Have a hangover? Try this drink

Don’t feel so good? Headache? Fatigue? Drowsiness? Nausea? Well, I’m no doctor but it sounds to me like a hangover. There’s a reason there’s such a thing as Dry January, because, for some, the first three days of the new year often just don’t go so well. What you’re feeling is called veisalgia and it’s the actual medical name for a hangover. Veisalgia comes from “kveis,” Norwegian for “uneasiness following debauchery” and the Greek word “algia,” which simply means “pain.” I’m not sure why those two disparate words are combined, but combining things might be what got you into this position in the first place.

The reasons for your hangover are simple and scientific:

• The headache. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it causes the pituitary gland to block production of a chemical called vasopressin. This causes the kidneys to send water directly to the bladder instead of reabsorbing it back into the body. This results in frequent trips to the restroom, which then leads to dehydration. “Cotton mouth” is the body sending a message to the brain to replenish its depleted water supply. Ironically, the largest reservoir of water in the human body is the brain. The body’s organs will try and replenish their water content by stealing it from the brain. This water drain causes the brain to decrease in size, pulling on the membranes connecting it to the skull, which results in headache pain.

• The queasiness. What we drink is called ethanol (up to 10% in our car fuel, and up to 75% in our alcoholic beverages) and is the principal psychoactive element in alcoholic beverages. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, ethanol itself is not carcinogenic, but the first metabolic product (that is, digestive step) is a conversion to acetaldehyde, which is not only carcinogenic but also toxic and mutagenic as well. If you’re feeling bad this morning, you’re already well past the first metabolic step.

Ethanol also contains congeners, a by-product of alcoholic fermentation, which may be responsible for some of your symptoms, or at least are amplifying their unpleasant effects. Different types of alcohol have different levels of congeners. Red wines and caramel-colored liquors have the highest concentration of congeners whereas clear liquors and white wines have fewer. That means that bourbon, scotch and aged tequila are more likely to cause more severe hangovers than sauvignon blanc and vodka. Another factor is carbonation, bubbles speed up the absorption of alcohol, giving the body less time to process the toxins.

• The exhaustion. Fatigue is a result of glutamine rebound. Alcohol inhibits a person’s ability to sleep. It also inhibits the production of glutamine, one of the body’s natural stimulants. Once you stop drinking, the body tries to produce additional glutamine. This stimulates the brain, keeping you from entering REM sleep, which is the deepest and most recuperative part of sleep. That is why even after eight hours of sleep a person still feels tired.

Humorist Robert Benchley once said, “A real hangover is nothing to try out family remedies on. The only cure for a real hangover is death.”

The general idea has always been that once you are experiencing veisalgia, it’s too late to do anything about it. Sure, your Uncle Bob has his “hair of the dog” cure; Aunt Harriet swears by her Bloody Marys; your dad eats a raw egg or two, and Mom has her bitters and soda. Each will swear that these remedies work. But that’s not real science. And don’t fall for anything called a “tonic” or an “elixir” either. Those might sound official but they’re, at this point, just made-up marketing terms. And after suffering through a bunch of crackpot health theories during a pandemic, I myself actually long for some scientific relief. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that a group of scientists in India did, in fact, do a scientific study on hangover relief in 2019. It’s in the National Library of Medicine and is available online at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7473379.

The report is pretty detailed, but the end result is clear. Three food items were clinically found to actually help reduce hangover symptoms. Those food items are, in order of effectiveness: pear, sweet limes and coconut water. The scientists even worked out the most beneficial combination of the juices by percentage, coming up with a 65% pear, 25% sweet lime and 10% coconut water mixture that effectively reduced hangover symptoms anywhere from 23% in the case of alcohol dehydrogenase activities (ADH) and 70% in the case of aldehyde dehydrogenase activities (ADHL).

Yay science! And watch out February.

Happy New Year indeed!


“Clinically Proven” Hangover Helper

5 ounces fresh-squeezed Comice pear juice (or a pear nectar such as Bionaturae Organic Pear Nectar)

2 ounces fresh-squeezed sweet lime juice (or key lime)

1 ounce coconut water

Combine all three ingredients over ice and stir. “The consumption of this beverage with cheese, cucumber and tomatoes may further alleviate the hangover symptoms,” reads the report.

Note: Comice pears are the only winter pear readily available. Sweet limes are hard to find but can sometimes be located at ethnic grocery stores.