You know better than to buy anything labeled “hangover cure” for the mornings after a wild night, but there has to be something out there to ease the headache, nausea, and overall sense of feeling like crap—right? We went to the experts with your list of hangover remedies (thank you, Facebook fans) and asked them what really works. While the research on this topic is limited and there’s no one solution to fix all the symptoms of a hangover, a few things can help alleviate specific problems. The next time you hit the bottle too hard, here’s what can make the next day at least somewhat less horrendous.
H2O is a must. As you likely know from the frequent trips to the bathroom during a night of debauchery, alcohol is a diuretic and can cause dehydration. Before falling into bed, down 16 to 20 ounces of water, says Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D., a consultant in addiction psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic. And the next time you go out, he recommends ordering a glass of water with every beer—and alternate between the two to replace lost fluids as you go.
“Even though the diuretic effect of alcohol may cause the body to lose some electrolytes, it’s not so much that you need to replace them right away,” says Samir Zakhari, Ph.D., director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And research has shown Gatorade is no better for a hangover than water from your tap, so save your money.
Lots of people—hungover or not—use a cup of joe to wake up and feel alert at work. But a trip to Starbucks won’t give you lasting benefits, and caffeine can both treat and cause headaches and migraines, so this one is a personal preference. If you do down a cup, be sure to drink water, too, since studies suggest caffeine causes dehydration.
HAIR OF THE DOG
“Bad idea,” Dr. Hall-Flavin says. “It will provide a numbing effect, but all you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable, and it will likely make your headache worse.” Another reason to avoid cracking open a cold one: Experts agree that if you use this “cure,” the risk of abuse increases and could lead to alcohol dependency.
Remember when your mom gave you toast as a kid when you couldn’t keep anything down? This is good advice for adults who’ve spent the night hugging the porcelain throne, too. While no food can halt the roller coaster in your stomach, carbs can help bring your blood sugar levels back up the morning after, Dr. Hall-Flavin says. Normally when blood sugar levels dip, your liver reacts by producing more glucose from stored carbs. But if you’ve been drinking too much, your liver is busy metabolizing the alcohol and can’t handle the extra work, so your blood sugar levels stay down, and you can feel irritable and tired.
What you eat after drinking doesn’t matter—it’s what you eat before all those Jagerbombs that can help lessen the pain the next day. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol, and the longer it takes the alcohol to reach your blood stream, the longer it is until you become intoxicated.
Ease a pounding head with a pill (or two, depending on the recommended dosage), but stick to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen), not acetaminophen (Tylenol): “While it’s OK for a headache, when combined with a liver that’s working overtime to metabolize alcohol, it can cause liver damage or be deadly,” says Dena Davidson, Ph.D., former associate professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine.
If you normally take a multi, go ahead, but no studies have found that any particular vitamins do anything for a hangover. And one night of intoxication isn’t enough to throw off the levels of nutrients in your body to the point where you need to worry.
“There is no research that shows that sex will make a hangover go away, but maybe it will make the time go faster,” says Joris C. Verster, Ph.D., assistant professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “If it makes you happy, go for it.”
You’re a grown man, you know to drink responsibly. But just in case you forgot: Limit your drinks to about one every hour. Your body metabolizes each beer (or wine or shot) in about 60 to 75 minutes, Dr. Hall-Flavin says. Drink faster, and your blood alcohol level rises faster. Eat before you drink and follow Dr. Hall-Flavin’s “I’ll have a beer and a glass of water” rule when ordering—and drink the water, don’t let it just sit on the table.
THE BEST CURE: PREVENTION
And how’s this for sobering: In research, “moderate drinking” by a man is defined as two drinks a day. More than five in one sitting is considered “heavy drinking.” So think before you order that extra round.