It’s happened to most of us. After a night out and a few drinks, you wake up with a pounding headache, you feel nauseous, and you just want to crawl back into bed and sleep. More often than not, this isn’t the result of a bug or virus—it’s a hangover.
What’s a hangover?A hangover is the term used to describe the symptoms you feel after a recent bout of drinking. These symptoms can range in severity and usually include:
- Upset stomach
- Problems focusing or concentrating
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Hangover symptoms usually start to rear their ugly head once the blood alcohol level in the body starts to drop. For most people, this is the next day or morning.
Why do we get hangovers?Quite simply, hangovers occur when you drink too much alcohol. The actual amount of alcohol you need to drink to feel the effects of alcohol (and a hangover the next day!) varies with each person, depending on how quickly your body factors like body weight, genetics, and medications. Hangovers themselves are actually the culmination of a number of the body’s responses to alcohol. These include:
- Increased urination, which also increases the likelihood that you’ll get dehydrated.
- Inflammation in the brain, often the cause of mood changes and memory impairment
- Irritation to the stomach lining, which can cause the nausea and vomiting that often accompanies a hangover
- Expanded blood vessels in the brain that can result in headaches
- Lowered blood sugar, which can cause you to feel dizzy or weak
- What you drink. Alcohol contains a substance called congeners, which is used to provide drinks with their flavors and colors. Darker drinks such as bourbon, scotch, tequila, red wine, and brandy have higher levels of congeners, which has been shown in studies to result in more severe hangover symptoms.
- Drinking on an empty stomach. The body absorbs alcohol at a faster rate when the stomach is empty, which can increase the likelihood of a hangover.
- Lack of sleep. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns and make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. In some cases, this can make a hangover worse the next day.
- Smoking while drinking. This study of university students found that smoking while drinking significantly increased the odds of not only getting a hangover, but of its severity as well.
Best foods to tame a hangoverEven when you try to drink responsibly, hangovers can still happen—especially as you get older. So you woke up hungover. Now what? For starters, you can forget the old (and never proven) “hair of the dog” theory that drinking alcohol can help cure a hangover. In fact, it not only delays the inevitable hangover, but it may make it even worse. The same goes for eating greasy foods. This theory suggests that the fat from greasy foods will help your body absorb alcohol. However, this has also been disproven—especially since the alcohol has already been absorbed by the next day. Not only that, but it can make an upset stomach feel even worse. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that there really isn’t a “cure” for a hangover; it simply needs to run its course. Your goal with a hangover (in addition to alleviating the symptoms) is to fill the body with depleted nutrients. Here are some of the best foods and drinks you can consume if you’re feeling hungover:
- Water. Alcohol and increased urination all lead to dehydration, and filling up with plenty of water will help restore hydration. Drinking plenty of water is a must to help ease the effects of a hangover.
- Ginger tea. If your hangover includes nausea, sip some ginger tea. Ginger is an age-old remedy used to combat motion sickness and upset stomach. Although the exact mechanism of action is unknown, ginger can effectively curb nausea.
- Electrolyte drinks. The dehydration caused by alcohol depletes the body of essential nutrients and minerals, such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, to name a few. Sport drinks, Pedialyte or coconut water are several options to try.
- Coffee. While it’s true that coffee can lead to dehydration, studies have also shown that the caffeine in coffee can help alleviate the pain from headaches by causing the expanded blood vessels to dilate. You can counteract the dehydrating effects of coffee by drinking more water.
- Fruit or green juice. Fruit or green juice is loaded with healthy antioxidants needed to help the body ward off toxins that are present in alcohol. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, blackberries, and greens, have the greatest antioxidant benefits.
- Eggs or plant protein. Make sure to fill up on eggs or plant protein shakes the day after. Alcohol is hard on the liver, and eggs contain taurine, an ingredient that has been shown to reverse the liver damage caused by drinking. They also help to mitigate the effects of low blood sugar caused by alcohol.
Recipe to Try: Restorative Orange Ginger Citrus Smoothie
While the best (and perhaps only) way to prevent a hangover is to consume less alcohol, there are a number of things you can do—and eat—to help ease the unpleasant effects of a hangover.
Written By: Jill Overmyer
Reviewed and Edited By: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian