For every drinking buddy who tipples too much, there is a “sure cure” for the inevitable hangover. Diet Coke, hair-of-the-dog, and fried-and-fatty feasting are popular quick fixes for the complicated and not-fully-understood dance between dehydration, interruption of hormone production, and low blood sugar that constitutes a hangover. But how does science weigh in on these so-called cures?
In 2013, a clever group of researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University in China ran 57 different beverages (including Sprite, Coke, and Pepsi), through their paces in the lab to see if any would help alleviate a hangover’s pain.
Two of the drinks, "xue bi" (Sprite), and "hui yi su da shui" (“Should Benefit soda water”) showed efficacy in ramping up two liver enzymes that help reduce acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical and byproduct of the liver metabolizing ethanol (the alcohol in alcoholic drinks).
But before you rush to buy a case of Sprite (or Google your way to a "Should Benefit” home delivery), keep in mind that the Chinese study was done in a lab, not on humans. “Sprite or Chinese soda water may increase the rate of alcohol metabolism in a controlled petri-dish experiment, but it is truly unknown whether or not it will have the same effect, or mechanism of action in the human body,” cautions Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior dietician at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
What about the practice of drinking Diet Coke as a quick pick-me-up after an alcohol-drenched evening? (A LIvingHealthy editor swears it’s the only thing that can restore her equilibrium after a boozy night out, believing the carbonation clears her carburetor.) Los Angeles-based celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD, warns against reaching for any reduced calorie drinks after a night out. “A few hours after drinking alcohol, blood glucose drops drastically, which makes you feel like you were hit by a truck—with headache, fatigue, nausea, the shakes and dizziness. Diet Coke has zero sugar, so it does nothing for blood glucose,” she explains. And the jury’s still out on carbonation alleviating stomach symptoms as no scientific evidence supports this common folk remedy. Our delusion is shattered.
However, non-diet soda can help with recovery from dehydration, so long as it’s caffeine-free, says Hunnes. All bets are off for swift recovery if caffeine is involved because caffeine narrows your blood vessels and boosts blood pressure, which can potentially make your aching head worse.
Now that we know what doesn’t work, how about a real recovery plan?
Both Hunnes and DeFazio encourage consumption of water, water, and more water for rehydration, along with carbs and protein to bring blood sugars back to normal. Feasting on toast, hash browns and scrambled eggs does work after all! Orange juice, coconut water and electrolyte-enhanced beverages like Gatorade can help normalize vitamin levels and ease symptoms. And, of course, imbibing less in the first place is great preventative medicine.