I love a cocktail. My signature is a Cosmo (the first time I stepped into a cocktail bar, it was the only name I could remember from Sex and the City, and it turns out the girls were onto something). But the older I get, the less I can stomach the idea of a hangover. I’m not a heavy drinker, but after more than one or two drinks down the pub — I live in London — I wake up feeling groggy, nauseated, and with faint memories of heart-reacting to 16 acquaintances’ Instagram Stories.
Recently, I visited a friend in Tokyo for ten days, and we’d planned a night of karaoke and sake in Shibuya. I was fully into the karaoke portion of the evening (my song is “Jealous” by Nick Jonas, if you’re interested), but not so much the drinking. I didn’t want to lose a day loitering around my friend’s apartment, muttering about how I was “genuinely never going to drink again.”
When I sounded concerned, my friend reminded me of our last trip to Tokyo in 2019, when we’d swigged a vitamin drink from the 7/11 before heading out — and woken up without hangovers. Drinks that promise to prevent hangovers are actually quite popular in Japan: Most convenience stores have a dedicated section filled with rows of them. The most popular one is called Ukon no Chikara, and each golden, pill-bottle-size drink contains both vitamin C and turmeric.
I’m no scientist, but I heard from registered dietician Madelyn Larouche that turmeric’s active ingredient is a compound called curcumin. “The biggest thing it’s been studied for, and shown to actually help with, is anything involving inflammation,” she says. Maya Feller, also a registered dietician, told me the same thing: “Turmeric is rich in lipophilic polyphenols, naturally occurring compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities.” They did both say that turmeric’s specific effects on the liver were still being studied — particularly in people with nonalcoholic fatty-liver disease.
So the question was: Could an anti-inflammatory Ukon no Chikara prevent a hangover? I put one to the test, swiftly downing it before we headed on our night out — I say “swiftly” because it’s not the most unpleasant taste in the world but hits with a sort of sickly sweetness that turns medicinal after a few sips. Luckily, the bottles are dinky. After a night of glass clinking — Kampai! — some “American Boy” covers, sake, and cocktails, I woke the next morning feeling fresh and well rested.
Now, you might be thinking that was down to a placebo effect. I was skeptical too, and I half-expected one of those stealth hangovers to creep in and pounce late in the day while I went thrifting in Harajuku. But I felt fine. I then stuffed as many bottles as I could carry into my checked bag before heading home, feeling secure in the knowledge that you can also buy six-packs of Ukon no Chikara online.
I feel like I should add a little disclaimer that the drinking I’m talking about is just-about-tipsiness. I doubt that this little vitamin drink (or any drink) would stop you feeling the effects of a really heavy night, so it’s still important to drink safely, have a lot of water, and know your limits. That being said, I’m now looking forward to saying yes to two-for-one cocktail Fridays with the girls, knowing that my weekend won’t be a write-off afterwards. As for heart-reacting on Instagram? There’s not enough turmeric in the world to stop me.
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