The only way to avoid a pounding head and queasiness the morning after is to drink in moderation, or to stay away from alcohol entirely. But it’s often easy to overindulge.
Alternating your drinks with water or another nonalcoholic beverage can help you slow down and stay hydrated. If you still wind up with a hangover, you may be inclined to try one of the many supposedly tried and true remedies.
Even though the thought of a Bloody Mary may appeal to you, a Virgin Mary is a much better choice the morning after. “The worst thing to do is to have another drink,” says Charles Cutler, MD, an internist in Norristown, Pa., and the chair of the American College of Physicians’ board of governors.
The alcohol may temporarily help your symptoms but could hurt in the long run. Hangovers make you feel horrible because alcohol is toxic, Dr. Cutler explains, and you need to give your body a chance to recover. That morning drink could lead to an even worse hangover the following day.
There’s no scientific evidence that a heaping helping of bacon and eggs will ease hangover anguish, even though many people swear by it. “Greasy food is just going to give you heartburn,” says Dr. Cutler, who recommends sticking with easy to digest foods such as toast or cereal. “No specific foods are recommended, although honey sandwiches are helpful to some people,” Brick says.
There are lots of hangover “cures” in a bottle out there as Chaser, PreToxx, and RU 21 very little evidence to back up claims. “Hangover pills that have been studied are not effective, or only help against a few complaintsbut not all,” says Joris C. Verster, PhD, an assistant professor of psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who studies hangovers.
A 2005 review article in the journal BMJ identified eight peer reviewed, placebo controlled studies of hangover remedies, and concluded that “no compelling evidence exists” to support their use.
Dr. Cutler suggests taking a multivitamin instead to restore the nutrients your body may have lost during a binge.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, skipping java when you’re hung over may or may not be a good idea, Brick says. You may wind up layering a pounding caffeine withdrawal headache on top of your hangover woes when you miss your regular morning fix.
That said, caffeine narrows your blood vessels and boosts blood pressure. “Both of these may make the hangover worse,” Brick says. “If you drink coffee regularly, you might try a very small amount in the morning. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and see how you feel.”
Conventional wisdom holds that the dehydration caused by heavy drinking is what makes you feel so sick the next day. In fact, experts actually know very little about what causes a hangover. Potential culprits include disrupted biological rhythms or even alcohol withdrawal, and research suggests that congeners substances found in alcohol, especially dark liquors such as whiskey also play a role.
Nevertheless, replacing the fluid you’ve lost will likely help you feel a little less miserable. “Juice, water, Gatorade, all those things going to make you feel better,” says Dr. Cutler.
Think you can “sweat out” the alcohol and other toxins you may have consumed during a night of partying? Think again. A sauna can cause potentially dangerous blood vessel and blood flow changes in your body. “The last thing you need is to disrupt the normal blood flow patterns by extreme heat,” Dr. Cutler says.
If you’re already somewhat dehydrated, excessive sweating can be harmful, and even deadly. Researchers from the Finnish State Alcohol Company’s Research Laboratories, in Helsinki, warn that sauna bathing while hung over carries “real health risks,” including dangerous drops in blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms.
People sleep poorly after a night of drinking. Alcohol will put you to sleep quickly, but when it begins to wear off several hours later, the withdrawal your body feels can disrupt sleep and jolt you awake. Although sleep deprivation won’t by itself cause a hangover, it definitely can make the symptoms feel worse.
If you have the luxury of “sleeping it off” the next day, do so. Your foggy brain and achy body will thank you. “The body’s got an amazing capacity to heal on its own,” says Dr. Cutler.
In the end, the only surefire treatment for a hangover is time.