Even the most health conscious nootropic enthusiasts let loose every once in awhile. Which means that every once in awhile, nootropic enthusiasts must suffer the proper punishment for their occasional loose-letting: the infamous hangover. Fortunately, the hangover doesn't have to be quite so miserable, thanks to the existence of nootropics for hangovers.
Of course, the best hangover remedy is to not drink at all. After all, once the fun begins, there is no reliable escape from the next-morning slog back to reality -- with or without nootropics. But if there's anything at all that might reduce the buzzing in your brain, you'd take it, right? Consider this our buzz-brain-busting guide on how to reduce hangover symptoms with the right nootropic strategies.
How Do Hangovers Affect Cognition?
Most drinkers don't require clinical research to tell them that the hangover state negatively impacts cognition. It's essentially common wisdom that what goes up the night before must eventually come crashing back down the morning after. (Or, more accurately, what goes down must painfully come back out.)
Of course, not all drinking results in a painful hangover the following morning. In fact, there is some merit to the "a glass of red wine is good for your heart" claim that has gained in popularity over the past few decades. Healthy antioxidant polyphenols sourced from grapes may be consumed via drinking wine, albeit in moderate amounts. However, the health benefits of drinking transition to unhealthy hangover territory when the following criteria are met:
- High number of drinks - a glass or two per night may offer significant health advantages; yet, consuming 5+ drinks within a short time-frame (i.e., a single evening) may overwhelm the body with an inordinate amount of ethanol (alcohol).
- Lack of sleep - drinking at a party setting typically involves staying up late, reducing the brain and body's overnight recovery time. Research suggests that alcohol may impair sleep quality and duration while increasing sleep disturbances.
- Drinking on an empty stomach - without food to mitigate the absorption of alcohol in the gut, the speed of alcohol absorption rapidly overwhelms the body with an excess level of alcohol, impairing judgment and cognition quicker.
For the binge drinkers, whether they're drinking wine or other forms of alcohol, the negative effects far outweigh the potential positives of drinking. And when it comes to how the hangover negatively impacts cognition, the particular areas of cognitive performance involved typically include:
Focus and Concentration
One of the most common complaints about hangovers is how they impair focus and concentration, especially when paired with the hangover headache. Due to the dull head pain and other cognitive annoyances (e.g., painful sensitivity to light), hungover thinkers may find it incredibly difficult simply to focus on a single objective; let alone any attempt at multi-tasking various objectives. This may explain why we enter an almost vegetative state when we're hungover, as the simple act of focusing on anything may induce cognitive pain.
Mood and Motivation
Excess alcohol intake places an incredible amount of oxidative and hormonal stress on the brain and body. While oxidative stress (i.e., free radical levels) may have harmful "aging" effects all across the body, hormonal stress (namely stress hormone cortisol) may negative impact the brain's catecholamine neurotransmitter levels, e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine. These brain chemicals play a key role in mood and motivation, energy and attention. By depleting them, alcohol may disrupt whatever excitement you had for today's plans and goals.
Brain Fog and Fatigue
The "night cap" technique to achieving better sleep with a couple drinks may work, so long as the drinker stays limited to only a couple drinks. However, following a night of binge-drinking or several nights of late-night benders, sleep deprivation accompanies the hangover, worsening its effects by impairing the necessary overnight recovery and recharge. Energy levels decrease, contributing to brain fatigue, a condition of mental sleepiness that affects nearly every aspect of cognitive performance. If engaged too frequently, brain fatigue may transcend to a more chronic state of brain fog, an ongoing condition of fuzzy memory and slow intellectual processing.
Working memory, attention, visual functions -- task-related cognitive functions required for adequate workplace performance or sports performance decrease during the hangover state. According to a study performed on healthy subjects, the hangover seems to particularly affect cognition linked to the higher cortical and visual functions associated with the left hemisphere and right posterior hemisphere. In other words, the hangover makes mentally demanding tasks harder not by the hangover's subjective discomforts but by the hangover's physiological impacts on the brain.
Common hangover symptoms include:
- Tiredness and slow-thinking
- Increased irratibility
- Headache and grogginess
- Upset stomach and nausea
- Reduced appetite
Not to mention the subjective side effects of alcohol binge-drinking, which commonly include regret, anxiety, and sometimes depression. Frequent binge-drinking may contribute to ongoing memory loss and confusion, potentially complicating relationships and other commitments.
