Drinking alcohol has its pros and cons.
One of the worst things about it, is getting a hangover the morning after.
As you may know, hangovers are the unpleasant after effects of alcohol intoxication.
They strike hardest when alcohol has left the body, and are characterized by various dreadful symptoms.
This includes headache, fatigue, thirst, dizziness, nausea and a loss of appetite.
The severity of hangovers varies between individuals, but most people agree that they are highly unpleasant.
Not surprisingly, all sorts of “hangover cures” exist, some of which are claimed to be highly effective. The evidence behind them is limited, and most haven’t even been studied.
Even so, there are a few strategies that have shown some potential.
Here are 7 evidence-based ways to prevent hangovers, or at least make them significantly less severe.
1. Drink in moderation, or not at all
The severity of hangovers increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.
For this reason, the best way to prevent hangovers is to drink in moderation (or to abstain completely).
The amount of alcohol needed to produce a hangover varies between individuals.
Some people need only 1 or 2 drinks, but most people need much more. About 23% of people simply do not appear to get hangovers, no matter how much they drink.
That being said, moderation is not always a feasible option. Some people like drinking, and are willing to do it despite knowing that they may regret it the morning after.
Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to mitigate the damage.
Bottom line: The severity of hangovers is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed. Drinking in moderation, or not at all, is the single best way to prevent a hangover.
2. Avoid drinks with congeners, toxic by-products of alcohol production
Ethanol is the main active ingredient in alcoholic drinks.
When ethanol (simply referred to as alcohol in this article) is produced by sugar-fermenting yeasts, side products called congeners are formed as well.
Congeners are toxic chemicals, other than ethanol itself, formed in small amounts when alcohol is produced. Well known congeners include methanol, isopentanol and acetone.
Alcoholic drinks with high amounts of congeners seem to increase the frequency and intensity of hangovers, compared to drinks that contain low amounts.
Drinks high in congeners include whiskey, cognac, and tequila. Bourbon whiskey is exceptionally high in congeners.
On the other hand, colorless drinks like vodka, gin and rum, contain low levels of congeners. In fact, vodka contains almost no congeners at all.
Several studies have compared the effects of vodka (low in congeners) and whiskey (high in congeners). Both the frequency and intensity of hangovers were found to be greater after whiskey than vodka.
Supporting this, two studies have found methanol, a common congener, to be strongly associated with hangover symptoms.
Bottom line: The severity of hangovers can be significantly reduced by drinking clear beverages (low in congeners), such as vodka, gin or rum.
3. Having a drink the morning after
Treating a hangover by having another drink seems paradoxical.
Yet, it is a famous hangover remedy, often referred to by the phrase “hair of the dog (that bit you)”.
Although the habit has not been proven to be effective, there is some interesting science behind it.
Simply put, drinking more alcohol (ethanol) is believed to affect the metabolism of methanol, a well-known congener found in trace amounts in some drinks.
After drinking, methanol gets converted into formaldehyde, a highly toxic substance. This is believed to be partly responsible for many hangover symptoms.
However, drinking ethanol (alcohol) the morning after can inhibit this conversion process, preventing formaldehyde from being formed.
Instead, the methanol can be discharged harmlessly from the body with breath and urine. This is why ethanol is often used to treat methanol poisoning.
All of this being said, having another drink in the morning is strongly discouraged as a hangover remedy.
It is often associated with problem drinking, and mitigating a few hangovers is not worth the risk of becoming an alcoholic.
Bottom line: Drinking more alcohol the next morning is a famous hangover remedy. This risky method has yet to be proven effective, but there is some interesting science behind it.
4. Drink plenty of water
For this reason, alcohol can contribute to dehydration.
Although dehydration is not considered to be the main cause of hangovers, it may contribute to symptoms like thirst, headache, fatigue and dry mouth.
Fortunately, dehydration is very easy to avoid. Just make sure to drink enough water.
A good rule is to drink a glass of water (or another non-alcoholic beverage) between drinks, and to have at least one big glass of water before going to sleep.
Bottom line: Drinking plenty of water can help reduce some of the main symptoms of hangovers, including thirst and headache.
5. Get enough sleep
Alcohol can interfere with your sleep.
It can impair both sleep quality and duration, while disrupting your entire sleep schedule if you stay up too late.
Although poor sleep doesn’t have much to do with most hangover symptoms, it may contribute to the fatigue and irritability often associated with hangovers.
Getting plenty of sleep after heavy drinking can help your body recover.
If you are unable to sleep in and take it easy the next day, then getting drunk may not be such a good idea.
Bottom line: Alcohol can impair the quality of your sleep. Make sure you have plenty of time to sleep in after a night of celebration.
6. Eat a hearty breakfast
Hangovers are sometimes associated with low levels of blood sugar, a condition known as hypoglycemia.
Hangovers also tend to be more severe in those who have low blood sugar.
Although hypoglycemia is not a major cause of hangovers, it may contribute to some of the symptoms, such as weakness and headache.
In addition to providing the necessary vitamins and minerals, having a nutritious breakfast or a late night meal might help maintain your blood sugar levels.
Bottom line: Eating a good breakfast is a renowned hangover remedy. It can help restore blood sugar levels, which mitigates some of the symptoms.
7. Supplements that can help
Inflammation is an important mechanism that helps the body repair tissue damage.
Many hangover symptoms are thought to be caused by low-grade inflammation.
In fact, some anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to be quite effective against hangovers.
Many plant-based foods and medicinal herbs may also reduce inflammation and help prevent hangovers.
Supplements that have been shown to be effective include red ginseng, ginger and prickly pear.
Prickly pear is worthy of highlighting. This is the fruit of a cactus called Opuntia ficus-indica, which is believed to be native to Mexico.
In one study with 55 young and healthy individuals, taking prickly pear extract 5 hours before drinking reduced the risk of a severe hangover by 62%.
Although it won’t completely prevent a hangover, it might significantly ease your suffering.