Believe it or not, there is no definitive scientific answer to what causes the epic headache that accompanies the worst hangovers of your life. The two leading theories are: 1) alcohol dilates the blood vessels in the brain; and 2) dehydration due to alcohol consumption reduces the size of your brain slightly, resulting in a tugging on the outer lining between the brain and the skull. But apart from the headache, there’s that awful nausea to deal with as well.
ABC NEWS Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser published a user’s guide earlier this morning on how to deal with — and even avoid entirely — that post-New Year’s hangover. Besser writes, “A hangover is essentially a build-up of acetaldehyde, a toxin in the liver. When one overdoes it on the booze, the liver can’t produce enough glutathione, a compound that contains the amino acid L-cysteine, to combat it. Cysteine breaks down acetaldehyde into water and carbon dioxide, which is then flushed out of the body as urine.” Besser advises the following do-it-yourself treatments to help beat the champagne flu:
1) During your New Year’s Eve party try to drink buckets of water to help avoid dehydration. If you’re smart with this one you can even bypass a hangover entirely.
2) Take aspirin or ibuprofen to shut down that headache — DO NOT TAKE ACETAMINOPHEN (i.e. TYLENOL). Tylenol is the single worst chemical to put in your hungover body because it is so taxing on your liver. Tylenol can even be fatal when taken during a hangover.
3) Sleep as long as possible. Hangovers last from 8 to 24 hours.
4) Sip as slowly as possible. This way the stomach has a good chance of absorbing the assault.
5) Eat lots of fatty foods like chips while drinking. This will slow down the alcohol absorption.
6) Stay away from carbonated drinks. Those little bubbles look so innocent, but what you don’t realize is they are amazingly efficient at getting alcohol into your blood even faster than a non-carbonated drink.
7) If you forgot to drink water during the party, then make up for it fast the next morning. Mix in 1L or more of Gatorade to replace your electrolytes as well.
8) If you’re not a big coffee drinker then don’t even think of touching it during a hangover (it will boost the headache). But if you typically drink a lot of caffeine it might actually help your headache a little bit.
9) Hair of the Dog is not necessarily a smart plan. Often it just delays the hangover until the next day.
10) Besser also writes: “According to the Mayo Clinic, bland foods, such as toast and crackers, can help boost blood sugar and settle your stomach. Eating chicken noodle or bouillon soups, which are loaded with sodium and potassium, can help make you feel better. Foods and drinks that contain fructose, such as honey, apples, berries or fruit juice, as well as vitamin C and B can also help burn off alcohol.”
On a personal note, one of the best tips I’ve ever discovered for curing a hangover is to eat slightly burnt toast with butter and honey, along with a serving of some eggs. Because eggs contain cysteine, which breaks down acetaldehyde in the body, eating eggs the morning after a drinking binge helps to remove the hangover-causing alcohol metobolite toxin from the body. And the honey on toast adds potassium and sodium to the meal which is also helps the body cope with the alcohol. The added carbon from the burnt toast can help act as a toxin filter as well. And remember — don’t drink and drive. Being hungover is one thing, but getting yourself or someone else killed is something only a world class asshole can pull off.