Is there a perfect hangover cure?

Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK
23 December 2016

The Christmas season and welcoming a new year is a time to celebrate with family and friends. But as the drinks flow, it's more than likely that many of you will end up with the unwanted after-effects of a good night. Yes, that's right, alcohol's dreaded companion – the hangover.

But what cures a hangover? Is there even such thing as the perfect hangover cure? Here, I look at five common myths about how to shake off the night before, and the truth behind them.

Friends clinking wine glasses across a table

Myth one: drink more alcohol, or 'hair of the dog'

We’ve all heard the saying, and perhaps you even swear by it, but 'hair of the dog' is, unfortunately, completely ineffective. Although having a drink when you're hungover may make you temporarily feel better, you're only delaying the agony for later on that day. Drinking more alcohol will only boost the existing toxicity of the alcohol already in your body.

The main cause of a hangover is ethanol – the alcohol in your drinks. This toxic chemical is a diuretic, which means you’ll pass urine more than usual and, as a result, become dehydrated. Therefore, drinking water is the best way to shift a hangover, or have some fresh juice for a vitamin boost.

Also, make sure you drink some water before going to bed after an evening out. Keep a glass of water by your bed to drink if you wake during the night, and keep drinking plenty of fluids the next day.

Myth two: have a fry-up

Although this is often touted as a great hangover cure, it's best to steer clear of a greasy breakfast. Instead, have some fresh fruit. A banana or kiwi is a good option to replenish your potassium levels – a mineral you lose when you drink alcohol.

Try not to drink on an empty stomach. Having some food in your stomach will help slow your body’s absorption of the alcohol.

Myth three: go for a run to clear your head

Fresh air can do you the world of good when you have a hangover, but opt for a gentle stroll instead of a run or a gym workout. Because alcohol is a diuretic, you'll be very dehydrated the next morning. Heavy exercise will cause you to sweat, meaning you'll lose even more fluids. You need to be hydrated when you exercise to maintain blood flow through your body – this is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Make sure you rest and let your body recover and rehydrate before doing any strenuous exercise.

Myth four: drink lots of coffee

It's tempting to reach for the coffee the following morning. But, just like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic (although has a milder effect than alcohol). One cup of coffee won't hurt and can help you kick-start your day, as well as contribute to some fluid intake. But after that, stick to water, fruit juice and herbal tea to fully rehydrate your body.

Myth five: eat at the end of a night out

A few too many drinks can easily tempt you into a pizza or kebab at the end of the evening. Not only can greasy food irritate your stomach, your calorie intake for the evening will rocket even higher. You're much better off eating a meal before you start drinking, rather than at the end of the night, to help slow the absorption of alcohol.

Know your limits

The truth is, drinking sensibly, knowing your limits and sticking to recommended guidelines will help you avoid getting a hangover at all.

The guidelines for both men and women is 14 units a week. This means, in a week, you shouldn’t drink more than:

  • six 175ml glasses of 13% wine
  • six pints of 4% lager
  • five pints of 4.5% cider
  • fourteen 25ml glasses of 40% spirit

Try the Drinkaware alcohol unit calculator to see if you’re sticking to a safe limit when it comes to drinking.

Also, don’t ‘save’ all your units up to have in one go. You may be tempted to do this over the Christmas period, but try to spread your intake over three or more days. And if you’re trying to cut back, try having a few alcohol-free days a week.

Too much festive cheer?

If you do find that you overindulge this Christmas, don’t beat yourself up too much. As long as it’s not a frequent occurrence, a few drinks for a special occasion is unlikely to cause long-term harm. However, try your best to keep within the recommended limits, space your drinks out, alternating with water, and avoid drinking on an empty stomach. 

And a little reminder – be sure to leave the car keys at home if you’re planning on drinking this Christmas and New Year. Also, have something warm to wear for travelling home at the end of the night. It only takes a bit of planning for a safe night out and to reduce your chance of a hangover the next day.

Merry (but not too merry) Christmas to you all!

Dr Luke James
Medical Director, UK Insurance at Bupa UK

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