Overindulging in wine or spirits often makes the following morning much less enjoyable. Now there's some good news for people looking to avoid a dreaded hangover. Scientists have found that ingesting a particular plant extract prior to drinking may cut the risk of a severe hangover in half.

Jeff Wiese of the Tulane Health Sciences Center and his colleagues recruited 55 healthy adult volunteers willing to raise a glass in the name of science. The subjects received either an extract of the fruit of the prickly pear Opuntia ficus indica (OFI) or a placebo five hours before they consumed alcohol. After eating a standard meal, the participants spent four hours drinking their choice of vodka, gin, rum, bourbon, scotch or tequila. The next morning the team took blood and urine samples, measured the drinkers' vital signs and assessed their overall well-being and the severity of their hangovers. Two weeks later, the study was repeated, with the OFI and placebo groups reversed.

The scientists report that subjects who received OFI prior to drinking suffered from less severe hangovers compared with drinkers given a placebo. In particular, symptoms of nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite were significantly reduced for volunteers who took OFI. What is more, OFI recipients had lower levels of C-reactive protein, which is produced by the liver and is linked to inflammation, than the control group did. Reporting their findings in the current issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, the authors thus posit that OFI tempers hangovers by dampening the body's inflammatory response.