scientific support, human proof is still lacking. Until that evidence comes forth, I believe it is an urban legend. That said, if you decide to give it a try on the night of New Year's Eve, eating either asparagus leaves or the whole plant itself may be superior to the stems alone.