Few ailments attract as many folk wisdom “cures” as the hangover. And with the holiday season upon us - most dangerously, New Year’s Eve - it’s a self-inflicted wound that many of us will have to deal with. While everyone has their own hangover helper, not all of them are made equally – in the eyes of science. So let’s take a look at what a hangover is and, therefore, what we can do about it.
But first, a note of caution: while a hangover is awful and an easy way to lose a day, alcohol poisoning is genuinely dangerous. Drinking more than your body can handle could leave you in need of hospital treatment. And we don’t need to tell you to respect social distancing and stay safe out there, do we? Well, maybe we do. It only takes a couple of drinks to lower inhibitions and impair your ability to assess risks. So try to make a COVID-safe plan for the evening while your head is still clear, and stick to it. OK, sermon over - let’s get to the morning after.
You’ve woken up on the first day of 2021 and the world feels wrong - even considering, y’know, 2020. It was a good time, but you’re paying the price: your head is pounding and spinning, you feel sick and hungry at the same time, you’ve been in bed for hours but feel exhausted, and you need coffee. Bacon. Orange juice. Whisky.
Your body saw the alcohol and cried, ‘poison!’ It immediately went to work getting rid of the booze – and, in doing so, stopped other digestive processes, such as glucose production. So your blood sugar level has dropped. Your kidneys produced more urine in response to alcohol’s diuretic effect, and flushing out all those fluids means it’s likely that your electrolytes are out of whack and you’re dehydrated: hence the dry mouth, headaches and nausea. The latter is not helped by stomach inflammation and overproduction of both acid in the stomach, and acetaldehyde in the liver, which might make you vomit. Finally, after you fell into bed in your party shoes, the alcohol stopped you from getting any deep REM sleep. Result? End of the world as we know it, etc.
The best thing you can do is rest: nothing beats a hangover as effectively as not having anything to do. But alongside that (or, if you’re busy even on New Year’s Day, instead of that), there are some mitigation measures you can take.
Probably the best single, simple, free thing you can do is drink water before you go to bed and as soon as you wake up. Coconut water or other mineral waters imbued with added electrolytes will be even more helpful, if you can do it.
It’s not uncommon to wake up craving a big fried breakfast after a night of excess, but that impulse comes too late: a hearty meal works much better as a preventative the night before than as a cure the morning after. Foods that are hydrating and full of electrolytes are the best option, to replenish the water and salts your body spent on flushing out the alcohol. You might not want a giant kale salad at 9:30 in the hungover morning, but bananas or avocado toast are great solutions that might be half-appealing. Other foods that pack a potassium punch are sweet potatoes, watermelon and fruit juices. And you’ll need some carbohydrates, especially if you’re feeling dizzy or shaky – that’s the low blood sugar having its way with you. Try some bland carbs in saltines or other crackers.
Liquid nourishment is a great way to kill two hungover birds with one refreshing stone: rehydrate and replenish nutrients at once. Many popular hangover remedies do have some basis in nutrition. Tomato juice (without vodka), miso soup and sports drinks all deliver electrolytes; ginger tea can help settle the stomach; and eggs (raw or cooked) supply high levels of cysteine, an amino acid that helps break down acetaldehyde. Midwesterners will be glad to hear that pickle juice they’ve been drinking for hangovers also contains some of those much-needed electrolytes, though there are far more effective delivery systems available!
But what about kencko smoothies, you say? Well, a quick straw poll of kencko staffers revealed that we’re most likely to reach for yellows or peaches on a wobbly Sunday morning. Both flavors are gentle on the stomach, with banana for potassium. From a nutritional point of view, limited edition peaches is this year’s hangover hero: coconut water for electrolytes, banana and sweet potatoes for potassium, and plenty of natural fruit sugars to replenish your energy. Try mixing it with 50/50 chilled water and coconut water for extra rehydration.
Sure – you could, first of all, not have had so much to drink. But, let’s face it – y’know, 2020. Nevertheless, a little bit of planning next time will go a long way toward managing what used to be called ‘bottle-ache’ or, in Denmark, ‘carpenters in the forehead’.
Having a good meal before your drinks, and maybe something along with them, is important. It’s why some cultures, like in Spain and Portugal (or, for that matter, American sports bars) have snacking-while-drinking as an integral part of their overall drinking culture.
Drinking ‘spacers’ is an easy way to cut your consumption while also helping your body deal with what you drink – have a glass of water, juice or another soft drink after every alcoholic beverage. And we can’t stress enough the importance of drinking water before bed and when you wake up. Adding in an aspirin or a paracetamol before sleep can help reduce the potential for inflammation and, therefore, many hangover symptoms – but use caution, as these also can be problematic for those with stomach or liver problems.