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The Best Hangover Cure & How to Avoid a Hangover

We all want to celebrate the start of fall semester—some a little more boisterously than others. It’s not the celebration that’s a downer; it’s the morning after. Splitting headache, nausea, dehydration, and major sensitivity to light and sound (cave rentals would be ideal for college) shouldn’t grace your every weekend. We’ve tackled the big questions of hangover avoidance 101 to keep you from dreading your next celebration (or rather, the morning after).
 
“Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink” (Isaiah 5:11…See? Even the Bible mentions hangovers).

What is a hangover?
 
According to Discovery Health, more than 75-percent of those who have consumed alcohol have experienced a hangover at least once. On the other hand, 25-percent of college students say they feel the symptoms weekly and if it’s Homecoming weekend, you can pretty much double that number. First, let’s define a hangover medically.
Known as veisalgia, from a Norwegian word for ‘uneasiness following debauchery,’ a hangover is a cluster of symptoms. You may experience the most common symptoms we mentioned above, or more severe ones like anxiety, vomiting, and shakiness.
 
Why is this happening to me?
 
The basic answer is alcohol’s resulting changes in hydration status and blood alcohol level. Since alcohol is a diuretic, you lose an immense amount of water between highlighter party number one, pub-crawling, and crashing on the couch. Each drink adds to the amount of water that your body loses, and unless you’re consciously drinking water, the entire night makes you drier than the Sahara. Many of the important processes that happen in your body, and all of your vital organs, require water to function in tip-top shape.  No water means major malfunction. The worst of the hangover comes when your blood alcohol level drops to zero, with symptoms lingering for up to 24 hours after that point. Web MD mentions that the nausea that has you dashing to the nearest trashcan is a side effect caused by impurities added to some drinks during distillation. But what about those crazy cures you hear from friends? Or some ridiculous ways you think will prevent a hangover? No problem; we’re your myth busters! Read on for a keg’s worth of facts.

 
MYTHS
 
1. An AM mimosa eases a hangover.
The truth: It’s a quick fix that will kick you later. A hangover creeps up when your blood alcohol content (BAC) zooms down to zero. When you booze after snoozing, you’re only delaying the point when the BAC hits zero. Another concern is that this could form into an ugly habit where after a night of drinking, you crawl out of bed for the next fix! Skip the morning drink.

2. Acetaminophen before bed keeps headaches at bay.
The truth: This is a highly dangerous myth. Acetaminophen paired with alcohol reroutes the way the drug is metabolized, leading it through a pathway where the compounds can become toxic. Instead, take Ibuprofen. However, there is discussion on the optimal time to pop the pills. While before bed is done most often, Ibuprofen peaks in four hours, so taking it before bed won’t give you optimal benefits. David J. Clayton M.D. suggested in an interview with Web MD that you wake up and take 800 mg an hour before you need to get it together.

3. Wine has fewer hangover effects than beer.

The truth: While wine always gets the health halo, studies cited by Web MD are showing that beer in moderation does have some health benefits. In terms of the morning after, beer may actually be the better choice! For some, tannins present in wine can cause headaches. The color and sharp taste in a glass of red wine are produced by these tannins, a type of plant polyphenol. Beer contains no tannins which is a definite plus if you’re on the sensitive side.
 
4. Sober up with Coffee.
The truth: The only thing that will completely cure a hangover is time. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant so it helps you feel alert, but the alcohol isn’t removed any faster with that cup of joe. According to Discovery Health, caffeine, like alcohol is a diuretic which means you’re even more dehydrated than before.

5. OTC pills are a quick fix for symptoms.
The truth: So-called hangover-pills like Chaser are often touted as “filters,” which use carbon to reduce the impurities entering the body after drinking. Practice a little skepticism as these pills aren’t worth the money. The first red flag is the fact that they are supplements and therefore are not regulated by the FDA. Many hangover pills are actually multivitamins in disguise and even then, any benefits you may feel aren’t from the pill—the benefits are from the water! Most of the quick fixes have directions asking the person to take each pill with a glass of water throughout the night. The hydration factor is the key, while the vitamins may give it a small (but pricey) improvement. 
So now that you’ve got the facts on what’s a bust, here’s what you can do.
 
Prevent your next hangover- a step-by-step guide:
 
Before going out

  • 7:00 p.m.: Eat before drinking! Foods containing fats, like nuts or even French fries, can give you a head start on beating the hangover. If eaten before you start your night, the alcohol takes longer for the body to absorb. Boozing on an empty stomach spells disaster!
  • 9:00 p.m.: Cocktail one is long gone. Have you started drinking water? Drink water in between each alcoholic drink. Repeat after me: “Hydration is key.”
  • 9:45 p.m.: Quick snack! Keep something in your stomach so the alcohol isn’t being absorbed so quickly.
  • 10:30 p.m.: Drink in moderation. A single drink is equal to a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor. A big mixed drink with several shots of different liquor does not count as just one drink.
  • Midnight: Have some more water!

The morning after
Okay, so last night didn’t go quite as planned. Here’s what to do:

  • Good morning! (10:00 a.m.): Hydrate to start the day off right. That splitting headache and achy body mean you’re dehydrated.
  • Take some ibuprofen: 800 mg, 1 hour before you need to be functional.
  • 10:30 a.m.: Eat something. A chicken bouillon soup is perfect for replacing electrolytes (like salt and potassium) that you lost the night before. Some student sources found that coconut water and bananas (both containing electrolytes) worked very well for them and Web MD backs it up! An alternative source could also be sports drinks if you just can’t stomach anything else.
  • 11:00 a.m.: Drink more water. Keep going.
  • Rest: Most hangovers are gone in 24 hours.

Unusual but true…Pickle Juice:

A friend tipped us off on this one, and we just had to do some digging. Apparently pickle juice is a traditional hangover remedy in Poland and it makes sense! The electrolytes like salt, which preserves the pickle, as well as the fluid in general, will help you feel better.
 
There are times when a hangover turns into something very serious. Be on the look out if you or any of your friends have irregular breathing, blue tinged skin, hypothermia, or become unconscious. If you recognize any of these signs, it’s time to call 911.
 
Sources
 
Discovery Health, Drugs and Alcohol

Web MD, Hangover Helpers
 
Mayo Clinic, Hangovers

Web MD, Hangover Myths

NIH, Alcohol

Hangovers Cure Blog

NIH, Vitamin B6

Carlene Helble is a senior dietetics major and family studies minor at James Madison University. She is the '10-'11 President of JMU's student dietetics association and the school's student council liaison to the American Dietetics Association. Carlene is also the weekend food blogger for All Access Internships and writes for Balanced Health and Nutrition, the Elite Nutrition blog. Originally from Loudoun County, Virginia, she has a passion for cooking (especially French Macarons), entertaining, pilates, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors. Classic fashions are her favorite and she never goes anywhere without a monogram. After graduation Carlene hopes to obtain a spot in a dietetic internship to learn more about clinical dietetics, pediatrics, and continue writing about food.
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