Hangover Cures

Just in time for St. Patrick’s day, CNN explores the myths and realities of hangover remedies.

A hangover is really the symptoms of acute withdrawal, in which your body reacts to not having a drug in its system anymore, said Krista Medina, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati.

Contrary to popular belief, drinking more while hung over is not going to make you feel better, doctors say. In fact, the other home remedies you may turn to, such as greasy food, probably won’t work, either.

Part of the reason there’s no good hangover remedy is that, although the phenomenon has probably been around since humans discovered alcohol, there’s no single scientifically proven reason for a hangover, although there are correlations with the various symptoms of the “Irish flu.” “There probably won’t be a known effective treatment until we understand the physiology better,” said Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, assistant professor in the department of medicine at Emory University.

What is a hangover?

One theory blames chemicals in some alcoholic drinks called congeners, said Dr. Samir Zakhari, director of the division of metabolism and health effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. These congeners, which could be toxic, contribute to alcohol’s unique taste, but they can also interfere with cell function and leave some lasting physical marks. A 2009 study from Brown University found that the darker the liquor, the more congeners it has, which could exacerbate headaches and other hangover symptoms.

A different theory contends that drinking causes dehydration because alcohol increases urine output. Alcohol inhibits the release of an antidiuretic hormone, meaning the kidneys don’t conserve water as well, and you urinate more, Bergquist said.
[…]

[E]ating greasy foods after a night of drinking probably won’t make you feel better, Zakhari said. “If a person wants to eat, that’s fine,” he said. “They should do that during drinking or before drinking, not after. Because if people eat after drinking, it might be too late.” By the time you have a hangover, eating greasy fare won’t have much of an effect in alleviating the symptoms, he said. Bland foods, on the other hand, elevate your blood sugar and settle your stomach, according to the Mayo Clinic. Stick to toast and crackers.

[…]

This belief that drinking more alcohol will alleviate the symptoms of too much drinking “doesn’t make sense,” Zakhari said. “You already probably have done enough damage to the different parts of the body like the liver and heart,” he said. “You don’t want to go back and put more alcohol on top of that.”

[…]

Small studies have shown that, if taken in very large amounts, vitamin B6 may reduce the symptoms of a hangover, Bergquist said. Still, this research did not include many participants and is not definitive. “There are anecdotes about these things without any evidence,” said Dr. James C. Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, who specializes in alcoholism treatment and research. “Medical science doesn’t spend a lot of time treating hangovers. We want to try to prevent them.”

Other supposed remedies include activated charcoal, which is supposed to absorb alcohol from the stomach but actually wouldn’t work because the hangover occurs hours after drinking, Swift said. “The most outlandish thing is that people who feel badly obviously want to feel better, so they’re willing to try untested remedies,” he said.

There, however, are some natural remedies that some doctors think merit further research, including prickly pear cactus extract and yeast-based preparations, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some also believe that the borage plant yields a supplement that may help with headache, laziness and tiredness.

Doctors do agree that water will help somewhat with hangover symptoms because, as noted above, dehydration is often a symptom.

Zakhari also recommends getting rest. Medina noted that ibuprofen may help with headaches, and caffeine may help boost energy, but no treatments get at the underlying condition of hangover; they only ease symptoms, she said.

My practice has been to avoid getting hangovers in the first place, through a combination of moderating alcohol intake, increasing intake of non-alcoholic fluids, and mixing drinking with eating.     In the rare instances where I’ve miscalculated on this score, I do find that a combination of drinking large quantities of electrolyte replacement beverages (sports drinks such as Gatorade) and caffeine help speed recovery.

The piece also mentions the Bloody Mary, easily the most popular hangover “cure.”  What it doesn’t say is that, while consuming vodka while hung over is likely a bad idea, the tomato juice and capsaicin-rich pepper sauce are both good for you.  The more healthful  concoction — a “virgin” Bloody Mary — is jokingly known as a “Bloody Shame” but nonetheless the wiser choice if you’ve overindulged.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Grewgills says:

    Friends with access to a saline/glucose IV swear that it is a near instant hangover cure. Quite similar to your sport drink cure with a quicker delivery.

  2. Triumph says:

    If you drink enough you don’t get hangovers. It is better to just stay just a bit buzzed all the time.

