I’ll drink to that...
A new hangover cure claims it can undo the damage of the night before in just 30 minutes. Too good to be true? Here’s an expert’s guide to morning-after remedies – from the hair of the dog to pure oxygen
Published 23/04/2007 | 17:24
It's the morning after the night before. You wake up to a crashing headache, a dry mouth and you feel desperately queasy.
Once more you swear that you'll never, ever drink again.
But relax – help is at hand.
Last week, a new hangover cure, Hedstart, came onto the market claiming that it can undo the damage of the night - in 30 minutes flat.
“This drink contains a combination of vitamins, amino acids and carbohydrates which quickly alleviate the symptoms of a hangover,'' says Tim Lawson, director of Phytofoods which manufactures Hedstart.
Alcohol prevents the body from absorbing water.
Your brain then gets dehydrated and begins to shrink, stretching it away from the inside of your skull. Cue that piercing headache – and the desperate search for the ultimate hangover cure.
Irish medical professionals are critical of such hangover cures, however. Dr Colin O'Gara, consultant psychiatrist with the Department of Alcohol Abuse at St John Of God's in Dublin says: “Alcohol abuse is a huge problem in Ireland and it is increasing at an alarming rate.
“A hangover is a warning. It is your body telling you that the alcohol you are drinking is damaging your body and your brain. It is telling you to stop drinking.”
But if this advice is too late, what are the hangover cures that work?
Hair of the dog
The Scots invented this cure. It's based on the belief that the hair of the dog that bit you, when applied to the wound, acts to prevent a infection. So the hangover cure goes that if you are drunk from the night and you go out and start drinking again in the morning, all will be well.
“Alcohol causes the kidneys to stop reabsorbing water, sending it straight to the bladder instead,” says Dr O'Gara.
“This hangover cure, the ‘hair of the dog’, means that you are only putting more pressure on your kidneys and liver. Also this theory is great for the alcoholic. It means that they can keep drinking, day in day out.”
A US study at the University of New Orleans claims that the fruits of a prickly pear cactus taken as a capsule before hard drinking significantly reduced the hangover misery.
After a fastfood dinner and four hours spent slugging spirits, the volunteers at the university found their symptoms – nausea, dry mouth and appetite-loss – were markedly improved by the cactus extract, compared with the poor fools who had been given a placebo.
But before you rush off to the desert and pick a prickly pear, do note that the researchers were adamant that the extract was not powerful enough to allow people to booze with impunity, and only reduced symptoms by approximately one-fifth.
A cup of coffee or some defizzed Coca-Cola the morning after can help. Caffeine may help a headache because it reduces the size of the blood vessels swollen by alcohol. Just make sure that you drink plenty of water to counteract the dehydration and stomach irritation that caffeine also causes.
Dr O'Gara says: “I don't think they really have any benefits. Admittedly, it may make you feel better in the short term but in truth your body will repair itself.
In some cases it takes people up to four days to get over a hangover. There are no instant cures.”
There are cranks who would have you believe that a glass of water can cure you of everything from a common cold to cancer, but when it comes to hangovers, they may have a point.
Yes, water combats dehydration, but it also dilutes all the nasty by-products left over in the stomach. Those with the foresight and ability to hold glass to tap at the end of the night can prevent the next day's hangover by drinking water before bedtime.
Those with even more foresight can match each drink with a glass of water during the evening, if they can handle the suspicious glances of their friends.
“This is another popular myth,” says Dr O'Gara. “It's a vicious circle. In truth, if it takes you six glasses of wine to get drunk, you will have six glasses of wine.
The water is only incidental. You may drink water between, but there is no doubt that you will drink those six glasses of wine.
“In fact, as you get drunker you will forget the water. As regards having the sense to drink a glass of water before going to bed – well, if you were that astute, you would not be drunk.”
Sales of this pain reliever have declined in the years since it was an ad-break staple promising a satisfying ‘plink, plink, fizz’ followed by a clear head.
The soluble tablets treat pain and neutralise excess stomach acid, but as they were designed to treat all manner of ills, they don't have a specific remit for hangovers.
Nonetheless, the aspirin in the tablets works in your favour, as does the water it dissolves in.
“The problem with many solutions is that they can be an irritant to the stomach,'' says
Dr Paul Stillman, a member of the Expert Group on Hydration – a panel of experts that raises awareness about the importance of drinking enough fluids.
“I'd recommend aspirin products such as Alka- Seltzer because it won't cause these problems.”
Fried, scrambled or poached eggs are an essential part of Ireland's favourite hangover staple: the full breakfast. But hardened hangover sufferers advocate a more extreme method of ingestion: downed, raw and first thing in the morning.
The logic is that eggs contain cysteine, which helps fight free radicals, and that in their raw state they are more effective at doing so.
Treat with caution, however: depending on the severity of the hangover and the weakness of your constitution, there could be some rather unpleasant side effects.
“The last thing I would want to do if I have had too much to drink is eat some eggs,” says Stillman. “But I suppose the albumen would be quite good for settling an irritated stomach.”
Seasoned scuba divers will know that a blast from the oxygen tank in the morning is key to surviving one Pina Colada too many. But those not lucky enough to be enjoying an idyllic Caribbean holiday can also benefit from this remedy by embarking on an energetic walk.
The theory is that the increased oxygen flow speeds up the metabolism, thus quickening the pace at which the body breaks down poisons. That said, if you've already overcome the hurdles of getting off the couch, dressing and gathering the morale to brave the Irish elements, you are probably well on the road to recovery.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it speeds loss of water from the body and this is what is responsible for the parched-mouth thirst, headaches and dizziness experienced after an excessive night.
While gulping down a pint of salty water sounds unappealing at the best of times, a poisoned digestive system is much better at taking up an isotonic solution than pure water, so this is the quickest way to rehydrate if you are deep in the throes of an unforgiving hangover.
Add no more than half a teaspoon of salt to two litres of water, and mix in a
couple of spoonfuls of sugar, if you like, to offset the bitter taste.
Taurine is a key ingredient in the controversial energy drink Red Bull, which has long been maligned by health experts. The Swedish National Food Administration warned people to avoid drinking it with alcohol or after heavy exercise. France banned it, Norway classified it as a medicine and for a long time, only chemists in Japan would sell it.
Need we say anymore.
Berocca is marketed towards those who lead a ‘hectic lifestyle’ and need to ‘stay sharp’. But it is not just busy overachievers who find it useful. It is a tried and tested quick fix for casualties of excessive alcohol consumption.
The tablets dissolve in water and produce an orangeflavoured fizzy solution with a tangy kick. They are packed full of vitamins, minerals and calcium, and those who feel guilty about abusing their bodies after a heavy night will be pleased to know that these tablets are free of caffeine, sugar and artificial stimulants.
Part of its efficacy is due to the fact that you have to drink it with water, which itself helps dispel many hangover curses, including headaches, dizziness and nausea.
Additional reporting by Catherine Troy