Magic hangover pills!

Somehow I came across this thing called PePP, marketed as a hangover cure. The web site ( claims to "reduce alcohol levels by 50% within 40 minutes", which seems like a dubious claim to me.

Short of either vomiting or pissing it out, how can this thing possibly remove alcohol from your system?


Pepp is supposed to contain "natural digestive and metabolic enzymes", which digest that nasty alcohol right out from under you!

(They also say it has "...various organic acids, vitamins and nutrients", but adding those things to the enzymes won't do anything to the enzymes except perhaps give them molecules to break down other than the alcohol. Popping multivitamins during a night on the town is not, by itself, exactly a hangover-zapping breakthrough.)

The major problem here - which applies to all of the other "enzyme" supplements as well - is that if you're a reasonably healthy human, your body already produces as many digestive enzymes as it needs. Enzymes you eat will be destroyed in the digestion process, anyway.

So anything these pills do, they'll have to do to alcohol that's still in your stomach or gut. This, in itself, is not ludicrous; enzymatic digestion certainly does happen in the stomach.

I suppose it's possible that the "recent clinical trials" they mention (PDF) actually exist. But, following the ancient tradition of makers of nonsense "supplements", they don't tell you where (or even if) these "studies" have been published. So who knows whether they're just making it all up or not.

There is absolutely no valid reason for anybody citing a scientific study that supports their statements to not mention, at the very least, who did that study and in what journal it was published. "Secret" studies of one kind or another abound in the world of alternative medicine and other Weird Science; as a rule of thumb, you can take unidentified "studies" as an anti-recommendation for a claim, like when you find out Doctor Smith actually bought his doctorate for $50 from a dude in Antigua.

(If the Sydney Morning Herald is to be believed, there was only one "study", and it was actually not so much a study as... a segment on Australian tabloid TV show "A Current Affair". In which they sent four people out to get pissed and two of them took the Pepp pills. And then someone with a clue actually looked at what was in the pills and concluded that "nothing here that is an actual drug or an actual compound that is known to have an effect on alcohol metabolism".)

There's an ingredients list on that page too, which rather tellingly does include the names of six enzymes (the "-ase" compounds), but which puts them at the very end of the list. If they're following standard ingredients-list rules - which they seem to be; the soy and rice protein pill-fillers are at the top of the list - that means that there's less of the enzymes in the pills than of any of the numerous, and irrelevant, other ingredients.

You'd better hope the top-listed enzyme, amylase, doesn't do anything, because the different amylases all break down starch into alcohol. Whoops - screwed that bit up (Thanks, Ubertakter!). The top-listed enzyme, amylase, actually breaks starches down into sugars. It's still pointless in an anti-alcohol concoction, though, and including it as the highest-dose enzyme still looks to me like a very strong indication that (a) there's actually only trace amounts, at most, of any enzymes in the pills, and (b) the makers of the pills think their customers are a bunch of idiots.

Then there's lipase, which catalyses the hydrolysis of ester bonds in water–insoluble lipids. It's irrelevant to alcohol metabolism, but at least it doesn't make more damn alcohol.

Then there's protease, which breaks amino acids apart (nope, still no good for metabolising alcohol), and cellulase, which is used for cellulose metabolism in creatures that can metabolise it (i.e. not us, but who cares, since cellulose isn't alcohol either).

Then there's lactase, which breaks down (wait for it) lactose, not alcohol.

And, finally, there's something just called "Dehydrogenase" in italics. Lets be generous and say that the emphasis means that it's actually class 1, hepatic, alcohol dehydrogenase. And yes, at long last, we now do have a compound that actually does do something to ethanol. Hepatic alcohol dehydrogenase turns ethanol into acetaldehyde.

But wait - that's the end of the list of enzymes in the pills!

So, assuming this stuff actually works and actually converts a significant amount of the alcohol in your stomach into acetaldehyde... that's where it'll stop. It won't go on to apply acetaldehyde dehydrogenase to the result and leave you with harmless acetic acid. It will, instead, leave you with a gut-full of acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is the chemical considered chiefly responsible for hangovers.

People with East Asian genealogy who flush bright red when they drink alcohol and then have immediate hangover symptoms do so because they've got unusually effective alcohol dehydrogenase, and unusually ineffective acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.

The drug disulfiram ("Antabuse") does essentially the same thing to people who don't have that genetic defect.

It would appear that these pills are trying to give everybody the fantastically awful feeling of acetaldehyde poisoning.

Wow, thanks!

