This post looks at hangover cures 101 and debunks the common hangover myths like does a greasy meal cure a hangover and many more!
Most of us have been here. It’s the morning after a huge rager and the only thing your mind is able to process is the location of your advil. Anyone that has ever had an hangover can tell you right away that they are a TOTAL BUZZ KILL. Some of these not-so-sexy symptoms include, but are not limited to, nausea, headaches, vomiting, and fatigue. You know the drill. Hangovers are one of those things that we can’t really avoid (unless you choose not to drink, of course), so since the dawn of time, many people have claimed that they have found the perfect hangover cures through food.
Here’s one by the infamous Ron Swanson from the TV show Parks and Recreation:
So what is a hangover?
Before we explore some of these foods, let’s give you some biological context on what exactly happens in our body when we consume alcohol and how the nasty hangover rears its ugly head in the wee hours of the morning.
Essentially, alcohol is broken down by two different enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which produce acetaldehyde and acetate respectively before it is finally broken down into water and carbon dioxide for elimination. In relation to hangovers, the first by-product, acetaldehyde, is known as a toxic substance that is commonly associated with the unpleasant symptoms induced by alcohol. Let’s take a look at some common so-called hangover cures and what the research says on each.
In the movies, we often see coffee being used as a way to sober people up after a night of drinking. Coffee specifically targets the fatigue that you feel after a long night out so I guess this makes sense. In addition to combatting your exhaustion, some people also use it to lighten up their headache since alcohol dilates blood vessels and coffee constricts them. Although the caffeine boost in the morning may temporarily relieve headache symptoms and decrease feelings of fatigue, it is important to note that both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics. In other words, after a night of drinking, you’ve already lost a significant amount of fluid and are likely hella dehydrated, so drinking caffeine may only make matters worse. Therefore, it is recommended to cut back on the caffeine and up the H2O instead.
When it comes to legit hangover cures, water is the best choice to replenish fluid levels because of alcohol’s diuretic effect. Not to mention, any sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea that may have occurred can also contribute to fluid loss. This puts the individual at risk for dehydration if levels are not replenished, which can, in turn, result in weakness, dizziness, and dryness in the mouth – some of the gross symptoms of a hangover. Not to mention, dehydration may also make our hangover a lot worse, thanks to the headaches and migraines it induces. This is why it is often encouraged to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a boozy night. Staying hydrated also enables the kidneys to work more efficiently in filtering and eliminating toxins (aka acetaldehyde from alcohol) from the body, thereby alleviating some of those nasty hangover symptoms. It is also important to note that other foods with electrolytes should be consumed alongside drinking water to avoid water intoxication. Which brings us to sports drinks and pickle juice.
Electrolyte Drinks: Sports Drinks/Pickle Juice
In addition to losing fluids after a night of drinking, our body also experiences a loss of electrolytes as well. Some claim that drinking pickle juice or sports drinks can help replenish electrolytes, namely potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, in addition to aiding in rehydration. Although there is a lack of evidence on whether or not these drinks can cure hangovers or some of its symptoms, the consumption of sports drinks for the purposes of replenishing electrolytes is reasonable. However, it is important to avoid sports drinks that contain caffeine as it will, as mentioned earlier, just dehydrate you further. You should also probably go easy on the pickle juice for the purposes of replenishing electrolytes as all that vinegar can be hard on your already achy gut. Alternative methods of rebalancing electrolyte levels that could be considered are food sources accompanied by a glass of water so that both electrolytes and hydration levels are balanced. Some examples include bananas, dates, and raisins for potassium; nuts and cereals for magnesium; and dairy products and figs for magnesium.