    Sometimes when I run out of booze, sniffing some coke will help ease my nerves. The problem is, however, that when I’m out of booze, I am usually out of blow also.

    It’s a damn shame.

  3. Wayne says:

    First let us start with the definition of a hangover= Unpleasant physical effects following the heavy use of alcohol.

    There can be many different physical effects of a hangover. Any one effect can be considered a hangover. It strikes me that some of the refuters of remedies cherry pick which effect they want to apply the remedy to. A remedy for hangover nausea shouldn’t be said to be ineffective because it doesn’t solve a headache. That is not the remedies purpose. Also different symptoms often have different and\or a combination of reasons

    Re “Medical science doesn’t spend a lot of time treating hangovers. We want to try to prevent them.”

    So they are admitting they are not that interest in the remedies. I wouldn’t call them an expert in remedies then and would suspect their bias.

    Someone who simply looks at the medical textbook for their conclusion are not trustworthy. Some good solid research would be much better. Between a book knowledge person and one with practical experience, I would trust those with practical experience.

    My personal experience is not all remedies work for all people or for all hangovers. For example, a couple of beers usually will get me over most hangovers but not always.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Thanks for the advise, James. I took to heart your previous advise on how to drink like “Mad Men,” and put on 122 pounds. I’ve since found my tolerance for drink to have doubled, if not tripled. Though there are side effects, hangovers really aren’t a major problem.

    My recommendations for good Irish ale:
    1. Sam Adams Irish Red
    2. Irish Ale from Boulevard Brewing Co.
    3. That’s pretty much it.

  5. Brett says:

    Lots of water – multiple glasses in succession over a couple of minutes – usually blocks hangovers for me (not to mention that it usually gets the bad taste out of your mouth).

  6. mike says:

    when I was stationed in germany, it was common to raid the combat lifesaver bags for the saline bags for the morning after a good day/night/weekend at octoberfest.

  7. tom p says:

    If you drink enough you don’t get hangovers. It is better to just stay just a bit buzzed all the time.

    I have never had a hangover in my life (must be my metabolism… I can drink like a fish) however I used to live with a guy who had HORRIBLE hangovers.

    After the Cards won the World Series in ’82 (I think) we went to the party downtown with enuf bourbon to drown a rebel army. We kissed all the pretty girls we could find and ran out of whiskey in a half hour…

    “Oh sh*t…”

    The next morning he woke up and said, “Wow! I don’t have a hangover!” Jumped out of bed and fell flat on his face.

    “No wonder, I’m still drunk!”

    And he still didn’t feel any pain.

  8. anjin-san says:

    I quit drinking 20 years ago. Took care of the hangover problem, and quite a few other problems…

  9. […] Hangover Cures (outsidethebeltway.com) […]

  10. Geordan says:

    I have not found a cure so moderation is best for me. But if I do go overboard I like a good Bloody Mary. http://bit.ly/c5k68e

  11. john personna says:

    Can I segue from hangover cures to the economic parallel? I just wanted to note Michael Lewis’ comments as he makes the rounds promoting The Big Short.

    He says, and it tallies with what I’ve read from a number of sources, that the crash was baked-in by 2007. All of the instruments that blew up taking down the economy were created 2005-2007.

    Hangovers indeed.

    And … the way this engages with the free market exuberance of the same period has only begun to be felt.

  12. john personna says:

    BTW, my memory is that in 2005-2007 I was extolling mixed economies, lightly regulated capitalism, and the historic strengths of the American system.

    I was responding to the argument that “we don’t need regulation, truly free markets will self-regulate.”

    Hangover, and even I the moderate might have to adjust my confidence away from Wall Street.

  13. JKB says:

    Water, lots and lots of cool water. Drink a glass every so often while drinking and drink a couple before you crash. The electrolyte drinks work similarly but the real issue is dehydration. Not with loss of salts but by H20 being drawn off to dilute and process the alcohol. So the more straight water you get in you, the more H20 that is replaced.

    An interesting aside, also reported by a friend, is that a low carb diet seems to reduce hangovers. Perhaps the limited amount of enzyme held in the body that processes the alcohol also is used in carb processing? Just wild speculation but a nice extra for a low carb diet.