Most of us have been there at least once—cotton mouth, sand in the bloodshot eyes, sensitive skin, scalp and hair, nausea, sensitivity to any light source, general inflammation, shaky hands, pounding headache that just won’t ease up. You’ve put your symptoms into WebMD’s symptom checker, but your blurred vision makes it almost impossible to focus on the displayed results. Brain aneurysm? Constipation? Sarcoidosis? Pink eye? Sjogren’s syndrome? Parkinson’s? Food poisoning? Iritis? Gastritis? Generalized anxiety disorder? Well, you don’t need Dr. House to diagnose this one. Just ask one simple question. What were you doing last night?
Whether you recall the details or you just can’t remember last night clearly, you probably have the all–time classic—the common hangover. So, what’s the most effective and immediate cure? Everyone has an opinion; nothing seems to work for everyone. Let’s rewind the clock to see how we can avoid this dire situation or at least cushion our fall. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? In my decades of experience, the very few hangovers I’ve had could have been prevented by one simple practice—drink more, not less. Now, before I attempt to justify this bold statement, let’s review some of the more popular hangover cures and myths. Caution: This information does not constitute medical advice (which you should get from your doctor).
Eat a raw egg or two: the nutrients in the egg are supposed to help you. Of course, it will likely make you vomit, which could also help.
Black coffee: Caffeine is a diuretic and will further dehydrate you, which is the root cause of your problem. What about decaffeinated coffee? My response is, what about non-alcoholic wine?
Take aspirin, Tylenol or ibuprofen: Aspirin can irritate the stomach. Tylenol with alcohol can damage the liver. I once knew a doctor who swore that taking ibuprofen with the alcohol prevented hangovers. It might be true. Several years later, I learned he had a long section of his large intestine removed to stop his internal bleeding and had to tolerate a colostomy, so I don’t recommend abuse of any of these medications.
RU-21 supplements: This product speeds up your metabolism of alcohol and its toxins, but they say that for best results you should take them with the alcohol, so they fit more properly into the prevention category than the cure, I think. Also, the producer claims it was developed by the KGB, so you have to wonder. We haven’t tried them yet, but they sound interesting.
Berocca: We have some friends who swear by Berocca, a combination of B and C vitamins, which is produced by Bayer and promoted as a general health product. Many people classify it as both a hangover prevention and a cure. At some point, Berocca was marketed specially to UK bloggers, who could sign up for a free “stress kit” that included a stress ball, a USB “stress” button, a bubble wrap keyring, a “Dead Fred” pen holder and a pack of Berocca. Their blogger marketing seems to have been somewhat successful. Berocca isn’t available in the USA and seems to be best known in Australia (which makes sense).
Rigorous exercise: The sweating is supposed to help. Yeah, right. I’ve found it better to sit under a hot shower.
Drink only light–colored alcohol: Again, this isn’t a cure; and anyone who has overindulged in gin knows this one is bulls**t.
Hair of the Dog: A common recommendation is to have a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you. In other words, drink some more alcohol in the morning to make you feel better. The idea here is that you are actually suffering alcohol withdrawal and, therefore, ingesting more alcohol will solve the problem. That logic is currently being used by the U.S. government, which has assembled the best minds in economics and finance to help solve the problem caused by rampant over–spending and debt–based leverage in the housing and consumer markets. Their solution? Inject unprecedented billions of dollars of fiscal stimulus into the economy so banks will lend more money to people who will use it to buy more houses they really can’t afford and more consumer goods they really don’t need. Hmmm. If you use this “cure” regularly, it may indicate you have a drinking problem and you should seek immediate help.
Drink lots of OJ or tomato juice: OJ is water with fructose sugar—you’re trying to metabolize the alcohol; introducing sugar will just slow down the process, so that won’t work very well. Also, OJ’s citric acid may upset your stomach even worse. Tomato juice, on the other hand, might work, especially if you carefully adhere to the following formula: to a large half glass of tomato juice, add two dashes of celery salt, a half–ounce of lemon juice, a few dashes of Worchester sauce, a quarter teaspoon of horseradish, 2–4 drops of Tabasco sauce, a few dashes of salt and pepper, several ice cubes and a generous portion of vodka (or beer). Drink completely. Repeat as necessary until symptoms are relieved. This should be a last resort, of course, as some people believe it is somehow related to the “Hair of the Dog” cure—see above.
Eat food while drinking: Food keeps the alcohol in the stomach longer, so it can be broken down more before entering the blood stream. Cheese and carbohydrates are best, since they provide amino acids. Again, more a prevention than a cure, but it also helps the next morning.
Gatorade: It’s just expensive water with some salt to speed fluid absorption. I won’t let my kids drink it, so why should I try it?
So, what works? The best cure I’ve ever found is the cheapest and easiest one. Drink more, not less. Water. Lots of water. Alcohol inhibits secretion of the hormone vasopressin, bringing on dehydration, which exacerbates hangover symptoms. As a preventive measure, drink water throughout the evening. One 16–once glass of water every two hours plus 2–3 more glasses at bedtime and one more every time you wake up during the night. As a cure, keep drinking a big glass of water every 30 minutes for a couple of hours, starting when you first wake up. Salt also helps with fluid retention, so you can add a little salt to your first glass in the morning. Think of it as saline solution for the soul.
Be careful when you drink a lot of water, however. You should avoid
hyponatremia and the even more dangerous cerebral edema. In any event, supplement your water intake by eating a big portion of carbohydrates if you can (toast, pasta, etc.). Also, don’t go to bed much later than your normal time. Why? Because it throws off your circadian rhythm, which can give you the equivalent of moderate jet lag, which contributes to the hangover symptoms. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment—don’t drink any alcohol, but go to bed 3 hours later than normal; get up around the same time as normal. How do you feel? Pretty lousy. Now, repeat this experiment, but have about 3 or 4 alcoholic drinks within 2 hours of going to bed. When you wake up, reread this article.
Have a Happy New Year! And remember, drink responsibly and don’t drink and drive.
December 29, 2008 at 5:56 pm
I’m one of those friends that swears by Berocca, having lived in Australia and participated with Aussies, I can vouch for its effectiveness. I’m also with you on the water with wine…that helps yet its not THE cure like Berocca.
All the best’
Dave, I was indeed talking about you guys. Thanks for weighing in on this subject. I know you speak from experience!
Wow – what a great article. Thanks for it!
A friend of mine turned me on to RU-21. They really work! They’re supposed to be the equivalent of a vitamin supplement (or at least I was told) so they’re good for you too.
Attn: Those who combat hangovers!!!! I have got an excellent remedy for hangovers. There is a newer drink on the market called Urban Detox made by a company called Function. It comes in orange or berry flavors (orange is my favorite). It tastes great and, no matter how much I have been drinking the night before, drinking one bottle right before bed and another either during the night or when I wake up, really eliminates hangovers from all alcohols. It retails for about $1.99 and you can buy it from Ralphs. Take my word for it…it REALLY WORKS!