Lots of us have been there—a night of excessive drinking followed by a morning where you wish you hadn’t had those last few drinks. Hangovers can feel terrible and ruin a morning or a whole day. They’re especially problematic when you have a day of work or other obligations to fulfill the next day, and you can’t just curl up on the sofa and sleep it off. So what’s the best way to speed a hangover out the door?
The truth is, there’s no real cure for a hangover other than time. Alcohol is technically a poison—drinking has an effect on all parts of the body, including the kidneys, circulatory system, brain, liver, and hormones. As you drink, your liver works overtime to process and break down the chemicals. Your kidneys work harder too, to pass the toxic fluids—which can leave you dehydrated. The lining of your stomach and intestines can also become inflamed, leading to nausea, diarrhea, and stomach aches.
So a hangover isn’t just a garden-variety headache. Factors that go into hangovers include stomach upset and diarrhea from the inflamed lining; changes to hormones and blood chemistry; dehydration and the buildup of toxins in the body; and disruptions to the sleep cycle. A hangover is a complex malady—one it would take more than extra glasses of water to cure.
There are plenty of suggested “cures” out there with no science to back them up—but the truth is that, as few peer-reviewed studies have been run testing the efficacy of various cures, some folk remedies for hangovers might actually be effective. Here are a few things that have been found to be at least a little helpful.
Take vitamin B6.
There is some evidence that taking this vitamin before a night of drinking can be at least a little helpful—if you wait until the next day, it’s probably too late.
Take anti-inflammatory drugs.
Taking medications such as ibuprofen or naxopren, or select prescription anti-inflammatories that are non-steroidal, can be helpful if taken during drinking. Outside of the United States, you could also try tolfenamic acid. However, the caveat is that these drugs can also cause stomach bleeding. Tylenol should also be avoided in conjunction with drinking, as it can damage your liver if it is already overtaxed.
While eating greasy food has no proven health benefits for a hangover, a chemical called cysteine may have some positive effect on your liver’s ability to quickly process the toxins that build up in your body after a night of drinking. This chemical is found in eggs, which might make these a better hangover cure than bacon and carbs. However, this hasn’t been scientifically proven.
Drink water or sports drinks.
Because your kidneys work extra hard to pass the poison, drinking water after the fact may be at least a little helpful. However, drinking water during the evening—alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water—can be even more helpful, because it slows down your alcohol consumption. In addition, Gatorade, Pedialyte, or other electrolyte-enriched sports drinks may be more effective in rehydrating you than plain water, although studies haven’t confirmed this.
There is some anecdotal evidence that exercise can help your body recover from a hangover. This might mean light exercise or moving around instead of lying on the couch, and may only be practical for less severe hangovers. There is no science backing this up, but it’s worth a try if you’re feeling up for it. Eat a meal of carbs an hour or so beforehand for the energy, and stay hydrated throughout the workout.
No more alcohol.
More alcohol after a heavy night of drinking may temporarily deaden the pain of your current hangover, but in the end it will most likely make you feel even more sick. While most folk cures for hangovers are of at least doubtful efficacy and at best might work in some situations and for some people but not everyone, this one can definitely be categorized as an all-around bad idea.
French fries and other fried foods should be avoided, but plain carbs such as crackers, oatmeal, or bread may actually help normalize your blood sugar levels and give you some energy.
Food before drinking.
Generally speaking, if you want to minimize the effects of alcohol in general, it’s best not to drink on an empty stomach. Food helps your body absorb alcohol more slowly, and a full stomach means the alcohol you drink won’t hit your bloodstream as fast. When eaten before a night of drinking, food can be a buffer between you and a hangover the next day.
Save your money on hangover pills. There are a few products out there, such as RU 21, PreToxx, and Chaser, that purport to cure hangovers. However, their effectiveness has not been proven in any peer-reviewed studies. If you’re looking for a pill to help kill your hangover, Advil or another anti-inflammatory—not Tylenol—will most likely be more effective.
Coffee is hit or miss. Coffee constricts your blood vessels and increases blood pressure in the body—which can make your pounding hangover headache worse. Some people report that some coffee in the morning can help them perk up during a mild hangover, however. And for those who are heavy coffee drinkers, abstaining when they would normally have coffee could cause a painful caffeine headache on top of the hangover. So coffee is hit or miss—it may or may not be helpful for you, but it is definitely not a cure for everyone.
Get some sleep.
Really, the only thing that cures a hangover for sure is time. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt your sleep cycle, leaving you exhausted the next day. Sleep during the day can help you pass through the most painful parts of hangover recovery—if you have time. If you don’t, an early night the next night—along with water and a healthy dinner—is probably the best way to make sure you wake up feeling good the following day.
Hangovers can be persistent and difficult to cure. The best way to avoid one is not to drink too much—but if it’s too late, try several different things to see what works best for you. Often, what works best for hangovers varies from person to person—and finding the best course for you can involve some trial and error.