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Does Sobrietol really work? We put it to the test

SEATTLE - Have you heard the claims a Seattle company is making for its new product? It's a dietary supplement called Sobrietol and it promises to get you sober three to six times faster than normal.

Right now, Sobrietol is only available online. But New Paradigm Health Systems hopes to get its little packets in bars, restaurants and convenience stores.

Being the resident skeptic around KOMO, I just had to know if Sobrietol could live up to its amazing claims.

WHAT IS SOBRIETOL?

It's a powdery combination of fructose sugar, acids and enzymes. A chemical engineer from Georgia, Dr. David Whitmire came up with the formulation.

"The preparation in Sobrietol burns the alcohol for you," he told me. "It's like having a little prosthetic liver dumped in for a period of time."

Here's how he explains it: The enzymes in the powder burn the alcohol in your gut. That causes the alcohol in the blood to go back into the stomach, which lowers your blood alcohol level. Medical experts I've spoken to say that's not how your body works.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PROOF THAT IT WORKS?

The testimonials for Sobrietol on the company's Web site are impressive. People at a bar talk about how quickly their blood alcohol level dropped after using Sobrietol.

Dr. Whitmire says his studies show that "on average" people eliminate alcohol "3-and-a-half times as fast with the preparation as normal."

In fact, the company says those results are from only one study - 15 people drinking at a restaurant in Georgia.

HOW WOULD A NORMAL PERSON USE SOBRIETOL?

Dr. Whitmire says someone who is out drinking would have their fun and then decide they're ready to go home. "Then they'll mix a couple of packets with some water and they'll drink it and when they feel confident about leaving, then they'll leave, maybe 30 to 60 minutes later."

THE PROBLEM SOLVERS TEST

We found six volunteers who agreed to get drunk to help me find out if Sobrietol could take them from sloshed to sober as quickly as promised. Stephanie, Nate, Don, Dave, Ryan and Christina all came to Fisher Plaza prepared to drink and drink and drink.

This was not a controlled scientific test, but we did follow a specific protocol. We wanted to simulate the way someone might use the product after a night of drinking.

Each of our volunteers drank a specific amount of Vodka, calculated to his or her body weight. We wanted them to get close to .08, the state's legal limit for driving.

The drinking lasted less than an hour. Then I mixed the Sobrietol and orange juice chasers (the instructions on the Sobrietol package say to mix with juice or water). We gave the women 1 packet. The men got two.

As soon as they drank the Sobrietol, each subject took a Breathalyzer test. The test was conducted by the Washington State Patrol. We used the same machines troopers use to test drunk drivers.

Our volunteers kept blowing into the Breathalyzer every 15 minutes until they were down to a level that was safe to get a ride home. This took 3 to 4 hours.

Two days later we did it all over again - same people, same time of day, same amount of alcohol and same drill with the breathalyzers.

We asked our volunteers if they had a hangover the day after the test. Every one said no. But remember, we didn't get them rip-roaring drunk. They all told me they could normally drink this amount of alcohol without having a hangover.

THE RESULTS

Everyone burns alcohol at a slightly different rate. But experts agree, the burn rate ranges from .010 g/10ml/hr to .025 g/100ml/hr.

The state Patrol analyzed all our data and found that the average burn rate for the volunteers who took Sobrietol was .019. That is on the high side of normal, but still well within the normal range.

We asked State Toxicologist Dr. Barry Logan to look at our results and comment on them.

"There are I think, some exaggerated claims about the product, that are certainly not supported by your tests," he said.

I asked Dr. Logan if the subjects in our test burned alcohol any faster than they normally would be expected to?

"No," he said. "There didn't seem to be any significant rate of increase in the rate of burn off in the subjects taking the Sobrietol."

COMPANY REACTION

The people marketing Sobrietol challenge our results. They say we did not have enough subjects and did not use the right test procedure. They want more testing done. And so do I. In fact, the State Patrol says more testing is needed to make any definite conclusion about Sobrietol.

Keep in mind -- the people selling Sobrietol don't have any controlled-scientific studies showing their product works. And they don't need any. Because this is marketed as a dietary supplement the federal government does not require any proof that the product is safe or effective.

Edd Pratt, who co-founded the New Paradigm Health Systems, the Seattle company selling Sobrietol, insists the main reason people would use the product is to prevent a hangover. He says he has many happy customers.

Pratt says people should never drive under the influence of alcohol. And he points out, that warning is the Sobrietol Web site and on each package.

"We're not going to add to the people who are on the road and drinking and driving," Pratt told me. "And I don't think we're going to give anyone false confidence that they can go and do that."

"But the fact you'll be safer after using it than before you used it, that's not hypothetical, that's true," Dr. Whitmire added.

The State Patrol is very worried what might happen if Sobrietol becomes widely available. They believe some people will see this as a way to drink and then drive.
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