Hangover Cures

Hangover culprit

Hangover cures…don’t work. And, that’s official. So you’re stuck with that thumping headache, the sick feeling in your stomach, and the mouth that feels like the bottom of a parrot (or parrot’s cage depending on what you were drinking.

According to a report published in the British Medical Journal some time ago, but timely once again given the imminent holiday season, the only way to reduce the risk of waking up with a stinking hangover the morning after the night before is to not drink alcohol or at the least to avoid imbibing copious amounts of this natural poison.

There is, says the report, “No compelling evidence to suggest that any complementary or conventional intervention is effective for treating or preventing alcohol hangover.”

Apparently, hangovers waste something like £2billlion (almost $4b) in lost earnings every year because of sufferers taking a sickie and forfeiting their pay for the day. Add to that the cost of the various “hangover cures” those drinkers often turn to. They usually do so in the hope that they will be able to get out of bed and stand up straight without feeling sick or as if someone has hit them round the head with a sledgehammer. You get the idea of just how much all this drunken debauchery costs.

The authors of the paper trawled medical databases and the internet looking for hangover cures (it doesn’t say whether they were suffering the after effects of one too many sherberts themselves). They also contacted experts and manufacturers to find any randomised controlled trials of medical interventions that could prevent or treat hangovers.

The results of their search pulled up eight trials testing eight different agents: propranolol (a beta-blocking drug), tropisetron (drug for nausea and vertigo), tolfenamic acid (a painkiller), fructose or glucose, and the dietary supplements borage, artichoke, prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica), and a yeast-based preparation [not to be confused with a yeast based infection, Ed.]

Of those trials none reported any significant positive effects on post-alcoholic health, although there was some evidence that borage, the yeast-based preparation, and tolfenamic acid had some benefits. “We are confident that our search strategy located all published trials on the subject,” say the authors. “Our findings show no compelling evidence to suggest that any complementary or conventional intervention is effective for treating or preventing the alcohol hangover.”

An earlier paper in the journal suggested that the main active ingredient in beer, wine, spirits and other alcoholic drinks, “ethanol itself may play only a minor part in producing the thirst, headache, fatigue, nausea, sweating, tremor, remorse, and anxiety that hangover sufferers report.” Research shows that hangover symptoms reach their peak, or should that be trough, when almost all the ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde have actually been cleared from the blood. Moreover, peak blood ethanol or acetaldehyde levels do not correlate closely with the severity of the subsequent hangover. This is borne out by the fact that between a quarter and half of drinkers claim not to get hangovers even after a drunken binge.

Rather, it’s the congeners – other organic molecules such as polyphenols, methanol, other alcoholic compounds, and histamine – that seem to be to blame more than ethanol itself. Different drinks have different amounts of these nasties. This likely explains why a heavy session on cheap bourbon or brandy – thick with congeners and blinding methanol – is more likely to leave you with a mouth like the bottom of a parrot’s cage and a skull-crushing headache than a half dozen shots of clear, pure vodka. Not that I’d know anything about parrots and skulls, of course.

Consultant anaesthetist Ian Calder of the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, in a BMJ editorial suggested that “the fear of hangover prompts most people to moderate their ethanol intake.” This may have been true a decade ago. However, given the advent of vodka-based alcoholic shots type drinks in the last few years and the apparent burgeoning of binge drinker numbers across the UK it either no longer holds true or else this kind of research has reached the boozing masses and their drinking habits have evolved to home in on beverages with lower congener concentrations.

It’s all almost enough to make you turn to drink. Or, perhaps turn to a pharmaceutical alternative to alcohol that might emerge from research labs in the near future, according to a report in newscientist.

Alcohol exerts its effects on the brain by latching on to GABA-A receptors in the brain, and these come in various sub-types. Alcohol binds indiscriminately to them all, interfering with many brain pathways including memory and leading to its pleasant and unpleasant initial effects. A designer molecule that binds strongly to the “good” subtypes, producing the pleasurable effects of alcohol without interfering with essential brain processes, could easily be made the magazine reports. But, do we need yet another substance of abuse, especially one with a whiff of a Huxley-type world of Soma addiction?

Still, in the absence of the hangover-free substance, we’ll continue to see throughout the coming party season websites touting cure-alls from jalapeno peppers and the full English breakfast to a good old hair of the dog as the cure to end the morning-after blues.

My personal tip? Alternate your alcoholic drinks with the equivalent volume of good old-fashioned tap water and make sure you boogie more than you booze.

UPDATE: While it is quite easy to discuss a hangover in a relatively light-hearted way, Sciencebase guest author Sheila Gibbs discusses the far more serious side of drink and how alcohol destroys lives

27 thoughts on “Hangover Cures”

  1. well i am not a scientist, all i am telling is you that I used to get horrible hangovers and now I dont and this stuff works. you drink one shot before you start drinking and depending how much you drink possibly another one. I can tell you I am the guy with the two day hangover and I havent had one since I started with this stuff and I have turned my friends on to it as well and it has worked for them.

  2. Nope. Anything you add to your body, herbal, energy, whatever will simply add to the metabolic workload. The whole notion of artificial detox is just ludicrous. It’s possible that something that raises body temperature/metabolic rate might help you process the alcohol and its congeners more rapidly, but if you drink “enough” and are susceptible to hangovers you won’t escape the dreaded “morning after the night before”.

