Cure your hangover with science

The science of feeling slightly more human after a heavy night on the sauce

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Page 2 of 2 Scientifically, what can cure a hangover?

Come on science, I’m dying here. What can cure a hangover?

Your instincts upon waking up with a hangover may be to either go back to sleep or lie in the darkness wallowing in self pity. Whilst in almost every single other walk of life that’s a surefire recipe for failure (or at least failing to live up to your potential), there’s actually something to it. If you’re a mouse, anyway: a study of male Swiss mice found that those kept in the dark enjoyed a faster recovery to their “motor and anxiety impairments”, after the scientists showed the rodents a boozy good time.

You’re not a mouse, so first things first: you’re going to want to treat the headache. It’s entirely possible it’s caused by dehydration, given alcohol is a diuretic, so by all means take a paracetamol or ibuprofen (but not, as the NHS help page points out, aspirin, which can “further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness”), but be sure to tackle the source with lots of water to rehydrate.

Even the wisdom of drinking water to stay hydrated is being questioned now, though, with a Dutch study of over 800 students (who better to test?) discovered that those who drank water during the night and before going to bed saw no reduction in the strength of their hangover the next day. Fatty foods were also ruled out in the same test, but your mileage – or cravings – may vary.

Whatever you do, though, you want to avoid tea: a study from Sun Yat-Sen University found that, although green teas contain antioxidants, they prohibit the metabolism of alcohol. One drink that bizarrely gets a cautious thumbs up is Sprite, which seems to boost the enzymes responsible for metabolising both ethanol and acetaldehyde – and if there’s anything in the low blood sugar levels theory, a sugary Sprite would tick that box as well.

Most recently, another possible hangover cure has appeared: pears. Specifically, researchers found that Korean pear juice “significantly reduced” hangover symptoms in direct comparison to a placebo drink, with particularly strong gains in the subjects’ concentration. The Korean pears – this may apply to our pears too, but more research needs to be done – also boost the enzymes responsible for metabolising alcohol. However, before you stock up on Korean pears, the researchers emphasised that this is pre-emptive cure. In other words, you need to drink the pear juice before the alcohol. “There is no evidence that you can consume pears after drinking and avoid a hangover,” explained Professor Manny Noakes.

That brings us to the slightly preachy truth: the only way you can definitely prevent a hangover is to not to drink to excess. For now, at least. Former government drugs policy advisor David Nutt wrote in The Guardian in 2013 that certain chemicals can offer the same buzz as alcohol, without the hangover side effects – and the ability to return to sobriety with the prescribed antidote. Nutt had five chemical candidates, and was seeking funding for more tests, although it sounds like they needed some work: “The challenge is to prepare the new drink in a fashion that makes it as tasty and appealing,” he wrote.

That’s a pipe dream for now, though, so best to practice moderation – and hope that next Christmas brings the present we really all crave: a 100% surefire hangover cure to make up for the night before’s sins.

READ THIS NEXT: Alcohol in space: From communion wine to zero-gravity whisky

Images: Mike Mozart, S. J. Pyrotechnic and Annie Mole used under Creative Commons

Page 2 of 2 Scientifically, what can cure a hangover?

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