The eponymously named beverage promises to “break down an unwanted byproduct of alcohol called acetaldehyde – the main culprit in those rough mornings after drinking” with help from the company’s self-named, patented, genetically engineered probiotic, Zack Abbott, microbiologist and CEO of ZBiotics, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“ZBiotics is the world’s first-ever genetically engineered probiotic. We’ve used science (microbiology specifically) to step in and do something that has never been done before: augment your body’s natural ability to digest acetaldehyde, and do it specifically in the gut,” he said.
“Basically, when you drink, most of the alcohol you consume is absorbed into your bloodstream and is eventually broken down quite effectively by your liver in two stages: first from alcohol to acetaldehyde using one enzyme, and then from acetaldehyde to acetate using a second enzyme.
"The final end product (acetate) is a benign molecule (essentially vinegar), but the intermediate acetaldehyde is highly toxic. While the liver is quite good at doing this, with very little of the intermediate acetaldehyde building up, some of the alcohol you drink is broken down directly in the gut, which is much less effective.
"The gut produces far less of the second enzyme to convert acetaldehyde to acetate, and thus much more acetaldehyde builds up in the gut. Indeed, gut acetaldehyde levels can be 5-10 times higher than blood acetaldehyde levels,” he further explained, adding, “So, we simply moved the functionality of the liver to the gut by engineering a probiotic bacteria to make a very similar enzyme to the one your liver uses to convert acetaldehyde to acetate.”
While ZBiotics is made from a combination of natural good bacteria like that which many people eat every day and a natural enzyme the liver already makes, Abbott notes that his genetically engineered probiotic is “adapted to pass straight through your body, without seeding your gut or changing your microbiome.”
He adds that it is “completely safe” and has been heavily tested and reviewed by “top food toxicologists.” The results of that research is in the final stages of peer review for publication in the Journal of Toxicology – a move that underscores the company’s dedication to full transparency.
The competitive landscape
While ZBiotics promises to help people “feel better the day after drinking” by improving their natural ability to digest a byproduct of alcohol, Abbott said, the product stands apart from many supplements and other foods or beverages positioned as hangover cures.
“Let’s be clear,” augmenting the body’s natural ability to digest acetaldehyde “does NOT equate to a hangover cure. A hangover is a collection of issues, and while acetaldehyde has been linked to some of the effects of a hangover, this is science, not science fiction. Anyone who is selling you a ‘hangover cure’ is selling you snake oil. And there’s a lot of that out there,” he said.
“This is different,” he added. “This isn’t random plant extracts and vitamins swept into a bottle with a promise to cure what ails you. This is a product built with a specific purpose: increase the amount of acetaldehyde digesting enzyme in your gut. It’s science stepping in to do something more powerful than what you can do by pulling ingredients randomly off the supplement shelf.”
The company’s website explains this, as well as how to use the beverage for best results by drinking it before or during alcohol consumption. It adds that consumers should also practice “responsible drinking habits like pacing yourself, not drinking on an empty stomach, and staying hydrated,” as well as get a good night’s sleep.
ZBiotics currently is selling the beverage on its website, but plans to offer it “at events and locations where people would benefit from the product,” including bars, restaurants and hotels, Abbott said.
He added, “Our launch marketing and sales are largely supported by a seed-stage fundraise we did last year after completing the Y Combinator accelerator program.”
Pushing the GMO 2.0 movement forward
While Abbott is happy to help consumers’ mitigate the effects of a night of drinking, the real goal of the company and inspiration for the beverage was to elevate the conversation around genetic engineering and dispel some of the fear that consumers have of GMOs.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. On the one hand, a lot of companies exacerbate the fear of GMOs by using the ‘non-GMO’ label purely to misinform and sell more product. One the other hand, lots of GMO development companies are completely opaque – refusing to label their products as GMO – and dismiss concerns about GMO safety with undigestible scientific rhetoric,” he said.
“Our approach to elevate that conversation is quite simple: transparency, responsibility and consumer-focused benefits,” he added.
Abbott said the company is fulfilling this three-prong approach by publishing the safety data of its probiotic “to allow people to evaluate for themselves whether they are comfortable with what we’ve done” and by providing a product that “promises a direct benefit to the consumer.”
He added: “The best way to empower people to make their own decisions is to give them options that they can evaluate for themselves.”