Does a Hangover Cure Exist?
Everyone seems to have their own special hangover cure -- from drinking raw eggs to sweating it all out at the sauna -- but does an actual hangover cure exist? Certainly certain recipes and techniques may help reduce the harshness of certain hangover side effects; however, once you're hungover, you're hungover.
The only sure way to avoid a hangover is to not drink. However, by identifying the specific aspects of alcohol that lead to a hangover, we may identify certain protective substances and techniques that may limit alcohol's hangover risk. One theory points to acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism. The liver metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, a compound that the liver and body may break down into a non-toxic metabolite. However, when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed, an overwhelming amount of acetaldehyde builds up, negative impacting mental and physical performance.
Theoretically, you may decrease the negative side effects of hangovers by:
- Reducing acetaldehyde build up
- Protecting against the side effects of acetaldehyde build up
A few experimental compounds, such as Metadoxine and Dihydromyricetin, may help combat acetaldehyde build up. However, certain cognitive enhancing nootropics may do the same as well, while also improving other various cognitive factors.
Benefits of Nootropics for Hangovers
Supplementing nootropics for hangovers may help reduce the negative side effects of drinking by:
- Increasing the body's antioxidant capacity against oxidative stress
- Regulating the stress hormone pathway against excess cortisol stress
- Improving natural energy production for better focus and processing
- Replenishing brain chemical precursors to protect against neurotransmitter depletion
- Protecting cardiovascular health for better circulation
And more. However, no single nootropic may sufficiently protect against alcohol's attack on the brain and body, and so the smart approach is to find a smart, safe stack of nootropics that protects against the hangover from various angles. Here are a few nootropics worth stacking for your next big night out.
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Hangovers
L-Theanine (+ Caffeine)
How-to-use: L-theanine prior to drink for liver protection then L-theanine + caffeine the next morning for cognitive clarity.
Often, the first thing we gravitate towards when we're hungover is coffee. We eat a hardy breakfast (if we can keep it down) and we pair it with a cup of coffee to shake off the remnant goo slowing down our thinking. However, if you want truly improved and energized thinking in the morning, you'll want to wake up to an L-Theanine + Caffeine short-stack with that short stack of pancakes.
Individually, L-theanine and caffeine possess their own cognitive enhancing benefits. For better focus and relaxation, L-theanine works by promoting alpha brainwaves, the brain frequencies associated with calm, creative, meditative thinking. Caffeine, on the other hand, synthetically stimulates brain energy and focus, sometimes to the point of cognitive impairment. Thus, stacking L-theanine with caffeine may help sustain the stimulant's brain boosts while minimizing its jittery side effects.
In fact, the combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine were found to improve cognitive performance beyond the scope of what these compounds can accomplish individually.<1>
Not that caffeine is necessary to achieving L-theanine's benefits on cognitive clarity. For reducing alcohol's negative effects on the liver, standalone L-theanine seems to help by increasing the liver's antioxidant capacity. Animal research has found L-theanine to be effective at improving alcohol metabolism and reducing liver toxicity when administered prior to alcohol-exposed mice.<2>
So, it seems the best strategy is to take an L-theanine serving while drinking and another in the morning, optionally with caffeine, to protect against liver damage and to energize mental vitality.
Frequent drinking contributes to B vitamin-deficiency, leading to a series of memory and mood disorders.
Drinking alcohol depletes the body of B vitamins, which play key roles in hundreds of metabolic pathways, from the production of catecholamine neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine) to the protection of blood vessels against homocysteine build-up.<3>
For frequent drinkers, this may explain why excess alcohol intake seems to be linked with significant decreases in:
- Mood and motivation
- Energy and focus
- Cardiovascular health
- Healthy aging
For the occasional binge drinker, the sudden depletion in B vitamin status may be linked to the "foggy" symptoms of the hangover. In a study on healthy male drinkers, alcohol intake demonstrated a significant increase in homocysteine levels and a reduction in B9 and B12 levels.<4>
Supplementing a well-rounded, easy-to-absorb B vitamin complex may help both regular and irregular drinkers sustain healthy B vitamin levels to protect against circulatory issues and brain chemical deficiencies.
