I get it: Nothing's going to magically counteract that killer headache and about-to-hurl feeling induced by one (or five) too many Cinco de Mayo sangrias. But there might be something healthier than the obvious—two Advil and a greasy diner meal—to help take the edge off. Last week, I was chatting with a woman about our shared love of kombucha, and she told me that it's her go-to morning hangover remedy. Of course I was skeptical, but a quick Google search turned up more anecdotes—not only about 'booch, but fermented foods in general.
So I wondered, Is there any merit to this? and took my question to a pro: Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, associate staff at Cleveland Clinic, whose research focuses on coming up with ways to combat alcohol's negative effects on the gut. Her answer: maybe. There's no hard data on fermented foods and hangovers, but they contain a few things that may help if you consume them regularly, or load up before and after drinking. Here's what they are:
Fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut contain naturally occurring B vitamins. These can be depleted in our bodies when we tip back one too many. But people who routinely drink or eat fermented foods may experience hangover relief faster, says Cresci. "In fact, when people come into the hospital with elevated blood alcohol, one of the first things we do is give them IV fluids with thiamin and folate—two B vitamins—and potassium."
Chronic alcohol consumption—or even just one good binge—may cause an imbalance in your ratio of good-to-bad gut bacteria (something called "gut dysbiosis").
This imbalance can damage the intestinal barrier, and has been associated with everything from obesity to IBS to heart disease to allergies. But—assuming you're not a total alcoholic—regularly consuming fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement might help repopulate your gut with good bacteria and minimize this damage. "Studies show that certain strains of probiotics help protect the intestines and the liver during alcohol consumption," says Cresci. Look for lactobacillus bacteria in fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut or pick up a bottle of kombucha, which typically contains a variety of different strains. Not exactly a hangover cure, but I'll take it.
These require a little background: Normally, our guts have a pretty stable ratio of the short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) butyrate, propionate, and acetate—but not when we're drinking. Ethanol (the alcohol in booze) is toxic, so our bodies convert it to a compound called acetaldehyde and then to acetate. Extra acetate throws off our SCFA ratio and seems to contribute to hangover symptoms like dehydration and headaches, says Cresci. But some experts think that if you ingest enough butyrate—supposedly present in some kombuchas—you may be able to rebalance that ratio and negate some of acetate's negative effects. Super speculative, but interesting nonetheless.