You wake up after a night out and realize that last night’s Happy Hour has you feeling not-so-happy this morning. Your head feels like it’s in a vice, your stomach is in knots, and the inside of your mouth is as dry as the Sahara Desert. You are officially sick with the brown bottle flu and most likely regretting those extra couple drinks. Want to know how to cure a hangover? If you’re unable to hide under the covers all day, here are several cures many people swear by to kick a hangover and get you back on your feet.
What Causes a Hangover?
Hangovers affect nearly every organ system in your body, from your brain, to your heart, to your digestive system. When you consume alcohol, nearly 95 to 98% of it is processed by your liver. The leftover portion comes out in your saliva, feces, urine, sweat, and breast milk if you’re nursing. You know you have a hangover when you feel dizzy, have a pounding headache, are tired, sweaty, and anxious, and your stomach feels in knots. You may also have extreme dry mouth and eyes and have trouble thinking, talking, or dealing with light. Sounds like a blast, huh? Symptoms can last a full day following alcohol consumption, and it may take even longer to feel back to regular health and your regular self.
The biggest culprit for your hangover is dehydration since alcohol quickly depletes you of fluids and causes you to produce and excrete more urine. Simply put, drinking causes frequent trips to the bathroom. On top of zapping you of fluids, alcohol upsets your digestive system and causes your stomach lining to become irritated and inflamed. Stomach acid production increases, the breakdown of food slows, and secretions in your intestines and pancreas increase as well. This reaction in the body can lead to that delightful nausea and vomiting we often experience.
Partly to blame for your hangover is acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that your liver converts from alcohol. When your liver is efficient or you avoid binge drinking, acetaldehyde is efficiently converted to acetate. When you drink heavily, your liver cannot keep up and acetaldehyde can reach excessive levels. It is believed that this buildup can lead to hangover symptoms like quickened heart rate, nausea, headache, and sweating.
Along with ethanol found in your favorite alcoholic drink, there are compounds called congeners. Methanol, a type of alcohol, is a type of congener that breaks down into formic acid, and formaldehyde and formic acid are two toxins you do not want in your body. These offenders worsen your hangover and may make the duration of symptoms extend longer. Your choice of beverage also makes a difference. Red wine and brandy are high in congeners and put you at a higher risk of a hangover, while vodka and gin are not as high in congeners and produce less severe symptoms.
Changes in the Immune System
Throwing back drinks also causes changes in the concentration of cytokine levels in your immune system. Secreted by immune cells, cytokines affect the cells around them and can signal inflammation and other reactions. A study found that people in the throes of a hangover have high levels of cytokines. Normally, cytokines help us fight off infections, but in high doses, they can lead to hangover symptoms like nausea, headache, and fatigue.
Now that you know what’s happening inside your body to make you feel like dirt, here are several tips you can try to speed up your hangover recovery.
How to Cure a Hangover
You may have heard of all sorts of concoctions that your friends insist will stop a hangover in its tracks, but are they just folklore? There is no magic cure that will wipe out your hangover completely, but there are several remedies that can help ease certain symptoms and get you back to feeling like a functioning human.
Time to replace the fluids you lost with your friend, H2O. You cannot completely replenish all the fluid, but sipping water throughout the day can soothe a headache and cure dry mouth. If big drinks of water make you nauseous, stick to using a straw and drink slowly. Even after you’ve given your hangover the boot, continue to drink water and stay hydrated. It takes awhile for your body to bounce back. You can also incorporate coconut water into the mix. Containing electrolytes, antioxidants, and potassium, coconut water can help combat dehydration and soothe an upset stomach.
Drink Pedialyte or Gatorade
While you may be familiar with Pedialyte as a beverage for kids who have the stomach flu, it can be very useful for treating dehydration caused by over drinking. Used to replenish electrolytes, it can help ease digestive symptoms and re-hydrate you quicker when alternated with water. Like Pedialyte, Gatorade is designed to replenish the minerals lost from the night before. These liquids help to flush alcohol out of your system and work toward restoring the water balance in your body.
Hit the Gym
While this may sound like the least appealing of the hangover cures, exercising releases endorphins that can improve your overall mood, get your blood pumping, and help clear toxins through sweat. If you don’t have the energy or the stomach for cardio, stick to a lighter workout like yoga, walking, or low-impact aerobics. An added bonus, you will be drinking more water as you work out, helping to rehydrate your body.
Shoot Pickle Juice
Pickle juice may be one of the more well-known cures to stifle an angry hangover. Pickle brine is made up of vinegar and salt and can help replenish your electrolyte levels and restore your water balance. Your liver is also triggered by the vinegar to rid your body of any leftover alcohol. No need to overdo it; just a quarter of a cup can do the trick.
While you may crave a fast-food hamburger and fries the morning after a heavy night of drinking, it’s probably wise to avoid anything too heavy or greasy. Be kind to your sensitive stomach and eat some oatmeal, peanut butter on toast, or a banana. You want to start out slow, and, as your stomach feels better, you can return to eating larger portions.
Heavy drinking can throw off the balance of your gut’s harmful and beneficial bacteria, and it’s important to restore that ratio to a proper state. Kombucha, a fermented tea, contains live cultures and B vitamins that can combat an inflamed gut, calm an upset stomach, and keep nausea away. Yogurt can also be a source of live cultures, but if your digestive tract is feeling poorly, it’s best to avoid dairy.
Use Red Ginseng
Used to treat a large range of medical issues, red ginseng has been shown to lessen the severity of your hangover and lower blood alcohol levels.
Preventing a Hangover
The only way to effectively treat a hangover is to avoid one in the first place. It is important to always drink responsibly and alternate alcoholic drinks with water to keep hydrated and successfully manage your alcohol intake.
If you’re drinking hard liquor, avoid tequila, whiskey, and cognac that are higher in congeners, and drink rum, gin, and vodka in moderation. Before you even head out the door, make sure you eat a healthy meal that contains good fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster and can lead to intoxication very quickly, instantly raising your chances of a severe hangover.
Also consider taking a supplement or consuming foods containing antioxidants and amino acids to help mitigate hangover damage. Essential amino acids give your liver an extra boost by reducing the accumulation of fat that results from heavy alcohol consumption. A mixture of essential amino acids can also rebalance brain chemicals and reduce damage that occurred.
The supplement N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) is a form of the amino acid cysteine and is often used to support liver function. NAC helps increase glutathione production, which is an antioxidant that helps your body clear itself of toxins and other substances that are harmful to your system. Plus, NAC comes into play in lowering acetaldehyde levels, which, as we discussed, is tied to why you fall victim to a hangover.
Whatever you do, try to extend a little extra TLC to yourself and your body as it attempts to recuperate and heal from having a few too many. In the end, the only surefire treatment to completely kick a hangover and get back to normal is time.