The truth about hangover remedies
Humans have long sought ways to allay a hangover—that litany of symptoms that come after drinking too much alcohol, including dizziness, nausea, fatigue, confusion, headache, dry mouth, and drowsiness. The Roman naturalist, author, and philosopher Pliny the Elder suggested raw owl’s eggs or fried canaries as remedies, while Mongolians consumed pickled sheep’s eyes. Nowadays people swear by everything from eggs, tea, and bananas to vitamin supplements and, yes, more alcohol. Of course, the best way to avert a hangover is to avoid drinking too much, if at all. But if you do on occasion, here is the science behind seven purported remedies.
Coffee and other stimulants won’t speed the elimination of alcohol from the body or alleviate hangover symptoms. They may, however, perk you up and help counter the dehydration caused by alcohol. Bottom line: Try—but after drinking, not during, since mixing alcohol and caffeine can be dangerous.
Eating bland, carbohydrate-rich foods, such as crackers and toast, could help modify the low blood sugar levels that may accompany a hangover. And if you’re feeling queasy, putting these easy-to-digest foods in your stomach may help quell the nausea or relieve an upset stomach (as can taking antacids). Bottom line: Try.
“Hair of the Dog”
This is a colloquial expression that refers to drinking more alcohol to treat a hangover. But all this does is delay hangover symptoms or, ultimately, make the hangover worse, since you’re giving your body even more alcohol to metabolize. Bottom line: Skip.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can help to relieve headaches and some other hangover-related problems, but they might also worsen gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and heartburn. A safer bet for the stomach may be acetaminophen (Tylenol and generics), with an important exception: If you are a heavy drinker you should avoid acetaminophen since the combination can be very toxic to the liver. Bottom line: Try, with caveats.
Drink light-colored beverages
This isn’t a remedy but rather a strategy reputed to stave off a hangover the next day. There’s evidence that compounds called congeners, which derive from certain processes in alcohol production, may increase the risk of or worsen a hangover. Dark-colored alcoholic drinks such as whiskey and red wine have more congeners than clear or lighter-colored drinks such as vodka and white wine. So choosing clearer beverages may help lower the chance that you’ll get a hangover—though that depends on many other factors, chiefly how much you drink. Bottom line: Try, in moderation.
Numerous supplements can be found in health food stores and online purporting to either prevent or banish your hangover. With names such as Hangover Formula, Never Too Hungover Prevention, and PartyAid, these products generally contain a hodgepodge of vitamins, herbs, amino acids, and electrolytes. But there isn’t any good evidence that such products—nor the IV infusions of vitamins you can get in some cities—alleviates hangover symptoms. Bottom line: Skip.
One example of these is Morning Recovery, which claims to help you wake up “refreshed” after drinking alcohol. It contains DHM, an antioxidant-rich extract from the Oriental raisin tree, as well as milk thistle, prickly pear extract, B vitamins, amino acids, and electrolytes. You drink it while or just after consuming alcohol. Extracts from the Oriental raisin tree have been used in Asia for centuries as a remedy for alcohol intoxication. But the research is too preliminary to recommend shelling out money for this or similar beverages. Bottom line: Skip.
Keep in mind
The only proven way to stop a hangover is to not drink too much in the first place, which means drinking moderately if at all. There are other—and more important—reasons aside from hangovers to avoid drinking heavily: Alcohol kills an estimated 88,000 Americans every year, directly or indirectly, including about 10,000 traffic deaths. And it devastates millions of families. If you do over-imbibe and find yourself with a hangover, stick with the tried-and-true: Drink lots of water (since many of alcohol’s ill effects result from the dehydration it causes), have some coffee and plain toast, and commit to being more moderate next time.