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Have You Found a Hangover Remedy That Works?

A double-blind placebo-controlled trial found that a solution containing vitamins, minerals and five plant extracts is a hangover remedy that works.
Have You Found a Hangover Remedy That Works?
A drunk man with glasses suffers from a hangover at home. Close up.

For decades, we’ve been skeptical of hangover remedies. A lot of us, it seems, would like to be able to sip a Scotch or quaff a few beers without suffering consequences the next day. However, when scientists examine most of the claims people have made for their solutions, they haven’t held up well. Could there really be a hangover remedy that works? One ingenious study suggests that there is.

Looking for a Hangover Remedy That Works: 

Q. Many years ago, when I was a young graduate student, I was faced with a dilemma. Saturday night had seen a great student party, at which many of us had way too much to drink. Sunday afternoon was to bring a faculty-student seminar with a visiting scholar–at our house!

After literally crawling out of bed Sunday morning with deep regrets, I wondered what to do. I can’t remember where the inspiration came from, but it came into my mind I needed some sort of shock treatment to clear the clouds of funk. I decided to take a dip in the swimming pool on this very cool Albuquerque morning in April. (We had lucked out in renting the house of an emeritus professor; grad students didn’t usually have swimming pools at their homes!)

The initial plunge in the very cold water was indeed like an electric shock, but I experienced the desired effect quickly. In fact, it was little short of miraculous. Scrambling out of that pool with blue lips, I found I was ready for anything.

Since then, I’ve learned it’s far better to avoid hangovers in the first place. Still, short-term cold stress on the body mobilizes its defenses. I suppose what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

Have Scientists Found a Hangover Remedy That Works?

A. Scientists have published surprisingly little research on hangover remediation, considering that the problem is common. We are intrigued that your method worked so well. A few hardy souls might be willing to try the cold water plunge, but we imagine most might rather suffer.

Some people might prefer a solution that was recently subjected to a double-blind placebo-controlled trial in Germany (BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, April 30, 2020). The researchers found a hangover remedy that worked–a solution containing plant extracts together with vitamins and minerals. They compared it with a solution with the same vitamins and minerals but no extracts. Some participants consumed a placebo solution containing glucose.

What Plant Extracts Were in the Food for Special Medical Purposes?

The plants they used were ginger root (Zingiber officinale), Ginkgo biloba leaf, willow leaf (Salix alba), prickly pear fruit extract (Opuntia ficus indica) and acerola berry extract (Malpighia glabra). Study participants consumed these extracts powdered and mixed in 100 ml water 45 minutes before and immediately after their opportunity to drink beer, mixed beer, white wine or wine spritzer. The investigators term their remedy a “food for special medical purposes” (FSMP).

More than 200 adults were randomly assigned to their group. Some took the full solution with plant extracts. Others consumed the solution with vitamins and minerals only. Still another group drank the placebo solution. Neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who was in each group. The participants filled out two validated standardized questionnaires the following day: the Hangover Symptoms Scale and the Acute Hangover Scale. Volunteers who got the FSMP reported significantly less headache, nausea and restlessness. The researchers report that none of the participants drank excessively during the session.

The study subjects who got the vitamin and mineral solution did not report significantly less intense symptoms. As a consequence, the investigators hypothesize that electrolyte imbalance is not the main reason for hangovers.

In addition, the investigators concluded:

“significant dehydration process due to (moderate) alcohol consumption also could not be observed and thus cannot be corroborated.”  

Do You Have a Hangover Remedy That Works?

Another reader wrote about a favorite hangover remedy:

“Vitamins B (complex), C and D along with ginger (nausea), water, coffee, DGL and rest seem to help, along with a breakfast of PB toast and chocolate milk. And time. That is the one sure cure.”

Time is certainly helpful. We don’t know how well the DGL (de-glycyrrhizinated licorice), coffee or chocolate milk would work.

We heard from this reader about a popular product:

Q. I read what you wrote above about hangovers. I’ll bet you were flooded with hangover remedies. My favorite is Gatorade. Drink it after you stop drinking alcohol (before going to bed). If you are too out of it to remember to do that, drink a bottle when you wake up. I hear that Pedialyte works the same way. Of course, nothing works quite like moderation.

A. Your last suggestion is stellar. Humans being who we are, though, we don’t always practice moderation.

Gatorade and Pedialyte would both provide electrolytes. The study described above concluded that dehydration and electrolyte depletion did not appear to contribute substantially to hangover symptoms.

One previous review of hangover treatments found that several could help with one or more symptoms (Human Psychopharmacology, Sep. 2017). The interventions that were helpful included extract of Acanthopanax senticosus (Siberian ginseng or ciwujia), red ginseng antihangover drink, Korean pear juice, KSS formula (Kami-Shoyo-san, containing ginger, tangerine and brown sugar) and the After-Effect©. The last product contains borage oil (gamma linolenic acid), fish oil (omega-3), vitamins B1, B6, and C, magnesium, Silybum marianum (silymarin), and Opuntia ficus indica (prickly pear) (Advances in Preventive Medicine, July 18, 2012). The investigators recommended placebo-controlled double-blind trials to confirm the findings of their open-label study.

Neither that review nor any others we found offered evidence that Gatorade is a hangover remedy that works. We wish there were some, since it is a widely available product.

If you have a favorite hangover remedy, please write about it in the comment section below. Feel free to share this article with friends and acquaintances who might be interested, using the icons at the top of the page.  

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Lieb B & Schmitt P, "Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled intervention study on the nutritional efficacy of a food for special medical purposes (FSMP) and a dietary supplement in reducing the symptoms of veisalgia." BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, April 30, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000042
  • Jayawardena R et al, "Interventions for treatment and/or prevention of alcohol hangover: Systematic review." Human Psychopharmacology, Sep. 2017. DOI: 10.1002/hup.2600
  • Verster JC & Berthélemy O, "Consumer satisfaction and efficacy of the hangover cure After-Effect©." Advances in Preventive Medicine, July 18, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/617942
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