It’s early Saturday evening and I’m gearing up for a night out, down the pub with my husband and our friends. I’m doing all my usual prep – piling on the eyeliner, slathering my limbs in a shimmery body oil and doing a left-it-too-late, wonky paint-job on my nails.
I’m also necking some pills. No, mum, if you’re reading this, not like that. I’m trying Mrkyl, the hangover-preventing supplement that everyone’s talking about. I am basically trying to biohack my way out of a bender.
Pronounced “miracle”, the Swedish food supplement launched in the UK this summer to rave reviews from testers. Claiming to break down alcohol before it reaches the liver, it sold out within 24 hours, with 100,000 units shifted in the just 50 days. Pretty impressive when you consider that a pack of 30 Mrykl costs £30 (compared to £1 for a box of basic paracetamol). The brand is clearly gearing up for a bumper Christmas (not to mention World Cup pub sessions), with ads plastered all over the London Underground and a limit of ten packs per transaction.
‘Tis the season to be jolly – sometimes a bit too jolly, when one drink at the office Christmas party leads to another one, and then to another six. So is Mrykl really salvation for the social drinker over the coming weeks? I selflessly order a bottle of chilled Sauvignon to find out.
What is Myrkl exactly and how does it work?
Created by De Faire Medical and 30 years in the making, its patented formula includes:
- · Two probiotic bacteria - bacillis subtilis and bacillus coagulans - that may assist with breaking down alcohol in the gut
- · L-cysteine – an amino acid that may help alcohol metabolism
- · Vitamin B12 to support energy
You take two pills with water one to two hours before you start drinking, which, they say, break down up to 70 per cent of alcohol in your gut before it reaches your liver. This means the liver doesn’t produce acetic acid, which is believed to be the thing that makes you feel revolting the next day.
These claims are based on a double-blind trial, published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolic Insights, in which 24 people, with an average age of 25, drank a small amount of vodka after eating breakfast.
The company acknowledges that Mrkyl only seems to work for 7/10 people. “Supplement absorption depends on many internal and external factors,” they note – and they offer a money-back guarantee. “But,” they say, “when people are satisfied they usually become hardcore fans.”
I believe in Mrykl: the morning after the night before
My pub jaunt was clearly no scientific trial but I’m certain that Mrykl worked for me that evening. I’ve reached a point in my drinking career where even one or two glasses noticeably impact on how I feel the next day. Admittedly it wasn’t a very wild, very late night but after the best part of a bottle of wine, I woke up far brighter eyed and bushier tailed than I deserved to.
Interestingly, the pills didn’t seem to stop me from becoming pleasantly tipsy. You know that turning point in an evening where everyone starts talking and drinking faster, and the levels of silliness and noise increase? That still happened. Mrkyl didn’t kill the buzz.
But I opened my eyes naturally at 7am (no matchsticks required) and felt spookily rested. I wasn’t dehydrated, my brain didn’t feel fuzzy, I wasn’t craving a big fat fry up, I didn’t have my usual headache and my stomach wasn’t, for once, churning.
It was actually rather disconcerting – can consequence-free boozing really be a good thing?A couple of hours later, standing on the touchline at my son’s football match, I boast about my surprising Sunday morning spriteliness to the other parents. All fellow busy midlifers who can’t put it away like they used to and don’t have time to be brutally hungover, they are fascinated. Within five minutes, one of the dads has bought a stash of Mrkyl on his phone. I feel like a drug dealer.
What is the NHS advice on drinking alcohol?
This feels like a good juncture to remind you (and myself and my friends) that NHS guidelines state the maximum safe drinking limit is 14 units per week (that’s the equivalent to six 175ml glasses of wine), spread across at least three days.
What do the experts think about Mrykl?
Dr Miguel Toribio-Mateas, a clinical neuroscientist, applied microbiologist and head of R&D at kefir brand, Chuckling Goat, points out that Mrkl’s claims pivot on one tiny trial that didn’t mimic normal boozing rituals. “These were young people having a relatively small drink, after food, early in the day, whenmetabolism is working faster than in the evening. I would say that most people who’d suffer from a hangover would be likely to drink on an empty stomach, later in the day and, crucially, a lot more than the equivalent of one small shot of vodka,” he says. As for the Bacillus coagulans and Bacillus subtilis in the formulation (the amounts of which are undisclosed), he says: “No amount of these two microbes will have an impact on alcohol metabolism.”
