Hangover Remedies: What Actually Works?

alka seltzer with waterHow do you avoid a pounding head and queasiness the morning after a night of drinking? Well the only way to completely avoid it is to drink in moderation, or to stay away from alcohol entirely. But in many circumstances, it’s easy to overindulge.

You may be inclined to try one of the many supposedly tried-and-true remedies. However, traditional hangover remedies are often ineffective, and some of them may actually make you feel worse. So what works and what doesn’t?

More Alcohol?

Even though the thought of a Bloody Mary may appeal to you, a Virgin Mary is a much better choice the morning after. The worst thing to do is to have another drink, though many people think the opposite.

The alcohol may temporarily help your symptoms but could hurt in the long run. Hangovers make you feel horrible because alcohol is toxic, and you need to give your body a chance to recover. That morning drink could lead to an even worse hangover the following day.

Greasy breakfast

There’s no scientific evidence that a heaping helping of bacon and eggs will ease hangover anguish, even though many people swear by it. Greasy food is just going to give you heartburn. However you should stick with easy-to-digest foods such as toast or cereal. You want to get calories right back into your system.

Eat light and stay hydrated. No specific foods are recommended, although honey sandwiches are helpful to some people.

Alka-Seltzer

Alka-Seltzer turns 83 in 2013, and the famous fizzy medicine has probably been used to treat hangovers for nearly that long. In 2001, the company even introduced a Morning Relief formulation specifically for hangovers.

All Alka-Seltzer varieties contain sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), which will help settle a queasy belly by neutralizing stomach acid. Still, other ingredients, notably aspirin and citric acid, may irritate your stomach after a night of heavy drinking.

Hangover pills

There are lots of hangover “cures” in a bottle out there—such as Chaser, PreToxx, and RU 21—but very little evidence to back up claims. Hangover pills that have been studied are not effective, or only help against a few complaints…but not all.

A 2005 review article in the journal BMJ identified eight peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled studies of hangover remedies, and concluded that “no compelling evidence exists” to support their use.

Instead, take a multivitamin instead to restore the nutrients your body may have lost during a binge.

Coffee

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, skipping java when you’re hung over may—or may not—be a good idea. You may wind up layering a pounding caffeine-withdrawal headache on top of your hangover woes when you miss your regular morning fix.

That said, caffeine narrows your blood vessels and boosts blood pressure. Both of these may make the hangover worse. If you drink coffee regularly, you might try a very small amount in the morning. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and see how you feel.

Water and sports drinks

Conventional wisdom holds that the dehydration caused by heavy drinking is what makes you feel so sick the next day. In fact, experts actually know very little about what causes a hangover. Potential culprits include disrupted biological rhythms or even alcohol withdrawal, and research suggests that congeners—toxic substances found in alcohol, especially dark liquors such as whiskey—may also play a role.

Nevertheless, replacing the fluid you’ve lost will likely help you feel a little less miserable. Juice, water, Gatorade, all those things—they’re going to make you feel better.

Take pain relievers

For women who have PMS-related pain such as cramping, breast tenderness, backaches, or headaches, non-steroidal anti- inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) can provide some relief.

These include ibuprofen (Advil and similar drugs) and naproxen (Aleve).

Or you can try over-the-counter remedies specifically aimed at PMS like Pamprin and Midol. These often combine some sort of pain reliever with caffeine.

Exercise

A gentle workout could help you feel better, if you can manage it (and that’s a big IF).

Remember: If you’ve been drinking heavily, you could be a little dehydrated, you could be metabolically behind on your nutrition, and exercise is going to require hydration and nutrition. Exercise is always the right thing to do, but I don’t think [on] the morning you wake up with a hangover, exercise is what you need. What you really need is rest.

Sleep

People sleep poorly after a night of drinking. Alcohol will put you to sleep quickly, but when it begins to wear off several hours later, the withdrawal your body feels can disrupt sleep and jolt you awake. While sleep deprivation won’t by itself cause a hangover, it can definitely make the symptoms feel worse.

If you have the luxury of “sleeping it off” the next day, do so. Your foggy brain and achy body will thank you. The body’s got an amazing capacity to heal on its own.

In the end, the only surefire treatment for a hangover: time.

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