Wednesday, September 23, 2015

You can't stop from getting drunk by eating yeast before drinking

Via the Chemistry Reddit, an article from Esquire that is likely to be really, really wrong (emphasis mine): 
Koch told me that for years he has swallowed your standard Fleischmann's dry yeast before he drinks, stirring the white powdery substance in with some yogurt to make it more palatable. 
"One teaspoon per beer, right before you start drinking." 
He'd learned the trick from his good friend "Dr. Joe," a craft beer legend in his own right. Educated at Harvard with a troika of degrees (a BA, a JD, and an MBA), Koch is no slouch, but the late-Joseph Owades was a flat-out genius. With a PhD in biochemistry from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and an early job in the fermentation sciences department at Fleischmann's, Owades probably knew more about fermentation and alcohol metabolism than perhaps any man who has ever lived. Koch calls him, in fact, "The best brewer who's ever lived." He used that immense knowledge to eventually become a consultant for most of the progenitors of America's early craft brewing movement such as Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, New Amsterdam Brewing in New York, and, yes, the Boston Beer Company. There he became good friends with Koch, helped perfect Boston Lager, and passed on to Koch his little yeast secret. 
You see, what Owades knew was that active dry yeast has an enzyme in it called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Roughly put, ADH is able to break alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Which is the same thing that happens when your body metabolizes alcohol in its liver. Owades realized if you also have that enzyme in your stomach when the alcohol first hits it, the ADH will begin breaking it down before it gets into your bloodstream and, thus, your brain. 
"And it will mitigate – not eliminate – but mitigate the effects of alcohol!" Koch told me.
I think this is wildly wrong. Almost all enzymes are temperature- and pH-dependent. That is to say, they work best (transforming chemical starting materials to product, or vice versa) when they are in a certain pH range and temperature. I find it unlikely that yeast alcohol dehydrogenase works well in the highly acidic environment of the stomach. Also, why would the enzymes in the stomach (pepsin, etc.) fail to digest the yeast?

Note for people who find this via Google: this advice is almost certainly wrong. Dr. Owades was probably incorrect; if you take yeast with your beer, it will probably have no effect on your blood alcohol level.

(While we're at it, has anyone heard of an alcohol cure where it's a combination of hard candies and pure oxygen? This must be an urban legend as well.) 


  1. If this is true, why would we use yeast to ferment sugars into ethanol? They'd just use it as fuel, and we would all be sad about drinking non-alcoholic beer.

    1. Fermentation occurs under anaerobic conditions, so that's not actually an argument against this particular claim. (Not that it is correct)

      I cringed when I read "Roughly put, ADH is able to break alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen." Is it so hard to say "Acetaldehyde, a chemical that doesn't make you drunk"?

    2. There's a school of thought that attributes hangover intensity to acetaldehyde buildup. If that's true, this treatment should kick-start your hangover (if it works--see commenters below).

    3. Good sharing, I would like give my personal input, Yanagida Yeast restores balance with the deepest probable level inside you – as well as the weight decline that follows is actually astounding. For consistent and effective weight-loss, your body relies on a fat-splitting as well as fat-burning enzyme often known as lipase. Along with Yanagida Yeast, your lipase pastime is supercharged, making the item easier to lose fat tissues. Read more at:

  2. The pH of the stomach would kill the yeast and destroy that enzyme, or at best render it inactive. Not to mention the fact that you'd have to have enough NAD+ cofactor floating around and being recycled from NADH back to NAD+ for every alcohol molecule that is oxidized. What really needs to be done is to invent a pill that contains a self-buffering hydrogel that contains the enzyme and cofactor, and some way to regenerate the cofactor. I bet I could BS my way to a few million dollars of venture capital for a project like that!

    1. Yup, certainly an opportunity there....

      Raptor Pharma, IMO one of the scummiest btechs (cf. price hike on long-acting cystagon that's clinically no better than cystagon.....), was developing Convivia to treat ALDH2 deficiency, "Sometimes referred to as ethanol intolerance or "Asian flush" (not even kidding: One hopes their next drug helps treat coughing associated with smoking....

    2. Possibly a bit of money to be made in treating Asian flush, the number of people I see whose night has to end early because they're bright red. Also, why did Raptor Pharma not take the opportunity to incorporate a dinosaur cartoon in their branding.

    3. There's anecdotal evidence that certain OTC histamine H2 antagonists prevent asian flush. YMMV.

      There's also plenty of anecdotal evidence from those who drink unfiltered beers that the combination of unfermented sugars, human amylase, and that tasty yeast that you swirl around the bottle before the last pour into the glass leads to some very gassy early-morning hours. Again, YMMV.

      Even if the yeast survive their trip through the stomach (and I suspect a not-insubstantial fraction of them actually might), dried baker's yeast is in stationary phase, and is going to have a pretty significant ( > 4 h) induction period before they wake up and start doing anything. The "anything" in this case being waking you up around 3-4 AM with very painful gas. Enjoy!

  3. the only thing that yeast has is plenty of is thiamine (B1) but taking multivitamin should work even better. That drinking depletes B1 and this contributes to feeling hungover as well as developing alcohol dementia is well known.

    The only good hangover cure I know of is a salty+ fatty + spicy breakfast (=nacho chips + eggs + ham + cheeze), to restore electrolytes and tame sour stomach, followed by ipubrofen/naproxen (to deal with headache) and certizine (Zyrtec; to deal with the watering eyes and nose). You should stay away from sugary sodas an sweet cakes, and drink enough water. You can add pseudoephedrine to the combo, if you need to be productive, but the suffering will increase - faking the flu with your employer and plunging back to bed is more sound advice.

  4. If it were to lower your BAC, wouldn't it make it harder for you to get buzzed? Something that negates the point of drinking (or makes it harder to achieve, or more expensive) might not be the best idea.

    If it were useful just because you don't seem to stop drinking before you get wasted, and you can't stop drinking earlier (which would be cheaper), then if you forgot to take yeast, you'd be used to drinking more to get your usual effect and get very sick.

    Even if this worked (which seems improbable), it seems like not such a good idea.

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20