Embarrassing confession: I occasionally party my freaking butt off.
Despite living a 99% healthy lifestyle, I do have a handful of nights per year that typically involve copious amounts of alcohol consumption, usually as part of a post-triathlon party, holiday celebration, networking event or night out with my friends.
And until I started researching natural hangover cures earlier this year, I would tend to wind up the next morning feeling as most people do after a night of binging: wishing my world would stop spinning, craving greasy food, hoping I could sleep the entire day and swearing I'll never drink again.
But the fact is, when it comes to curing a hangover you actually can achieve better living with a bit of science (or a least a much more comfortable morning after), and there are natural hangover cures that go far above simply slamming some coconut water, electrolytes or Gatorade.
So here's what a hangover is, why you get a hangover, and how you can get rid of a hangover as fast as possible.
What Is A Hangover?
Most cultures have some kind of specific term for hangover. In medicine, it's called “Veisalgia“. Another term called “Kveis” is Norwegian and literally means “uneasiness following debauchery”. In Greek, the hangover is given the name “Algia“, which quite fittingly translates into “pain”.
Whatever you decide to call it, the traditional, beloved hangover typically consists of anything that's significant enough to impair or disrupt your daily routine, such as showing up to work on time, getting your workout done, or making yourself or your children a nice breakfast. These disruptors can include headaches, a poor sense of well being, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, sleepiness, nausea, dizziness and generally wanting to punch anyone in the face who suggests you gaze at direct sunlight.
The amount that it takes to trigger these symptoms varies, but you're generally look at about 1.5-1.75 grams of alcoholic drink per kilogram of body weight. And that's basically 5-7 drinks for most people.
How You Get A Hangover
Most people think hangovers are from dehydration. But if you've followed the sage advice to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed, you still know that even if you hydrate like a champ, you can still wake up feeling less than stellar – and it's really a myth that hangover is simply “dehydration”. In truth, preventing a hangover is way more complicated than simply drinking oodles of water (or coconut water, or Gatorade, or Pedialyte) along with your alcoholic beverage.
Now don't get me wrong: dehydration can certainly play a role in hangover formation. Basically, your pituitary gland produces something called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which naturally increases blood pressure by causing your body to retain water. When you drink alcohol, your pituitary churns out less ADH, so you lose more water (that's one reason the line at the bathroom is so long at parties).
However, as soon as your buzz begins to wear off, ADH production is once again increased which causes a rebound of fluid retention, swollen hands and feet, puffiness in tissues like your face and around your eyes, and a bit of a headache as blood pressure goes up.
At the same time, your kidneys pump up their production of an enzyme called “renin” and a hormone called “aldosterone”, which results in formation of a substance known as vasopressin – and as the name suggests, vasopressin increases your blood pressure (and also heart rate and cardiac stroke volume) by causing sodium retention and potassium loss. This is why people with heart problems are most prone to a heart attack during the hangover period after drinking. Your cardiovascular system goes into electrolyte roller-coaster hyperdrive to try and regain fluids.
But wait…I'm not done yet.
Cortisol works with the hormone aldosterone to balance your electrolyte levels, and when you're hungover, your body churns out more cortisol. This not only contributes to even more fluid retention, but also causes an increase in blood sugar levels by converting amino acids into glucose in your liver (this is known as gluconeogenesis). As your blood sugar levels go up, your pancreas churns out more insulin, resulting in abnormal stress on both your pancreas and liver function. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol, as may happen during the 8 week holiday between Thanksgiving and New Years, also causes catabolism (a decrease protein in skeletal muscles) as well as a redistribution of body fat from your legs and arms to your belly.
And there's still more..
As you drink and force your body to metabolize alcohol, you're converting ethanol into acetaldehyde and acetate in your liver, and this causes increased production of tiny blood vessel constrictors called thromboxanes. Thromboxanes also cause blood platelets to stick together (clot formation), and decrease your levels of natural killer cells (your immune system soldiers). This surge in thromboxane creates symptoms very similar to what you'd experience if you had a viral infection, including nausea, headache, and diarrhea.
Most alcoholic beverages contain something called congeners, which also significantly contribute to hangover symptoms. Congeners, which are found in especially high amounts in dark colored liquors like brandy, wine, dark tequila, and whiskey (with lower concentrations are found in clear liquors, such as rum, vodka, clear tequila, and gin), are basically free radicals and positively charged molecules that can massively disrupt your acid-alkaline (pH) balance and increase your body's need to step up antioxidant activity to scavenge all those free radicals. As your body goes into fight mode to help you handle the high levels of congeners from excess alcohol consumption, you get gastrointestinal issues, nausea, headaches, and being sweaty, clammy or chilly.
What Are Natural Hangover Cures?
