If you drank too much last night and awoke today wondering how to cure your hangover, it’s too late.
Over-the-counter pain medication might offer some relief from the headache, and water may help with that dehydrated feeling.
But an effective cure?
Forget about it. No one has found one yet that works well, except for prevention.
“I can’t say this strongly enough,” said Dr. Scott Belote, director of the emergency department at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. “The best cure is to avoid drinking too much in the first place.”
What about such folklore as hair of the dog – drinking more alcohol to lessen the effects of a hangover?
It is pure fiction and considered a bad idea.
Similarly, drinking coffee isn’t the answer. It is also a diuretic like alcohol, meaning it will increase the amount of water your body eliminates and make dehydration even worse.
Eating a greasy breakfast the next morning, another piece of folklore, doesn’t work, either.
As for certain foods, herbs and vitamins, there is not much to recommend any of them.
“It’s all baloney,” said Dr. Thomas Westner, an emergency room doctor at Kenmore Mercy Hospital.
In fact, a 2005 study that reviewed what is known about treating alcohol hangovers came to the sobering conclusion that there is no compelling evidence yet to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating the condition, except for abstinence or drinking in moderation.
In severe cases, when a person seeks medical attention, physicians can provide fluids and anti-nausea medications, Westner said. But the hallmark of hangover home remedies remains the simple advice to drink water, take something to reduce the headache and wait it out.
“There is nothing new, no magic bullet,” he said.
Still, there is always hope.
Chinese researchers last year measured the effect of 57 different sodas and teas on the speed with which enzymes in the body break down alcohol. They found that two drinks – soda water and a drink that reportedly was Sprite – led to a reduction in the toxic chemical acetaldehyde, which is produced when the body breaks down alcohol.
Before you start buying soda water or Sprite by the case, consider that this was a laboratory study. The researchers did not look at the effect of the drinks on people with hangovers.
Plenty is known about the effects of drinking alcohol to excess – the impaired decision-making and coordination, the erratic behavior, the nausea and vomiting, the financial costs to society, and the pain and suffering drinkers cause to others.
Yet little solid information exists on how to prevent and treat the alcohol hangover, even though the hangover is as old as drinking alcohol and is a common unpleasant experience. Researchers are not even entirely clear what a hangover is or exactly how it disturbs body chemistry.
The medical term for a hangover is veisalgia, a combination of a Norwegian word for “uneasiness following debauchery” and the Greek word for “pain.” So little is known about the condition that in 2009 scientists formed the international Alcohol Hangover Research Group to increase the number and quality of studies.
This is no small matter. Studies indicate that, among other problems, hangovers lead to substantial absenteeism, poor job performance and billions of dollars in lost wages and workplace productivity.
The issue is complex.
It turns out that hangovers and their severity differ significantly between people, and the same person can experience them differently, too. There also is little correlation between how bad a hangover is and the total amount of alcohol consumed, according to research.
Alcohol itself does not cause a hangover, which develops when blood alcohol concentration returns to zero. The hangover also is influenced by a host of factors, including genetics, the dehydration that simultaneously occurs, the amount of sleep a person has had, and the type of alcohol used.
For example, darker-colored liquors have higher levels of chemicals known as congeners, which appear to lead to more severe hangovers than lighter-colored liquors.
For future reference, here is a ranking from a 2008 Dutch study by Joris Verster of drinks based on congener level and hangover severity, starting with the worst for a hangover: brandy, red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin, vodka and beer.
“It is evident that besides the alcohol amount many other factors play a role in determining the presence and severity of hangovers,” wrote Verster, one of the world’s authorities on hangovers. “Until future research elucidates its pathology, the alcohol hangover remains a puzzling phenomenon.”