Hangover face? Or smug face?
Pounding head? Woolly mouth? A dreadful feeling you might be sick (if you can just summon the energy to get to the bathroom…)
The after-effects of too much alcohol are no-one’s idea of fun. But is there a foolproof way to cure a hangover? Or, better yet, avoid getting one in the first place? While making the morning after more bearable can’t undo the longer term health effects of alcohol, it’s certainly a popular topic.
Tips are passed on like folklore. Some may even carry claims that science can back them up. But are they reliable?
One issue is that scientists still don’t know exactly how too much alcohol causes a hangover – although there are loads of theories out there. So there’s scant scientific evidence behind so-called ‘hangover cures’.
That said, there are some things that we know can help – and other things that just won’t.
So with Dryathlon promising a hangover-free January (by the sure-fire method of giving up booze for a month to raise money for Cancer Research UK), we discuss some popular theories and internet advice to keep hangovers at bay.
*Spoiler alert*: the only way to avoid feeling rough is to drink less!
A fried breakfast
Having something to eat is probably a good idea, but the morning after has led many to reach for the bacon instead of the bran flakes. But there’s nothing special in that sausage to magic away a hangover, so you might be better off with something easier to digest, and healthier.
Something like vegetable broth would be a good choice – it’s a good source of vitamins and minerals, and all important fluids. But a glass of juice and some wholemeal toast wouldn’t be a bad plan.
But what about earlier on? A bag of chips on your way home from the pub won’t help much either – it’s better to eat before you drink, not afterwards. Eating is definitely not cheating, and can help slow down the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol – but it won’t stop the harmful effects of alcohol – or mean you can drink with no consequences.
Take-aways and lardy breakfasts also add to the calorie-count of your evening out. With young Brits drinking an estimated 3,700 calories in alcohol at festive parties and evenings out alone, according to survey done for Dryathlon, your waist line might thank you for a healthier approach to hangover eating too.
Hair of the dog
Nope. Definitely not.
At best you’re just postponing the hangover until later.
And the NHS recommends a 48 hour break from alcohol after drinking heavily (whether you have a hangover or not).
A bit of activity
While some of us may struggle to get out of bed, others swear by a jog or even a gym session. Physical activity can improve your mood as it releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, and it’s definitely better for you than a bacon butty.
But be careful not to push it too much, stop if you feel worse, and make sure you drink enough water.
And you don’t need to leave home, or according to some, your bedroom, to get active. Anything that gets you warmer and a bit out of breath…
Dietary supplements and other hangover remedies
The good news – you can save yourself some money. A review of trials for supposed ‘hangover cures’ found there’s no good evidence to back up the idea that any of the proposed remedies worked.
One supplement that crops up a lot is milk thistle, which supposedly ‘protects your liver’. But even this has little evidence to back it up: for example, a 2007 review by the Cochrane Collaboration found no evidence that milk thistle could help people with liver diseases.
So a night on the tiles may have left your body in need of some nutrients, but you’re much better off getting them through a varied diet: try beans on toast or a fruit salad instead.
Over-the-counter painkillers can be handy, as they may well help treat a headache and other symptoms of your hangover.
The NHS recommends paracetamol-based products, as aspirin can further irritate your stomach and make any nausea worse.
Drinking alcohol often causes dehydration, which could be behind lots of hangover symptoms. The earlier you start rehydrating, the better – get a glass of water down you before bed.
But drinking water, or another soft drink, in between alcoholic drinks can also help you cut down on the amount of booze you have, and could even stop you getting a hangover in the first place.
31 good mornings
There aren’t any sneaky tricks to escape the consequences of having one too many – either the immediate consequences, or the longer term health harms (including cancer). But there is one fail-safe method to avoid a hangover – drinking less booze.
So for a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed start to 2015, sign up to Dryathlon to enjoy 31 good mornings in January, and raise vital funds for cancer research while you’re at it #smugface.
Sarah Williams is a senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK
- Fry-up by Alex Cameron (Flickr, via CC-BY-SA 2.0)
- Dog by Blake Handley (Flickr, via CC-BY 2.0)
- Icy plunge by Tim Tonjes (Flickr, via CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
- Supplements by Health Gauge (Flickr, via CC-BY 2.0)
- Paracetamol by Leach 84, (Flickr, via CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)
- Water glass by Philipp Kung (Flickr, via CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)