B Vitamins + N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine. For additional neurotransmitter assistance, try stacking B vitamins with N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, a premium form of the stress reducing amino acid L-tyrosine. As a supplement, NALT improves catecholamine neurotransmitter activity through its participation in the catecholaminergic synthesis pathway. B vitamins co-facilitate the conversion processes between catecholamines.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Part cholinergic and part energy booster, citicoline seems to improve cognitive repair while reducing addictive substance dependence.
While citicoline has not been directly studied for hangover recovery, the brain boosting cholinergic seems to possess significant brain regenerative properties, thanks to its two brain essential compounds:
- Choline - the precursor to acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter associated with memory and learning.
- Cytidine - the precursor to uridine, the nucleotide associated with synaptic plasticity and cell growth.<5>
Theoretically, due to citicoline's promotion of natural brain energy production and neuronal repair, it makes sense to supplement the brain booster in conjunction with a party-heavy lifestyle. However, due to the cholinergic pathway's role in substance abuse, citicoline's choline content might be helpful in reducing the risk of ongoing, unhealthy alcohol drinking.<6> One review on "Citicoline in Addictive Disorders" assessed that "citicoline appears to decrease cravings" for substances ranging from alcohol to food consumption.<7>
While a brain healthy compound altogether, citicoline may help casual drinkers refrain their drinking and substance use from becoming a compulsive habit.
Given the relationship between alcohol intake and stress hormone secretion, Rhodiola's stress reducing benefits may help ameliorate the drinker's stress response.
Research indicates that alcohol consumption is associated with the activation of the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, the body's primary stress hormone pathway. Likewise, Rhodiola rosea seems to have a direct impact on the HPA axis, balancing stress hormone cortisol release while boosting energy metabolism<8>:
- One review on stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea found that the herbal adaptogen "offers comprehensive treatment of stress symptoms and can prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications."
While not directly studied for its impact on alcohol consumption or hangover symptoms, Rhodiola's stress management benefits seem particularly useful in reducing the negative stress impact of drinking.
For the mass building athlete and bodybuilder, Rhodiola may help restore an anabolic ratio of cortisol:testosterone, which is otherwise impaired by alcohol's stressful catabolic effects.<9> On the cognitive end, Rhodiola's amelioration of brain fatigue and fog is a definite plus in the face of a head-splitting hangover.
Mind Lab Pro® supplies some of the best nootropics to protect the brain while you let loose.
While the best strategy to avoid the hangover is to abstain from drinking altogether, Mind Lab Pro®'s unique Universal Nootropic™ design may help restore cognitive function following a late-night out.
- Whether self-inflicted or naturally occurring, we all experience varying degrees of brain hurt. This clean, powerful formula includes a smart array of nootropics that help preserve mental health and performance, despite our unhealthy habits.
Supplementing Mind Lab Pro® daily is a habit worth forming, as several of its key nootropic ingredients possess research-backed protective effects against habit-forming substances. If we don't bend a little, we break. Fortunately, with Mind Lab Pro®, we can experience less breakage on the weekends and onward.
- Owen GN et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Aug; 11(4): 193-8.
- Sadzuka Y et al. Effects of theanine on alcohol metabolism and hepatic toxicity. Biol Pharm Bull. 2005 Sep; 28(9): 1702-6.
- Laufer EM et al. Effects of moderate alcohol consumption on folate and vitamin B(12) status in postmenopausal women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004 Nov; 58(11): 1518-24.
- Gibson A et al. Alcohol increases homocysteine and reduces B vitamin concentration in healthy male volunteers--a randomized, crossover intervention study. QJM. 2008 Nov; 101(11): 881-887.
- Gutierrez-Fernandez M et al. CDP-choline treatment induces brain plasticity markers expression in experimental animal stroke. Neurochem Int. 2012 Feb; 60(3): 310-7.
- Rahman S, Prendergast MA. Cholinergic receptor system as a target for treating alcohol abuse and dependence. Recent Pat CNS Drug Discov. 2012 Aug; 7(2): 145-50.
- Wignall ND, Brown ES. Citicoline in Addictive Disorders: A Review of the Literature. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2014 Jul; 40(4): 262-68.
- Anghelescu IG et al. Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2018 Jan 11: 1-11.
- Badrick E et al. The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Cortisol Secretion in an Aging Cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Mar; 93(3): 750-57.