Your head is pounding, your stomach roiling and your mouth feels like someone filled it with sticky sand and rinsed it out with vinegar. Hangovers are just so much fun — not. While most scientists agree that the only real cure for a hangover is time — as in 8 to 24 hours of it — some natural hangover cures and strategies may reduce the symptoms and help you make it through those gritty hours on the morning after.
Sidenote: you’ll read some articles that claim the one sure natural hangover cure is not to drink. Ignore them. First, that’s not a cure. That’s avoidance. And second, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. You’re not looking for a lecture — you need relief.
If you’re reading this through bleary eyes and trying to make sense of it through the sledgehammer pounding your skull, skip right down to the morning after section for some immediate help. Otherwise, read on to learn some strategies and tricks that may help you avoid the worst effects of having a little too much fun.
Take One: Before You Drink
What you do before you drink can change the way your body metabolizes alcohol and may help prevent the worst hangover symptoms. These tips fall more under hangover prevention than natural hangover cure, but they’re worth keeping in mind before you head out for a night of drinking.
- Eat a protein-rich meal. Elizabeth Kovacs, director of the alcohol research program at Loyola University suggests eating a balanced meal that includes protein, fat, and carbs before you go out drinking.
- Start out well-hydrated. Alcohol is a natural diuretic, and all those visits to the restroom can lead to dehydration. Before you head out for the night, fortify yourself with some Gatorade or Pedialyte, which will boost the electrolytes in your body.
Take Two: While You’re Drinking
It’s not just about choosing your drinks wisely, though there’s a lot of info out there about which drinks are more likely to produce a hangover. You can also help stave off a hangover with a few other tricks.
- Keep hydrating. Yes, booze is liquid, but it’s not a lot of help in the hydration department. Sip fruit juice, Gatorade or coconut water in between cocktails.
- Another reason for drinking fruit juice is that fructose speeds alcohol metabolism, thus reducing the risk of a hangover.
- Drink clear liquors like gin and vodka instead of dark ones, like whiskey and rum. Clear liquors contain fewer impurities, which may be among the precursors for a hangover.
Along the same lines, splurge on top-shelf booze, which is also more likely to be better filtered and freer of impurities.
Take Three: Before You Go to Bed
Even if you drink and dance until dawn, you’re eventually going to hit the sack. Before you do, these strategies can help you sleep well, which could reduce the chances of waking up with a pounding head.
- Avoid liquids before bed. This is the one place where you don’t want to tank up on the fluids — waking every hour for a bathroom run is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
- Do put a glass of water on your bedside table so you can start rehydrating as soon as you wake up.
Draw the drapes or slap on a sleeping mask. Those early morning rays of sunshine are not your friend when your body needs to sleep.
Take Four: When You Wake Up
If all your best efforts fail and you still wake up hung over, these are some strategies you can try to blunt the pain and get yourself on track to recovery.
Tricks to Reduce Nausea
- Try a cup of ginger tea. Not only will you be rehydrating your dehydrated body, you’ll also be helping calm your stomach. There’s plenty of evidence for ginger’s effectiveness as a treatment for all types of nausea.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. As in, skip the greasy fried eggs and bacon and go for something like granola and sliced fruit, says registered nutritionist Rob Hobson. The natural sugars, vitamins, and minerals in the fruit can help replenish depleted electrolytes and nutrients.
- Drink red ginseng tea. In at least one study, scientists found that a cup of red ginseng tea reduces the amount of a particular alcohol metabolite — a byproduct of metabolism — in your blood and may reduce some of the symptoms associated with a hangover.
- Drink water, or better yet, a drink containing electrolytes to help replace the micronutrients lost to alcohol’s diuretic effects.
- Eat a banana. On the same theory, bananas have lots of potassium and sodium, which can help replenish your stores of those minerals.
Tricks to Clear Your Head
- Sweat it out with a workout. Exercising can help get your metabolism moving and increase the pain-relieving endorphins in your body.
- Take a walk. Sunshine and fresh air can help clear your head and sweep away the fatigue and headache that characterize the worst hangovers.
- Go back to bed and let your body work on healing the damage. Just drink something healthy to rehydrate yourself first. Chances are you’ll wake up feeling better. After all, hangovers are naturally time-limited, and sleep is a pretty good way to kill the time while you’re waiting.
The bottom line is this: science has yet to identify a sure-fire cure for hangovers, but there are ways to make them briefer and less painful. If it’s already too late for this time around, keep these natural hangover cures in mind for your next night out.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working in Massachusetts. She frequently writes about wellness, health and lifestyle topics.