An alcohol alternative: replacing the minerals lost through drinking

For millions, alcohol is part of everyday life. We know it’s bad for us but how does processing alcohol harm our bodies? Elliot Gardner speaks to Hilary Marsh of Botonique to find out more.


It certainly isn’t news that alcohol isn’t good for you, as anyone who has suffered a hangover can attest to, but few actually look into the effects drinking has on our systems. The chemical process the body goes through after a glass of wine or a pint of beer can be incredibly damaging in the long-term, especially as we age.

Hilary Marsh of Botonique has developed a drink that not only acts as an alternative to alcoholic beverages, but is designed to replace the nutrients lost through the alcohol conversion process in the body.

Elliot Gardner: How did Botonique get started?

Hilary Marsh: Officially it started with the idea of wanting to help people drink less but in fact it goes back further than that. It actually begins with the nutrient formula. Many years ago I held down a few high-flying jobs like being director of a venture capital company, but at the same time I was also a shocking party girl. I wanted to work out how I could enjoy my parties and still be on good form the next morning. 

I started researching to see what it is that alcohol does to you exactly and what, if anything, one might be able to do about it. I gradually built up the formula which is now called Prelixir. But it was just for me, it wasn't supposed to be anything commercial at all, it was all just about looking after number 1 and a few friends. At a later point I had a wine business, and my hospitality was a bit legendary. People would complain the next day that it was perhaps a bit too generous, so I started giving them my formula, and they were all amazed at its efficacy.

EG: Is Botonique the first time you’ve used Prelixir?

HM: First of all I actually put that into a drink called Goodshot. It was always intended to be something that would have the joint purposes of helping replace nutrients but also be a satisfying substitute (to alcohol). I’m interested in long term health, but people were latching onto it for a hangover cure, which made it difficult to make a mainstream product. It had this slightly bad boy image to it, which wasn't really the idea.

So for Botonique we said look lets spin this around. This is number one about helping people to drink less, and number two about looking after your long-term health by replacing nutrients. The fact of the matter is, if you do get a hangover then you've done yourself a spectacular amount of damage in the long run, and if you protect against that damage, then a side effect is that you won’t get the hangover. We don’t want Botonique to be perceived as a hangover preventer. It’s about helping people to drink less and, looking after their long-term health.

What’s in it?

When you look into what alcohol does to you, you discover it is extraordinarily bad for you. Prelixir is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, alkalising, detoxifying, and hydrating. Alcohol is the opposite of all of that. You need to understand the way alcohol breaks down. People think alcohol itself is bad for you, but most of the damage is done as the alcohol breaks down in the body. In some ways it’s a simple process - It goes from ethanol, to acetaldehyde, to acetic acid, into calories. But it’s that middle stage, the acetaldehyde that’s the shocker. 

Acetaldehyde is extraordinarily toxic and disruptive to the body and the longer it stays in there the more damage it does. So if you drink above a certain amount then your body runs out of what it needs to turn the alcohol into acetaldehyde, so you stay drunk for longer, and then it runs out of what it needs to turn the acetaldehyde into acetic acid, so you have this very toxic substance inside you for longer. At the deep down level, it’s about trying to stabilise itself by taking electrons from other cells. It’s essentially a very unstable compound that tries to stabilise itself by stealing things from other cells, including DNA, which is why people start to look incredibly old.

What we do is provide the precursors to glutathione, which is the chemical the body needs to stabilise the acetaldehyde, including cysteine in the form of N acetyl cysteine, which is the form of cysteine that the body can most easily make use of, and glycine,

So Prelixir just helps to process acetaldehyde?

Well, the breaking down of the acetaldehyde uses up an awful lot of minerals, such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which is used in a whole load of bodily functions, it breaks down ethanol in what’s called a redox process, reducing it to NADH. This reduces the cell’s oxidation potential, and leads to many metabolic changes, including a build-up of lactic acid.

Basically, electrolytes need replacing, and because of the toxicity there's a large amount of inflammation that needs addressing, and then there's the acidity. Acetic acid has a thoroughly acidifying effect, which has a very bad for the body. People think that your blood becomes acidic, but it doesn’t because body is really good at keeping the blood at the right pH. But to do that, it will help itself to alkalising compounds from your body, typically from your bones. So your a middle-class woman who thinks she's doing something completely harmless can easily end up with osteoporosis.

In terms of popularity - how successful have you been?

Whenever we've done a consumer show it’s been incredibly successful. We took 44 cases to the Eat Smart Show in July, and sold out, and at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Summer Open Garden Show we sent another 22 cases and they sold out completely too.

Our only problem so far is getting listings, because shops don’t know quite where to put it. For example Booths said they couldn’t put it with soft drinks because it was too unlike soft drinks, but they couldn’t put it with non-alcoholic wines because it wasn’t a wine. Sainsbury’s said the same. I think that is spectacularly lame but on the other hand, Tesco have created a module that's perfect for it, which is the low and no alcohol module. So I think they're aware of the fact that this is a big thing at the moment, and that people need to take alcohol a bit more seriously. 

Were you surprised at Botonique’s popularity considering you made it purely to your tastes?

What really surprised me was how much people are taking to it just on its own. I took the view that I’ll make something really versatile, and I always send out lots of recipes and serving suggestions. I thought more adaptation would be needed, such as elder-flower to make it sweeter, or adding grapefruit and basil and things to add more familiar notes. But that doesn't seem to be proving so necessary. People are happy with it straight up. That said, I've got customers who use it like a gin and add tonic to it and I've got customers who use it as a tonic and add gin to it. 

People who have never drunk alcohol tend to find it quite dry, but it’s because most people who drink alcohol tend to get a dry pallet because they're used to getting their calories from somewhere where the sugar has turned to alcohol. Most people who stop drinking tend to find themselves liking desserts more, because they're no longer getting the calories from the alcohol. There's 670 calories in the average bottle of wine, which is a huge chunk of your daily intake, so those who drink a lot tend not to crave sugar.