2023 Holiday Season Advice: Never Mind Detox. Try Pretox!

By George Gillson MD PhD CCFP

Many alert readers know that the Holiday Season is approaching so I thought that for this month’s post, I would talk about ways that we can avoid hangovers. I feel sort of conflicted regarding what I’m about to tell you though.

My MD degree is saying, “Dude, don’t be encouraging people to drink more.” But my Ph. D in Chemistry is saying, “Dude, there has to be some interesting Biochemistry we can take advantage of here.” My Greek heritage is saying, “Dude, don’t forget about Pliny the Elder. He recommended sheep lungs and two owl eggs as a hangover cure.”

All that aside, and because I don’t have a pet owl (yet), in preparation for this post I invented a new word: Pretox.

When you drink alcohol (ethanol) it is metabolized by enzymes (ADH and ALDH) first to acetaldehyde and then to acetate. This has been well-studied and it turns out that both these compounds can be toxic/noxious and make you feel like crap if their levels rise too high. Pretox is aimed at preventing these toxins from forming.

There are things we can do to speed up the activity of ADH and ALDH and there are things we should avoid doing so as not to slow down those enzymes, to cut the chances of not feeling our best next morning.

There’s more! Turns out that many alcoholic beverages contain traces of methanol, arising from sugar fermentation. Methanol can be broken down to formaldehyde-which you don’t want to mess with-unless, of course, you are about to be embalmed. That being the case, you are probably at low risk of going to a party. (This may depend on the type of party.)

Alcoholic beverages aged in barrels (think brandy, Scotch, whiskey, red wine) can contain interesting compounds known as congeners which include tannins, (Don’t be drinkin’ when you’re on the beach tannin’) esters, histamine, other amines, amides, and Amish. Oops! Typo. Congeners add flavor but can also be toxic.

Keeping all of the foregoing in mind, here are my Pretox suggestions:

Figure out which, if any, barrel-aged alcoholic beverages give you the worst hangovers and quit drinking them! Duh.

Drink vodka. It’s pretty clean-burning with no methanol and no congeners.

Drink lots of water to accompany the ethanol. This helps you to pee out acetate, which has been implicated as a cause of hangover headache.

Green tea slows down ADH and ALDH so don’t go drinking a bunch of green tea before you go out drinking. Don’t drink any cocktails containing green tea either. These include the Gin Goblin and the Green Goddess. If memory serves me, wasn’t the Gin Goblin Spiderman’s nemesis in one of the 753 Spiderman remakes? No, wait. That was the Green Goblin: an honest mistake.

If you happen to have a Japanese Raisin Tree in your backyard you should know that the fruit of this tree has a time-honored reputation as a hangover-prevention supplement because it speeds up the alcohol clearance enzymes.

Full disclosure: those things festooning the Japanese Raisin Tree branches are not fruits. They’re actually known as “swollen receptacles.” I swear I would never lie to you about swollen receptacles.

You can buy DHM 1000, a supplement containing dihydromyricetin, extracted from-wait for it-the Japanese Raisin Tree, from an outfit called Double Wood Supplements.

The amino acid, taurine, also speeds up ADH and ALDH.  Taurine is found in red meat and seafood so maybe you should consider feasting on steak and shrimp/crab before you head out to the party. Or you could always just buy a bottle of taurine capsules.

Last but not least, nicotinic acid and its siblings, members of the Vitamin B3 family – we’re talking niacinamide (aka nicotinamide) and NADH here – can provide a cofactor for the ADH and ALDH enzymes, increasing their activity.

Thus endeth the Chemistry lesson.

I hope this is helpful and if you want to express your appreciation you can send me a bottle of Scotch. Or, on second thought, make that vodka.

Happy Holidays!

George Gillson MD PhD

Author: George Gillson, MD, PHD, CCFP
EvolveWell Medical Director





Verster JC, Vermeulen SA, Loo AJAEV, Balikji S, Kraneveld AD, Garssen J, Scholey A. Dietary Nutrient Intake, Alcohol Metabolism, and Hangover Severity. J Clin Med. 2019 Aug 27;8(9):1316. doi: 10.3390/jcm8091316. PMID: 31461972; PMCID: PMC6780234.