When plagued with an alcohol-induced headache, nausea and tiredness, people are desperate to try anything to ease their crippling hangover symptoms.
Downing a cup of coffee and tucking into a greasy breakfast are supposed to make us feel instantly better, while the brave insist ‘hair of the dog’ is the miracle cure.
Now there’s a pill — costing £1 a pop — that, according to its manufacturers, is powerful enough to leave drinkers feeling fresh after a heavy night out.
But can the brutal effects of a hangover simply be swatted away by magic potions, or is time the only remedy you can bank on? MailOnline has decided to sift through the evidence… so thank us next time you’re feeling sorry for yourself after a night on the tiles.
To tackle a crippling hangover, experts advise against hair of the dog, which they say will leave drinkers worse-off, hangover supplements, which studies suggest are ineffective, and coffee, as it could actually worsen symptoms. However, they say eating, drinking plenty of water and turning to ibuprofen should ease headaches, nausea and tiredness
Hangover ‘cures’ you should AVOID
Hair of the dog
Continuing to drink the morning after a heavy night out has long been touted as a way of skipping the inevitable headache, nausea and tiredness.
The approach is based on the phrase ‘hair of the dog that bit you’, with advocates of the approach insisting that hangovers are merely a form of alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, or so the theory goes, the cause of an ailment can also be the thing used to cure it.
Some experts, including Dr Robert Swift of the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rhode Island, have suggested there is some logic to the madness.
But this is based on the knowledge that alcohol can have the same effect on brain cells as powerful sedatives like Valium, which trigger withdrawal symptoms as they wear off.
Alcohol can also boost endorphins — hormones which act like natural pain killers — which may temporarily mask hangover symptoms.
However, experts — including Dr Swift himself — have long dismissed the homeopathic-style approach because it doesn’t give the alcohol-weary any time to recover.
People will eventually need to stop drinking and could be left facing an even more severe hangover than the one they were battling, they say.
In the case of Myrkl’s £1 pill, which needs to be taken before drinking, its Swedish manufacturer insists the science stands up. It contains bacteria Bacillus Coagulans and Bacillus Subtilis and amino acid L-Cysteine, which break alcohol down into water and carbon dioxide
Hangover-busting pill Myrkl went on sale in the UK yesterday — but it’s not the only product claimed to be able to miraculously rid you of a brutal hangover.
Dozens of capsules, powders and stick-on patches are sold with bold claims of ensuring users ‘wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy’, can ‘keep your head from pounding’ and ‘deliver hydration to the bloodstream faster and more efficiently than water’.
Natural supplements such as ginseng and clove extract are also said to be able to ease the tell-tale symptoms.
While some may swear by them, the science isn’t so robust.
A team of researchers at King’s College London reviewed 21 studies that involved participants being given either a supplement or placebo treatment.
While some of the papers showed they truly did help ease hangovers, these were of low quality and were plagued by issues such as imprecise measurements.
No two studies identified the same remedy, meaning the findings have not been replicated — an essential part of science needed to confirm the results weren’t just down to luck.
In the case of Myrkl’s £1 pill, which needs to be taken before drinking, its Swedish manufacturer insists the science stands up.
It contains bacteria Bacillus Coagulans and Bacillus Subtilis and amino acid L-Cysteine, which break alcohol down into water and carbon dioxide.
Trials revealed drinkers who swallowed two pills and drank two glasses of wine had 70 per cent less alcohol in their blood an hour later, compared to those who did not take it.
For the next 12 hours, the supplement works by breaking down alcohol in the gut before it reaches the liver.
However Dr Duane Mellor, a dietitian at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, told MailOnline: ‘Although studies suggest L-cysteine may help alcohol metabolism there currently are no approved health claims in Europe or the UK to allow this claim to be used for marketing.’
And it would be important to know how the bacteria in the pill can metabolise alcohol, as the ‘harsh environment’ of the stomach and small intestine kills lots of bacteria, he said. And those that survive can take longer to become active, Dr Mellor said.
‘Although this sounds interesting, the lack of data and the published trials mean moderate alcohol consumption is perhaps the key to not getting a hangover,’ he added.
Those struggling to stay awake when hungover may turn to coffee to see them through the day. But experts warn a mug may actually leave them worse-off.
Coffee, along with alcohol itself, is a diuretic, which means it makes people pass urine more often.
And alcohol also slows down the release of vasopressin — a hormone that keeps hydration levels balanced.
How much alcohol is too much?
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, the NHS advises men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
- half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
- a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
But the NHS warns the risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
Short-term risks include injury, violent behaviour and alcohol poisoning.
