There are a ton of myths out there about the best ways to cure a hangover– from drinking a beer first thing in the morning to downing a greasy burger. Unfortunately, the only science-backed cure for a hangover is time. According to the Mayo Clinic, a hangover begins when your blood alcohol content nears 0 and typically lasts around 24 hours. There are some ways, however, to ease the headache, upset stomach and fatigue that follows a night of drinking (and maybe late-night karaoke or pizza…) and make that 24 hours a bit more bearable.
First up, re-hydrate. Alcohol is a diuretic, and with increased urination you are losing fluids as well as minerals like sodium and potassium. In addition to drinking lots of water, try an electrolyte-rich beverage, such as coconut water or a sports drinks, which will help restore those important minerals.
Although you may feel nauseous after a night of partying, it is important to eat an easily digestible meal the next day. Low blood sugar levels are also associated with hangovers, and can contribute to the fatigue, weakness or headache you may be feeling. While some greasy french fries or a sausage breakfast sandwich may seem like a good idea, your stomach will thank you later if you make a healthier choice. To stabilize your blood sugar levels while going easy on the stomach, try a piece of wheat toast with peanut butter and banana, a bouillon or chicken noodle soup, or plain greek yogurt with blueberries. These nutrient-rich foods have a balance of carbs with a healthy protein and/or fat, which will also help prevent further blood sugar drops during the day.
If your stomach is still feeling queasy, try drinking some mint tea, ginger tea or kombucha (a fermented tea). Many people have found ginger and mint to be a natural remedy to soothe nausea or vomiting, and the probiotics in kombucha can help restore beneficial bacteria in the gut.
While an over-the-counter pain medication may help with a lingering headache, be advised that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) may cause liver damage if too much alcohol is consumed. Always check with your doctor if you’re unsure about any medications. For a more natural remedy, use a cold compress on your forehead combined with cucumber slices over the eyes, to decrease headache pain and puffiness that occurs with dehydration.
Finally, try to get as much rest as possible. While low levels of alcohol may initially help promote sleep, alcohol in higher quantities can disturb healthy sleep patterns. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, alcohol causes you to spend less time in the important deep sleep stages that are necessary for cognition and memory. If you’re able to fall back asleep, that can also help pass the time needed to get through your hangover.
Of course, the best way to ease a hangover is to stop it from happening in the first place! While the only sure-fire way to completely prevent a hangover is not to drink, here are a few proactive tips that may help ease the hangover before it even begins:
- Know your limits. Decide ahead of time how many drinks you’ll have and stick to it. Have a response ready for friends that may pressure you to drink more than you want; something simple like “no thanks, I have so much to do tomorrow” or “I’m trying to cut back because my doctor told me to.”
- Drink a glass of water in between cocktails. This strategy will help you stay hydrated, but more importantly it will slow down your alcohol intake.
- Choose liquor wisely. According to Healthline, there are some studies that have shown consuming drinks with a high amount of congeners (toxic chemical by-product found in alcohol) could increase the frequency and severity of a hangover. Drinks that are low in congeners: vodka, gin and rum, with vodka containing almost none at all. Drinks that are high in congeners: tequila, whiskey and cognac, with bourbon whiskey containing the highest amount.
- Eat a solid meal before drinking. Eating a nutritious meal will help maintain adequate blood sugar levels, which could alleviate some of the bodily changes that occur with alcohol consumption, such as the buildup of acid in the blood (according to a study in the European Journal of Clinical investigation). Aim for a nutrient-dense meal with complex carbs (brown rice, whole wheat pasta), lean protein (chicken, salmon) or healthy fat (avocado, nut butter), and nutrient-rich veggies.
And remember, being social doesn’t have to be synonymous with drinking. There are many fun summer activities that don’t involve alcohol– bike around the lake, go to the beach, attend a neighborhood festival focused on music or art, or just get out and explore the city. Your body will thank you when you no longer need that hangover recovery day!
-Emily Koches, Fitness Instructor and Nutrition Coach