If your July 4th celebration included a few too many cocktails you’re probably experiencing the cluster of side effects known as the dreaded hangover. The 4 major ones include:
Dehydration – because alcohol triggers the loss of fluid from your body
Stomach/GI irritation – due to alcohol irritating the lining of your stomach and increasing the release of stomach acid
Low blood sugar – because processing alcohol impairs your liver’s ability to properly regulate your blood sugar level
Headache – due to alcohol’s effects on the vessels that supply blood to your brain
For some people a single drink is enough to trigger a hangover, while others may drink heavily and escape a hangover entirely. Generally, however, more than 3 to 5 drinks for a woman and more than 5 to 6 for a man will result in the unwanted effects above. Any true “cure” works by alleviating one or more of these symptoms. Here are five remedies imbibers swear by and what they actually do to help ease your misery:
It’s salty and water is attracted to salt like a magnet, so the more salt you eat, the more water you’ll retain. When you’re severely dehydrated and suffering from dry mouth, every little bit helps!
Coconut water and/or bananas
When you get dehydrated, you lose not only water, but also electrolytes, including potassium - and too little potassium can lead to cramps, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and heart palpitations. Both of these foods are loaded with potassium, and putting it back into your system can give you some quick relief.
Tea with honey and ginger
Ginger is a natural nausea fighter and honey contains fructose, which helps alcohol get broken down faster. The trio is also overflowing with antioxidants, which can guard against some of the inflammation and damage, especially to your brain.
Scrambled eggs or an egg sandwich
Eggs contain two amino acids that go to work to help you feel better: taurine and cysteine. Taurine has been shown in studies to reverse liver damage caused by a night of heavy drinking and help the body flush out toxins more quickly. Cysteine directly counteracts the effects of acetaldehyde, a nasty by-product of alcohol metabolism that is more toxic than alcohol itself – it causes headaches and chills.
Hair of the dog (Bloody Mary, etc.)
This does work, but only for a short time. Then you're back to the hangover, only worse. When your body breaks down alcohol, chemicals build up that make you feel sick. When you have another drink, your body prioritizes metabolizing the new alcohol, so you do get a brief reprieve, but as soon as that added alcohol gets processed, you're back where you started, but with even more toxic chemicals floating around.
One that doesn’t make the list: greasy food. By the time you have a hangover, the alcohol is either in your blood or it's been metabolized and the by-products are in your blood. In other words there's no alcohol in your stomach to be "soaked up." I know people swear by it, but since alcohol irritates your digestive system greasy food can actually make you feel worse (since grease irritates it too). It's probably the combo of salt (to alleviate dehydration) and carbs (to raise blood sugar), not the grease itself that offers some relief.
Of course the best way to really cure a hangover is to prevent it in the first place by enjoying alcohol in moderation, defined as no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. One drink equals one shot of 80 proof distilled spirits, 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of light beer. And no, you’re not supposed to “save them up” by having zero drinks Sunday through Thursday and then seven over the weekend.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.