Long-term risks include heart and liver disease, strokes, as well as liver, bowel, moth and breast cancer.
People who drink as much as 14 units a week are advised to spread it evenly over three or more days, rather than binge drinking.
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are advised not to drink to reduce risks for the baby.
Those with a hangover are already likely to be dehydrated, so fuelling this further by drinking a flat white could make their head hurt even more.
And caffeine narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure, which could make headaches even worse.
Dr Jenna Macciochi, a nutrition expert at the University of Sussex, told MailOnline that while coffee ‘may make you feel temporarily better — more alert, especially since alcohol affects sleep quality — it could further dehydrate you.’
However, other experts still swear by coffee as a way of overcoming hangover-related tiredness the next day.
Hangover ‘cures’ that actually MIGHT help
Eat a full English
The thought of wolfing down sausage, bacon and eggs after a night out can leave some nauseous.
But the high protein foods found in a full English contain cysteine — an amino acid that can decrease the amount of acetaldehyde, the substance that the liver breaks alcohol down into.
Eating will also boost energy and blood sugar levels, which can tackle tiredness, advocates of a greasy breakfast insist.
And nausea after drinking is often caused by an empty stomach — so eating can help with this too, in theory, even if it doesn’t seem appealing.
However, Ian Hamilton, an addiction expert at the University of York, told MailOnline that while eating will help a hangover ‘a traditional fry up isn’t as good as something more nutritious’.
Foods such as chicken, turkey and yoghurt are also high in cysteine, which could help ease hangover symptoms and be more waist-friendly.
Water-dense foods such as watermelon, strawberries, melon and cucumber can also help by rehydrating you.
Dr Macciochi said that boosting gut health when hungover is ‘very important’. Alcohol damages both gut barrier and gut microbiome, which can lead to elevated inflammation and can make you feel worse, she said.
But Dr Macciochi said she would opt for fibre-rich plant foods and fermented foods rather than a greasy fry-up.
‘Kimchi, sourkraut, kefir would be great options. Just look for ones that are not pasturised or have added sugars etc which could negate their benefits,’ she added.
Drink plenty of water
Despite dehydration being behind some hangover symptoms, drinking water on a night out or when hungover is often forgotten about
Despite dehydration being behind some hangover symptoms, drinking water on a night out or when hungover is often forgotten about.
But experts hail it as the must-do step to ease hangover symptoms. And they recommend downing a pint of water before you go to bed.
Others urge drinkers to glug down water or even a non-fizzy soft drink between alcoholic beverages to counteract the dehydration effect of alcohol.
As the body loses vital liquids due to alcohol’s diuretic effect, it is essential to replace lost fluid.
Mr Hamilton said: ‘Essentially your body treats alcohol as a poison so it will prioritise processing this.
‘Ensuring you are sufficiently hydrated is the best way to reduce hangover symptoms.
‘Ideally drinking water soon after consuming alcohol is the best thing to do but that will either be forgotten at the time or not be appealing.’
Although experts highly recommend it, the evidence isn’t completely in its favour because dehydration isn’t the sole cause of a hangover.
A study of 800 students’ hangover habits by Dutch researchers found that despite more than half eating food after drinking alcohol and two-thirds drinking water, their hangover was no less severe.
The researchers said this was due to dehydration being just one contributor to hangover symptoms. Headaches, nausea and vomiting are also caused when the liver converts alcohol into toxic chemical acetaldehyde. As acetaldehyde is converted into less toxic chemicals, hangover symptoms ease.
Turning to painkillers like ibuprofen can help tackle hangover-related sore heads — as well as aches and pains.
One of the world’s most popular painkillers, it was actually identified as such after Boots pharmacist Dr Stewart Adams used it to ease his hangover ahead of an important speech more than 50 years ago.
The drug, known as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or (NSAID), works by interfering with the production of prostaglandins — a chemical that causes inflammation in the body.
While anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to help ease the impact of alcohol and can ease aches and pains after a night out, health chiefs caution that it can irritate the stomach lining. So the drug must only be taken after eating food.
But Mr Hamilton said: ‘The best cure for a hangover is to limit how much you drink to begin with.
‘But that’s not easy, as we all know that alcohol lowers our resolve. But if you can avoid spirits and some types of cheaper wines that have chemicals which make hangover symptoms more likely.’
Experts say people should avoid paracetamol, however. ‘If alcohol is lingering in your system, it may accentuate acetaminophen’s toxic effects on the liver,’ according to a Harvard health advice page.