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The question “do hangover cures work?” is one which I’ve been asked a few times, so I thought I’d try to provide a little insight into the known and respected opinions that are available.

According to a systematic review of 21 randomised controlled trials that examined hangover cures, “only very low-quality evidence is currently available to recommend any remedy for the treatment or prevention of alcohol-induced hangover in humans,” said the study’s first author, Emmert Roberts, a researcher in addiction medicine at King’s College London.

“Of the limited remedies studied scientifically, clove extract, tolfenamic acid, and pyritinol show the most promise to be further examined in larger well-designed studies,” Roberts said in an email. “The surest way of avoiding hangover symptoms is to drink in moderation or abstain from alcohol.”

The “cures” investigated in the new study do have a theoretical basis, Roberts said.

“All the treatments studied have some plausible mechanism of action to potentially relieve hangover symptoms,” Roberts said. “Some work on the same brain receptor system as alcohol, others alter the rate of alcohol metabolism or have pain killing properties.”

So maybe the best hangover cure is to not have any alcohol at all! – but what if you’re partial to a bit of a drinkie? and hang on, wait a minute! what even IS a hangover?!?

I knew you’d ask that question, so here’s what a couple of doctors wrote about in ‘Alcohol Health and Research World’ (yes, apparently there’s actually a magazine called that…) which is a peer reviewed article published here.

“Hangovers are a frequent, though unpleasant, experience among people who drink to intoxication. Despite the prevalence of hangovers, however, this condition is not well understood scientifically. Multiple possible contributors to the hangover state have been investigated, and researchers have produced evidence that alcohol can directly promote hangover symptoms through its effects on urine production, the gastrointestinal tract, blood sugar concentrations, sleep patterns, and biological rhythms. In addition, researchers postulate that effects related to alcohol’s absence after a drinking bout (i.e., withdrawal), alcohol metabolism, and other factors (e.g., biologically active, nonalcohol compounds in beverages; the use of other drugs; certain personality traits; and a family history of alcoholism) also may contribute to the hangover condition. Few of the treatments commonly described for hangover have undergone scientific evaluation [at the time of writing this article].”

I know all of that seems a bit ‘blah blah’ to some of you, but some of the symptoms look familiar though don’t they:

Class of SymptomsType
ConstitutionalFatigue, weakness, and thirst
PainHeadache and muscle aches
GastrointestinalNausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
Sleep and biological rhythmsDecreased sleep, decreased REM,1 and increased slow-wave sleep
SensoryVertigo and sensitivity to light and sound
CognitiveDecreased attention and concentration
MoodDepression, anxiety, and irritability
Sympathetic hyperactivityTremor, sweating, and increased pulse and systolic blood pressure
1REM = rapid eye movements, which are a sign of deep sleep and an important sign of having had a good rest.

I have to say, if you read this on a bottle of pills and asked yourself, “do I want to take this drug”, I wonder what your answer would be?…

So, we know that there’s not really a cure that is 100% effective, even if there are some postulations as to something which may or may not work in an individual persons case, but “so what” you say? you don’t care about it all that much and are going to drink anyway? – ok, so perhaps we should ask what alcohol might do to us, is it dangerous?

Well, according to the NHS, there is only a “low risk” and not a ‘no risk’ amount of alcohol, whereby the low risk amount is 14 units per week (about 7 pints of average strength beer, or 7 small glasses of medium strength wine).
What does that mean then, in terms of the body? Why is it not considered safe anymore? Didn’t it used to be considered safe to drink a glass of red wine per day as a way of keeping the heart healthy?
Well yes it did – but the medical fraternity have since discovered that after 10-20 years of regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol per week, then the risk of developing disease is far greater, including the following:

Cancers of the mouththroat and breast
Heart disease
Brain damage 
Damage to the nervous system 

There’s also evidence that regular drinking at high-risk levels can make your mental health worse.

In fact, where there used to be a number of scientific papers suggesting that alcohol has its benefits, there are the similar amount of papers now suggesting the opposite. I would say that it’s probably down to dosage of the drug (alcohol), as if you are a big person, then drinking a small glass of wine will likely affect you in a significantly lesser fashion than if you were petite.

Oh – and you say you’re pregnant? Well, here’s the thing, asking “do hangover cures work” should not be the question at the forefront of your mind right now, instead, it’s a far better idea to cut out the booze altogether, just to be safe, as the NHS says it can affect the development of your unborn child quite significantly.

So, in conclusion (and hopefully to answer thew question “do hangover cures work?”), the best hangover cure is to not either not drink at all, or to drink no more than 14 units per week spread equally over the week (2 units per day maximum). Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive and even more important, don’t drink before you come and see me!

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