If you’ve just woken up with a banging headache and nasty taste in your mouth after a night of drinking, you’re probably looking for how to cure a hangover right now.
While the damage has been done and there are no ways to prevent a hangover when you already have one, it doesn’t mean you should have to stay in bed all day. Urban myths about foods that instantly cure hangovers and healthy cocktails that stop you feeling tired are everywhere.
But according to the experts, these are the hangover cures that actually work.
How to cure a hangover – remedies that really work
This is one of the most famous hangover cures for a reason as it really does help.
“Alcohol is a diuretic,” Dr Ross Perry, medical director at Cosmedics, explains. “This means it increases the amount of urine a person passes and the loss of fluid causes you to feel dehydrated and therefore you want to knock back plenty of water to feel hydrated again.”
But it won’t take away the headache or the feelings of nausea in the morning, he says, it “may lessen the symptoms of a hangover” like thirst and dry mouth.
Replenishing lost nutrients
A solid dose of nutrients will help to restore you back to normality, as you’re replenishing the electrolytes you lost through drinking.
“It’s widely known that drinking alcohol blocks the production of a hormone that helps your body hold on to water, therefore leading to dehydration and the loss of electrolytes like potassium and sodium,” Dr Ross Perry says.
“Eating foods containing potassium such as bananas, oranges, apricots, grapefruit, honeydew and cantaloupe melon, leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, mushroom and peas will help to lessen the hangover and replenish the loss of electrolytes making you feel better quicker.”
While it’s not something we expect many people to have in the back of their kitchen cupboard, it’s worth noting for the next time a hangover hits.
Red ginseng is a powerful antioxidant, explains Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. In one study from 2014, two groups were randomly assigned to drink either red ginseng after 100ml of whiskey or 100ml of water. The results showed that the blood alcohol concentration level was significantly lower in the red ginseng group than in the other.
“There was also a positive effect on hangover symptoms in the RGD group.” Dr Lee says, “For the body to metabolise alcohol, requires much in the way of oxidation. As a result of oxidation, many dangerous ‘free radicals’ are produced. These are electrically charged molecules that have the potential to damage DNA. One of the reasons red ginseng may be effective as a hangover remedy, is that it acts as a powerful antioxidant, and neutralises free radicals.”
Ditch the coffee
This is something to avoid, rather than a cure, as it’s a classic urban myth for getting rid of a hangover. TV has made it look like this is the number one way to cure a hangover but this is not actually the case.
“Coffee is a popular remedy to sober up and give energy after drinking, but it can contribute to dehydration.” Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson warns, as it’s a diuretic much like alcohol itself. “And avoid smoking, as the chemicals in cigarettes can increase feelings of nausea.”
Instead, if you want a hit of energy, opt for a sports drink like Lucozade or Gatorade which will restore electrolytes while keeping you awake with sugar.
Apple cider vinegar
This cure-all remedy supposedly works for everything, but Dr Ross Perry assures us it’s a winner for a hangover.
“Apple cider vinegar can help to restore your body’s PH level which becomes more acidic after drinking alcohol.” He explains, “And therefore helps to bring your PH back to a more normal level.”
And while it does have a somewhat diuretic effect, it “can help with morning after fluid retention and is great at restoring blood sugars. These sugars can be lost after a night out drinking, which leaves you tired and lethargic.”
Have a better breakfast
A big fry up always seems like the best thing when you’re hungover. But it can actually make you feel worse – very quickly.
“The reality is that a fry up or a takeaway is often quite greasy and won’t absorb the alcohol.” Dr Perry says, “The overall effect can actually lead to a bit of an icky tummy, which we often associate with the alcohol but actually may be a combination of the food and alcohol combined.”
Instead, go for a breakfast of poached eggs with roasted tomatoes and wholemeal toast, suggests medical nutritionist Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart. “Eggs contain the amino acid cysteine, which can help to break down acetaldehyde [an element of alcohol that contributes to a hangover].
“If you can’t handle that, then pick a banana. Bananas contain potassium, a mineral that is lost when you drink alcohol and contributes to symptoms of dehydration.”
