So you spent a few too many hours bellied up to the bar last night downing beer and tequila shots until the wee hours of the morning. And now here you are, your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth and your head pounding out a tune that Metallica would consider heavy metal. Ah, those glorious hangovers. I no longer have them (I have two young children-’nuff said), but I slightly recall what those days were like, and I have always wondered if any of the so-called miraculous hangover remedies actually work.
Beer has been around for over 12,000 years. Prior to the 19th century, when the water supply was not as clean as it is now, people added alcohol to treat the supply before consuming it. Written about throughout the times, the mention of hangovers even made an appearance in the Bible. “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink.” (Saiah 5:11)
There must be a hangover cure, right?
Before we answer this question you should first understand what causes the shaking limbs, pounding head, upset belly, dry mouth, and overall feeling of death-come-to-life following a night of heavy drinking. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 75% of all people who drink too much will suffer from a multitude of symptoms associated with drinking too much or taking certain drugs.
Dehydration plays a critical role in the common hangover. Ethanol, the colorless and flammable component in alcohol, causes urine production to increase, which in turn dehydrates the body. In fact, a drinker expels four times as much urine as she consumes, so it is easy to see just how quickly one can become dehydrated during a night on the town.
If someone says you were acting on half a brain while drinking, well, they aren’t completely false. While a glass or five of wine won’t eradicate half of your brain, it will cause it to shrink up a bit as it attempts to protect itself from your other organs, which are trying to steal whatever water the brain has left so they can replenish their own supply. Shrinking brain, dry mouth: Sounds like a tale on the sci-fi channel rather than a great night partying with friends.
Why the fatigue and queasy stomach?
Alcohol consumption causes your blood sugar to drop, and everyone knows what happens when your blood sugar gets too low: You become lightheaded and tired. At the same time that you’re trying to remain steady on your feet, your stomach acid is fighting back against the twelve-pack you consumed, which has disrupted your belly and caused it to empty at a slower rate; hence, the feeling that you might toss your cookies at any second.
Now that you know what symptoms may comprise a hangover, curing these maladies should be as easy as finding a quick fix for each.
Chomp a deep-fried canary: Body Philosophy’s Top 5 Ancient Hangover Cures
Here they are, in no particular order (other than listing my very favorite as #1). Try one or try all, if you dare. And if you do dare, write us and let us know if it worked. When the Romans drank a bit too much, they sometimes tried munching down on a deep-fried canary to settle their nauseous bellies (I’ll have mine with a side of green beans, please). The Greeks gobbled up sheep lungs (Do they sell these at Ralphs?) Mongolians dined upon pickled sheep eyeballs mixed in tomato juice Aristotle suggested eating some cabbage before downing a few Raw eel supposedly helps, but you sure won’t find me giving this one a try.
If these ideas turn your already nauseous stomach in circles, you may want to reach for a more modern hangover cure that does not include snacking on dead animals or their parts. And what might these be, you ask?
Homeopathic Hangover Remedies
Dr. Tim Stryker, Senior Advisor at Inner Health, Inc. and former Chief of Medicine at New England Memorial Hospital, has found using homeopathic remedies much more successful when treating symptoms and illnesses of all types. Dr. Stryker states that remedies can be used on an acute basis for the simple hangover as well as on a chronic basis for those who struggle with regular hangovers (though if you’re regularly hungover you might want to consider cutting back on your consumption or AA).
While one single cure does not fit every person or circumstance, Dr. Stryker says, “The most common remedy for a hangover with common symptoms is Nux Vomica, easily purchased in any health food store.” Derived of the poison nut plant, Nux Vomica is so popular that even the stars are taking it. Public relations manager Deborah Kelly worked in the celebrity lounge at Sundance last year and says that Nux Vomica was one of the most popular medications she handed out. Nux Vomica does not interfere with other medications, is easy on the stomach, and reportedly causes no ill side effects. On top of that, it costs less than ten bucks or less than that triple margarita you barely remember tossing back.