Get Your Grease On
Another common hangover cure is going for a high carbohydrate, high fat meal (aka chowing down on greasy breakfast fare). Although food composition does have an influence on alcohol absorption and alcohol levels, there hasn’t been a lot of studies out there to determine if a greasy, hearty breakfast can rid the hangover once and for all. However, some studies have found that eating high carbohydrate meals after drinking can help reduce overall blood alcohol levels and slightly improve those woozy feels because it helps to stabilize blood sugars. See, when you drink too much, your blood sugars spike and then quickly drop, resulting in low blood sugar and all those terrible feelings the next day. To prevent this drop in blood sugar, before you go to bed be sure to have a snack to stabilize blood sugar levels and potentially prevent low blood sugar symptoms in the morning. This information is especially important for individuals with diabetes, who will need to continually monitor their levels when they consume alcohol. Even given this information, more studies are needed to determine whether or not high-carbs, high-fat, or high-protein meals directly impact alcohol elimination rates.
What makes more sense is to have a healthy satiating meal prior to drinking to help slow the rate of alcohol absorption. Be sure to include fat in this meal, since it takes our body longer to digest fat, so by the time we start consuming alcohol, the digested fat in your gut will help to slow the rate of alcohol absorption. Oh, the wonders of science applied at the bar! LOVE IT.
So, is your diner breakfast a bad pick? Not necessarily. It may not be the dieters delight, but whole grain toast can help stabilize blood sugar levels, bacon can help provide some sodium, and your eggs will provide more help than you think, as we’ll see next.
As introduced earlier, hangover symptoms are associated with the accumulation of a toxic substance known as acetaldehyde. With the liver and kidneys working hard to eliminate these by-products, some claim that the consumption of eggs is an effective cure as it is a good source of cysteine, an amino acid that binds to acetaldehyde for elimination. The availability of cysteine enables the synthesis of glutathione, which is a compound that works with cysteine to combat free radicals and remove toxins from the body. So, when large amounts of alcohol have been consumed, it overwhelms the liver, and allows for the build-up of acetaldehyde to stay in the body longer and inflict its unpleasant symptoms. For that reason, eating eggs the morning after may help replenish the body’s cysteine levels in order for it to efficiently continue eliminating acetaldehyde. Scrambled or over easy?
A bowl of hot oatmeal can provide an abundance of well-needed nutrients and minerals that were excreted as a result of the diuretic properties of alcohol. Instant oatmeal, in particular, may be fortified with B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, sodium and iron, all of which require replenishing after a night of drinking. Not to mention, it provides greater satiety in comparison to cold cereal, and improves low blood sugar so you’ll feel less dizzy, light-headed, and nauseous the next day. Oatmeal can also be dressed with various fruits and nuts to add an extra boost in electrolytes that were mentioned earlier, so make it part of your post-bar ritual!
You’ve probably heard this one before. Hangover? Try the hair of the dog: aka- beat booze with more booze. The most suggested alcoholic drink to consume the morning after is a Bloody Mary, which is composed of tomato juice, hot sauce, some spices, Worcestershire sauce, and vodka, a classic brunch concoction. The idea of a Bloody Mary as a hangover cure is largely associated with the vitamins and electrolytes that the body can obtain from the tomato juice, which is great on a normal day on its own, but might not do you too much good with extra liquor or when you’re already feeling sick. Firstly, the consumption of more alcohol can exacerbate the dehydration situation already present, making your symptoms way worse. And secondly, drinking alcohol irritates the stomach and intestines, resulting in some upper abdominal pain, nausea, and/or vomiting. And finally, acidic foods like tomatoes, and tomato juice and spicy foods like tabasco sauce, may further upset the stomach and intestines so you might be feeling even less peppy post-brunch.
The Bottom Line on Hangover Cures
You’re not going to like this, but you probably already knew that there is no real hangover cure. Rather, there are various food and beverages that can be considered to help alleviate symptoms like avoiding the hair of the dog, replenishing electrolytes and fluids and restoring blood sugar levels with foods like eggs and oatmeal. And you’re also not going to like this, but the BEST cure for a hangover: time and sleep. Oh, and maybe just going easy on the booze next time.
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So now tell me, what are some of the hangover cures that you have found work for you?
Leave me a comment below with your DIY remedy!
Amy Choi, RD2B
Updated on August 11th, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.