Nutritionist and women’s health and perimenopause expert Emma Bardwell also points out the small study sample size and flags up that Mrkyl is categorised as a supplement rather than a drug, with the former subject to less scrutiny from regulators than the latter.
As for the ingredients, she says: “Vitamin B12 is useful for fighting fatigue and alcohol can affect levels in the body so it may well help with the listlessness that comes after a night on the booze.
“L-cysteine is an amino acid that may help with alcohol metabolism - it’s an antioxidant - but there are currently no approved claims in the UK to allow this aim to be used for marketing,“ she continues.
“L-cysteine is found in eggs, whole grains and poultry. You actually need B12 (along with B6 and B9) to make cysteine naturally in the body, so this may be why Mrykl has combined the two ingredients.
“Having decent cysteine levels would arguably help mop up the free radical damage caused by drinking alcohol.”
She can see the appeal of popping the pill: “As a menopause specialist, I constantly hear clients says they can no longer tolerate alcohol in small amounts but I’d need to see more evidence before recommending it to them. I’d be open to trying it myself in the name of research though!”
So the experts aren’t convinced and there’s not huge body of research to rely on. But… I plan to continue putting Mrkyl to the test over the coming weeks, as the festive party season kicks fully in. I have terrifying amounts of going out out booked in through December (four nights in a row – can I? Should I?) so I reckon it’s worth a go after a promising start.
Even health experts sometimes have one sherry too many. Here’s how the professionals beat hangovers
“Over the years I have created my own regime of anti-histamines, omeprazole, glutathione, vitamin C, milk thistle and NAC to prevent hangovers,” says Dr Johanna Ward, GP and cosmetic doctor, who takes her “bits and bobs” a couple of hours before she has a drink and says she no-longer gets post alcohol migraines as a result.
“Omeprazole protects your tummy so you don’t get gastritis. Anti-histamines can help counteract histamine release from certain alcohols such as wine and prosecco, while NAC helps to support your liver while it has the arduous task of breaking down the toxins. NAC is a drug given for overdoses in A&E to protect the liver. It can help to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation during the breakdown process.”
Rehydration salts before bed: Dioralyte, £3.50
Dioralyte is an oldie but a goodie, says nutritionist Emma Bardwell: “Take a sachet before bed and one the morning after. It rehydrates and replaces lost electrolytes which is essentially what causes a hangover.”
Liposomal glutathione, the master antioxidant, for liver support: Altrient Glutathione, £89.99
“If I know I’m going to be drinking, I’ll take this. It’s expensive and smell like farts but it works,” says aesthetic doctor Sophie Shotter. Glutathione, known as the body’s master antioxidant, is made up of amino acids glycine, cysteine and glutamic acid. It helps the liver eliminate the free radicals created by alcohol, thus reducing inflammation, which can cause, among other things, the dreaded hangover headaches. Because it’s poorly absorbed it needs to be taken in liposomal form such as this. Alternatively, it can be given via IV drip therapy.
Nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy favours the herb milk thistle in combination with dandelion, both of which support liver function. It’s also found in CytoPlan CytoProtect Liver, £14.90, another of his top picks. But he strikes a note of caution: “If you’re needing to use a hangover formula frequently then it’s probably a good idea to evaluate your relationship with alcohol.”
Eat kefir for a balanced gut microbiome: Chuckling Goat kefir, £50
When it comes to minimizing hangovers, Dr Miguel takes a long-term view. He advises a balanced diet, with plenty of fresh produce and a source of health-promoting microbes, such as kefir. “Probiotics and prebiotics should be part of an integral approach to mitigate the effects of alcohol use on the body, particularly on liver health. Alcohol will be processed by the gut and liver in a less toxic way, which means fewer after-effects.” As for his kefir of choice: “Goat’s milk is much easier to digest than cow’s. Chuckling Goat provides 27 live beneficial live cultures, making it a wonderful and powerful food-based multi-strain probiotic. A daily smoothie made with Chuckling Goat’s kefir is a fantastic way to support your gut over the holiday season, and beyond.”
Sidenote: new research shows that a decent diet is important for the brain too, when it comes to the impulse to drink. Says Dr Miguel: “The science points to disturbances in the complex ecosystem that is the gut flora leading to stronger susceptibility to engage in behaviours with an addictive component, like alcohol drinking. The theory - which has been tested in animals and is beginning to show promise in humans too - is that by keeping a balanced, diverse gut microbiome, people will have less of a tendency to binge on alcohol.”