Hangover remedies: Does coconut water or coffee help? What about a heavy breakfast?
Other than hydrating with water, what do the experts say about the methods you might have heard from your drinking buddies?
With only a couple of days left until we finally say goodbye to 2022, it’s undoubtedly that time of the year when festive celebrations are in order – whether it’s dinner with family or get-togethers with friends.
After Christmas and Boxing Day come another round of merrymaking this weekend – and for those who might take it too far when it comes to drinking, there’s always the risk of the dreaded hangover.
If you’re struggling to get up and deal with a whole range of symptoms, such as dizziness, fatigue, thirst, muscle aches, headache, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound, read on.
WHY YOU FEEL SICK
What’s making you feel nauseated and sick is the build-up of acetaldehyde formed when your body tries to digest alcohol. Furthermore, many east Asians (such as Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) break down acetaldehyde slower due to their genetic make-up, said Dr Chua Tju Siang, a gastroenterologist from Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
That’s not all that alcohol does to your body. “Alcohol also blocks the kidneys from signalling to the brain that you are thirsty,” said Melanie Anthonysamy, the nutrition team lead at HealthifyMe.
You end up not drinking enough water but passing out your fluids, which can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes and minerals, she said. This imbalance is what causes the symptoms of headache and fatigue.
Furthermore, alcohol dilates your blood vessels, which causes pain and your body to bloat, explained Anthonysamy.
As for the nausea, there are various reasons behind the unpleasant feeling, she said. Alcohol can irritate your stomach lining and increase stomach acid production.
At the same time, it also delays gastric emptying, which means the food in your stomach is sitting there bathed in gastric juices – ripe for vomiting out.
HOW TO TREAT HANGOVERS
Other than chugging water, what about the other hangover remedies that your drinking buddies have told you about? We put them to the experts for their takes on just how effective they are.
- PLAIN WATER
That painful throbbing in your skull is caused by the brain shrinkage created by dehydration, said Anthonysamy. Plain water helps to prevent further shrinkage and alleviate the pain.
- GINGER TEA
No harm giving ginger tea a try but steer clear of teh halia with milk if you have lactose intolerance. “As alcohol irritates the stomach lining, ginger tea can soothe and improve digestion. It also boosts energy,” said Anthonysamy.
- COCONUT WATER
If you have been vomiting, you’d have lost electrolytes such as potassium, sodium and calcium, said Dr Chua. Coconut water contains potassium and some sugar, which can help to rehydrate and replenish some of the stuff you’ve lost, he said.
“The potassium that coconut water has helps to improve nerve and muscle function,” said Anthonysamy. “Coconut water has the same pH as blood plasma and is low in calories; therefore, it lifts your energy levels without causing collateral damage.”
- ISOTONIC DRINKS
Like coconut water, these beverages are packed with electrolytes and can help to replenish what you’ve lost after an alcohol binge.
But is one better than the other? “Coconut water is touted to be a natural sports drink. Isotonic drinks are something man-made,” said Cheryl Teo, a Singapore Sports Institute sports dietitian on MyActiveSg.com.
“If we look at [these drinks] in a nutrient perspective, [they are] the same. It just depends on whether one would like something that is natural or man-made,” she said.
And might we add, what your tastebuds prefer when hungover.
It might seem like a good idea to have some coffee to get over the tipsiness and drowsiness. “The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant, which raises our heart rate. It also constricts blood vessels to help ease aches and pains," said Anthonysamy. In fact, some pain relief medications use caffeine to alleviate pain that way.
But if you are sensitive to caffeine or typically develop a headache after a cappuccino, hold that cup of joe. Furthermore, as Dr Chua reminded, “coffee contains caffeine, which can help with the headache; but remember that coffee itself is a diuretic and can worsen dehydration”.
- MORE ALCOHOL
Before you order a Bloody Mary or some other alcoholic beverage because your friend advised you to do so, read this: You’re just delaying the hangover symptoms and creating worse symptoms later, said Dr Chua.
Anthonysamy agreed. “Alcohol will make the hangover worse because it will increase dehydration levels in the body. Having more alcohol is not a right way to ease hangover. It will worsen the condition,” she said.
“Soups are useful for rehydration and can be comfort food for those feeling very sorry for themselves because of the hangover,” said Dr Chua.
Anthonysamy added that soups also help “replenish nutrients, soothe the stomach and aid digestion”. But don’t get cream-based soups. Instead, opt for bouillon soups, which are thin, vegetable-based broths that are a good source of vitamins and minerals, she said.
Or opt for miso soup. “It is often revered as a hangover cure because it reduces inflammation and helps in gut health,” she added.
- BANANAS OR WATERMELON
Bananas are good sources of B6, magnesium and potassium, said Anthonysamy. “B6 is a vitamin that is purported to help with hangovers, while magnesium calms the blood vessels and is known to ease headaches in some people.”
She continued: “Eating one or two bananas in the morning can relieve the muscle and body aches”. If you can tolerate the sound of the blender when hungover, make a banana smoothie with coconut water, she suggested, for a super potassium-charged drink.
Not fond of bananas? Try watermelon. It is high in natural sugars, potassium and water, she said.
- GREASY FOOD
A big, oily plate of fried bee hoon with luncheon meat and fried egg, or a McDonalds Big Breakfast is another method touted to work. Does heavy, greasy food really help?
“Greasy food needs to be eaten before the alcohol binge in order to be of help,” Dr Chua. “The greasy food slows down alcohol absorption, and hence, reduces the chance of actually getting a hangover.”
Anthonysamy added that eating all that greasy breakfast food in the morning might cause stomach upset instead.
It’s probably too late to tell you to drink in moderation when you already have a splitting hangover headache. But if you’re expecting alcohol at your next gathering, do this: Alternate between an alcoholic beverage and a glass of water to reduce your risk of waking up with a hangover, advised Anthonysamy.
And drink moderately, which is defined as one drink a day for women and two for men, according to the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. “Our body can process about one drink per hour,” reminded Anthonysamy.