Hangover remedies include everything from “a hair of the dog that bit you” (drinking a little more alcohol the next morning), to burnt toast and black coffee to an over-the-counter product like Chaser.
Contrary to popular belief, more of the “hair of the dog that bit you” only delays the inevitable. One of the reasons hangovers are so unpleasant is the liver is still processing the toxins left over from alcohol metabolism. Drinking more alcohol can make the symptoms seem to lessen at first but will only make the situation worse once the liver breaks the alcohol down, because it will have even more toxins to deal with.
At first, the burnt toast remedy may seem that it is actually based on scientific fact. The culprit behind this fictional cure is the carbon in the charred bread. Carbon can act like a filter in the body. While it is true that activated charcoal (which is a treated form of carbon) is used to treat some types of poisonings, it is not currently used to treat alcohol poisoning (something that is vastly different from a regular hangover).
Reportedly, the filtering effect of charcoal is behind the success of over-the-counter remedies such as Chaser and Sob’r-K Hangover Stopper, which claim carbon as their main ingredient. These over-the-counter remedies are taken prior to drinking. Manufacturers claim that the activated charcoal in the pills “attracts” congeners.
Coffee contains a high amount of caffeine, which is a stimulant and therefore helps fight fatigue. But when the caffeine wears off, a drinker may be even more tired than before. It can help alleviate a pounding head because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces the size of blood vessels.
This counteracts the effect of the alcohol, which makes them swell, making the head hurt in the first place. Unfortunately, caffeine is also a diuretic like alcohol and can make a drinker even more dehydrated than before, thereby increasing the severity of the hangover. Overall, coffee is not a good hangover cure.
Fried or Fatty Foods
Although eating fried or fatty foods the morning after will probably only irritate a drinker’s stomach further, eating them before drinking can actually be helpful. Putting anything in the stomach prior to indulging in alcohol helps prevent a hangover, but fatty foods in particular stick to the stomach lining longer and therefore slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. While that might make it take longer to feel the alcohol’s effects, it also gives the body more time to process the byproducts and will increase a drinker’s chances of feeling decent in the morning. So much so, in fact, that a Mediterranean folk tactic is to take a spoonful of olive oil before drinking alcohol. Eating lighter food such as a fruit smoothie will provide energy and alleviate some symptoms by replenishing the electrolytes the body lost from dehydration.
Eating eggs the morning after provides energy like any other food, which is the primary benefit. But eggs do also contain large amounts of cysteine, the substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver’s easily depleted glutathione. Therefore, eggs can potentially help mop up the left-over toxins.
Eating bananas the morning after a night of heavy drinking provides lost electrolytes like any food would, but it also specifically replenishes the potassium lost to alcohol’s diuretic effect. Other potassium-rich foods such as kiwi fruit or sports drinks work just as well.
Replenishing the body’s water supply after a night of drinking combats dehydration, and it also helps dilute the leftover byproducts in the stomach. Add salt and sugar to water helps replace the sodium and glycogen lost the night before. Non-caffeinated, non-carbonated sports drinks can achieve the same effect.
As a prevention method, drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage slows down drinking, providing more time for the body to deal with the alcohol (the body can only process about three-quarters of an ounce of alcohol in an hour). Drinking a few glasses of water before going to bed helps fight dehydration after the body finishes breaking down the alcohol.
The fructose — fruit sugar — in fruit juice helps to naturally increase the body’s energy. Studies have proven that it also increases the rate at which the body gets rid of toxins such as those left over from alcohol metabolism. Fruit juice is also a good idea the morning after because it is high in vitamins and nutrients that were depleted the night before because of alcohol’s diuretic effect. Vitamin supplements high in vitamins C and B are also effective.
Certain painkillers are more effective at combating a hangover than others. For instance, Excedrin can be helpful for a headache because it combines acetaminophen for the pain and caffeine to reduce the size of the pounding blood vessels; however, prolonged combination of alcohol and acetaminophen has been shown to cause liver damage, and caffeine is a diuretic.
Aspirin is a non-caffeinated pain reliever and is also in a class of anti-inflammatory drugs known as prostaglandin inhibitors. High levels of prostaglandin have been associated with increased hangover severity. In one study, participants who took a prostaglandin inhibitor before bed reported less of a headache and less nausea and thirst than those who had drank the same amount of alcohol but did not take the prostaglandin inhibitor before bed. If you have a sensitive stomach, though, beware — taking aspirin after drinking can make your stomach hurt even worse.
The only complete cure for a hangover is time. No matter what a drinker does, the body still has to clean up all the toxic byproducts left over from the evening before. But the above factual remedies can help speed up the process.