We’ve all been there. You wake up, and your hangover smacks you in the brain like a group of WWE wrestlers. While the Head Splitter body-slams your brain to give you that insane headache, the Stomach Stomper juggles your stomach to make you feel woozy. And even when you exit that world of hurt several hours later, the Tickler spends most of the day prodding your brain with a little stick, making sure you can’t focus on anything.
What's a hangover, anyway?
As far as we know now, a hangover is the result of dehydration and exposure to various toxic compounds due to consuming ethanol, the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.
Those toxic chemicals include acetaldehyde (the first thing your body turns ethanol into as it breaks down), acetones (think nail polish remover), histamine (they make your body go “HEY THERE’S SOMETHING BAD HERE ATTACK IT”) and a whole slurry of other chemicals, even formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies). When you ingest too much of these toxins or your body can’t process all them quickly, these toxins are pumped around your body and introduced to your brain, which your brain doesn’t like.
A group of scientists believes that in addition to dehydration, your body treats being drunk like an infection and releases immune compounds known to cause headaches and nausea. These scientists have also found that the type of alcoholic beverage you drank absolutely matters: the darker your drink (think: whiskey that has been left in a barrel to age for several years), the more non-ethanol chemicals it is likely to have.
If I were hungover and wanted to not be hungover, the last thing I would want to do is listen to somebody babble on about the Cube-esque horrors taking place inside my body, and not tell me how to fix them. So here are six ideas I’ve collected from hungover kids, and why they work (or don’t).
Hair of the dog
Why deal with the hangover when you can have another drink, right? Sort of. When you wake up and pound that last beer that's lying next to your bed, you’re dumping alcohol into your system. The good news is that alcohol is known to reduce pain and was the first type of anesthesia ever used. So, for about an hour, that headache will disappear.
The bad news is that you just dehydrated yourself even more and your liver is pumping new acetaldehyde into your blood stream. When that drink you had wears off, your hangover is coming back worse than before.
Everyone has that friend who swears by two shots of wheat grass the morning after to make your hangover go away. Wheat grass is full of enzymes and antioxidants that will cleanse your liver and make everything perfect, so they say. Except they’re wrong.
The first problem is that when you hold your nose and chug that wheat grass, all of the enzymes you just swallowed will never enter your blood stream. So the only toxins they will be “cleansing” are the ones in your intestines, while all the toxins causing a hangover are in your blood and are handled by your liver. Second, your digestive system will be trying to destroy those enzymes, which will reduce their impact.
Third, there is no real evidence that those antioxidants will help support liver cells as they break down toxins.
There could be some benefit from removing toxins from your digestive tract, but at this point it’s just conjecture from a kid who’s only taken the entry level bio courses (contrasted to, you know, researchers) and is currently drinking that expensive sugar-free root beer from Whole Foods. So don’t take my word on it.
My brother swears by two bottles of Limon-Pepino, one before bed and one when you wake up in the morning. He’s actually right, but he just doesn’t know why.
Limon-Pepino bottles are huge, so chugging one before bed is dumping a lot of water into his system, which reduces or curbs the onset of dehydration that causes so many hangover symptoms. In the morning, all of the sugar in Gatorade quickly gets into his blood stream, correcting the lowered blood sugar induced by heavy alcohol consumption. So those shakes and wooziness you have when you wake up disappear very quickly.
“But what about the electrolytes?” you ask. Not really a major player. Scientists obsessed with hangovers have shown that your blood salts are basically the same before you drink and when you’re hungover. The only real job the electrolytes in Gatorade have is to quicken the absorption of water into your blood stream by about 10 minutes.
Tylenol, ibuprofen and aspirin
If a hangover could be described in one word, it would be pain (obviously shouted by WWE announcer). So to combat a hangover, you need something that combats pain. Like painkillers. All three of these painkillers will help ease your headaches (And pained joints, right everyone else? Just me? Really?) with ease.
As the “hangovers due to immune response” gain traction, aspirin seems to be the best choice, as its anti-inflammatory action helps curb your body’s inflammatory response to ethanol.
Several hours later…
As your brain has finally crawls out of the pit that is the hungover, it gives your body a sheepish thumbs up: “All is back to normal.” That is, after he punches your stomach to make sure you don’t drink that much again. Your brain’s point? There is no cure to a hangover, only ways to ease the symptoms.
The only way to “cure” a hangover is to not drink, which is like saying you can “cure” being shot by not getting in the way of bullets. Both great things to hear after the fact.