A first-of-its-kind probiotic aims to combat hangover symptoms. It works by breaking down a dangerous byproduct of booze.

Business Insider US
ZBiotics is taken before your first drink.
Courtesy of ZBiotics

  • A genetic engineering startup is launching a probiotic to combat the aftereffects of drinking alcohol.
  • Called ZBiotics, it's designed to be consumed before a night of drinking to help break down acetaldehyde, a by-product of metabolising alcohol associating with many side effects of drinking.
  • ZBiotics founder and microbiologist Zach Abbott says he hopes this will be the first of many products from the company to improve people's lives.
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Planning for a big night out, but already dreading the sure-to-be-rough morning after? A team of scientists aims to fix that.

ZBiotics, the brainchild of microbiologist Zach Abbott, is a probiotic designed to ease the uncomfortable side effects of drinking. Simply throw back the shot-like beverage before your first round of the night, and your body will be better equipped to block some of alcohol's health-damaging effects at the microscopic level, the company says.

ZBiotics isn't an explicit cure for "hangovers," since the term can include a wide variety of alcohol's negative side effects. Rather, ZBiotics has a simple and specific purpose - to help break down acetaldehyde, a by-product of metabolising ethanol, aka booze.

Acetaldehyde is more toxic than ethanol and associated with the headaches, nausea, and heart palpitations you get after one too many drinks. In large amounts, it can damage tissues and is known to be a carcinogen, or a cancer-causing compound, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Acetaldehyde forms in the body naturally as the liver breaks down ethanol. Although it will naturally dissipate over time, the more you drink, the more of it builds up in the body, causing you to feel worse.

Enter ZBiotics. It contains a probiotic, a form of "good" bacteria often already found in the human diet. Abbott's team genetically engineered this bacteria to produce an enzyme naturally found in the human liver that helps break down acetaldehyde.

"It combines things that your body is already quite familiar with," Abbott said.

Abbott said the product is the result of years of testing, both for safety and effectiveness. He said more than 90% of people who tested the product said they perceived the benefits, suggesting it's more effective than a placebo.

"We engineered this to do something that's never been done before, so it was our responsibility to be really rigorous about this," Abbott said.

Still, ZBiotics hasn't been formally tested in a blinded, controlled study, so it remains to be seen exactly how well, or even if, the product works.

A probiotic can't prevent all that may go wrong when imbibing

Probiotics can't protect you from all of the dangers of drinking. The product doesn't alter the intoxicating effect of alcohol in any way, so it won't prevent you from getting drunk and making bad decisions, or help you sober up.

Abbott also said the product works best when combined with other strategies to reduce alcohol's side effects, not all of which are due to acetaldehyde. Getting enough sleep and staying hydrated are equally important to preventing hangovers, as is a good breakfast the morning after.

Ultimately, Abbott said Zbiotics is about more than just the day after drinking. "It's about giving the public access to a new technology," he said. He said he hopes this "functional beverage" will be the first of many genetic engineering solutions from the company to improve people's lives.

Abbott's company is also working on a probiotic to help break down lactose for people who are sensitive to dairy products, and another to help people absorb vitamins and minerals more effectively. These are processes that naturally occur via microbes inside the body, he explained, but genetic engineering could make it happen more efficiently and predictably.

"I wanted to leverage the power of these good bacteria that live all around us and in us, and use that to benefit people," Abbott said. "Microbes present a huge opportunity for humanity."

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