How to Cure a Hangover
The Night of the Party
Try Prickly-Pear Extract
Why it works: Derived from the skin of the prickly-pear cactus, this supplement may reduce the morning-after sting. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004, tipplers’ symptoms were 18 percent less severe with the extract than with a placebo. The compound may diminish the inflammation associated with classic hangover signs. These capsules can also help replace the B vitamins that drinking can deplete.
Plan of attack: Two hours before your first drink, take Hangover Prevention Formula ($6 for two capsules, hangoverprevention.com). It’s made with the same prickly-pear extract used in the study.
Fill Up on Vegetables
Why it works: All foods slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and high-fiber foods, like vegetables, are particularly effective at it, says David Grotto, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and the author of The Best Things You Can Eat ($16, amazon.com). They’re especially beneficial before Champagne or liquors with fizzy mixers, since carbonation can speed your uptake of alcohol.
Plan of attack: Before (or while) you imbibe, have a meal or snack that includes produce and a whole grain. Consider putting asparagus on the menu: In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Food Science, an extract of this vegetable more than doubled the activity of the enzymes that break down alcohol.
Choose Light-Colored Drinks
Why it works: Every type of alcohol contains congeners—compounds that add flavor and color—but dark alcohols, including red wine and whiskey, generally have more of them than lighter ones do. (Vodka contains 37 times fewer feel-bad congeners than bourbon does.) These toxic chemicals may set off an inflammatory response that helps bring on hangover symptoms.
Plan of attack: Stick to light-colored drinks, like white wine or vodka. Between cocktails, sip a glass of the ultimate light-colored drink: water. Water helps reduce the effect of congeners by limiting how much booze you drink—and will help fight alcohol’s dehydrating, and possibly headache-inducing, tendencies.
The Morning After
Pop a Painkiller
Why it works: Alcohol increases the body’s production of chemicals called prostaglandins, key players in causing a pounding head and an aching body. Over-the-counter painkillers block enzymes that produce those chemicals, says John Brick, Ph.D., an alcohol researcher and the executive director of Intoxikon International, a biomedical-education consulting company in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Plan of attack: At night and in the morning, opt for ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or aspirin. Steer clear of acetaminophen (Tylenol): “It’s safe on its own, but pairing it with a liver that’s already working overtime to process alcohol can raise the risk for damage,” says Aaron Michelfelder, a professor of family medicine at Loyola University Medical Center, in Chicago. Be cautious about “migraine formula” products, which pair pain meds with caffeine, a stimulant that can dissipate headaches in some people but do the opposite in others.
Eat the Right Breakfast
Why it works: Living it up causes your blood sugar to plummet the next morning, leaving you exhausted and cranky. The reason? Since your liver is busy processing alcohol, it’s slow at converting stored carbohydrates into glucose (a.k.a. energy). Stabilize your blood-sugar levels by eating breakfast as soon as you wake up.
Plan of attack: “Have something that’s easy to digest, like toast with honey or jam,” says Grotto. Fats can make queasiness worse, so it’s best to avoid butter. And skip the bacon and other greasy foods, which can only aggravate an upset stomach. Order eggs if they’re easy on your system, but don’t expect miracles. Their cystine is thought to counteract acetaldehyde, a by-product of alcohol. But, says Grotto, “there’s only about 150 milligrams of cystine per extra-large egg, and you would need a dozen or more to prevent the buildup of acetaldehye.”
Why it works: Peeling yourself off the sofa may be the last thing you want to do, but exercise increases circulation by up to three times its normal rate, says Michelfelder. As a result, blood filters through the liver and kidneys more quickly, removing hangover-inducing toxins.
Plan of attack: You can’t “sweat out” alcohol, so don’t bother with a grueling workout. Stick with an activity you can handle, even if it’s just a stroll around the block.