From pounding headaches and nausea to fever and food aversions, there is nothing quite like the painful payback our bodies serve us after a little too much partying. Whether it’s reaching for a sugary sports drink, heading to a drive-through, or sweating it out in a hot shower—anyone who’s all-too familiar with nights of endless imbibing likely has their own sworn-by trick to cure a hangover. But what does the science say about what works and what doesn’t? Today, we’re separating fact from fiction and talking all about the evidence-based art of curing a hangover. Let’s get to it…
But first…why do we get hungover?
There’s no one key “ingredient” or factor that leads to the feeling of a hangover. Instead, feeling less-than-stellar after a night of overindulgence has to do with your individual makeup, the amount you imbibed, and the myriad of ways in which alcohol affects the human body. A few of the most important include:
- Alcohol dehydrates you and leads to an electrolyte imbalance: Alcohol is a diuretic—meaning it causes your body to rid itself of fluids (via urination) much quicker than other liquids. The more you drink, the more you urinate, the more dehydrated you become—which ultimately leads to an electrolyte imbalance as well.
- Alcohol can cause your blood vessels to widen: This is also known as vasodilatation—and it can lead to that pounding headache you feel upon waking the next morning.
- Alcohol disrupts your sleep: While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it also lessens the quality of your sleep and can often cause that dreaded 2am wake-up, as it interferes with your body’s nighttime secretion of growth hormones and temperature regulation. A lack of quality sleep can contribute to that foggy feeling that so often accompanies a hangover.
- Excessive drinking can lead to withdrawal symptoms: Heavy drinking can suppress your nervous system. When the drinking stops, your central nervous system then “wakes up” and kicks into overdrive, often leading to the “shakes” and a rapid heartbeat.
- Drinking can lower your blood sugar levels: Alcohol can decrease your body’s ability to produce glucose while, at the same time, exhausting glucose reserves stored in the liver—ultimately leading to low blood-sugar levels, which may be responsible for that fatigue, weakness, and moodiness you feel during a hangover.
So…can you really cure a hangover? Here’s what the science says
Fiction: The “hair of the dog” method can cure a hangover.
When it comes to how to cure a hangover, some swear by the “hair of the dog” method, or “taking the hair of the dog that bit you”—meaning you drink alcohol in the morning to ease your hangover. (Fun fact: the phrase “hair of the dog” comes from a medieval belief that a person bitten by a rabid dog could be cured by placing the dog’s hair on the open wound or taking some of the dog’s hair in a potion.) Hangover symptoms peak when your blood-alcohol level reaches zero, so giving your body another drink may work to temporarily alleviate the pain you’re feeling—but science shows it only serves to hold off the hangover that’s inevitably coming.
Fact: The type of alcohol you drink can make a difference.
It turns out, there just might be something to the old folklore around clear alcohol not causing as significant of hangovers as darker alcohol. Studies have shown consuming clear alcohol (like vodka or gin) “may have a significant effect” on reducing the symptoms of a hangover the following day. Darker alcohols (whiskey, bourbon, brandy, red wine, etc.) contain congeners, chemically-related compounds which have been associated with a higher incidence of hangovers.
Fiction: Coffee will cure a hangover.
If you’re a java-lover, coffee may be calling your name the morning after a night of drinking…but the experts say don’t reach for that cup of joe so fast. It turns out coffee narrows your blood vessels and boosts your blood pressure, both of which might compound the illness you’re already feeling. Another less-than-ideal fact about coffee as a hangover cure? It’s a diuretic (just like alcohol), which means it can serve to dehydrate you even further. So, why do people swear by it? The caffeine can help to alleviate the grogginess and lethargy you may be experiencing—but that’s about as far as the benefits of coffee for a hangover stretch.
Fact: Complex carbohydrates are your friend.
Remember that blood-sugar drop we talked about earlier when we broke down the factors behind a hangover? When it comes to options that can help you cure a hangover, science shows that consuming bland nutrition that contains lots of complex carbohydrates can work to combat low blood-sugar levels and decrease nausea.
Our anesthesiologist-developed presurgery drink CF(Preop)® was designed to give patients a clean, clinical-grade, easy-to-consume solution to increase their chance of surgical success, reduce post-op nausea, and help speed up recoveries…but it turns out surgery isn’t the only thing it works well for. Because it’s chock-full of complex carbs and functional nutrition designed to quicken the healing process (without any added sugars, harmful dyes, or synthetics) it also works really well for hangovers. We recommend taking one bottle after you’ve finished up your night of fun before you go to bed—and another in the morning when you wake feeling not-so invincible.
Fiction: Hangover pills offer a cure.
According to studies, it turns out those pricey hangover pills, powders, and patches don’t seem to do much to cure a hangover. As CNN Health puts it, “there is little scientific evidence that they will make you feel any better.” Your best bet instead is to get the nutrients and vitamins they offer through clean, healthy, much-less-expensive nutrition.
Fact: Hydration remains your best bet if you’re hoping to cure a hangover.
Study after study and physician after physician tell us: the one thing you can do to help prevent or lessen a hangover is focus on hydration. We mentioned earlier that alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it causes you to eliminate fluids faster than other liquids do). Combine this with the fact hangovers are often accompanied by sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea—which can result in even more fluid loss and increased electrolyte imbalances—and it’s easy to see how the dehydrating effects of alcohol are only further compounded by the hangover they cause.
While there’s no way to know if dehydration is 100% responsible for your hangover—replacing the fluids you lost is one of the quickest, easiest things you can do to give your body a fighting chance at feeling better. The most common recommendation is to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water or clear fluids in between alcoholic beverages. But, if you got caught up in cocktailing and forgot to follow this tried-and-true rule, your best bet is to replenish as rapidly as possible the next morning.
PRO TIP: CF(Rehyrdate)®, our fan-favorite rapid-rehydration drink, offers clean, colorless, clinical-grade hydration that’s ideal for flushing your body with much-needed fluids, zinc, and natural electrolytes after a night of too much fun. (The best part? It’s not full of colored dyes and artificial ingredients like sports drinks and made-for-children solutions.)
Overall, knowing what will work best for your hangover comes down to understanding your specific symptoms and what caused them. If you’re solely tired and groggy, a cup of coffee may do the trick—whereas if you’re nauseous and have a headache, coffee may only serve to exacerbate those symptoms. Regardless, though, of the individual symptoms you’re experiencing, the one “cure” that comes up time and time again is simple and straightforward: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (…and our team of beverage scientists, healthcare professionals, and nutritionists couldn’t agree more!).
Ready for more goodness? Browse the rest of the CF Nutrition blog for empowering health, wellness, and lifestyle tips. And don’t forget to give your body the best chance at feeling better after a night of drinking with the clean, clinical replenishment of CF(Rehyrdate)® and the natural complex carbs you’ll find in CF(Preop)®.