Can anything help a hangover? These tips can help lessen the misery
Products claiming to ward off that morning-after agony are flooding the market. Do they deliver?
The quest to “cure” a hangover, or at least make it significantly less miserable, has eluded scientists and laypeople for years. But it hasn’t stopped them from trying. Today, there is a growing assortment of products – from rebranded age-old remedies to new, specialized formulations – that claim to ease the morning-after symptoms. Alka Seltzer sells fizzing orange tablets designed for “hangover relief.” More Labs’s “holiday drinking hack” is to consume their liquid electrolyte supplement at night, so you “never ruin your morning plans.” You can even buy vitamin B1 patches to slap onto your skin or pills that blend aspirin and caffeine that promise to “solve” brutal hangovers in just 15 minutes.
According to Grand View Research, a market research firm, the hangover cure product category is expected to expand by 14.6 per cent each year from 2021 to 2028. The growth “coincides with this deeper interest in our personal biology,” and personal biology hacks, said Emily Moquin, a food and beverage analyst at Morning Consult, a research firm. Hangover cure products – and their buzzy ingredients – lean into people’s desire to harness science and technology to ease their pain. “People are saying, ‘Even if I’m going to have a glass or two of wine, I don’t want to feel the effect at all,’” she said.
Moquin believes the popularity of hangover products is also part of a larger optimisation trend. “It ties into the cultural zeitgeist of productivity,” she said. “People feel like they can’t afford to have an off day.”
Despite the proliferation of hangover cures, many researchers remain skeptical of their claims. “There’s not a huge amount of evidence out there for really anything like a drug to prevent or cure a hangover at the moment,” said Emmert Roberts, a fellow at Stanford University who recently reviewed 21 studies on hangover interventions. Dr Roberts looked at compounds, such as tolfenamic acid, Korean pear juice and a vitamin B6 analog called pyritinol, available in products and rumored to alleviate hangover symptoms. He found scant evidence that they were actually effective.
What’s more, he said, most research into hangover treatments is of very poor quality; studies tend to involve small sample sizes. “There are a lot of snake oil salesmen peddling products that just don’t pass muster,” he said.
“It’s not what people want to hear,” he added. “But there are things you can do.”
Here’s what contributes to that wretched feeling after a big night out and some science-backed advice for how to lessen the misery.
WHAT CAUSES A HANGOVER, AND WHAT CAN ALLEVIATE IT?
A hangover is the byproduct of acute alcohol withdrawal. As your body processes alcohol, it breaks it down into acetaldehyde, a colorless chemical compound, said Alexis Supan, a nutrition expert at the Cleveland Clinic. Acetaldehyde is essentially a poison, Supan said, and as your body struggles to metabolise it, your heart rate rises and you can become nauseous. In addition, alcohol works as a diuretic, occasionally inducing some of the most-dreaded hallmarks of a hangover: Sweating, diarrhea, vomiting. Those, in turn, dehydrate your body even further and can cause a pounding headache.
The standard advice for avoiding or lessening the severity of a hangover is still the best: Drink in moderation, alternate alcoholic drinks with water and try not to drink on an empty stomach.
Your choice of alcoholic beverages also matters. Stick with clear, light-colored options like light beer and white wine, Supan said. Darker alcoholic drinks, like bourbon, rum, whiskey and red wine, can cause worse hangovers. This is because the fermentation process that darkens them also releases compounds called congeners, which can intensify how poor you feel as your body works to break them down. Sugary cocktails, along with mixers like cranberry juice and sodas, can also contribute to a bad morning, Supan said. They initially elevate your blood sugar levels, and then, as those levels drop, you feel fatigued and weak.
When you get home, taking aspirin before you go to bed isn’t likely to ward off a hangover altogether, said Dr Holly Stankewicz, an emergency medicine physician at St Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania, who has researched hangover prevention. But a pain reliever may be able to lessen aches when you wake up.
Hydration is just as important the next day, to help ease a headache and replenish fluids. For most people, simply drinking water or seltzer will be enough; a good practice is to drink fluids until your urine is pale yellow, Supan said. But if you’re throwing up the morning after, or if you sweat a lot the night before because you were out dancing or in a packed bar, Supan said, you should probably reach for an electrolyte replacement, like Gatorade or Pedialyte.
True to conventional wisdom, caffeine can help you burst through the fog and grogginess that come with a hangover, Supan said. A cup of coffee might be just as effective as the caffeine included in some hangover pills.
As for all those recovery drinks and hangover prevention patches, many are essentially vitamin cocktails: A review of 82 hangover products found that 51 contained one or more vitamins that exceeded the daily recommended dose. It’s important to replenish vitamins after drinking, but it’s better to get them from natural food sources, Supan said. In fact, some of the comfort foods you often crave after a night out are a good choice: A classic diner meal with eggs, home fries, cheese and a bit of ham would supply vitamins B, C and zinc, Supan advised. “We lose a lot of those things when we’re drinking. We want to try to bump them up the following day.”
Still, if you find yourself weary and reeling the morning after a party, or dreading the coming headache before you go out, shelling out for a hangover healer isn’t likely to do you much harm, experts said. But “just taking a pill probably isn’t going to be enough,” Dr Stankewicz said. “Time is really the only thing that will make it better.”
By Dani Blum © The New York Times Company
The article originally appeared in The New York Times.