Except, of course, they won't, because the (presumably alcohol) dehydrogenase is right down the end of the list of ingredients, so there's probably pretty much none of it in the pill. Maybe literally none; if that were the case, these would be far from the first "supplement" pills that turned out to have none of the allegedly active ingredient in them at all.

The alleged PEPP "studies" are supposed to say that the pills do something if you take them while you're drinking, and hey, maybe despite all this they actually do. Frankly, I think they'd be more likely to cause people taking them to turn into pumpkins, but what do I know.

But if you're going to take an alcohol-destroying pill along with the alcohol you're drinking, as the "studies" allegedly examined - why not just order friggin' ginger ale? Or save a bit less money by buying your expensive booze and pouring it into a potplant, rather than drinking it along with some pills you bought on eBay from Thailand (only ten bucks for... at the moment they don't say how many... pills - in "organge" flavour!) that promise to remove its effect?

What people are actually doing with the pills, apparently, is making the very wise decision to buy them for hilarious prices after they've already gotten drunk, then deciding they feel much better and driving home.

It is statistically unlikely that the people selling the Pepp pills will be the ones these drunk drivers run over.

But one can hope.

8 Responses to “Magic hangover pills!”

  1. Ubertakter Says:

    I would just like to point out that amylase does not break starches down into alcohol. It actually breaks starches down into sugars. What kind of sugar depends which amylase. Yeasts can then turn those sugars into alcohol. I don't think yeasts can survive in the gastric environment.

  2. alphacheez Says:

    My guess would be that the dehydrogenase used in the pills may be acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. That might then help people who have too little of it. That's REALLY giving this company the benefit of the doubt though.

  3. ming_of_mongo Says:

    Of course, if the dehydrogenase actually refers to a blend of both alcohol dehydrogenase *and* acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, then they'd have a modestly useful product. Alcohol detoxification via these two enzymes does occur in the stomach (in men only - women lack the enzymes in their stomachs. Both genders, however, do the majority of metabolism in the liver. However, this difference is the reason why men can generallly drink more). Anyway, if you had a product containing both enzymes in useful quantities, it would probably allow you to drink more Grange Hermitage than usual before leaving the pub for the night....

    Of course, as you've suggested, it's more likely they've only included one of the dehydrogenase compounds.

    Another possibility, rather than them having included alcohol dehydrogenase in their product, is if they'd included solely aldehyde degrogenase instead. As it's the acetaldehyde which makes you feel so awful when you've been drinking heavily, additional enzyme could at least help make you feel a it better. It would do nothing, though, to hasten the removal of alcohol from your blood stream per se. In any case, I'm not sure if this would be viable given that once alcohol has been metabolised to acetaldehyde in the liver, I don't think gastric metabolism would play a major role in detoxifying acetaldehyde to acetic acid.

    Bottom line: if someone can come up with a pill that contains both enzymes in useful quantities - I'd be willing to bet that it would have some effect. That doesn't seem to be the case here though, does it...

  4. Zarquon Says:

    I'm not an expert on chemistry but isn't the point about enzymes that they are catalysts and are not consumed by the reactions they promote. In this case the minimal amount of enzymes in the pill may be no more than is necessary.
    Without doing the quantitative chemistry, I don't think you can say they have too little active ingredient.

  5. ming_of_mongo Says:

    Zarquon, you're correct (enzymes are catalysts). However we're talking about a non-static environment here. Once the pills are swallowed, it will take between 15 minutes and 2 hours for the majority of the enzyme that was ingested to be inactivated due to chemical inactivation. Worse than that, you need to have the alcohol actually *in* your stomach at the same time as the enzyme is there - meaning they're only possibly useful if you take them *with* the wine/beer/spirits you're drinking. Taking the tablets hours later will do pretty much nothing.

    Also, with respect to alcohol metabolism, the enzymes used (alcohol- and aldehyde- dehydrogenase) are both saturable (ie. can only cope with a certain amount of alcohol per hour), plus compete to metabolise other ingested compounds. (The famous one being methanol, with which ethanol competes for metabolism).

    The rate-limited nature of alcohol metabolism (10g alcohol per hour) means you'd need to add a significant amount of enzyme to metabolise a gastric "load" of alcohol in quick enough time, prior to the alcohol all being absorbed.

    ie. to metabolise 2 standard drinks you'd need to have both twice the amount of alcohol dehydrogenase that's actually in your liver, present in your stomach. This assumes alcohol sits in your stomach for a full 1 hour, and that you take the tablets simultaneously. If you assume the alcohol starts being absorbed much more quickly (eg. takes only 1/2 an hour transit time in stomach), then you need 4 times as much alcohol dehydrogenase as is present in your liver.

