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Really Curing a Hangover: Separating Myth From Fact

Festive partying seems like a good idea until you wake up with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth and your head beating like an African drum. But is there really anything you can do to relieve the morning after the night before? Sue Baic, a dietician and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says that prevention is the best policy: “If you can dilute your alcohol or intersperse it with soft drinks, you will do much to avoid the dehydration and drop in blood-sugar levels that trigger the symptoms.”

She recommends steering clear of red wine — its congeners, the colored chemicals, can worsen an aching head — and pacing yourself. “Try to have fluids, such as water, coffee or orange juice before bed and the next morning,” she says. “If you can face food, then eat some.”

Such is the desperation to find a hangover remedy, that this month a Twitter campaign has been hunting for a cure. If all else fails, go to bed and stay there until the world becomes clearer.

Here are some of the most commonly used hangover methods:

Milk thistle

Theory: An extract of the milk thistle plant — available as a tablet or a liquid — is thought to aid liver function and help the body to metabolize alcohol more quickly.

Hangover rating: 2/5 Milk thistle contains silybin and silymarin that have been shown in some studies to protect the liver from toxins and to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, most studies have been carried out on alcoholics and there is no proof that it can help TO cure or prevent a hangover.

Bacon sandwich

Theory: It is the hangover cure for many — its smell and taste often prove irresistible. Tradition has it that the bread soaks up the alcohol.

Hangover rating: 5/5 A recent study at Newcastle University’s Center for Life confirmed that a bacon sandwich can indeed provide relief. “Bread doesn’t soak up alcohol but is high in carbohydrates that boost blood-sugar levels and speed up the metabolism, helping to get rid of alcohol quickly,” says researcher Elin Roberts. “Bingeing on alcohol depletes brain neurotransmitters but bacon, which is rich in protein, contains amino acids that top these up and make you feel better.”

RELATED: 9 Foods That Heal the Body

Black coffee and Tylenol

Theory: Caffeine is thought to kick-start your system, while Tylenol can ease the aches and pains.

Hangover rating: 0/5 Black coffee alone can make your hangover worse, according to researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia. Take Tylenoll, too, and the effects could be deadly, suggest scientists from the University of Washington. Caffeine triples the amount of a toxic by-product created when Tylenol is broken down. It’s the same as the substance responsible for liver damage when alcohol and Tylenol react together.

Isotonic sports drinks

Theory: These contain tiny, easily digestible particles of carbohydrate that makers claim can help to rehydrate at a faster rate than water.

Hangover rating: 4/5 Dehydration causes loss of body salts, or electrolytes, including magnesium, potassium and chloride. “Sports drinks are probably among the best remedies as they also help to restore blood sugar levels,” says Louise Sutton, a dietician from the Carnegie Center for sports Performance and Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University. “The drink will provide some calories and can rehydrate the body up to 40 percent more effectively than water.”

Exercise

Theory: According to new research from the British government, one person in five believes that sweating off a hangover is the most effective approach. Findings from a recent Department of Health survey suggest that 3.8 million adults pull on their sneakers the day after over-indulging on alcohol.

Hangover rating: 0/5 No chance it will work, says Gillian Merron, the Minister for Britain's Public Health. “You’re not going to compensate with a workout.” Sutton adds that exercise will simply compound the body’s fluid debt.

Water

Theory: Drinking water throughout a drinking binge and before bed will negate the effects of alcohol.

Hangover rating: 3/5 According to Sue Baic: alcohol is a diuretic so many symptoms are linked to dehydration. If you alternate alcoholic drinks with water, it will dilute some of the nasty by-products of alcohol.”

Hair of the dog

Theory: Having another drink can ease you into recovery.

Hangover rating: 1/5 Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol do contribute to suffering, but drinking more is not advisable. “Although another drink might alleviate symptoms, you are really postponing the point at which you will feel better,” Sutton says.

Prickly pear cactus

Theory: Available as a powder or in pill form, an extract of this cactus plant taken prior to a night on the town could reduce the likelihood of a pounding head.

Hangover rating: 4/5 It could help, according to a study at Tulane University in New Orleans, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers tested 64 healthy medical students and the extract reduced three of nine hangover symptoms — nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite — and halved the risk of a severe hangover.

Click here to read five more suggested hangover remedies at the Times of London.