Enjoyed your glass(es) of wine a little too much? What to do when the headache hits? Showers are a popular tip for curing hangovers. However, are they? Let’s discuss whether this is true, or merely a myth.
What is a Hangover, Really?
After a night of overindulgence, you may find yourself experiencing a hangover. The symptoms are:
Sometimes blood pressure goes up, the heart beats a lot faster, and you may sweat. You may even find that you’re sensitive to light and sound, or that your head spins.
Thom Masat, Unsplash
There are physiological reasons for this:
- Firstly, alcohol gets changed by the body into acetaldehyde, which is poisonous when there is too much of this substance.
- Secondly, alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to sleep, and you could be experiencing sleep deprivation.
- Alcohol also messes up your hormones, so you can feel jet-lagged.
- Further, alcohol can stimulate a migraine, so what you’re probably experiencing is a migraine, not the effects of alcohol.
The strange thing is that these physiological changes only begin to happen as the alcohol levels drop. In fact, the worst symptoms occur when the blood alcohol level is zero.
So, how do you get over a hangover?
How to Get Rid of a Hangover – the Shower Myth
Showers are a well-known pop-remedy for curing a hangover. However, are they useful?
Cold showers are thought to be stimulating, and to reduce alcohol symptoms. Proponents advocate that taking a cold shower will increase your circulation, helping your body to get rid of the alcohol toxins. They claim that it will help you feel more alert and improve your reaction to stress.
However, medical experts disagree. They claim it has none of the above benefits, and can, in fact, be dangerous. This is due to the fact that receiving a shock of icy water on your body when you’re in a fragile state can cause you to lose consciousness.
Hot showers also give minimal benefit in helping you deal with the aftermath of drinking. Some do advocate hot tubs, saying it can help draw out the toxins from your body, but the medical experts don’t seem to agree that this has any benefit.
Here, there is not harm in trying, but perhaps don’t expect anything miraculous to happen after your soak in the bath. Still, unwinding in a comfortable bath may be a better option, rather than sitting around the house waiting for the side effects to disappear.
There are other myths about getting rid of hangovers that you may have heard of. Should you really try these?
Coffee Wakes You Up
The idea that coffee stimulates you is true. However, don’t drink it without realizing all the consequences!
This beverage may persuade you that you’re well enough to drive while you’re actually still hung over. Moreover, it’s a diuretic, just like alcohol. This means that you’ll shed fluid, and possibly become dehydrated. You need as much fluid in your body as you can muster, so rather drink something that has electrolytes and water as well.
Some people advocate drinking alcohol to get rid of a hangover. There may be something in this, because alcohol then interacts positively with the brain. It also seems to prevent the formation of formaldehyde, which is highly toxic, and starts happening soon after you start drinking.
However, once the alcohol levels drop to zero, the whole cycle starts again, so it’s best to avoid.
We’ve looked at a couple of the myths out there. So, how do you get rid of a hangover then?
How to Get Rid of a Hangover
To cure a hangover, drink water. Drink before bed, and drink immediately after you get up. Alcohol dehydrates you, so just make sure you’re doing everything to get as much good fluid into your body as possible.
Water also flushes out the toxins from your system, so it’s definitely the first line of defence against hangovers.
Eat Good Food
There are several pieces of advice out there:
- Eat foods containing potassium, as it will balance your electrolytes. Bananas, potatoes, apricots, melons and peas are all foods that contain potassium.
- If you eat carbohydrates as part of your general diet, do so immediately once you start feeling unwell after a night of drinking. Carbohydrates like toast or pasta will help raise your blood sugar levels.
- Protein from poached or boiled eggs helps break down the acetaldehyde due to its cysteine content. Don’t eat fried food—any oil will simply increase your nausea.
Get some sleep. 20 to 30 minutes of sleep will restore some of your vigor, so you no longer feel too tired to cope. If you need more than that, it’s safe to sleep as much as you like with a hangover.
One of the ways of dealing with your headache is to put a cold compress on your head. Use ice or a facecloth soaked in cold water, and rest it on your forehead. Cool the cloth every 10 – 15 minutes.
Take a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen if your stomach is not upset. You need to try and reduce inflammation. Just don’t take Tylenol, because alcohol increases this medication’s toxic effects on the liver.
Don’t try and take any medication before you go to bed, just in order to try and prevent a hangover. The mixture of alcohol and any medication is very dangerous, or even toxic. Instead, wait until your blood alcohol level drops before taking even Ibuprofen.
There are various supplements on the market that can help with a hangover. Ginger, red ginseng and borage oil are some of the remedies that have been shown to be helpful:
- Studies have shown that drinking red ginseng reduces the amount of alcohol in the body quite significantly. It’s a powerful antioxidant. Now, the body requires oxidisation to process alcohol. This results in dangerous free radicals being let loose that destroy DNA. Antioxidants prevent this, so it’s a smart idea to stock up if you know you’re going to be drinking.
- Ginger combined with brown sugar and tangerine reduce nausea and vomiting.
- Borage oil and prickly pear were found to reduce the symptoms of hangover by 80% in some studies.
- Eleuthero: Also known as Siberian Ginseng, this extract is known to significantly reduce the symptoms of a hangover, and decrease severity.
Please be aware that little research has been done on this, and that more research is needed before you can draw any firm and fast conclusions. Notwithstanding, these substances can’t do you any harm to try. But do check if there are any medical reasons you should not be using them. They may interact with certain medications, or you may have an allergy. If in doubt, ask a doctor.
This is all very helpful, but it is best to prevent a hangover in the first place. How can you do so?
How to Prevent a Hangover in the First Place
What can you do to prevent yourself having a hangover? Here are 5 tips to help you.
Quitting Alcohol Altogether
The natural solution is not to drink. Nonetheless, some people like a little to drink, and it may even be of social value to you, so that might not be your preferred solution. So, what else could you do to reduce after-effects?
Eating When Drinking Alcohol
Eating some food is of great benefit in preventing hangovers. Eat a meal both before you drink alcohol, and after your evening out. Some experts recommend carbohydrates, because they’re your main brain food, and that will help reduce quite a few side effects. Others recommend protein, due to the fact that protein slows down the metabolism of alcohol.
For example, you could eat some meat or cheese, which are high in protein. Or you could eat a spaghetti bolognese, which includes carbohydrates as well.
Drink fair amounts of water during your night out. It not only hydrates you, but dilutes the sugar intake from alcohol. The spiking sugars are also one of the causes of the after-effects of overindulgence. Even down a huge glass of water after you get home.
Drink one drink per hour, and vary your consumption with no-alcohol alternatives. This prevents alcohol from accumulating too quickly in the bloodstream.
Types of Alcohol
Choose your drinks carefully. Some alcoholic beverages are stronger than others, and choosing ones with lower alcohol content from the very beginning will help you stave off the accumulation of alcohol in the blood.
So, what drinks should you avoid? The darker alcohols are the ones to avoid. They tend to contain congeners which are toxic chemicals found is some drinks like whiskey, cognac and tequila. The lighter colored drinks like vodka, gin and rum are better because they have low levels of congeners.
In conclusion, showers, although good for the circulation, are not that helpful in getting rid of a hangover. But luckily there are other, better ways to try, and even prevent yourself from getting a headache in the first place.