If, like me, you’re a fan of P. G. Wodehouse, then you might know the short story, “Jeeves Takes Charge”. Bertie Wooster has had one-over-the-eight the night before and is complaining of a hangover. Jeeves presents him with “a little preparation of my own invention” and upon drinking it down, Bertie is instantly revived. Hangover cures like this are the stuff of legend, but in reality, anyone trying them might well have doubts about their effectiveness. There is however, a new pill on the market called Myrkl, hailed to be a “game changer”.
To be more accurate, Myrkl isn’t really a hangover cure rather than a proposed way of reducing the amount of alcohol that gets absorbed into the bloodstream. The pill contains two species of bacteria: Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans, along with the amino acid L-Cysteine and Vitamin B12. I’m not entirely sure what the L-Cysteine and Vitamin B12 does because there’s no evidence they have any effect on hangovers. Regulatory authorities do not classify Myrkl as a drug, rather than as a supplement, or more precisely, a probiotic, which means it can be sold over the counter or on-line, which to my sceptical mind also looks like “a little preparation of my own invention.”
Myrkl is taken about an hour before consuming alcohol in order to load the gastrointestinal tract with alcohol-metabolising bacteria. The pill is coated to protect it from stomach acid, so the bacteria are released in the duodenum, where most alcohol absorption takes place. The claim is that the bacteria breaks down 70% of the alcohol over the next hour, thus reducing the alcohol-blood concentration, and hence easing any hangover the next morning. It all sounds feasible, but the evidence is largely anecdotal and I can’t see it’s supported with much science.
There’s a lot of hype around Myrkl with some journalists testing it on themselves and many testimonials; none of which are good science. There is a peer reviewed study, which seems reasonably well designed, being randomised, placebo-controlled and double-blinded, but it was conducted in only 24 subjects (13 male and 11 female) and so is somewhat at odds with the hype, in my opinion. There’s also a claim that Myrkl is “vegan, all natural and boosts immunity and natural energy levels” (this claim is linked to B12 apparently). The “boosts immunity and natural energy levels” is a big red flag to me, as these are common claims made by supplements everywhere, but are scientifically meaningless. To my eye, the claims have echos of my spoof “Metalo-Lappin-Detox” blog post.
There are also societal questions surrounding Myrkl, such as will it encourage binge drinking and will people be more likely to drink and drive? The CEO of Myrkl, Håkan Magnusson, has said, “this is no way designed as an excuse to drink beyond NHS guidelines” and there is a drink responsibly page on the website. I’m not sure however, such proclamations will hold in the real world. I remember once being in a meeting where the caterers only provided decaf coffee in error. We didn’t know until the end of the meeting and then realised everyone had drunk several times their normal amount in anticipation of the caffeine-hit that never occurred. I wonder if the same might be true with Myrkl and alcohol consumption.
Compared to the amount of data and years of research that is necessary to launch a new drug, there’s very little barrier to marketing supplements. This market is, I’m afraid, buyer beware.