Okay, let's start with the obvious: The best hangover cure is to not drink too much in the first place. But even the most disciplined among us can slip sometimes. For those who end up overcelebrating this New Year's Eve, here's the truth behind some purported hangover "cures"—and what you can really do to prevent or relieve the pain.
1. The hair-of-the-dog approach. That's the strategy of treating a hangover with more booze, so named after the medieval practice of treating dog bites with the fur of the offending mutt. Here's the reasoning: Hangovers are triggered when the blood-alcohol level begins to drop a few hours after you finish drinking. Symptoms peak when the level reaches zero. Starting to drink again pumps the level back up, ostensibly averting hangover symptoms.
Does it work? Only temporarily. The same or worse pain awaits down the road when the new alcohol leaves your system.
2. Greasefest. A hefty dose of fat eaten before bed or the next day, the argument goes, soaks up alcohol. I admit to using this theory to rationalize downing, on separate occasions, a half pizza, a whole cookie cake (still frozen), and two McDonald's Happy Meals after a night of celebrating.
Does it work? Nope. For food to help you avoid a hangover, you have to eat it before drinking, not after. The good news is that really does help. When the body has a meal to digest, especially a fatty one, alcohol enters the bloodstream more slowly and has less chance to rise to levels that leave you miserable. So try to eat something substantial before heading out for a night of partying.
3. Try a hangover remedy. Sold online, in stores, and even in bars, many of these products claim to soak up the toxic byproducts of alcohol or to help your body fight alcohol's unfortunate effects. They usually include activated carbon or a mix of vitamins and herbs, and have creative names like Chaser, Drinkin' Mate, First Call, NoHang, and so on. There's now even an adhesive skin patch, Bytox, that claims to prevent hangovers by delivering a steady dose of B vitamins to your bloodstream while you party.
Do they work? It's hard to say because there's been very little research on them. Independent reviews, including one published in June 2010 by researchers in the Netherlands, have found little supporting evidence for remedies purported to reduce the severity of hangover symptoms. There aren't even very many company-sponsored studies, and those that have been done include only a small number of participants and generally haven't been published. A spokesperson for the Bytox patch told us the company was currently conducting a study on it, but results weren't available yet.
Bottom line: Skip the gimmicky stuff and focus on these tried-and-true strategies:
• Don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach—and preferably, have something substantial in your belly that includes some fat. Pizza or a turkey sandwich with cheese are good options.
• Drink lots of water or other nonalcoholic liquids while you're drinking alcohol and afterward. A useful strategy is to alternate one alcoholic drink with a glass of club soda or plain water. That helps in two ways: It decreases your overall alcohol load and helps prevent the dehydration that contributes to hangovers.
• Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil and generic) to ease a next-day headache, if your stomach can handle it. A product that combines aspirin with caffeine might also help. But avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) if you drink heavily, since the combination can damage the liver.
• Opt for light-colored beverages. Dark liquors such as whiskey and red wine are more apt to leave you hung over than colorless or lighter drinks because they have higher levels of congeners, substances produced during fermentation that can have toxic effects.
Other than that, rest up, eat some bland food, and settle in for some bad TV. The only thing guaranteed to completely rid you of your hangover is time.
For more information
Rethinking Holiday Drinking [The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism]