With the Super Bowl coming this weekend – and the parties and unfortunate hangovers that go with it – it is worth restating that there is no cure for a hangover other than not drinking.
Much has been written and remains in pop culture regarding remedies for the dreaded hangover. A surprising amount of scientific literature fails to explain the hangover syndrome other than it may be a mild version of severe alcohol withdrawal. Headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, thirst, difficulty with concentration, dizziness and general muscle soreness are all common symptoms.
The most extensive review of medical literature in recent past by the British Medical Journal failed to show any convincing evidence of any therapy or dietary supplements that can consistently help the symptoms or help understand precisely why it happens. This year several commercially available products have surfaced that reportedly help cure or treat hangovers. These are entirely unproven claims. Do not waste your money on them.
Understanding a few simple facts that are clear, should be kept in mind any time alcohol is consumed.
There are many moving pieces to this puzzle. Limiting your alcohol consumption and drinking responsibly, if not abstaining entirely, is your best choice.
The less alcohol ingested the less likely you are to experience problems. Making an effort to drink plenty of water may be helpful. We know problems arise when people get dehydrated, which is a common characteristic of hangovers as well as many other medical conditions.
Alcohol is both a toxin to the liver and a diuretic. The liver usually tolerates small amounts of alcohol, but even small amounts are dehydrating. You actually lose more fluids drinking alcohol than you consume.
The type of alcohol consumed may increase risk of hangover. Clear distilled spirits such as vodka appear less likely than dark fermented alcohol (wine, beer, or bourbon) to cause a hangover. According to reliable research, congeners that add to the darker color are toxins created in fermentation and play a greater role in the bad side effects. Again, it is worth emphasizing too much alcohol consumed of any type leads to problems.
A safe amount is hard to identify due to many variations in individual metabolism, body weight and composition, medications, general health, gender and age.
Besides drinking responsibly, consuming plenty of water before and during the times of alcohol ingestion may be helpful in minimizing the ill effects. Some experts recommend a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. They also suggest consuming only one alcoholic beverage per hour as a rule of thumb.
Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or naproxen after drinking seems like it makes sense. However, research has failed to demonstrate any consistent response. Acetaminophen when drinking should be avoided due to its own liver toxicity, which can be magnified in the presence of alcohol.
Drink responsibly. Do not drink and drive. Even small amounts of alcohol impair judgment before you are aware of its effects. Be mindful and pro-active about alcohol consumption. It is the only way to avoid a hangover or worse.
Dr. Bruce Kaler