There is no real way to “cure” a hangover. Short of an IV that replenishes your blood with the hydration and nutrients your five gin and sodas soaked up, you’re going to have to suffer your poor choices at least a little. A hangover is, after all, a physiological alarm bell. It’s helpful feedback, not unlike the pain you feel when you touch a hot stove.
Basically, you deserve it.
So do I. I’m a hangover person. If I drink more than two drinks, I will be hungover. If I drink more than four drinks, I’m essentially dead to the world the following day. I have been known to cry during those times. I’m a lightweight. Why I have not reverse-engineered my hangovers to better heed my limits is a story for another time (I’m writing about it next month, actually), but today the focus is not hangover avoidance but alleviation. Specifically, whether such a thing is possible. I’ve long been convinced the answer is no. I do believe you can avoid one — like by drinking water between drinks the night before — but once you have one? I’m convinced you’re cooked.
But everyone and their mom has a quirky hangover cure and hangovers are terrible, so why not try just in case? When we asked for ideas on Facebook, we got over 500. 500!
Our editorial team is testing hangover cures for a story! Comment your best ones.
Following the above, Amelia and I set out to test a slew of them. I think we imagined a whirlwind of wild guinea pig journalism. What followed, instead, was the rather disorienting desire to get/not get a hangover and the consequent pleasure/displeasure at having avoided it. Seriously: Neither of us were getting hungover, and something in us — our survival instinct? — refused to force it. And so the story got pushed. And pushed again, etc. Finally, we settled for three hangovers a piece, six cures tested. Not exhaustive, but enough. That means we need your help in testing the others. This is important work! There is a comment section for a reason!
As for our results and conclusions, read below. Our only control was it had to be something we could lazily consume (a.k.a. hungover-exercising or steaming were out), so our personal execution wasn’t material.
Alka-Seltzer (OTC heartburn tablets)
tested by Haley
Why it’s supposed to work: “All Alka-Seltzer varieties contain sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), which will help settle a queasy belly by neutralizing stomach acid.” (via CNN)
Whether it did: I will admit right now that I forgot to take the Alka-Seltzer until 3 p.m., a full 13 hours after I’d been out dancing (six drinks deep, but consumed over five hours, if that makes it any better). In other words, I’d already suffered through the worst part of my hangover. The way the little tablets fizzed in my water was satisfying and I felt temporarily like a good person. Unfortunately it tasted vomit-levels of disgusting and didn’t do a damn thing.
Grade: F, but maybe because stomach pains weren’t my main issue.
Flyby (a “hangover pill”)
tested by Amelia
Why it’s supposed to work: “Your liver breaks down more than 90 percent of the alcohol you consume. But it can only process about one drink every hour, so alcohol-induced toxins build up and put more stress on your body. Flyby was carefully formulated to support liver function, replenish nutrients and metabolize toxins like acetaldehyde so you wake up feeling better.” (via Flyby’s website)
Whether it did: You’re supposed to take two capsules either before you drink or before bed. If you plan to really throw the drinks back, you take four pills. I took two before my birthday party where I drank a series of whatever anyone handed me. This is usually a recipe for a massive death headache, but I woke up the next morning better than expected. I don’t drink as much as I used to, but now, if I know I’m going to have a night, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking these before I “go-out” drink (as opposed to three-glasses-of-wine-at-dinner drink), plus two Advil and a giant bottle of water before I fall asleep. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo or what but these work for me.
Grade: B, only because I’m suspicious of other contributing positive factors like enough food, lots of water, sleep and Advil.
Coconut water (super-hydrating water)
tested by Haley
Why it’s supposed to work: “Coconut water contains more potassium than a banana. It also has easily-digested carbohydrates in the form of electrolytes and sugar…Potassium is a key nutrient for feeling better faster…coconut water is also incredibly hydrating.” (via Bustle)
Whether it did: My friend swears by coconut water as a hangover cure and will stop at the store to buy it after drinking — even if it’s 4 a.m. I personally find this habit ludicrous, as coconut water tastes like water that’s been filtered through a sugary sock. I felt I had to try it though, on his behalf. I choked it down unattractively around 11 a.m. after enjoying enough margaritas to put me off margaritas for a while. I think it maybe helped.
Grade: C, but also it’s just WATER, so of course it helps.
tested by Amelia
Why it’s supposed to work: “Cysteine, an amino acid found in eggs, helps to break down acetaldehyde, effectively doing part of the job usually carried out by your long-suffering liver.” EXCEPT THAT IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO WORK. That greasy food has been scientifically proven to cure hangovers is “misplaced.” “The best time to eat a greasy meal is before you start drinking because it slows the rate at which you absorb alcohol, meaning intoxication happens more slowly.” (via The Telegraph)
Whether it did: Greasy food has certainly never CURED my hangovers, but 9/10 it makes me feel better. I rarely get a hangover so bad that I can’t eat. Instead, I wake up starving. On my usual hungover morning menu: bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel; cheeseburger with avocado; eggs, bacon and toast — all with a side of fries. I feel like it “soaks the alcohol up.” A massive nap usually follows.
Grade: A+ because you can’t knock a classic.
tested by Haley
Why it’s supposed to work: This is adjacent to taking charcoal, which is believed to remove impurities from the body, but per Healthcommunities.com, “Charcoal only absorbs impurities from the stomach, not the bloodstream.” Uh oh.
Whether it did: I got this one from my old San Francisco roommate, who swore by it. She was convinced that, “the carbon in the toast soaked up all the bad stuff.” I think she meant charcoal. Anyway, I ate this around 9 a.m. after four glasses of wine sipped over a long dinner that somehow hit hard the next day. It tasted terrible (even though I put jelly on it), and only marginally helped.
Grade: D, but only because my toast is the healthy kind and it probably helped to eat something early.
Pedialyte (OTC dehydration remedy)
tested by Amelia
Why it’s supposed to work: Those who I know who drink it say they do so because it’s hydrating, filled with electrolytes and has less sugar than Gatorade. Pedialyte does not market itself as a hangover cure for adults. However, its website says it, “contains an effective balance of sugar (glucose) and minerals (electrolytes), helping to prevent dehydration during diarrhea and vomiting.” (via Pedialyte’s website)
Whether it did: You will be glad to know that I did not suffer from a loss of fluids on the very hungover Saturday I dared to try Pedialyte. I almost puked because of it, however. It’s too fruity, too sweet and was too warm, like a Squeeze-It left in a plastic lunchbox all day. It was somehow even worse over ice. Also, every stranger who saw me drinking it judged me for it. It’s okay. I judged myself.
There you have it! All poor grades from me, the cynic, and mostly high marks from Amelia, the optimist. For the record, I’m majorly side-eyeing her grading system (A+ “because you can’t knock a classic”?!) and the very likely placebo effect unacknowledged therein, but maybe the imagined effects of hangover cures, true or not, are kind of the point anyway. You can try all the elixirs and potions you want — maybe they’ll marginally help — but ultimately your body is dry as a bone and full of toxins. It needs to flush itself out. That will not be pleasant for you.
The best, undisputed cure for a hangover is water and time. But there’s no harm, I suppose, in passing it with the help of a placebo, especially if that placebo is French fries.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.