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The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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2.1 A hangover cure? You wish!

You have probably heard of (or even tried!) various treatments that are reputed to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover.

Activity 1 Hangover cures

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Make a list of some of the so-called hangover cures you are aware of.

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You may have listed some of the following – drinking water or coffee, sleeping, eating carbohydrate rich food, taking pain killers for a headache.

While many of these remedies have not been subject to systematic scientific testing, some are likely to be partly effective based on what is known about hangover physiology:

  • Consumption of food containing the sugar fructose, such as fruit or fruit juices, or bland food rich in carbohydrates, may help to counter symptoms arising from low blood sugar.
  • Sleeping is likely to relieve symptoms associated with fatigue. This gives the body a chance to direct energy towards metabolic functions (sleep it off).
  • Drinking copious volumes of water reduces dehydration. As you have seen, this will help with the diuretic issues but it cannot clear all symptoms.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen are commonly used to relieve the symptoms of headache. This helps respond to the increased cytokine levels, reducing the inflammation. However, there is a risk that since they can irritate the gut lining they might compound ethanol-induced stomach disturbances.
  • Caffeine is traditionally widely used and may counteract tiredness but it will have no effect on the chemical imbalances in the body.
  • Run it off. Some studies suggest that exercise will help. In principle, increasing metabolic function and blood flow will aid but this has to be weighed against the nausea and other delicate symptoms.

A famous belief is that the further consumption of alcohol known as ‘the hair of the dog (that bit you)’ will relieve symptoms. This may hold true in a way in that ethanol is metabolised before some congeners such as methanol (hence alleviating the effects of the associated toxicity), but effectively this just postpones the symptoms until later.