Get some fresh air
If you’re really hanging, the idea of leaving the house isn’t going to be a pleasant one. But, according to Dr Perry, “getting fresh air is in theory a good idea following a hangover but I’d suggest going for a walk rather than just sitting down and breathing in fresh air.”
He suggests, “Keep it gentle as alcohol is a diuretic meaning that the following morning [after drinking], your body is dehydrated. Hitting the gym hard and sweating lots isn’t advised as you can end up losing even more fluids.
“By taking a gentle walk it will help maintain blood flow through the body which is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
“Of course, just getting some fresh air is a good idea as the more oxygen you breathe in will help to start to flush out those nasty toxins from the night before and make you feel less tired and having a peaceful environment i.e.- not talking to anyone – will possibly lessen the headache too.”
The CBD surge has well and truly taken over but it’s normally something we associate with natural anxiety remedies and skincare.
Turns out, it’s great for a hangover too. “CBD reduces headaches and migraines by integrating with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Alcohol use throws the ECS out of balance, and CBD can help it restore its balance.” Nutritional therapist and eating psychology coach, Claudia le Feuvre, says.
“Nausea and vomiting are the hallmarks of a bad hangover. CBD is an anti-emetic, via its interaction with serotonin receptors. It can help reduce feelings of nausea, and the vomiting response as well.
“Anxiety and depression are also side effects of a hangover. As the brain attempts to re-establish equilibrium, its neurotransmitters are still seeking balance. CBD helps to balance the brains messengers (neurotransmitters), and therefore the mental instability on the back of a hangover.”
How do you cure a hangover fast?
There are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances of feeling better.
- Drink something with electrolytes added in, such as Lucozade
- Eat a good breakfast, packed with protein and vitamin C
- Go for a gentle walk to get some fresh air
- Take Ibuprofen to minimise swelling and reduce headaches
- Have a nap, only for 20-40 minutes though
These are all proven methods for easing the symptoms of a hangover. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to entirely cure one.
“In past, research into a range of possible hangover cures has concluded that the existing treatment options have only minimal effectiveness, in relieving certain specific hangover symptoms.” Dr Deborah Lee tells us, “Sadly, however, none of the hangover cures investigated, improved the full range of hangover symptoms.
How long does a hangover last?
While it depends person to person, the standard hangover can last up to 72 hours according to research from John Hopkins University.
For most people, the effects of over-drinking last for a significantly shorter amount of time – normally just 24 hours. It’s all related to how much alcohol was consumed and how many preventative measures were taken to avoid dehydration. Ethnicity, gender, the health of your liver, what medications you’re taking and general nutritional status also play a role.
Why do hangovers feel so bad?
Alcohol making you severely dehydrated and as a result, there are unpleasant symptoms like headaches, nausea and stomach pain. But there are some factors that will make one hangover worse than another.
It turns out that as you age, your hangovers (should) get better – rather than worse. One 2014 Danish study found that the chance of a severe hangover was significantly lower in older people, compared to younger people. “Older people are more experienced drinkers and develop a tolerance to alcohol,” says Dr Deborah Lee.
As well as how much you drink, what you drink also plays a huge role. “Congeners are substances produced during the alcohol fermentation process that gives alcohol its colour, smell and flavour.” Dr Lee says, “Dark coloured spirits contain the highest levels of congeners. Sulphites are sometimes added to the wine. Some people suffer from a sensitivity to sulphites which gives them a headache after drinking wine.”
The same goes for how much water you drink. “Alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you pass urine more often. If you don’t’ drink enough water when you are drinking alcohol, this can lead to dehydration. Dehydration worsens hangover symptoms.”
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And how much food you eat, “Drinking with an empty stomach tends to worsen a hangover. This is because alcohol irritates the stomach lining, and if there is food in the stomach, this provides some protection.”
But unfortunately, it might just be down to genetics. “The fact people seem to vary enormously in terms of severity of hangover symptoms, is often due to genetic variability. 45% of the variation in hangover frequency is due to genetic factors,” our expert says.