This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
Hangovers suck – that we can all agree on – and they suck more and more with each passing day of your life. The nausea, the cold sweats, the acidity in your stomach, the gastrointestinal problems, the insomnia and anxiety, the rapid heartbeat – every single hangover symptom is just the worst.
It’s not surprising that drinkers all over the world have been waiting for a miracle cure to address this ailment. In early July, the Swedish pharmaceutical company De Faire Medical launched Myrkl, an anti-hangover pill supposedly able of breaking down 70 percent of the alcohol in your bloodstream in just an hour. However, critics say the drug’s trials did not sufficiently demonstrate its effectiveness and that the pill is virtually useless.
So, we asked a nutritionist and a dietician to come to our help in these delicate times. They broke down for us what science considers genuinely useful hangover foods and what is just an urban legend.
“When we get drunk, we mostly get very dehydrated,” said nutritionist Tiziana Persico, who’s based near Naples, Italy. “So, the first thing to do is to reintroduce what we have lost: water and trace minerals.” Dehydration is actually behind the most common hangover symptom – “The classic headache, which is caused by a loss of water in the nervous tissue,” dietitian Alex Barone added. “So, although it is hard when you don’t feel well, drink as much water as possible.”
Another problem is that, as your liver slowly breaks down the alcohol you consumed, it releases byproducts that are very toxic for your body. This includes free radicals, unstable molecules that travel across the body and are linked to short and long-term damage to our organs.
So, as a next step, "We need to lower these free radicals,” Persico said. This can be done by consuming antioxidants, molecules that can stabilise free radicals and prevent them from destroying cells. “Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant, a protein produced mainly by the liver, and among its precursors is the amino acid cysteine, which eggs are full of,” Perico said. The anti-hangover pill, Myrkl, also claims to treat hangover symptoms thanks to its antioxidant components.
Antioxidants are also plentiful in fruits and vegetables, which come with the added bonus of being very hydrating. Persico particularly recommends bananas and artichokes. Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that are essential to the body’s function and that get flushed down the toilet when you pee too much. Artichokes have a lot of antioxidants and have long been commercially promoted as a hangover cure, but a small study found their extract had no major effect on symptoms. Either way, Persico stressed that no one food will make all your ailments disappear.
Vitamins are also essential nutrients that need replenishment after a night out. They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties your body needs to recover, especially water-soluble B-vitamins (vitamins that are carried to the body's tissues but are not stored in the body), as Persico explained. These are found both in eggs and salmon – a perfect excuse to treat yourself to brunch.
Let's move on to carbohydrates, which are particularly useful in the initial stages of the hangover. “They can restore more adequate blood sugar levels that are lowered by alcohol,” Barone explained. Low blood sugar levels can contribute to the sensation of discomfort, shakiness and fatigue often experienced while hungover.
But if you’re thinking of sinking your teeth in a cream doughnut, forget it. Excess sugar can dehydrate the body, which would do quite the opposite of helping. An example of a good, carbohydrate-rich breakfast according to Barone is bread or crackers with jam or honey. Persico recommends “oats, a slow-release cereal with a good protein quota”. Not exactly the breakfast you crave even when sober? Sorry, science has spoken.
In fact, the fried, fatty foods you might typically reach for after a debaucherous night might feel good in the moment, but are just too hard for your body to digest. Better stick to small, light meals, Barone said.
More bad news: “You must try to avoid or limit stimulating drinks like tea and coffee because they can encourage the production of gastric juices,” Barone added. The more acidic your stomach becomes, the more you’ll feel nausea and pain, plus these acids also make you pee more and worsen dehydration.
In short, there are no miracle foods or shortcuts: Just light meals rich in antioxidants, minerals, carbohydrates and protein, plus plenty of water. Boring? Quite. Effective? Much more than ordering Deliveroo pizza at 11AM.
Let’s end on a high note with Persico’s last piece of advice. “Physical activity should be avoided,” she said. “Our body has already been tested enough. Sleep, rest, and that's it.” So at least you can spend all day chilling on the couch guilt-free – doctor’s orders!