Your eyes blink open as your head throbs and nausea grips your stomach. Oof. That was some night… and you’ve got a wicked hangover as a reminder of the beer, wine or liquor consumed.
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The toxic effects of alcohol on your body never seem more apparent than the morning after downing one-too-many adult beverages. A headache, nausea, dry mouth and fatigue all serve as unwelcome symptoms.
What you want and need is a quick-and-easy way to feel like your normal self. Luckily, the internet — helpful place that it is — offers countless “hangover cures.”
Let’s take a look at some of them with emergency medicine physician James Roach, DO.
Finding a solution to 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. Roach.
Let’s begin with the fact that alcohol is a diuretic, which basically means it opens the floodgates for urine production. That sends a lot of fluid out of your system and sets the stage for dehydration to build restroom visit by restroom visit.
At the same time, 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, though. 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 you 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 all of these physical responses and realities together and the result is a hangover, which can make you uncomfortable for a few hours or — in some worst-case scenarios — upend an entire day.
So how do you reverse this misery? Let’s look at a few theories.
The ‘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 a drink might take some of the edge off the hangover, but it’s only prolonging the recovery time. “More toxins is not the solution for excess toxins,” says Dr. Roach. “It really doesn’t make much sense.”
Take a supplement
Something on a drug store shelf has to 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, Dr. Roach is skeptical: “You’re not finding a hangover cure in a pill bottle,” he says.
As for over-the-counter pain relievers, aspirin or ibuprofen might offer some relief for that pounding headache. (A word of caution, though: They could irritate your stomach and worsen nausea.)
Don’t reach for pain relievers with acetaminophen, as it can potentially damage your liver when there’s alcohol in your system.
Eat a greasy breakfast
Getting food in the morning after a night of imbibing is key to boosting blood sugar levels, says Dr. Roach. 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 such as 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, too. Eggs contain an amino acid that counteracts some of the toxicity of alcohol. Plus, they’re loaded with nutrients that can help your body rebound.
Find other hangover food recommendations from a registered dietitian.
When it comes to the best thing you can do for a hangover, it’s really quite simple: Drink a glass of water before going to sleep. Do the same as soon as you get up.
Dehydration is at the core of hangover hurt, so focus on replenishing those lost fluids, says Dr. Roach. 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.
Sports drinks also can help you hydrate quickly while simultaneously restoring nutrients and electrolytes.
The bottom line on hangover cures
In the end, there’s only one cure for a hangover: “It just takes time,” says Dr. Roach. “There’s no magic pill, no miracle cure to make a hangover go away. Your body has to catch up and metabolize the alcohol you consumed.”
In other words, sleep it off.
There is one other solution, of course — and this one is guaranteed to work. “The best way to avoid a hangover,” says Dr. Roach, “is not to drink enough to have one.”