Along with parties, pressies and warm weather, hangovers can be a common feature of the holiday season. HFG nutrition director Catherine Saxelby checks out popular hangover cures to reveal what works best.
You probably know that too many wines cause dehydration, resulting in all sorts of nasty side effects – but there’s more to the story than that. When your body attempts to flush out the alcohol you’ve consumed, you not only lose fluid from the body (causing the headache and dizziness), you lose vitamins and minerals as well. As for the nausea and vomiting, they’re a direct result of the alcohol irritating the lining of the digestive tract. Not so festive-sounding when you put it that way! Given the amount of damage that occurs, what ‘cures’ really work to speed up the recovery process?
The big breakfast
Ah, the greasy bacon and egg roll. Who hasn’t tried this one? Surprisingly, there is some evidence to suggest that eggs might not be such a bad choice the morning after – the yolks are rich in cysteine, a component of protein that scientists believe can break down one of the major end-products of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde, which is believed to ‘cause’ hangovers. (You can buy cysteine supplements at pharmacies for this reason). Likewise, if you’ve been dancing or have otherwise burned off heaps of energy, a big brekkie will help refuel you. But it’s wise to hold off on the grease if you are nauseous or vomiting. Light fare, such as toast, stewed fruit, flat lemonade, black tea with sugar, clear broth or boiled rice go down better on a delicate stomach.
Effervescent tablets, such as Berocca and Hairy Lemon, have long been marketed as hangover remedies – but there’s little science to back up this claim. They do contain vitamin C, which is thought to speed up the metabolism of alcohol by the liver, and B vitamins, such as thiamin (vitamin B1) and folic acid, which may top up what the alcohol has ‘drained’ when your body metabolises it, but they’re not going to make any major difference to how you feel.
As for any herbal ingredients, such as ginseng or gingko biloba, there is some evidence to suggest that they may have a positive effect on the liver. However, you can’t expect to pop one herbal supplement and be ‘fixed’. Generally, there are insufficient quantities of the active ingredients in these tablets to make a difference. If you do feel better after taking one of these supplements, consider this – you’re drinking them with a big glass of water! Dehydration is responsible for most of the nastier effects of a hangover, so knocking back a few glasses of water is the best thing you can do.
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, work the same way as fizzy vitamins. You’re getting a nice big glass of water and the fluid is absorbed more effectively thanks to the electrolytes like sodium and potassium, and the light sugar content (around 6 per cent rather than the 11 per cent in juices or soft drinks). The sugar helps counteract the blood sugar-lowering effect of alcohol and will settle your stomach – but you could just as well have a piece of toast and a glass of diluted fruit juice. Nothing mystical about this.
Over-the-counter hangover remedies such as Alcodol, Onedose, Sob’r-K , RU-21 and HangoverStopper usually contain some type of sugar (fructose or glucose) along with vitamins B or C, minerals or herbal liver tonics, such as milk thistle, artichoke, taurine or dandelion. You pop a couple before you start drinking, another one before you go to bed and one or two more the next morning, ‘if required’. Some are based on charcoal granules or clays, which claim to ‘filter’ out any impurities, while passing through your body undigested. Don’t believe the hype about these so-called ‘miracle cures’ – there’s no solid evidence proving that charcoal and clay are effective; and like those fizzy tablets, the herbals and vitamins won’t make much – if any – real difference.
Painkillers may help ease a pounding head the morning after, with paracetamol (Panadol) being preferable to aspirin. This is because aspirin can irritate the stomach and even lead to stomach bleeding. And whatever you do, don’t take them before drinking – research out of the US found that 1g of aspirin, when taken before drinking, actually increased blood alcohol levels by 26 per cent – even though subjects had a full stomach.
Hair of the dog
Having another drink may help – sometimes – but the results are only temporary. Why? Hangovers are partly caused by a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, called methanol. When you knock back a beer or a vodka the next day, the body’s enzymes, which have been busily breaking down methanol, will switch to work on the fresh alcohol. This means the breakdown of methanol is left until later. So while the presence of extra alcohol may dull the pain temporarily, unfortunately the reprieve will soon wear off, and when it does, your hangover could be back – with a vengeance!
The best cure for a hangover? Not overindulging in alcohol in the first place. However, if it’s too late for that, your best bet is to drink plenty of fluids. Not that exciting, but it works better than anything else!