As I admitted earlier, I've had my fair share of marathon-esque drinking sessions, and experimented with a lot of different pills, capsules and hangover remedies. Some work, and some don't, but below I'm going to give you what I've found to be the most effective hangover cures (and you do have to be careful with lots of this stuff, as some of the anti-hangover pills you can buy over-the-counter, such as “Hangunder“, don't even list ingredients, so you have no clue what you're dumping into your body).
Natural Hangover Cure 1: Potassium
As you just learned, when you're in hangover mode your body is holding on to sodium and kicking out potassium. But by getting more potassium into your body before, during and after drinking, you can control the propensity for fuzzy thinking and headaches from dehydration. I'd recommend you not only drink unsweetened coconut water all day leading into a big party, but you also have it on hand for the next day. In addition, for every one to two drinks of alcohol that you have, consume an effervescent electrolyte tablet such as uHydration or GU Brew mixed into soda water or water.
And what about bananas? Since they pack a fairly hefty dose of sugar, I'd leave them out of the equation. You'll already be getting enough calories from alcohol.
Natural Hangover Cure 2: Cysteine + Liver Detox Herbs
Cysteine shows up as a primary ingredient in many of the hangover pills and capsules you'll find available at most pharmacies and drugstores. Basically, cysteine is an amino acid that helps your liver break down acetaldehyde from alcohol metabolism – giving cysteine a bit of a detox effect. You can get cysteine from foods like poultry, oats, dairy, broccoli, red pepper, garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, and wheat germ – but I recommend you try supplements that contain more potent doses of cysteine to help your body quickly metabolize acetaldehyde. In many of these products, cysteine is combined with fumaric acid and succinic acid, which help it to work better.
So the faster you process acetaldehyde, the less severe your hangover symptoms.
One readily available cysteine based anti-hangover supplement, which also contains some additional liver detox herbs like milk thistle, artichoke, goji berry & ginger extracts, is called “Hangover Gone”. Certain extracts derived from compounds like hybrid artichoke bud, and the root of the sarsaparilla plant can be used as liver regenerative, detoxification, and blood-purifying agents. This means they breaks down the toxins your body creates after consuming alcohol and allows the liver to function more efficiently. Another similar product is PreToxx Hangover Cure, which is a time-release anti-hangover tablet that contains Prickly Pear, Milk Thistle and Cysteine.
I personally use Mt. Capra Capracleanse (since I keep that around the house as a gut cleanse anyways) but some people find it gets them almost too regular the next day (if you know what I mean). But for me, the Capracleanse works perfectly for a liver detox, and since I tend to get constipated anyways when I drink to much, I take 3 before drinking and 3 after.
But if you opt not to use Capracleanse, and you decide to use Hangover Gone or PreToxx Hangover Cure, just shake and drink one shot of Hangover Gone before or during your alcohol consumption, or use 3-4 capsules PreToxx both before and after drinking .
Natural Hangover Cure 3: Wakie
I bought Wakie from a pharmacy in Thailand during my recent triathlon trip to Phuket, and I honestly don't even know if you can get it in the states or elsewhere. Drop me a line in the comments if you know, but I can't find it online anywhere.
Basically, you're supposed to take 4 “Wakies” before drinking and 4 after, and despite it being a fringe and relatively unknown Thailand tonic, when applied to a recent crazy party, this stuff worked like a charm for me.
“L-Glutathione: extract from pure yeast having Amino Acid 3 types: Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, and Glycine which body produces by naturally.
Spirulina: consist of 60% of Protein adding Amino Acid 18 types, Vitamin B and E, and Minerals to nourish liver and help detox.
Oyster Extract: is a total natural Glycogen as a source of body energy and rich of Amino Acid and Taurine, which is particularly useful for producing secretion of bile and zinc for enzyme producing to reduce content of alcohol in blood and give energy that make brain fresh.
Royal Jelly: natural source of substance necessary for body such as Carbohydrate, Protein, Amino Acid, Fat, Vitamin and various Minerals.
Chitosan: Fiber derives from shellfish to efficiently increases L-Glutathione.”
I'm not even going to attempt to clean up the grammar or science errors on the list above, but here's the deal: I partied pretty dang hard in Thailand, popped 4 of these before and 4 after, and felt just fine afterwards, albeit a bit sleepy.
Want another bit of grammatical entertainment? Here's the “research” on Wakie – once again, in it's full Asian-English geekspeak:
Do we have a research of L-Glutathione of Wakie?
There are medical researches and references with Wakie on two testing methods: 1) scientifically studied by prominent doctors and 2) research institute in Thailand.
Method 1 :Test on reduction of Alcohol and Acetaldehyde level in blood circulation.The result of the blood analysis in a laboratory indicated that the sampling group that consumed Wakie to be lower level of alcohol and Acetaldehyde in blood circulation compared with no consume Wakie to suffer from side effect as follows:
1. Nausea: The group consuming Wakie had 4.1%, while no consume Wakie group had 8.3%
2. Concentration: The consuming Wakie group was a lack of concentration by 10.2% comparing with no consume Wakie group had 25%, or 2.5-time difference.
