Kill or cure

Now, if there’s one question I get asked more than any other, it’s “What, in your experience, is the best hangover cure?” Actually, that’s a lie, it’s “Are you sure you’re a qualified gynaecologist?” But that’s not relevant right now.

Hangovers are a bugger. Indeed, the Latin term for hangover is “sodomia summa sodomiae” or “bugger above all buggers,” and I’d actually be offended if after all we’ve been through, you felt the need to check to see that I hadn’t just made that up. Anyway, it’s the second day of January, and if you’re anything like me, you started the year badly in need of a hangover cure.

Usually at this point, someone says that the best cure for a hangover is simply not to drink. This is ridiculous. I mean, would you tell a cancer patient that the best cure for cancer is not to get cancer? In my experience, the fun of an awesome party far outweighs the agony of the hangover. If not, then that was a bad party and you should have left before you got drunk. If you’re having a bad time sober, you’ll have a bad time drunk.

But the fact is that alcohol is a holy thing. What did Jesus turn the water into? Here’s a clue: not Diet Coke.

[PARENTHESIS: Ah, but what about Islam? Well, there has been some debate over what exactly was meant by the prohibition in the Qu’ran. Some scholars have argued that drinking is fine as long as you don’t get drunk. Others have argued that “intoxicants” can be taken to mean any substance that affects the mind, which also includes coffee. Admittedly no interpretation really allows you to get roaring drunk, I just thought that whole passage was interesting]

If you want to go further back, you know how we raise our glasses to someone? That may actually be one of the oldest rituals humanity has. You see, alcohol actually dates back to the very early days of civilisation – one theory actually has it that we moved from hunter-gathering to agriculture purely so we could cultivate grain and make beer.

Whether you subscribe to this theory or not, alcohol was certainly one of our earliest inventions, and possibly our first interesting invention. To those early settlers, fermentation was a mystical process, not properly understood and believed to be the result of direct divine intervention. Thus, the custom was to offer part of every batch of beer to the gods who had provided it. And that, my friends, is why to this day we raise our glasses when we wish to salute someone.

17th century German hangover cure. Still in use in parts of Slough.

The most obvious religious comparison in the context of hangovers is that of karma. You have a wicked-awesome time the previous night, then you feel like death the following morning. Well, alcohol is technically a poison (so is water if you have too much of it, so there), so it’s probably going to have some negative effects. Your man alcohol is broken down in the liver into acetaldehyde and then into acetate. Once all the night’s alcohol is metabolised into acetate, you’re home and dry (literally). Unfortunately, the process of metabolising alcohol requires an enzyme known as  nicotinic acid derivative, which your body has in limited supply. If you drink enough alcohol to deplete your reserves of NID, you’ll get drunk and then you’ll get sick. Given that the average body can only metabolise one unit every two hours, expect happiness and then sadness if you’re out partying.

Alcohol is a diuretic, and will basically dehydrate you over the course of a night. It’ll also deplete a lot of the vitamins and minerals that the adverts are always telling us we need, and increased insulin production will see that your blood sugar levels will go way down. Your brain will readjust itself to the depressant effects of the alcohol, but will probably not have enough time to adjust back by the morning.

Complicating matters further are congeners – without getting too technical, these are what we’ll call impurities that make it much harder for your body to deal with alcohol. As a general rule, the darker your drink, the more c0ngeners it has. Port is very high, vodka is very low. This is the origin of the dread disorder known as “red wine headache.”

You should by now have some idea of why you have a hangover. Having said that, if you actually do have a hangover, you probably shouldn’t be staring at a computer screen.

Now, to combat a hangover. Firstly, it is recommended to have something to eat before you go out. This should top up your body’s store of what the hangover will take away. Some recommend eating something greasy to line your stomach. My great-granddad used to swear by two pints of milk before going out to the pub.

Then prepare yourself for the return. Do not allow yourself, upon returning to a party, to simply fall into bed. Yes, I know how tempting it is, but keep reminding yourself throughout the evening that you have to take preventative measures. Have them ready by your bed if needs be. The preventative measures I would recommend are:

1. Two pints of water.

2. A glass of effervescent vitamin C.

3. Two ibuprofen.

4. A sandwich, preferably something with protein. Chicken salad seems to work.

The water will take care of the dehydration, the vitamin C and the sandwich will take care of the nutrients your body will lose and ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory. Vitamin C will also take care of the congeners.

Now, if you haven’t done this before bed, you’ll have to do it in the morning when you actually have the hangover, in which case you have my sympathies. I’d recommend if possible doing these things and then returning to bed so you don’t have to think about how dreadful you feel while your miserable carcass mends itself.

If you have to go to work, you’re a bit screwed. Speaking as a hangover veteran, there are few things worse than being at work with a hangover. The classic folk remedy in such cases is black coffee. I disagree – caffeine can constrict the blood vessels. In Scotland they swear by Irn-Bru, which contains caffeine but also the life-giving substances known as quinine and sugar. A full English breakfast is highly recommended by many, but you may find this a little difficult to stomach.

Speaking personally, the hangover cure I favour goes thus:

1. Wake up. Drink two pints of water and take two ibuprofen. Return to bed.

2. Wake up again half an hour later. Have a shower, as you stink.

3. Walk to the supermarket. This will get oxygen moving around the body.

4. Acquire milkshake, aforementioned chicken salad sandwich, fruit salad and can of Pepsi, Cherry Coke or Irn-Bru.

5. Consume slowly.

6. Watch Withnail & I.

The simple fact is, though, there’s no hard-and-fast cure that works for everyone, and frankly a lot of curing a hangover simply involves gritting your teeth and enduring it. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if you party hard then you’ve got to take the consequences. Sad but true.

One last tip: if you’re going to bunk off work, be creative. Every manager knows that “food poisoning” means “hangover.”

Anyway, assuming you’re feeling better, enjoy 2011. Here’s hoping it ends like 2010, in a drunken stupor.



Filed under Booze, Current events, Food, Medicine, Only loosely about London, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Science

9 responses to “Kill or cure

  1. Me

    Ensure you have scuba diving pony cylinder filled with an oxygen rich nitrox mix. Grab a load of oxygen, sort that brain out, feel lots better.

  2. Great post on a very important topic 🙂

  3. I feel you missed out the simplest and best method.
    1 or 2 sachets of oral rehydration treatment (Dioralyte) before and after bed
    It tastes quite nasty but works a treat

    • TGW

      I also missed out coconut water, which is perhaps the best one-shot cure after Dioralyte. Also medical folk recommend a drip, but that’s not really within the reach of wastrels like me.

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  6. LocaLaura

    Had a good smile, thanks for this article & regards from Germany.

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