Find out what helps you feel better when you've had one too many
By Raymond Le
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed By Michael W. Smith, MD
What hangover cures pop into your throbbing noggin after a night on the town?
Some say burnt toast and a Mexican sausage called chorizo do the trick. But just in case the quick fixes you tried last time didn't fix anything, and you still plan to do more celebrating in the future, we've assembled some home remedies that helped some of us get through college.
But first, here is the official word on what that booze does to your system. Getting rid of the hangover really comes down to understanding how the body reacts to alcohol in the first place. Alcohol is a diuretic -- that is, it tends to increase urination, and therefore, dries you out, explains alcohol metabolism researcher James Schaefer, PhD, professor at the Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Drinking plenty of water the morning after helps to compensate for the dehydration.
But that's not all that's going on. Impurities are added to alcoholic beverages during the distillation process, and these contribute to the nasty stomachache you get with your hangover. These impurities are especially high in sweeter drinks and malt liquors. Drinking lots of water, then, does two things: it rehydrates your body and dilutes the impurities left in your belly.
A Date for Carbon
When Brian Wakabayashi was at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), he always made burnt toast a part of his morning-after breakfast.
Schaefer has this explanation for why that helps: Carbon in the charred part of the toast filters the impurities. In fact, people who come into hospital emergency rooms with alcohol poisoning get a potent carbon slurry pumped into their stomachs for the same reason. The burnt toast is a much more moderate version of the same remedy.
A new hangover helper called "Chaser: Freedom From Hangovers" also contains vegetable carbon and there are claims it can help prevent a hangover by absorbing the elements in beer, wine, and spirits that cause hangovers.
But emergency room physician Ronald Charles, MD, says there isn't any science to back up the claims that you can target the hangover-causing elements in alcohol and block their absorption.
"I haven't seen any research that says 'these are the things in alcohol that cause headaches,'" says Charles, who is medical director of the Lyndon B. Johnson emergency department at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.
Charles says alcohol is also rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and only stays in the stomach for a short time, which means it's unlikely much of it would be absorbed by an antihangover product.
How about that chorizo? It's not a morning-after remedy -- more like a late-afternoon-before preventive tactic. Cole Ramsey, also a former UCI student, swears by its hangover-preventing powers and doesn't leave home without some -- in his stomach, that is.
"It's fatty, and it sits in your stomach for like 12 hours. For some reason, the hangover goes away," says Ramsey.
Schaefer explains: Fatty foods, if eaten before drinking alcohol, "grease" the lining of the intestines. The alcohol then takes longer to be absorbed by the body.
"Personally, I recommend eating pizza, but chorizo would work too," Schaefer says. "In the Mediterranean, one folk remedy involves swallowing a spoonful of olive oil to do the same trick."
Besides filling your stomach before you drink, eating almost any kind of food the morning after can help alleviate a hangover, says Stephanie Brooks, MS, RD, a nutrition consultant in San Francisco. Food provides electrolytes that replenish the body after dehydration. This is especially important for someone who's vomited within the last 24 hours. Brooks particularly recommends a fruit smoothie or a sports drink.
Of course, a hangover's not a hangover without a pounding headache. Schaefer explains that the pain comes from a mix of dehydration and your body's adjustment to the rapidly dropping blood-alcohol level. He recommends taking two aspirin before going to sleep and another pair when you wake up, if the headache's still there.
What about that "hair of the dog that bit you?" It's a renowned hangover remedy: a small morning-after drink to bring your blood-alcohol level back up.
It's the absolute best remedy for Steven Chinn. "I'm not 100% clear about the science behind it, but I've noticed that continual buzz equals no hangover."
To those willing to try this approach, Schaefer offers a quick lesson in biology and a word of caution.
"Biologically, it actually will make you feel better for a short period," says Schaefer. "Of course I wouldn't recommend it, because you'll have to come down from your high eventually. Besides that, it's a habit that can very easily lead to a drinking problem."
Will They Work? It All Depends
How effective any of these remedies will be depends on how much alcohol you can handle and how many drinks you actually put down the night before. It takes the average 150-pound man about an hour to fully digest a standard drink, Brooks explains -- that's roughly how much alcohol is in a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a standard shot of hard liquor.
"There's no magic vitamin that you can take," she says. "If you're going to drink a lot, you're going to pay the piper eventually."
Alcohol Can Be Deadly
There are two warning signs you should take very seriously because they indicate you or someone you're with is going past his or her limit:
Multiple vomiting. This is simply your body's natural way of quickly getting rid of the toxins in alcohol -- not a bad thing by itself. But it can rapidly lead to potentially life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Lay off the liquor and start drinking lots of water.
Passing out. If someone drinking heavily passes out, and doesn't respond when you try to wake them, take that person to a local emergency room. People in that condition are in danger of choking on their own vomit or going into shock.
"It's common for people to see a friend with these symptoms and say, 'Oh, Fred's just a lightweight, he'll be fine,'" says Schaefer. "But passing out is a serious medical emergency, and it's always better to err on the side of safety."
Leave Your Car Keys at Home
Remember that if you've had too much to drink, no amount of burnt toast or chorizo is going to make you a safe driver. Assign a "designated driver" -- one person in your group who abstains from alcohol and drives everyone else home safely. Or make arrangements to have a cab take you home from your revelry.
Originally published June 14, 2002.
Medically updated Dec. 15, 2003.
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