Hangovers have been part of the human condition since time immemorial. Age-old cultures and societies the world over have been battling it for thousands of years, with every guru, witch doctor, shaman, and alternative practitioner swearing by their concoctions for making hangovers vanish.
In fact, several years back, a newly deciphered Egyptian papyrus 1,900 years prior revealed cures for the after-effects of consuming too much alcohol. The recommended remedy in that instance was wearing a necklace made out of a leatherleaf plant.
Throughout history, various other treatments have been suggested through folklore such as a breakfast of pickled herrings, a fried canary, salty plums, and the “prairie oyster” cocktail (an American mixture of raw eggs – often the yoke alone, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and/or hot sauce, salt, ground black pepper, and tomato juice).
Heavy, greasy food, is also talked about as a something which can help. Seemingly, anything that might cure a pounding headache, nausea, fatigue, and disorientation which all characterize the hangover have been tried to varying degrees of effect.
Other than the elixir of time, however, there is little evidence for curing a hangover. Interestingly, hangover symptoms don’t actually occur until the alcohol has left our blood. In reality, the symptoms of a hangover don’t come down to a single molecule or set of molecules, and with the difficulty in recreating the way people normally behave on a lively night out.
“There are theories of the alcohol hangover being an immune response to heavy alcohol intake,” says Joris C Verster, a professor at Utrecht University who studies the physiology of hangovers. “Research is currently in progress to examine immune messenger substances such as cytokines.”
One thing we are certain of though is that alcohol does shift our hormone regulation and causes us to go to the bathroom more often, which results in us being more dehydrated the next day. This helps to account for a headache. Furthermore, people often drink at the expense of getting a full night of sleep due to alcohol impairing the quality of sleep even once they lie down.
According to molecular biologist Patrick Schmitt, however, drinking water doesn’t help. “It’s a misconception that drinking water helps you avoid a hangover,” said Schmitt. “It was thought that, as the body was excreting more water, it would, therefore, become dehydrated — and this was simply accepted as a conclusive explanation for why we get hangovers.”
“That recommendation to drink a lot of water when consuming alcohol is based on exactly this misconception,” Schmitt explained. “Since the body isn’t actually getting dehydrated, drinking water alongside alcohol has absolutely no effect on whether or not you end up with a hangover.”
“You can tell yourself your hangover will be less painful if you drink water with every glass of wine but that won’t make it true,” Schmitt warned, before jokingly adding, “Besides, you can’t drink alcohol if you’re busy drinking water.”
In truth, eating a hearty meal beforehand and drinking slowly is one of the best ways to keep the levels of alcohol and other substances your liver and the rest of your body have to deal with at a manageable level throughout the night.
However, the best way to avoid a hangover is to not drink to excess. That said, drinking water obviously won’t do any harm. Although it may not alleviate a hangover, it’s highly improbable it will make it any worse.
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