  3. no a shot like an energy shot but it is made to prevent hangovers i think their website is nohodrink.com

  4. @What You had a shot to stop you getting a hangover? More fool you. That’s a ridiculous thing to do. Much simpler and safer would have simply to reduce your alcohol intake, surely?

  5. there is a product i have used it and it definitely works. It is called Noho. I think it stands for No Hangover but its a 2 oz. shot sold in AMPM’s. I read about it on CNBC and then tried it, its pretty ridiculous how well it works.

  6. I definately believe that taking 2 excedrin with as much water as you can drink before you go to bed will at least take the headache part of the hangover away. In the morning your body will still be tired. I wake up in the morning and take another 2 excedrin and continue to drink water to the point of using the restroom every 20 minutes. What also helps early in the morning is something like soup. The salt in the soup will hold the water in your body longer. I try to leave a lot to time and my explained remedy.

  7. Don’t get me wrong, I agree not drinking is the surest way not to get a hangover. And I believe you’re not doing your body any good drinking too much. Also, I believe that a lot of water is needed in any case, with or without hangover symptoms.

    Sometimes it happens that we drink too much. A lot of us. Going out with friends, having a good time. For those nights I’m happy to have something that really reduces the hangover.

    I am happy to recommend Engov, but fully understand people who don’t agree with using a hangover cure like that.

  8. For me a hangover cure works if I don’t feel the hangover. I know I’ve done something wrong to my body when I drink the whole night. So I am not looking for an organic and healthy hangover cure that doesn’t work. I am looking for a hangover cure that simple relieves my hangover symptoms. When travelling in Brazil last year, I tried ENGOV the first time. Can be bought in pharmacies over-the-counter. It works like crazy. That’s the truth I experienced.

    One tablet with the first drink, one with the last. That’s it. I recommend drinking a lot of water too, your body will say thankyou.

  9. Great article, thanks for the advice! Champagne causes the worst hangovers in my opinion.

  10. Thanks for the rounded view. Hangover cures come in two paradigms: prophylactic and acute treatment. Most alcohol consumers don’t begin drinking with the intention to reach the level at which a hangover occurs. Usually trial and error helps us all learn that limit from wretchedly powerful experience.

    I totally agree with the quality and blending of alcohols being a big factor in hangover outcomes.. Recently however on a well sourced suggestion i used dehydrated Nopal cactus powder (opuntia ficus-indica) for both hangover prevention and treatment. Wow …amazing….everyone to whom i have passed on this remedy, and has actually tried it was equally impressed. There is even some science behind it, in terms of dehydration. 1-2 teaspoons in water , juice or whatever liquid you like, does the trick, and works best when taken before drinking begins.

    I have found it to also be effective, if i can remember just before bed and thankfully the morning after. I can’t imagine it doing much when you’re so hung-over that nothing stays down, which is best served with an IV, per my paramedic friend’s experience.

  11. In my opinion hangover remedies are effective only when not too much alcohol is drunk. Also, it’s very important to stick to one type of drink, without mixing them. Cooler and others sugar-based drinks, especially fizzy, are an absolute evil to human organism.

  12. By the way, I didn’t mean to imply by saying there’s no cure for a hangover, that I’m some kind of partypooping teetotaler. In fact, I’ve had more hangovers than I’ve had fried breakfasts. Speaking of which a big fried breakfast – a Full English – will often ameliorate the symptoms, if not actually cure, a hangover…

    Still the best cure is – moderation…

  13. Is it at all relevant that this patch is organic? I doubt it. I also doubt that such a patch does anything to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover that couldn’t be affected by getting plenty of fresh water, eating some fruit, and getting some sleep.

  14. There has been proven hangover remedies that have worked for decades. Your recommendation would be best, to not drink at all, but there surely are ingredients that help with hangovers.

    A new product that just came out is zaca – organic hangover patch. It has many hangover helping ingredients. zacalife.com

  15. I went through your article and i think what you have suggested is very true. The best way to come out of a hangover is to STOP DRINKING. I will definitely forward this article to my friends and would like to know more on this related topic.
    Alcohol abuse affects millions. This site has a lot of useful information.

  16. One thing is key. Prevention will save you better than any other thing. There is not enough to be said about this. Proper prevention will save you from the worst symptoms.

  17. Yes, nothing works like not drinking to “cure” a hangover. Although saying, that some mornings I wake up and I wish I had been drinking the night before…

  18. According to VideoJug there is a neat hangover cure that might just do the trick after the coming excesses that many people will (over)indulge in during the holidays…

    Apparently, it involves a banana, a bag of frozen peas, some fruit juice and plenty of fresh air…

  19. Isn’t Alcomate just orange and ginseng extract. I guess the vitamin C might help mop up a few free radicals and ginseng if taken regularly has some kind of immune system effects, but I suspect it’s the glass of water you drink to take it that helps the most.

    Another herbal remedy that is often touted as a protective agent for those going on a bender is milk thistle. This herb contains a compound that supposedly protects the liver from alcohol. However, if it is working by inhibiting alcohol dehydrogenase, then it is likely to do more harm than good as it will ensure that the alcohol stays in circulation longer causing damage to heart, brain, and other organs rather than being broken down by the liver ready for excretion by the kidneys.

  20. Try using Alcomate it is excellent. i just take two capsules once I know I’m in danger of getting a hangover on the night of drinking and wake up feeling great totally clear headed, its great.

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