Method 2 : Test on reduction of Alcohol and Acetaldehyde level in breath. The research indicated that the alcohol level in breath of the group consuming Wakie constantly reduced and below 50 mg% within 50 minutes (alcohol level is limited at 50 mg% for vehicle driver according to Thai Law). Moreover, the no consume Wakie group also suffered a return of alcohol level in breath at the 40th minute.
So there you have it. Apparently Wakie may even help you pass a breathalyzer test. But I do not condone conducting this experiment yourself, by bicycle, car, motorcycle or heaven forbid, a scooter.
Preservatives have been used in the production of wine for many decades. They serve three purposes:
1. Control undesirable microbial growth
2. Inhibit browning enzyme
3. Serve as an anti-oxidant (grape juice behaves like any other fruit in that when it is exposed to air, it begins to deteriorate due to oxidation).
So to preserve the fresh fruity flavor of the grape (and also the wine), preservatives are added immediately after the grape skin is broken in the making of the wine, and they are continuously used throughout the winemaking process until the final bottling. Most commonly the preservative is added either as a sulphur salt such as potassium metabisulphate (which releases sulphur dioxide gas) or sulphur dioxide gas itself, which is well known as an undesirable pollutant.
Exposure to sulphur dioxide gas is very unpleasant even at quite low concentrations, and typical reactions to exposure to sulphur dioxide are headaches, shortness of breath, sneezing, watery eyes, weezing, sinus congestion and dizziness. Asthmatics are particularly susceptible to sulphur dioxide, and the level of free sulphur dioxide in most wines at bottling is definitely high enough to trigger a reaction.
Unfortunately, the use of preservatives (particularly sulphites) has been a concern for food consumers for many years and many producers have removed them from their products. But it is nearly impossible to produce high quality wine without their use.
Enter this stuff called Pure Wine – available mostly in Australia, but something you could get shipped anywhere. After the addition of 5 drops of Pure Wine to a glass of wine, the level is sulphites is dramatically reduced, but the wine is kept fresh for up to 24 hours after opening. Pure Wine basically produces a blast of oxygen that eliminates the active wine preservative of sulphur dioxide gas, without sacrificing the taste and quality of the wine.
Natural Hangover Cure Summary
So that about wraps it up. What is the quick takeaway for you?
-If you're headed out for a night of drinking, and you plan on sticking to wine, just bring some Pure Wine to add to your glass or bottle of vino. I suspect a few drops hydrogen peroxide may work similarly.
-And if you're venturing into the world of hard alcohol, choose your liver detox supplement of choice and take it both before or after drinking, along with a glass of water with an electrolyte capsule added to it after every alcohol drink.
With this approach, will you be “right as rain” the next day? Depending on your level of partying, probably not 100%. But you'll be far more functional and in significantly less discomfort – rather than losing an entire day of productivity due to a night of debauchery.
Finally, if you enjoyed this article on natural hangover cures, you may also like:
1. Since originally writing this article, I had a conversation with Paul Becker from “Earthpulse“. I have yet to try this, but he swears (and I've heard the guy drinks a lot) that putting the Earthpulse sleep magnet in “Recovery” mode (other modes don't work) under your pillow for 1+ hours (or just that night while you're sleeping) has a dramatic effect on hangover reduction. That's one I have yet to try, but if you already own an Earthpulse, feel free to give it a try!
2. My personal naturopathic physician, Dr. Todd Schlapfer, who I interviewed here and here wrote me an e-mail and said that he read my article with great interest, but that he felt there was one single hangover cure that he thinks is better than anything I mentioned: Lifeshotz. Considering that it's a blend of antioxidants and wild plant derivatives with some pretty cool glutathione activating potential, it's definitely worth a try. Grab a box here.
3. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory and when combined with a natural painkiller, can limit the severity or propensity for headaches. My favorite 1-2 combine of anti-inflammatory curcumin combined with other potent pain killers (and a handy natural alternative to advil or ibuprofen) is Phenocane. I'd recommend four Phenocane before drinking and four after drinking.
We all wake up with regrets sometimes, sometimes manifesting as a rumbly in our tummy. So what can mitigate some of the gut ravaging effects that certain alcoholic drinks can bestow? Making your own bone broth and drinking a nice big cup of bone broth in the morning can help your stomach quite a bit, as can making and drinking your own ginger tea. But if that's too much work for you, you can simply use Bernard Jensen gelatin or Great Lakes gelatin, stirred into hot or cold water or coconut water, or mixed into a smoothie. While this stuff could probably also help you if you do it on a regular basis to protect your stomach lining and limit , you're going to especially notice the gut benefits the day after drinking.
Now it's your turn! Do you have questions, comments or feedback about natural hangover cures? Do you have your own natural hangover cures you'd like to add? Leave your thoughts below!
Also published on Medium.