If you read my last article, you already know how toxic alcohol can be to the human body when consumed in abundance. A hangover is a microcosm of addiction, withdrawal and recovery. Just as severe drug and alcohol addicts have severe withdrawal reactions when they stop shooting up, lighting up or drinking, a hangover is a withdrawal reaction on a more humble scale.
Also, if you read my last article, you have probably already ignored the facts presented and over-consumed quality ethanol several times since. Because an ounce of cure is worth a pound of prevention, here are several compounds and methods for detoxifying your body after a long evening of downing several quality malt beverages. Some seem sensible while others appear downright ridiculous. I find moderation works best. (I take no responsibility for any ill effects caused by the remedies suggested here. Nobody should mix their medications. Similarly, nobody should drink ten pints of ale and then eat a habanera pepper. You have been warned.) That said, here goes:
1. Berocca – Sold in Australia specifically as a vitamin supplement, but widely recognized as a hangover helper, these small tubes contain all the chemicals that are lost and destroyed in a drinking session, in the correct proportions. In its native land, Berocca is often handed out free to delegates every morning at week-long conferences. Many Australians would not consider going on a “binge” without a supply of Berocca on hand. Berocca is now available in the UK from Boots the Chemist. It is marketed as a pick-me-up for business meetings, but beer drinkers know better! Here are the ingredients of Berocca:
• Vitamin B1
• Vitamin B2
• Vitamin B5
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin B12
• Vitamin H (Biotin)
• Vitamin C
• Calcium Carbonate (an antacid)
• A good cup of coffee or tea will pick you up any time of day, but that’s just the caffeine stimulating your tired body. It doesn’t actually cure anything, and if you’re at the stage when you can keep hot drinks down then you’re probably on the road to recovery anyway. In addition, caffeine is also a diuretic, and you don’t want to be losing any more water at this stage of the game. From my viewpoint it may be best to avoid tea, coffee, cola, Red Bull, etc.
• Many traditional hangover cures, such as “prairie oysters”, omelettes and the “English Fried Breakfast” involve eggs. Others swear by the effectiveness of a downed raw egg in the morning. The reason that these are believed to work is that eggs also contain cysteine and help “mop up” free radicals.
4. Hair of the Dog
• A dose of alcohol in the morning. For some really nasty hangovers, this can be useful. The bad news is that the effect is only temporary. The liver attacks toxins in a certain order, with ethanol first. Once all the ethanol has been broken down, it starts on the methanol, which releases releases formic acid into your system and makes you feel bad. Hitting the liver with another dose of ethanol causes it to stop processing methanol and start on the “new threat”, but the methanol will have to be processed sometime so you are only postponing the hangover until later. This is the perfect method for procrastinators.
5. Hot Showers
• Another way of relieving a headache is to sit in a really hot, really powerful shower, and get the full force of it on the back of your neck. This method may need the positioning of plastic chairs and shower settings, so it might be an idea to perfect first while sober, but it is worthwhile because headaches are usually caused by constricted blood vessels and tense neck muscles (traps). A massage under a hot shower relaxes the tension.
6. Isotonic Sports Drinks
• In theory these are a great idea, for they are supposed to replace all the salts and sugars that are sweated out during athletic activity – much the same thing we are trying to achieve after a night of heavy beer guzzling. The problem is, due to market forces, they are usually fizzy. The last thing you need while trying to shed a hangover is a bellyful of bloating gas. However, if you don’t mind, or if you can find a flat one, like Gatorade, it’s definitely worth trying. One variation on the sports drink theme is a 50:50 mix of Hawaiian Punch or Tang and Red Bull.
7. Kidney Dialysis
• Since you cannot depend on your kidneys to filter your blood properly after a binge of Dark Lord and World Wide Stout (eek!), you could get a machine to do it for you. Obviously, most people don’t have access to a dialysis machine (Keith Richards aside), but if you can stand getting hooked up by nurses armed with needles while still drunk, you can be sober in four or five hours and feel like running a marathon.
8. N-Acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
• An amino acid supplement sold in health food stores, this is
extremely good at sopping up the free radicals that have built up in the liver. NAC works because it is rich in cysteine, another amino acid that is used by the body of “free radical-eliminating” glutathione. For those in the know, this is a very effective hangover remedy and is especially effective if you need a clear head in the morning.
• A brisk walk in fresh, outdoor air to dispel those post-binge blues can be very beneficial, but the problem is that when you really need it, the last thing you’re capable of doing is getting up off the floor, let alone going out into the outside world. The theory is that the increased oxygen flow increases your metabolic rate and thus increases the speed at which the poisons are broken down. Be that as it may, scuba divers have long known that a blast from the tank first thing in the morning does wonders in “blowing away the fog.”
10. Pinching your Hand
• There is a nerve junction between the thumb and forefinger on your left hand which is reputed to be an acupressure point which can release tension in the head and neck. If you pinch it fairly hard for thirty seconds every five minutes, normal tension headaches can be relieved. It’s certainly worth trying if you can’t keep the Advil down.
• Sold in the UK as a stomach settler, this is a powder that becomes a fizzy drink when added to water. It contains a painkiller and some antacids. Another common brand, containing aspirin and baking soda, is Alka Seltzer. For a beer drinkers purposes, these are best taken before going to bed. It can work wonders, especially if chased in the morning by a vitamin supplement such as Berocca. The ingredients listed for Resolve are: Paracetamol, Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid, Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), Potassium bicarbonate, Sodium carbonate, Glucose, Saccharin and Sucrose.
12. Salt Solution
• Research has shown that a poisoned digestive system is much better at taking up an isotonic solution than it is at taking up pure water. So, if you’re going to drink water, put a spoonful of salt in it and couple more of sugar to increase the concentration and mask the taste. While you’re at it, you might as well throw in some powdered painkillers, although bear in mind that some studies have shown that paracetamol can amplify alcohol’s damaging effect on the liver. As with any medication, read the package carefully.
• The traditional hangover remedy, with folklore dictating that you should drink a pint of water for every drink that you have consumed. This definitely has some positive effects, but because your kidneys’ water-absorption function has been switched off, a lot of it goes straight to your bladder causing several trips to the bathroom and not much else.
• Sold at tons of pharmacies in the U.S. alone, Chaser is alleged to prevent hangovers before they start. Chaser is a patent-pending formula of activated calcium carbonate and vegetable carbon (activated charcoal). Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in most calcium supplements and antacids. Vegetable carbon has been used for centuries to absorb toxins and is still used in hospitals today. Both ingredients are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
Common Home Remedies
• Tomato juice, aspirin and a long, hot shower
• Coffee, made with tonic water, orange juice and honey
• A “Red-Eye” – whiskey, coffee, Tabasco sauce, a raw egg, pepper and orange juice blended together
• Alternating between Pepto-Bismol and water
• Lots of icy-cold Coca Cola (not Diet Coke!)
• “Coating your stomach” before drinking with milk and/or bread and butter
• Vegemite on toast
• Vomiting before bedtime (and following each meal?)
I would like to thank several Ratebeerians for their contributions to this article… but I won’t. As always… “everything in moderation, including moderation.