    These pills would start getting fairly big pretty quickly in order to be useful. The above doesn't take into account inactivation of the enzyme by the gastric environment, nor the fact that this catalysis is taking place in a low pH which may not favour the process as much as the neutral environment of the liver.

  6. crazee_hylton Says:

    It actually says on the website how many need to be taken. "2 before and 2 after help with the morning after" In my public speaking class, we were told to "come up with a product and market it to our class". Our group decided to do something similar to this, a pill you could take after your night of partying so you could drive home. We had no idea that other people were having the same foolish idea. haha. We know that there is no such thing that could diminish the effects of alcohol within an hour, we just thought it would be cool. And its a great thing for our class, cause we have our "audience" in mind.

  7. affgar Says:

    Sounds like some very simplistic judgements being made about a product & company that seem very sound & have a lot of credibility.
    Why not actually go to the web site & look at the ingredients & read the info first hand???
    The enzymes work mainly on the liver, though i am sure it would be processing alcohol at many stages within your blood, stomach, tissue mass & bodily organs. Taking half a glass of water every hour will also help to dillute & disperse any of the broken down alchol.
    Rockeby Biomed is a singapore based Biomed company that has been around for many years. Just recently it received funding from the Singaporean Government.
    Rockeby is currently in the process of getting TGA approval for Pepp.
    They have a range of ground breaking new products. Pepp is really only a diversification & a lucky break through it seems.
    They have developed & improved new testing kits for avian bird flu, Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal Candidiasis, HIV. Check them out for yourself.

    Please dont just bag people & products without any real conviction or just creating simplistic answers to complex processes & reactions that you have not studied.
    Pepp pill have been proven to work.... if you cant afford them dont buy them. =)

  8. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Sounds like some very simplistic judgements being made about a product & company that seem very sound & have a lot of credibility.

    Uh huh.

    Why not actually go to the web site & look at the ingredients & read the info first hand???

    Uh... that's what I did. Do you think I just made the ingredients list up?

    The enzymes work mainly on the liver,

    Only if they make it into the bloodstream. If you eat them, you'll just digest them, like most other complex molecules you eat.

    (Number of atoms in an ethanol molecule: Nine. Number of atoms in an alcohol dehydrogenase molecule: Thousands.)

    If they're going to do anything, orally administered enzymes therefore have to do it to the alcohol with which they are sharing your GI tract, before the alcohol makes it to the bloodstream and before your own stomach acid and digestive enzymes have time to break the other enzymes down.

    Had you read the other comments, you would know this. But that might interfere with your own very well-thought-out and entirely non-simplistic "judgements".

    Taking half a glass of water every hour will also help to dillute & disperse any of the broken down alchol.

    Taken literally, this statement is meaningless. Why would you care whether alcohol that's already been "broken down" is "dispersed" or not?

    Taking a more charitable interpretation, drinking water along with your booze will help your hangover by itself, but moderate dilution of booze will, if anything, accelerate absorption of the alcohol.

    Rockeby Biomed ... have a range of ground breaking new products.

    Do they? Let's have a look!

    Well, they've got PePP, plus a treatment for thrush, and test kits for HIV and bird flu. Those don't look especially ground-breaking to me, but what the hey.

    They've also, however, got a treatment for "Systemic Candidiasis", a disease that even Doctor Weil calls an "unfounded diagnosis". If you've actually got yeast in your blood you're going to be very gravely ill, not buying some over-the-counter remedy because you're getting a lot of colds and feel a bit run-down.

    Pepp pill have been proven to work...

    By whom? How? When?

    Has anybody, anywhere, ever shown oral administration of alcohol dehydrogenase to be of value?

    And, once again - what on earth is the point of taking something that'll eat the alcohol in your stomach, if you're not a secret agent who needs to drink and stay sharp, or something?

    A pill that clears alcohol and congeners and nasty metabolites from your system when the night is over would unquestionably be handy. And if it were possible for the enzymes to pass undamaged into the bloodstream, they might perhaps then do some good. But we know for a fact that they will not do that.

    So what we're left with is a pill that only even offers the possibility of eating some of the alcohol before it makes it to your bloodstream. Which, clearly, will do nothing that just drinking less in the first place wouldn't do.

    If you're not going to get the fun of the drug, why take it?

Leave a Reply