A study conducted by Dr. Jeff Wiese at Tulane Health Sciences Center in New Orleans found that taking prickly pear extract five hours prior to drinking might prevent dry mouth, nausea, and loss of appetite. During the study 64 adults were followed as they drank whatever liquor they enjoyed, consuming 5-7 drinks in just four hours. Half took the extract five hours prior to the binge while the other half did not. Two weeks later the study was repeated. In both studies, those that had taken the extract stated that their hangover symptoms were cut in half of those that did not. Prickly pear extract can be found in most natural health food stores for under ten dollars, and the edible prickly pear cactus can be found growing all over in the southwest, even on congested Los Angeles hillsides. The one caveat: some people are allergic to prickly pear, and a reaction can cause chest pains and difficulty breathing.
Expert Hangover Tips
The National Headache Foundation offers up some tips for curing that dreaded hangover headache. First off, avoid red wine, which contains congeners. Congeners make up the taste and color of alcoholic beverages and are thought to exacerbate hangover symptoms. Next off, eat a little honey, honey! Honey contains fructose, the sugar that helps to metabolize alcohol in the body. Take two tablespoons with a cracker or piece of bread before or after drinking and you just might find that you don’t feel as bad the next morning. Tomato juice works as well, and the sugars found in common fruit juices may also prove beneficial in reducing some hangover symptoms.
A day after drinking is no time to curb your sodium intake either, as salt helps with the dehydration that drinking causes. Sip a cup of soup broth or drink a sports drink following a night out. Caffeine may improve headaches as it acts as a vasoconstrictor to ease the dilated blood vessels that are causing the pain, though caffeine also dehydrates. If your stomach can handle a cup of java the day after, drink up, but don’t down a pot or two! Adding a little sugar to the cup may help a bit as well.
You’re standing in line at the local convenience store suffering from a massive case of hangover hell when a little box of pills boasting to cure all hangovers catches your attention. Maybe you should drop the twenty or thirty dollars many of these bottles cost and gulp a few down to cure what ails you.
Or maybe not.
According to research published in a 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal, no remedy-pill or otherwise-has been proven to be effective in ending the inevitable morning-after hangover. In this study, researchers tested a variety of drugs, including one for nausea, a painkiller, fructose or glucose, and a beta-blocking drug, but found that none completely eradicated the symptoms of a hangover. Their findings show that if you don’t want to feel like death in the morning, then you shouldn’t spend the night before drinking as though there were no tomorrow.
Yet over time monies spent on these remedies have increased, and the products available have multiplied. Is there truth to the claims of these hangover pills? Hangover Review took the guesswork out of finding the best hangover pill available on the market by conducting a study that reviewed 52 products available on the market, and this is what they found. Out of the 52, Sob’r K Hangover Stopper rated the best. Sober K is comprised of carbon designated to trap the congeners in alcohol, which, if you remember from earlier, are generally the culprits associated with a hangover. This product is the only patented hangover product, and the company offers a guarantee if the drinker is not fully satisfied. Another popular choice, Chaser, offers many of the same ingredients as Sob’r K but is not patented and does not offer a money-back guarantee.
One thing to keep in mind with many of these pills: They require the drinker to consume a lot of water before, during, and after drinking while taking the pills. So if you do feel better it may be the pill or it may be the fact that you aren’t as dehydrated as you would typically be when you head out for a night on the town. In this writing, no scientific claims have proven that any of these little magic pills actually work.
What does all of this mean?
First of all, heed the advice you’ve heard countless times if you want to avoid a hangover altogether: abstain, abstain, abstain. But if abstaining doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, follow these tips to at least minimize the ill effects of a night spent partaking in too much liquor.
Alternate water and alcohol. Remember, many of the horrible hangover blues are caused by dehydration, so stay hydrated while you drink and pay less for your over-indulgence in the morning. One alcoholic beverage, one glass of water should be the rule of thumb.
Eat a large meal before hitting the town. Food helps absorb the alcohol, so by filling up with solids before gulping down the liquids you are increasing the chances that the hangover will be less harsh the next day.
Beat the cows home and get your zzzs. At least you can sleep off some of the worse effects of your drinking and contend with just the aftershocks when you wake. Better yet, stay in bed the next day until your body has a chance to sober up.
Follow the previous advice from the national headache institute, which includes replenishing your sodium and sugar levels. Drink sports drinks, coffee with sugar, or tomato juice.