Your New Hangover Cure: Fish Oil

One thing you should know about me is that I force fish oil upon everyone I love. If the capsules are too big to swallow, I'll find you gummy fish oil; if you think it makes your breath fishy, I'll find you odorless capsules. There are approximately 45 to 1,000 reasons why fish oil can benefit most people, the biggest of which involve heart and brain health. I have also made the relatively frivolous but brilliant discovery that, taken before drinking, fish oils seem to help prevent hangovers.

This is purely personal anecdote, and possibly placebo effect. I once tried to find supporting science for an article, but no luck. The effects of fish oil on alcohol consumption are unknown — until now? A new study from Loyola University Chicago doesn't directly measure hangover effect, but it did find that fish oil protects against alcohol-induced inflammation and damage in the brain.

The study — presented at a biomedical research on alcoholism conference in Poland — comes from a team of doctors who previously studied the effect of drinking on dementia risk. They found moderate drinking (two drinks a day) could lower cognitive decline and dementia risk in women and men. Small amounts of alcohol seemed to "toughen up" brain cells, preparing them to cope with stress later in life.

Too much alcohol, however, could "overwhelm" brain cells — leading to inflammation in the brain and cell death. In their new study, the researchers set out to see if the anti-inflammatory omega-3s in fish oil would have any effect on the way brain cells reacted to alcohol.

Call in the drunk rats. After giving some rats fish oil and all rats large quantities of alcohol — equivalent to someone being four times over the legal alcohol limit for driving, or what the study author called "binge alcohol" — the researchers analyzed the rats' brain cells. Those who had received fish oil showed as much as 95 percent less neuroinflammation and brain cell death.

Because of this, Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil could help protect against alcohol-related dementia, the study concluded. Dementia in general and alcohol-related dementia in particular stem from chronic inflammation and brain cell loss over time. Future research will focus on whether fish oil supplements can prevent binge alcohol-induced memory impairments.

The brain naturally contains high levels of DHA (the fatty acid in fish oil) in membranes, said lead researcher Michael Collins. Binge drinking reduces this, and "the (fish oil) supplementation prevents this loss."

Bam! There's my hangover prevention hook? Drinking destroys DHA in our brain's membrane; fish oil replenishes it. Yes, some hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration, some by loss of vitamins, some the poor sleep quality that alcohol produces... but couldn't some portion of the awfulness have to do with this omega-3 depletion in the brain?

Omega-3 levels can affect things like intelligence, memory, mood and mental health (ADHD, depression).Could omega-3 loss explain the dreaded, inexplicable hangover brain fog? My still-unscientific but now better-supported theory says yes.

For the record, Collins discourages coming to exactly this conclusion. "We don't want people to think it's okay to take a few fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol," Collins said in a press release. The best thing for the brain is to keep alcohol consumption moderate.

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