A hangover can leave someone with fatigue, nausea, and muscle aches. People swear by certain hangover cures, but do home remedies really help?
Drinking alcohol can cause fatigue, nausea, brain fog, and low mood the next day. People who are experiencing a hangover feel these symptoms partly because of the after-effects of drinking alcohol, including:
- electrolyte imbalances
- alcohol withdrawal
- low blood sugar
- stomach and intestine inflammation
- sleep disturbances
Home hangover cures aim to treat these symptoms. There is no specific food, drink, or magic pill to cure a hangover, though certain remedies can ease the symptoms in some people.
In this article, we look at the effectiveness of some common methods people use to try to cure hangovers.
While there is little direct research into how effective over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are for people with a hangover, certain medicines may help tackle the symptoms, as discussed below.
Do anti-inflammatories help?
Aspirin and other anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are effective at relieving aches and pains.
These drugs can reduce the inflammation in the body that alcohol causes to relieve headaches and muscle aches.
People should use anti-inflammatories with caution when hungover, as the medication can further irritate the stomach lining. Chronic use of these drugs can lead to stomach ulcers. Some doctors caution against taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach for this reason.
Do antacids help?
Antacids work by neutralizing the stomach acid to relieve an upset stomach. Taking antacids can reduce nausea, heartburn, and indigestion that drinking causes. This is a good option for people who tend to feel sick when hungover.
Does acetaminophen help?
Avoid medication that contains acetaminophen during a hangover.
The liver is the organ that breaks down acetaminophen, as it does alcohol. The body is more susceptible to the toxic effects of acetaminophen when a person drinks alcohol, and this can contribute to liver damage in severe cases.
People may prefer to use anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for pain relief instead.
Rehydrating the body by drinking water may help to improve the symptoms of a hangover.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it increases the amount of urine a person passes. The resulting loss in fluid can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. These factors contribute to a hangover.
Staying hydrated while drinking alcohol could help to prevent or reduce a hangover. People can try drinking a glass of water between alcoholic drinks and just before bed.
Do rehydration powders help?
Many people also use sports drinks that contain electrolytes or rehydration powders to restore the balance of electrolytes in their bodies. There is no current research about whether or not this is an effective cure for a hangover.
Low blood sugar levels contribute to some hangover symptoms. Eating in the morning helps regulate blood sugar levels to relieve this discomfort partially.
When the body breaks down alcohol, lactic acid levels increase. This causes a drop in blood sugar levels, which can contribute towards a hangover.
Eating breakfast can help to restore blood sugar to a correct level and may improve some symptoms of a hangover.
There is no current research to say that particular foods, such as greasy or fried breakfasts, are more effective than others. Many people believe that carbohydrates are particularly effective for "soaking up" alcohol, though research has not looked into this.
The alcohol a person drinks causes oxidative stress, leading the body to produce free radicals. Antioxidants may help with this.
People may benefit from eating foods high in antioxidants to reduce the negative effects of drinking alcohol.
Good dietary sources of antioxidants include:
- dark chocolate
- nuts and seeds
- green and black teas
Coffee and other caffeinated drinks act as stimulants, which may improve the feelings of fatigue that come with a hangover.
Coffee, black tea, and green tea contain some antioxidants that may reduce the adverse effects of alcohol consumption.
However, drinks that contain caffeine are diuretics, which may worsen the effects of dehydration in the body. Caffeine does not alter a person's blood alcohol content, so it does not reduce the health risks relating to drinking alcohol.
Despite the prevalence of hangovers, there has been little research into developing effective treatments. Of the studies that are available, most are of low quality and remain inconclusive.
Many factors can affect the severity and length of a person's hangover, which makes it difficult for scientists to study potential hangover cures. Elements include:
- the type and amount of alcohol a person drinks
- how often they drink alcohol
- sex and age
- body type
- biological factors
- personality differences
Some people may even have a genetic disposition for worse hangovers than others.
Scientists have to rely on people's self-reported hangover symptoms, which may vary between people and depend on day-to-day factors, and these are very difficult to control scientifically.
The lack of research has left room for a wide range of myths to develop about the best ways to cure a hangover, most of which rely on anecdotal evidence.
Businesses may also make claims about specific cures to sell their products, despite little or no scientific basis.
While there are no scientifically proven hangover cures, people can effectively prevent a hangover from happening in the first place.
Several factors may help to reduce the severity of a hangover, such as:
- Drinking in moderation. The one sure way to avoid a hangover is by not drinking alcohol. People can usually guarantee a milder hangover if they drink less alcohol the night before.
- Avoiding congeners. Some alcoholic drinks produce worse hangovers than others. Drinks with high congener content are more likely to cause a hangover, including whiskey, cognac, and tequila. Vodka, rum, and gin are low-congener drinks.
- Getting enough sleep. Alcohol can affect the quality of a person's sleep, so sleeping more may help reduce a hangover.
- Staying hydrated. Drinking water while drinking alcohol can help counteract the diuretic effects of alcohol to reduce dehydration, which can contribute to headaches and other hangover symptoms.
- Eating food before drinking. Food can reduce the amount of time it takes for alcohol to enter into the bloodstream, keeping the blood alcohol levels lower. This could reduce the effects of a hangover.
The amount of alcohol that causes a hangover will vary from person to person. As a result, determining how much alcohol causes a hangover will involve some trial and error. It can help to be aware of alcohol guidelines set by the government.
There is currently no such thing as a cure for hangovers. Certain home remedies can help people manage some hangover symptoms, including taking anti-inflammatories or antacids, eating a nutritious breakfast, rehydrating, and eating foods that are rich in antioxidants.
However, there is little reliable research in this area. Until more systematic research is available, it is not possible to provide firm guidelines on dealing with hangovers.
Abstaining or drinking alcohol in moderation is the best way to avoid a hangover. People can reduce the severity of or prevent a hangover by getting enough sleep, staying hydrated through the night, and avoiding drinks with congeners.