We’ve all had one of those nights where one glass of wine turns into an entire bottle. The next day your head is throbbing, your stomach is queasy, your mouths feel like the Sahara, and you tell yourself you're never drinking again. Sound familiar? It’s easy to accidentally overindulge, especially this time of year.
“There are a lot of different types of alcohol, but the type that we consume is ethanol,” explains Omar Qazi, MD, a physician specializing in internal medicine. Once we drink it, our body turns it into acetaldehyde. “Acetaldehyde is one of the reasons people feel awful when drinking too much ethanol, because it can cause nausea, headache, palpitations, and facial flushing,” he adds.
There are other factors that can contribute to a not-so-great morning after. If your sip of choice is full of congeners (a toxic byproduct that can happen when you make alcohol through fermentation), you can feel sicker than usual. Higher concentrations of congeners can be found in some red wines and whiskey.
Another reason: “The diuretic effect. Breaking the seal is a real thing,” says Dr. Qazi. “Ethanol inhibits a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone, which normally functions in the reabsorption of water in your kidneys. Less ADH production results in a diuretic effect and can ultimately lead to dehydration if one does not replenish their losses.” On top of everything else, booze shortens your REM cycle while you sleep, so even if you don’t get out of bed till late the next day, you’ll feel unrested.
It's no secret that there’s a plethora of lousy things that can happen when you overdo alcohol consumption. So, what exactly can be done about a crippling hangover? I decided to investigate by channeling my inner party girl. (Cue the tequila.) I tried popular cures firsthand to determine what works.
Someone once told me that taking a vitamin B supplement helps with your hangover, but it never seemed to work. The reasoning? Drinking doesn’t deplete your vitamin B levels unless you have a serious problem. “The B vitamins can become deficient in chronic alcoholics by impaired gut absorption and lack of overall food intake,” explains Dr. Qazi. “Resuming a normal diet the next day will take care of any minute vitamin or mineral losses incurred the night before.”
However, I recently came across B4, a canned beverage that’s loaded with vitamin B, electrolytes, antioxidants, and minerals. The idea behind it? Drink it before a night out, so you can load up on nutrients designed to protect your body before your first cocktail. While it’s good in theory, I had mixed results: It made me feel a little better than usual, but I still didn’t feel like my normal, energetic self come morning.
Sweating it out
“Try sweating out your toxins: A sauna, steam, or exercise will help you accomplish this,” advises Gabrielle Francis, owner of The Herban Alchemist and naturopathic doctor. “One hour in an infrared sauna will cleanse the skin of toxins, promote muscle relaxation and healing, and clear water retention.” Unfortunately, since I couldn’t find an infrared sauna near me, my go-to boxing class had to do. Even though the last thing I felt like doing was jumping, punching, and kicking, it not only made me think about something other than how bad I felt, but it also—excuse my pun—knocked out my hangover.
While there’s nothing better than the thought of eating a massive burger or a whole pizza when feeling crummy, I recently learned that I may want to rethink my Seamless order. “Eat easy-to-digest foods like oatmeal, rice or soup,” says Dr. Francis. This is because your stomach is already trying to breakdown the toxins from the previous night, so throwing greasy, fatty foods in the mix will overwork your system. Despite knowing this, I devoured a cheese pie anyway the next day. I’ll be honest, it didn’t give my hangover the boot, but it did temporarily distract me from it. A better choice would’ve been chicken noodle soup since its salt-levels loosely mimic getting an IV-saline infusion.
There is some good news if you’re craving more: A little grease can be helpful before or while you’re drinking. “It slows the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream—though, the food doesn't actually absorb the alcohol,” explains Dr. Qazi. “However, those late-night pizzas and tacos aren't helping much because the alcohol is very likely already absorbed into the bloodstream by the time you're eating.”
Drinking water between beverages
I can’t even count the number of times I have heard this advice from my mother. While I appreciate these words of wisdom, I find it hard to follow the glass of water for every drink rule (it typically goes out the window by the time a third glass is poured). Deciding to make H2O a priority, I stuck to it one Friday night. Guess what? It helped! Also, it drastically slowed down the frequency I hit the bar since I was having to finish two drinks before letting myself order again.
Hair of the Dog
You know how it goes: You wake up, head to brunch, and try to wash away the previous night’s damage with a mimosa. It’s true: It does delay your hangover by numbing the symptoms. But, unfortunately, it just pushes back the day spent on the couch drifting in and out of napping. Sunday Funday is always great; the next day, not so much.
Chugging water throughout the night is my thing. The number of giant glasses I can empty in a short amount of time should qualify me for an Olympic sport--just ask my husband who is kept awake as I get in and out of bed for refills. To try something out of the box, I decided to sip on Pedialyte to rehydrate instead. If it helps little kids, why wouldn’t it help me?
I put it to the test one night after bouncing around a few Christmas parties. Once I poured myself a glass of the ‘Mixed Fruit’ flavor, I could tell by the smell that it wasn’t going to go down easy. And let me tell you it was (almost) worse than the tequila I drank earlier in the night. I drank it like I approached shots: Down the hatch as quickly as possible. One I finished half the bottle, I crawled into bed and hoped for the best.
In the morning, I woke up feeling like I hadn’t even been out the night before. I’ve since retested Pedialyte, and it delivered the same results. While its taste isn’t the best, it’s now my go-to if I accidentally over-imbibe.
Drinking in moderation
The obvious winner. If there’s one thing that’s fool-proof in preventing a hangover, it’s limiting drinks. “Drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining from alcohol all together is the only way to avoid the symptoms,” says Dr. Qazi. While certain “cures” worked for me, they’re still not able to prevent the next morning struggles if you really party hard the night before—nor are they legit medical solutions to drinking. As they always say, slow and steady wins the race—but maybe bring Pedialyte along with you, too (just in case).