From hangover-free liquor to eating dry yeast, the internet has tried to help fight hangovers for decades. And yet another hangover “cure” went viral in May 2021 after a Twitter user shared a photo of an asparagus bunch on May 22.
A tag attached to the vegetable bundle told consumers, “Eating asparagus before you start drinking can help protect your liver. Its minerals and amino acids not only protect the liver from toxins, the enzymes in asparagus can help break down the alcohol and alleviate hangovers.”
Thank you, pack of tiny trees. pic.twitter.com/ABnuhi86jz
— 🐺 (@John_Nissan) May 22, 2021
That claim can be traced back to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Food Science by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), a forum of science and food professionals. Based on the evidence presented in the research, we determined this claim to be a mixture due to the fact that the scientists found that asparagus extract helped to alleviate the effects of alcohol in cultured human cells — not actual humans. While these findings suggested that consuming asparagus could help alleviate the effects of an alcohol hangover and protect the liver against some toxins, it is unknown whether eating asparagus in its pure form before, after, or while drinking alcohol will immediately help soothe a hangover, and if so, to what extent.
The researchers credit Asparagus officinalis, the species of asparagus they used in the 2009 study, for anti-cancer effects, as well as antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic properties. Its roots and shoots consist of health-promoting plant compounds like flavonoids, carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, and protein-building amino acid derivatives.
To determine whether A. officinalis might also be considered a “supplement for the alleviation of alcohol hangover,” researchers at the Institute of Medical Science and Jeju National University in Korea analyzed components of young asparagus shoots and leaves to compare the biochemical effect on human and rat liver cells — not humans.
The researchers collected asparagus from several different farms in Korea, air-dried the shoots and leaves from young plants and then extracted their compounds and injected them into rat and human cells that had been cultured in Petri dishes (known as HepG2), some of which contained the key chemical found in alcohol, ethanol. (For comparison, the asparagus extract was also compared with two commercial hangover drinks available on the market at the time, Condition and Dawn808, for controls.)
Chronic alcohol use can cause oxidative stress on the liver, which is responsible for metabolizing ethanol through two key enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Higher concentrations of a metabolite of ADH called acetate can cause toxic effects of alcohol — also known as hangover symptoms. But when treated with asparagus extract, these two enzymes worked nearly twice as effectively to essentially detoxify the liver cells.
“Cellular toxicities were significantly alleviated in response to treatment with the extracts of asparagus leaves and shoots,” said lead researcher B.Y. Kim in a news release at the time of the study. “These results provide evidence of how the biological functions of asparagus can help alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells.”
Although the scientists did not compare other species of asparagus, they note that the antioxidant activity of A. officinalis observed in this study was “potent enough” to provide biochemical evidence that asparagus may alleviate alcohol hangover and protect liver cells against toxins. They also noted that asparagus leaves, which are normally chucked out, contain higher levels of amino acids and inorganic mineral contents that could also be therapeutically beneficial.
Snopes contacted the IFT to determine if there have been additional or more recent studies regarding whether asparagus can help to alleviate the effects of a hangover. However, we did not hear back from the organization.
In short, a 2009 study held promise for treating hangovers, but it did not necessarily provide conclusive evidence that eating asparagus will cure — or prevent — hangovers. Your best bet? Health experts recommend staying hydrated, replacing lost vitamins and, unfortunately, just waiting it out.