Heading for a hangover ... can anything undo last night's damage?
Can fizzy vitamins and fry ups fix a hangover – or can you take the edge off the morning after by sipping a sports drink the night before? It’s hard to know - information on hangover remedies is big on folklore and low on science, says nutritionist Catherine Saxelby.
Look under ‘H’ in her Complete Food and Nutrition Companion and before you get to Hemp seed, High fructose corn syrup and Hyperactivity, there’s a section on hangover remedies that suggests your best bet is another H word – hydration. When it comes to inflicting misery the morning after, alcohol’s dehydrating effects take a lot of the blame.
"Information on hangover remedies is big on folklore and low on science."
“Alcohol is a diuretic and along with flushing fluid out of your system, it also washes out minerals like magnesium, potassium and sodium. It’s this that’s partly responsible for the pounding head, dry mouth and probably the dizziness too,” she says.
Replacing the fluid that alcohol takes out probably explains why some people say sports drinks help. Besides providing a big drink of water, the small amount of sugar in them helps counteract another effect of too much alcohol – the low blood sugar that makes you feel tired and lethargic the next day.
“But there’s nothing mystical about sports drinks – you could just as well have a piece of toast and a glass of diluted fruit juice,” Saxelby says.
It’s a similar story with fizzy vitamins and over the counter hangover remedies – the most effective ‘ingredient’ is likely to be the water you wash them down with.
“Fizzy vitamin tablets are basically multivitamins that claim to increase energy and top up supplies of B vitamins that are depleted by alcohol. But unless you’re already low in vitamin B, your daily diet should be ample – or just take a multi B vitamin,” she says. Some supplements do contain herbal ingredients like ginseng or ginkgo but these don’t generally act quickly or are in such small quantities that they don’t do much to help a hangover.”
But there are some positives. The vitamin C can help a bit by speeding up metabolism of alcohol in the liver, and supplements that contain guarana, a form of caffeine, can help perk you up the morning after, but aren’t a good idea before bedtime.
As for over the counter hangover remedies, they usually contain some type of sugar to help lift blood sugar, but the dose of herbal liver tonics like milk thistle and dandelion they contain are so small they’re unlikely to do much. Claims that ingredients like charcoal granules or bentonite clay can ‘filter’ out impurities are unproven, Saxelby says.
But there may be some science behind the tradition of eggs, either raw or cooked, for the morning after. Egg yolks are rich in cysteine, an amino acid that scientists believe may break down acetaldehyde, a toxin produced when the liver processes alcohol – and which causes some hangover symptoms.
Still, it’s wise to skip greasy food if you’re nauseous or vomiting. A smarter way to feed a hangover is with lighter food like dry toast, boiled rice, plain yoghurt or stewed apple and plenty of fluid – but not hair of the dog. Although alcohol can relieve a hangover temporarily, it only delays it until later in the day when it often strikes harder, Saxelby explains.
The colour of your drink can determine how bad a hangover is too - generally the darker it is, the higher the level of congeners, chemicals that can also contribute to hangover nausea. Red wine, bourbon, brandy and scotch contain more congeners than white wine or white spirits like vodka.
But the only real solution to hangovers is to avoid them by drinking moderately and alternating alcohol drinks with water, says Saxelby – and that’s not rocket science.
Do you think anything works for a hangover?
Catherine Saxelby’s Complete Food and Nutrition Companion is published by Hardie Grant. Rrp $45.00.