Everything You Need to Know About Hangovers

Dr. Rhonda Low separates hangover facts from fiction, and offers a few ways to ease the quease

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Find out how credible hangover “remedies” are and what can actually help ease your pain

Hangover Facts

An estimated 77 per cent of people who drink will experience a hangover. The medical term for an alcohol hangover is “veisalgia,” a combination of the Norwegian word “kveis” (uneasiness following debauchery) and the Greek term “algia” (pain). Dehydration, poor sleep and an inflammatory component play a role in causing hangovers.
Here’s what we know:

  • Alcohol inhibits the kidneys’ ability to retain fluid, which causes dehydration.
  • Overindulging can affect your sleep, particularly REM sleep, and you will wake up feeling less rested after a night of indulging.
  • Studies have found an increase of inflammatory markers in the blood after drinking, which supports the theory that alcohol-induced inflammation in the brain and body account for the memory and cognitive changes that come with a hangover.
  • A recent study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggests that smoking while you’re drinking affects hangover sensitivity and severity.
  • A study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that mixing diet drinks with alcohol is linked to getting drunker faster, contributing to a worse hangover the next day.
  • The presence of congeners – the chemicals that give colour, smell and flavour to alcohol – can cause a worse hangover the next day. The more dark alcohols you drink (brandy, scotch, red wines), the greater the hangover risk.
  • While everyone is different, on average, the body can process about one drink per hour, so sticking to that rate for a limited period can minimize the chance of a hangover.

Click through for hangover myths and relief.

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Hangover Myths

Googling “hangover cure” after a rough night out? Be wary of popular remedies that won’t work.

  • While you might get some much-needed calories after a night of little food, there’s no medical proof that a greasy breakfast the next morning will help your hangover.
  • Even though we’re often warned to stick with one kind of alcohol, there’s no scientific evidence that mixing liquor will make a hangover worse.
  • Don’t opt for hair of the dog. Having another drink to ease the pain will only hurt you in the long run, leading to even more suffering the next day.

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Hangover Help

While there’s little evidence to support most of the popular hangover remedies, a few products may offer some relief.

  • The latest promising hangover remedies involve pears, specifically Korean pear (pictured above) or prickly pear extract. One small study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that prickly pear extract taken in capsule form before drinking was effective in reducing the severity of a hangover by inhibiting the inflammatory response.
  • If you’re hurting, take ASA or ibuprofen, which are better than acetaminophen (Tylenol) because they help decrease inflammation and don’t further stress your liver. But watch for stomach irritation with the ASA and ibuprofen, and be sure to take them with food.
  • Drink plenty of water or sports drinks to help alleviate dehydration and replace some minerals before you head back to bed to sleep it off.
  • In the end, the best strategy is preventative. Don’t drink on an empty stomach and have a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume.
  • The good news? In the majority of cases, hangovers go away after about 24 hours.