A night of excessive drinking is often followed by one question the next morning: How can you get rid of a hangover?
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The toxic effects of alcohol on your body never seem more apparent than in those hours after downing one too many adult beverages. Headache, nausea, dry mouth and fatigue all serve as unwelcome symptoms.
What you want is a quick-and-easy hangover cure to feel like your normal self. The internet — the helpful place that it is — offers numerous theories on how you can ease the pain after drinking too much beer, wine or liquor.
But do any of these touted hangover remedies actually work? Let’s find out from emergency medicine physician Thomas Waters, MD.
What causes a hangover?
Resolving a health issue begins with understanding the root cause of the problem. For hangovers, it’s all about your body’s response to alcohol, says Dr. Waters.
Let’s begin with the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, which means it opens the floodgates for urine production. Every restroom visit that drains fluid out of your system sets the stage for dehydration.
At the same time, the consumption of beer and booze slows the release of an antidiuretic hormone (ADH) called vasopressin. This ADH works with your kidneys to keep your body’s hydration levels balanced.
That’s just the start of things getting out of whack. Alcohol also:
- Expands your blood vessels, which can lead to headaches. (Headaches are also a byproduct of dehydration.)
- Irritates the lining of your stomach to bring about a general feeling of queasiness. The resulting buildup of stomach acid also can result in vomiting.
- Depletes your blood sugar levels to make you feel fatigued and shaky.
The more you drink, the more pronounced these issues become, too.
Mix these physical realities together and the result is a hangover, which can make you queasy and uncomfortable for a few hours or — in worst-case scenarios — knock you down for an entire day.
Hangover remedies that work
So, how can you stop the misery of a hangover? Well, there are a lot of methods and theories out there, which we’ll explore in a bit. But let’s start with the two best remedies. (Spoiler alert: Neither works quickly.)
The best thing you can do to minimize or resolve a hangover? Drink water. Down a glass before going to sleep and do the same as soon as you get up, recommends Dr. Waters.
Dehydration is at the core of hangover hurt, after all, so it’s important to focus on replenishing those lost fluids. Sports drinks also can help you hydrate quickly while simultaneously restoring nutrients and electrolytes.
Don’t overdo it, though. Drinking too much water too quickly (we’re talking gallons) can lead to lead to swelling of the brain, a serious and potentially deadly situation.
Give it time
Time is the only true cure for a hangover: “There’s no magic pill, no miracle cure to make a hangover go away,” says Dr. Waters. “Your body has to catch up and metabolize the alcohol you consumed.”
In other words, sleep it off.
Questionable hangover fixes
Hangovers hurt, which explains why folks are willing to try just about anything to minimize the suffering. Here are three interesting approaches — and why you shouldn’t put too much faith in them:
Take a pain reliever
Aspirin or ibuprofen might offer some relief for that throbbing ache in your skull. But a word of caution: Those pain relievers could irritate your stomach and worsen feelings of nausea, says Dr. Waters.
And don’t reach for pain relievers with acetaminophen, as it can potentially damage your liver when there’s alcohol in your system.
Something on a drugstore shelf must be good for hangovers, right? Various websites tout vitamins and minerals as sure-fire ways to avoid the worst of a hangover. A few studies even offer reason for optimism regarding:
Various pills and patches marketed specifically for hangovers also tout healing powers with their ability to replenish nutrients in your body.
Overall, though, Dr. Waters is skeptical: “You’re not finding a hangover cure in a pill bottle.”
Eat a big breakfast
Getting food in your belly the morning after a night of imbibing can give blood sugar levels a needed boost, says Dr. Waters. But filling your already stressed stomach with greasy, heavy food isn’t the best option.
Instead, focus on foods that also might address your hydration needs. Good choices would include water-rich foods like watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe.
Toast or a bagel also can pump up blood sugar levels while being gentle on the stomach.
If you’re up to it, scramble up some eggs. The breakfast staple contains an amino acid that can counteract some of the toxicity of alcohol. Plus, eggs are loaded with nutrients that can help your body rebound.
Find other hangover food recommendations from a registered dietitian.
Hangover ‘cures’ to avoid
Did we mention that hangovers hurt? Here are three hangover remedies that don’t deserve your recovery effort:
The caffeine-packed boost offered by coffee is legendary — but it’s not going to undo a night of knocking back beer or booze. In fact, coffee may even make your hangover symptoms worse, warns Dr. Waters.
As coffee is a diuretic, it also may slow down your rehydration process. The way caffeine narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure may dial up your pounding headache, too.
Apply a hangover patch
Hangover “patches” are basically vitamin-infused stickers that you apply to your skin before drinking. The idea is that you absorb the vitamins through your skin to counteract the negative effects of alcohol.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it is. No solid evidence supports the idea that your body pulls enough vitamins and nutrients from a patch to halt a hangover.
‘Hair of the dog’ method
What should follow a night of drinking? According to this legendary remedy, the answer is a morning cocktail. (A Bloody Mary, anyone?)
The idea behind “hair of the dog” is that knocking back another alcoholic drink will help your body reset. (The name, by the way, comes from an old belief that someone bitten by a rabid dog could be cured by drinking a potion containing a few of the animal’s hairs.)
The reality is that a drink might take some of the edge off a hangover, but it also prolongs your recovery time.
“More toxins is not the solution for excess toxins,” states Dr. Waters.
The only true hangover cure
In the end, there’s one guaranteed method to dodge a hangover. “The best way to avoid a hangover,” says Dr. Waters, “is not to drink enough to have one.”
Apologies if that bit of wisdom arrived too late.