How to Cure a Hangover

Happy New Year--and, happy hangover? Ringing in a new year tends to bring revelry, glitz, and ... a headache pulsating much like those tunes blasting well past midnight.

When it comes to hangovers, everyone has a swear-by-it remedy, from binging on cheeseburgers and fries (grease supposedly lines the stomach and slows alcohol absorption) to gulping spiked orange juice or a Bloody Mary ("hair of the dog"). Hundreds of others are for free for the taking online, so why not pick one and get moving the day after you've had a few too many?

Because "in terms of anything that's proven to 'cure a hangover,' there isn't anything," says Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

In 2005, researchers scoured studies as far back as the 1950s that addressed preventing or treating hangovers. They unearthed just eight that were worth a closer look, none of which could convincingly demonstrate success for their hangover tricks (such as taking a supplement of prickly-pear cactus or a yeast-vitamin pill), according to the report published in the British Medical Journal.

[See Why Do People Go Nuts on New Year's Eve?]

That doesn't mean you have to be miserable all day, though. Experts suggest one of these tricks to at least take the edge off a hangover and end it a little faster:

Drink lots of water. It's hardly groundbreaking advice, but it should be a top priority. Alcohol makes you pee. That can lead to dehydration, prompting the hallmark dizziness and lightheadedness of a hangover. In addition to water, sip on some flat ginger ale, since it will help soothe your stomach. And down some juice, since vitamin C helps replenish your energy.

Stay away from the coffee (and booze). It won't wake you up. Rather, caffeine will further dehydrate you, and could aggravate your stomach, making you feel even more queasy. And put down that beer, because even though it might temporarily numb your symptoms, it'll make your headache worse in a couple hours.

Eat, but don't binge. Crackers and toast can boost blood sugar that may have dipped while drinking, contributing to your fatigue and overall weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Also consider pretzels and a banana to replace the salt and potassium lost through urinating so much. Forget the cheeseburger feast--most of us lack the stomach for it the day after drinking.

[See Best Diets Overall.]

Chow down on some asparagus. Recent research suggests that asparagus helps alleviate hangover symptoms, likely due to its amino acids and minerals, which lessen the toxicity of alcohol on liver cells. Plus, it's a diuretic, so it'll make you pee and get some of that alcohol out of your system. Another green veggie, the artichoke, could also help: Research suggests it tempers the bloating and nausea that come with hangovers.

Get your body working faster. When alcohol gets into the system, "it's got to be metabolized. There's no way around it," says Thomas Tallman, a Cleveland Clinic physician in emergency medicine. The fructose in sports drinks, fruit juice, and honey may help burn the alcohol more quickly. So will exercise, if you can force yourself to get moving, he says. Stick with light cardio or a yoga class, which won't dehydrate you as much as other workouts.

Retreat under the covers. You may have gotten your usual eight hours, but it was probably interrupted by a few trips to the bathroom and a lot of tossing and turning, decreasing the quality of your snooze. Think ahead and consider taking a nap before a night out, says Fingerhood.

Take a pain reliever, but sparingly. They'll likely alleviate a headache, but aspirin can upset an already irritated tummy, and acetaminophen could lead to liver damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Don't go over the recommended dose. In fact, try half a dose and see if it works.

[See 12 Things You Should Know About Aspirin.]

And how about a little foresight to avoid a hangover in the first place? Think of it as doing "damage control while you're drinking, so you feel less horrific the next day," says Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Here's how:

Pace yourself. Start by pre-setting a limit before you head out, says Peter Nathan, a community and behavioral health professor emeritus at the University of Iowa in Iowa City who has studied alcohol consumption for 40 years. He advises telling yourself: "I'm going to have no more than two or at most three drinks during the three hours of this party. And if I do more than that, that's an error in judgment and I can't make it." Don't let peer pressure think you need to keep up with a binge drinker, says Nathan, who has researched binge drinking among college students. "It's important that they not keep up," he says. The body can typically metabolize an alcoholic drink--a glass of beer, a one-shot mixed drink--each hour. Women are generally in hangover danger after three to five drinks in a night; for men, it's five or six. If you're prone to get to these thresholds, try "mocktails"--tonic and lime, water, juice--between drinks. And keep eating. Food slows down alcohol absorption and provides a little distraction.

[See For Addiction Help, Hire a 'Sober Coach'.]

Customize your request. Ask the bartender for a little more orange juice and a little less vodka, suggests Bonci. "Nobody's going to think you're a wuss if you do that," she says.

Choose wisely. Darker-colored alcoholic beverages--bourbon, scotch, tequila, brandy, ales--have a greater amount of chemicals called congeners, which are more likely to cause a hangover, according to the Mayo Clinic. But light or dark, excess alcohol can lead to a perfectly awful day after.

Ditch the cigarettes. Recent research suggests that people who smoke cigarettes on the same day they drink suffer worse hangovers than those who stick to booze alone. Kick the habit, and you may be kicking the headache, too--or at least taking the edge off.

[See Have Your Cocktail, and Drink it, too--Without Weight Gain.]

Updated on 1/1/13: This story was originally published on December 1, 2010.