Every year about this time, everybody publishes a list of hangover cures or prevention tips, or debuts some new product meant to ease the pain, as if New Year's Eve was the only time people ever drank. But there are some scientifically proven remedies that will actually work, every day. You have your folk remedies or your comfort foods or your routine that all help just because they give solace (and a drinker needs that for what Kingsley Amis calls the metaphysical hangover). But really a hangover is a physical process, or at least the result of one, and there do exist actual remedies that help reverse it. Most of those are chemicals and compounds found in a big variety of foods and supplements, so instead of asking you to trust our own recipes or favorite morning-after foods, we'll just share the most effective of those chemicals and you can ingest them as you like.
- Cysteine: Already one of the most popular treatments because it shows up in eggs, which tend to anchor the Sunday brunch many drinkers rely on, cysteine is an amino acid that helps your liver out. How Stuff Works explains it is "the substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver's easily depleted glutathione." That means it can take some of the strain off your liver by helping to get rid of lingering toxins. And fear not, vegans and ovaphobes. Plenty of other foods contain cysteine, including poultry, oats, yogurt, broccoli, red pepper, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, wheat germ and dairy.
- Potassium: Alcohol makes you pee a lot, and that means that not only do you get dehydrated, you drain a lot of important nutrients, chief among them potassium. A George Mason University researcher writes, "In addition to the liquid expelled during frequent urination, certain salts and potassium – required for proper nerve and muscle function – are also lost." Naturally, the go-to potassium delivery agent is bananas. But you can branch out starting with this University of Michigan list that includes things you might actually want to eat with a hangover, such as potato chips, orange juice, and avocados.
- Fructose (fruit sugar): "Alcohol turns the body’s supply of glycogen into glucose, and sends it out of the body in the urine. Lack of this energy source is a key part in the feeling of weakness, fatigue, and lack of coordination the next morning," reads that Anatomy of a Hangover paper from George Mason. Fructose, the sugar found in most fruits, replentishes that glucose and has been found to speed up the body's processing of alcohol. But that finding, in a study on file with the National Institute of Health, is a bit mixed: "The results indicate that both fructose and glucose effectively inhibit the metabolic disturbances induced by ethanol but they do not affect the symptoms or signs of alcohol intoxication and hangover." Still, eating fruit and drinking fruit juice will give you a bit of energy as well as vitamins like b and c, which alcohol tends to sap as well.
- Sodium: As you pee out your potassium and water, you also get rid of a lot of salt, which is a key electrolyte. This is where your sports drinks and/or coconut water come in as a cure. In 2010, an article in Time pointed out that coconut water "contains the same five electrolytes found in human blood (Gatorade has only two)." That How Stuff Works article also informs us that "adding salt and sugar to water helps replace the sodium and glycogen lost the night before." On the Accidental Scientist blog, Simon Cooke drops this bit of wisdom about why the normally over-sweet Gatorade works so well on hangovers: "It’s the best and easiest way to get fluid into your system, and has its own handy-dandy built in automatic rehydration indicator – if it tastes good, you need to drink more of it. Once it starts tasting unappealing, you’ve had enough – you’re rehydrated." Sneaky, huh?
- Water: Drinking a lot of water is the biggest and most obvious preventative measure and cure. That's because the main thing happening in your body when you have a hangover is that you're dehydrated. Alcohol, as we've established, is a diuretic, and most of what you lose when you pee is water. In fact, that George Mason article contains this terrifying little gem about where that hangover headache comes from: "The body’s organs will attempt to replenish their own water, usually by stealing water from the brain, which causes it to decrease in size and pull on the membranes which connect it to the skull, which in turn results in a headache." Shudder. So outside of drinking water, and sports drinks, a good option comes in soup broth, which will also replentish your sodium intake. Pho, in fact, is such a good broth-and-protein delivery system that it's considered a miracle hangover cure. But there are no miracles with this stuff. Only science.