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7 hangover 'cures' that will never, ever work

Hangover headache istock.jpg

No amount of Friday-night fun can make up for the misery you feel Saturday morning: A splitting headache. A topsy-turvy stomach. Too much face time with your toilet. If you feel like hangovers hurt more now than they did in college, you're right: The peak of morning-after pain is at 29 years old, according to a recent study from Denmark.

Until you learn to listen to those hangovers and skip the back-to-back Jagerbombs, all you can do is day-after damage control. Unfortunately, your usual fixes--a greasy fry up, 10 cups of black coffee, or even more booze--are really just placebos to convince yourself that something, anything will quiet the jackhammer in your head.

Save yourself the trial-and-error: These seven hangover cures will never, ever work the way you want them to. 

As the blood alcohol concentration in your body skyrockets, so do dire health consequences. Find out What Your Blood Alcohol Level Means.

1. Hair of the dog

The idea: A morning-after Bloody Mary will help dull the pain.

The truth: Drinking the next day will numb your pain, but only temporarily, says Gary Murray, acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) Division of Metabolism and Health Effects. Drinking again just delays your bender, and may even start a new round of symptoms when your buzz wears off, he adds. And since rehydrating is crucial after a binge, diuretic alcohol will only worsen your headache and fatigue.

2. Greasy breakfast

The idea: Loading up on sausage, eggs, and hash browns will help absorb what alcohol is left.

The truth: The alcohol is long gone by the time you wake up, and greasy food will probably give you heartburn. However, some kind of food is better than nothing, Murray adds. “By ingesting alcohol, you’ve disturbed your GI tract,” he explains. Anything that alleviates that feeling of emptiness--like eating--will probably make you feel better, and give you extra energy to combat that fatigue. Most nausea is due to an empty stomach, too, so while you may not feel like eating, try and stomach something. The more nutrients, the better, Murray adds, so opt for eggs or fresh juice at the very least.

3. Coffee

The idea: The thought of food makes you even more nauseous, but--hangover or not--java is still the magic elixir for fixing sub-par energy.

The truth: “There is a cognitive impairment that results from a hangover--a brain fog, which impairs your ability to perform,” Murray explains. A little bit of coffee will improve your alertness, especially if you have to be at work. But coffee is also a diuretic, and since a hangover usually also means you’re dehydrated, make sure you guzzle a few glasses of water before picking up a mug, he says. And coffee can’t be the extent of your breakfast: Fueling up on an empty stomach means the caffeine may affect you more and irritate your already upset GI tract.

Could a jolt of java keep diabetes at bay? See how to Fend Off Disease with Coffee.

4. Eating before bed

The idea: Devouring a late-night meal will help absorb the alcohol already in your system and lessen tomorrow’s pain.

The truth: “Eating after you’ve already been drinking isn’t going to help absorb or metabolize the alcohol,” Murray says. The real benefit is in eating a solid meal before you’re three drinks deep: Food will help slow the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol, releasing it into your blood stream at a slower--and healthier--rate.

5. Lying in bed all day

The idea: If you’re too nauseous and sensitive to face daylight, hiding in your room will curtail the symptoms while time helps your body flush out the toxins.

The truth: Watching Netflix while you kick yourself for overindulging won’t help nearly as much as getting some actual shuteye, Murray says. “Studies have shown that the intoxicated go to bed roughly 2 hours later than sober people on the same night,” he explains. “Fatigue, headache, irritability--these are all symptoms of a hangover, but also of sleep deprivation.” Instead of writing off the day, try to catch 2 extra hours of sleep so you can score a REM cycle that you probably missed last night. Then get up and get moving to wake your body up, and you’ll feel immensely better, he says. 

Avoid making these drunken mistakes, here are the 8 Worst Things You Do When You’re Wasted.

6. Exercise

The idea: A morning run will help you sweat out the rest of the alcohol.

The truth: You can’t sweat it out, since the actual culprit is already out of your system. But increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR)--which exercise naturally does--could possibly increase your ability to get rid of the toxin by-products, Murray adds. “In addition to the ethanol, your drink has congeners and other chemicals which cause some of the symptoms of a hangover,” he explains. 

Scientists don’t know what helps eliminate these things specifically, but it’s reasonable to think exercise might be beneficial, Murray says. “If you look at the long list of hangover symptoms, like headaches, concentration problems, apathy, lethargy--all of these are eased by increasing your heart rate and blood flow,” Murray says.

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7. Tylenol

The idea: Popping painkillers before bed can help lessen tomorrow’s headache.

The truth: We all know not to mix alcohol and meds, but acetaminophens--Tylenol included--can be dangerous even after your body has metabolized the drink, which takes about an hour. “Alcohol turns on specific enzymes in your body that stay present long after you’re no longer impaired, even into the next day,” Murray explains. These enzymes can interact dangerously with acetaminophens, so stick to taking Aspirin, which has a different, hangover-friendly chemical makeup.

The real cure: Prevention

Why does a hangover hurt so bad? “It’s your body’s way of deterring you from putting this level of toxins into your body again,” Murray explains. You're overloading your system with harmful substances that then interact in your body to release even more harmful chemicals. There’s no real cure for the next-day pain, and while that seems cruel on Saturday morning, it’s actually beneficial because otherwise we would put our bodies through too much, too often, Murray explains. 

The only way to avoid an all-day misery fest? Pace yourself the night before, he says. “Don’t have more than one drink an hour, and opt for a non-alcohol beverage in between to help you stay hydrated,” he suggests. If you slip up, load up on water, Gatorade, or coconut water to help re-lubricate your system, both before you go to bed and when you wake up. 

Not sure if your drinking behavior qualifies as unhealthy? Check out The Truth about Your Drinking Habits to find out.