Bacon and eggs, crumpets, haggis, bloody marys and Campari espressos. These (and many more) touted hangover cures are being used by many a sorry soul. But is there such a thing as a proven hangover cure? And if so WHAT is it!?
What causes a hangover?
Consuming alcohol triggers reactions in the body, some pleasant, but some not so pleasant (especially the next day!). Here’s the downside of a big night:
Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response from your immune system. Your immune system may trigger certain agents that commonly produce physical symptoms, such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems, decreased appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying. Any of these factors can cause abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
Alcohol causes your body to produce more urine. In turn, urinating more than usual can lead to dehydration — often indicated by thirst, dizziness and lightheadedness.
Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to fall. If your blood sugar dips too low, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shakiness, mood disturbances and even seizures.
Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headaches.
Alcohol can make you sleepy, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night. This may leave you groggy and tired
Most common hangover symptoms:
Symptoms can vary from person to person but the most common are:
Fatigue and weakness
Excessive thirst and dry mouth
Headaches and muscle aches
Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
Poor or decreased sleep
Increased sensitivity to light and sound
Dizziness or a sense of the room spinning
Decreased ability to concentrate
Mood disturbances, such as depression, anxiety and irritability
Is there a scientific cure?
Surprisingly there is little robust research identifying effective hangover cures. One suggested reason for this is the ethical concerns from some researchers arguing that a cure may result in increased alcohol consumption, due to the diminished negative consequences (although this has not been proven).
The most painful symptoms identified were: nausea, headache, body pain and fatigue. With those in mind, here is what the research suggests:
Results of the limited research available suggest that the key to a hangover cure lies in inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis (a pro-inflammatory process). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen help to inhibit prostaglandin synthesis, but so do consuming anti-inflammatory foods, such as dark coloured fruits and veggies (berries, beetroot, mushrooms, spinach).
Speed up your metabolism:
Another important element to curing a hangover researchers found was in accelerating alcohol metabolism (clearing alcohol out of our system faster). Therefore any activity that speeds up your metabolism may help (think exercise, caffeinated products, rapid changes in temperature such as a sauna or cold shower). One caveat here is to avoid dehydration as alcohol is a diuretic so you may already be dehydrated (but dehydration was found to not be the cause of most hangovers - disputing original theories).
Alcohol is a big disruptor of sleep, which is surprising if you’ve ever had to wake up a drunk person! Although it may aid in falling asleep (or passing out as many a friend has witnessed), it massively disrupts the deeper sleep cycles. This leads to poor quality restorative sleep. Therefore aiming to make up some lost sleep time has been shown to reduce hangover symptoms.
Anecdotal cures to consider:
Rehydrate: Simply drinking water is commonly accepted as an important part of hangover treatment. Coconut water, gatorade or other flavoured drinks has not been proven effective but won’t harm either.
Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes Versicolor): packed with beta glucans, antioxidant properties and prebiotics, this may help improve liver function, digestion and immunity. Take as a powder such as EMPOWdER Inner Wellness, sprinkled in drinks or on food.
Milk thistle: A simple herbal supplement which is believed to help aid liver function.
N-acetylcysteine: This amino acid is used for immune function and has anti-inflammatory properties. Can be taken in capsule form over the counter.
Vitamins B1, B6 and B12: These vitamins boost metabolism as well as immune function. Available over the counter in tablet form.
Frankincense extract: has been used traditionally in Ayurveda therapy to help with joint pain, lung issues and abdominal pain. Available over the counter.
Hangover To Do List:*
Putting the research and anecdotal evidence together, here is a hangover action plan to try:
Step 1: After drinking but before bed: Drink a glass of water and take Milk thistle and N-acetylcysteine. Set yourself up for the best night’s sleep you can (temperature controlled, dark, quiet).
Step 2: When you wake up, drink more water, eat a square meal packed with antioxidant rich foods (eg eggs on toast with smoked salmon, avocado, fruit salad and beetroot, spinach, carrot juice).
Step 3: Take Turkey tail, vitamins B1, B6, B12, frankincense and an NSAID.
Step 3: Do some exercise. Gentle to moderate (even if you don’t feel like it).
Step 4: Take a shower, finish with 30sec of cold (dry to deep breathe and stay relaxed during the cold blast).
Step 5: Rest, dim the lights and relax. Unless of course you have kids. Then suck it up until bedtime!
Amelia Phillips is a nutritionist, exercise scientist and online health coach who has helped thousands live a healthier life through optimised nutrition and targeted supplementation.
*Advice is general in nature and should not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects.