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A World-First Hangover Pill, Swedish Supplement Myrkl, Launches in Australia and New Zealand

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The story goes like this: in the ’90s, Swedish chemist Johan de Faire was living in Japan and knew a guy with a pig farm. De Faire noticed that pigs fed fermented rice bran (a by-product of white rice production) got sick less often. Tinkering in his spare time, he isolated several species of bacteria from the rice bran, dried them into a powder and started giving it to people he knew.

“And then a few miracles started to happen. The farmer, who was drinking sake every night, started waking up sober and saying, ‘I feel great, I can drink much more. It’s crazy.’ Another person said, ‘I used to have IBS/IBD problems, I don’t have them anymore.’”

Such is the slightly fanciful origin story of Myrkl according to Frederic Fernandez, who runs an FMCG consulting business and sits on the board of De Faire Medical, the company behind the product.

Myrkl (pronounced “miracle”) launched in the UK three months ago, before anywhere else in the world. Eager Britons promptly snapped up 100,000 boxes. Each clear capsule contains two granulated probiotics, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus coagulans, both discovered more than a century ago. Taken two to 12 hours before drinking, the capsules’ acid-resistant coating carries these good bacteria safely through the stomach and into the intestine, the main place where alcohol is absorbed into the blood.

Here, De Faire Medical claims, Myrkl converts about 70 per cent of any alcohol you’ve drunk into water and carbon dioxide. That booze never reaches your bloodstream or liver, and neither do its toxic metabolites, acetaldehyde and acetate. Drink one beer, wine or cocktail and it’s like you’ve only drunk about a third of it (Myrkl will affect everyone slightly differently). And the more you drink, the more the bacteria feed and multiply.

As far as hangover cures go, it’s the next best thing to not drinking in the first place. And it’s a totally different product to the longstanding Hydrodol and its months-old rival Tend-2, two Australian formulations that relieve hangover symptoms and support brain and liver function, but do not stop alcohol reaching your bloodstream.

“So you can’t get drunk? What’s the point?”

When I was testing Myrkl last week, every single person I told about it asked a variation of this question – even the most sensitive people. Society wraps alcohol (and caffeine) in layers of faux-legitimacy not afforded to other recreational drugs, but it’s still a drug. Whether you drink Passion Pop or Krug, you drink to feel something.

“People generally titrate [adjust] their alcohol consumption according to what they want to experience,” says Professor John B Saunders, a Sydney-based doctor specializing in alcohol and addiction medicine. “The risk with this product is, people will take it, and then they’ll compensate.”

That was my personal experience with Myrkl, which slipped easily into my normal routine. Each pack contains 30 capsules, or 15 days’ supply. On Monday I began taking the recommended two capsules each morning, which didn’t make me feel any different throughout the day.

I had my first drink (beer, 4.5 per cent, 1.3 standard drinks) on night two and felt precisely nothing after I’d drained the last of the can. Curiosity piqued, I picked up a far boozier hazy IPA from the shop (7 per cent, 2.4 drinks) and got stuck in.

“Feeling a bit impervious,” I wrote in a group chat soon after. After 3.7 drinks I wasn’t even tipsy. While I never had any doubts Myrkl would do what it claimed, feeling it de-alcoholizing each drink was disconcerting, then remarkable. My precise tolerance to alcohol, my body’s exact response to it – these things are as familiar to me as my own face. Myrkl is like looking in the mirror and seeing a different you.

The next day I woke up totally fresh and resolved to – ahem – test Myrkl a bit harder. While watching TV that night I absent-mindedly drank a four-pack of very heavy beers (7 per cent, 2.1 drinks each) like they were regular lager. Oops. Suddenly I felt very sleepy and started nodding off, definitely well past tipsy.

“Don’t use it to multiply by five your alcohol intake – that’s not what it’s for,” Fernandez had told me earlier, stressing that Myrkl is for moderate, infrequent drinkers who want to be at their best the next day after only a couple of drinks. It’s not intended for binge-drinking, even though some people will probably use it that way.

Yes – these excessive couch experiments showed me Myrkl works, but they’re not representative of how I, or most people, drink. The real test came on night three, when I hosted an Editor’s Preview Night for Broadsheet Access (two cocktails, one wine), then skipped off to eat fried chicken and do karaoke for a co-worker’s going away party (five beers, two mezcals ).

I found myself drinking faster and spending more money than usual, but I also loved the accompanying sense of clarity. Depending on who you’re drinking with, nights like that tend to descend into a blur. Myrkl kept me (relatively) sharp right up until midnight, and I’ve continued taking it into this week, enjoying the increased tolerance and endurance it brings. It feels a bit like wearing earplugs at a concert. While I can’t see myself taking Myrkl daily (at more than $50 a pack, it’s too expensive), I reckon it’ll be useful ahead of weddings, Christmas parties and other occasions where it’s easy to get carried away.

But the people who’ll benefit most from Myrkl are those who work with alcohol: bartenders and sommeliers, but also white-collars expected to woo clients at boozy dinner after boozy dinner. It was living this latter lifestyle that led former lawyer Rob Fink to co-found excellent non-alcoholic UK brewery Big Drop (which has many Australian counterparts).

Credible non-alcoholic wines and spirits are still a dream for now, due to the technical challenge of replicating alcohol’s mouthfeel and burn. Myrkl is a boon here, letting you enjoy spirits and wines as they’re meant to be enjoyed, but with far fewer downsides. Older people with slowing livers might also benefit from taking it.

More research needs to be done, though. Thus far Myrkl has only been tested in a single clinical trial on 24 young, healthy Caucasian people. There’s no guarantee it’ll work the same across different age groups, ethnicities and lifestyles. Or that it won’t cause unforeseen short- or long-term complications. Though rare, probiotics can trigger allergic reactions for some people, for example.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Saunders says. “It’s entirely reasonable to start with a low-ish number of healthy people and then gradually extend the range of people you study. Initially, having a sample of 20 healthy people is reasonable. But you don’t want to draw too many conclusions from that. It’s minimal evidence.”

“We have more clinical trials that haven’t been published,” Fernandez says. “The technology underlying Myrkl, we believe it can do amazing things.” He mentions weight loss, and stabilizing the blood sugar levels of diabetics and pre-diabetics.

More fanciful talk, to help boost a miracle product? Maybe, but maybe not.

“The microorganisms involved improve the integrity of the absorptive surfaces in the bowel and reduce absorption of toxins,” Saunders says. “They have other actions, other than the metabolism of alcohol. It’s an interesting product, but basically, a whole heap more evidence is needed before we could say this is something convincing and something that we would recommend.”

Myrkl retails for £30 ($53) for 30 capsules. It’s shelf-stable for two years, with no refrigeration necessary.