The hangover industrial complex is robust, with all kinds of tablets, just-add-water elixirs, and even on-call IV-drip delivery services vying for your money. To be clear, there's no way to prevent or eliminate a hangover, aside from not drinking too much in the first place. But we'll take anything that can at least ease hangover pain when we're in the throes of post-party regret.
The trouble is, most of us have no idea exactly what to treat when we're treating a hangover. “People think hangovers are caused by dehydration, but that’s not the main culprit,” says Indra Cidambi, a psychiatrist specializing in addiction. Instead, the primary contributor is a chemical compound called acetaldehyde. Your liver produces it when breaking down alcohol, “and it’s 30 percent more toxic than alcohol itself,” says Cidambi. Enzymes in your body work to break down acetaldehyde, but when you drink a lot, the enzymes can’t work fast enough—and you end up with a major headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, and other fun symptoms thanks to an excess of the toxin in your blood. Everyone suffers differently, which is why your best hangover bet is simply going into recovery mode and trying to ease your specific pains.
We've received plenty of product samples that claim to prevent or eliminate various combinations of hangover symptoms. So we set out to test whether any of these newfangled remedies could come to the rescue—or at least provide a little placebo effect—the next time we overindulged.
To be totally upfront, our process was not scientific in the least. Testers could choose what they drank and how much, and a fair amount of whiskey was consumed in the making of this story. Each tester (including myself) tried a different product. We also threw in a couple of old-school cures—call them controls for this experiment.
SOS Mango Doctor Formulated Recovery Hydration Drink Mix
What It Is: A powdered drink mix containing sodium, potassium, and magnesium. This is essentially an electrolyte replacement. The company claims the mix is as effective as an IV drip thanks to its “sodium glucose co-transport system,” which uses glucose to pull water into the bloodstream from the small intestine.
The verdict: We didn't test the mix against an IV, but we found it to be about as helpful as drinking a couple of Gatorades, with the benefit being that SOS has significantly fewer calories.
May work best for: those who suffer from the headache-and-dry-mouth types of hangovers.
Vous Vitamin Recovery Act
What It Is: A vitamin and mineral tablet containing 6,000 percent of your daily dose of thiamine, 200 percent of your daily dose of folic acid, and 75 percent of your dose of magnesium. Suggested dosage is one pill before and one pill after a night of drinking.
The verdict: Our tester must not have been deficient in any of these nutrients, because he reported a hangover that was just as bad as if he'd taken nothing at all.
May work best for: people who really like taking vitamins.
What It Is: Oil-infused lollipops that assuage your stomach.
The Verdict: I am a the kind of drinker who rarely gets hungover because I start vomiting before I get drunk enough to feel it the next day. These pops actually helped to considerably calm my stomach. Within a couple of moments my waves of nausea subsided. However, the next morning I actually felt much, much worse than I would have if I'd actually been sick the night before—probably because that alcohol stayed in my system.
May Work Best For: people who get nauseous, though it's likely most effective when used the morning after. (Also, the pops are remarkably hard to open, especially after several rounds of shots. Order the drops, which require fewer fine motor skills.)
Resqwater Proactive Recovery
What It Is: A vitamin-infused water that is meant to be taken before, during, and after a serious drinking session. It has 70 calories, plus 500 percent of your daily vitamin C, 250 percent of your daily thiamin, and 2,500 percent of your daily B6, plus sodium and potassium. Each bottle also contains a 1,150-mg blend of ingredients meant to reduce inflammation and other side effects of alcohol consumption, including monopotassium phosphate, prickly pear cactus fruit extract, milk thistle, and N-Acetalcysteine, a medication that pulls acetaldehyde from the body.
The Verdict: This smelled and tasted pretty funky to me, so I had a hard time drinking enough to feel any effect. That said, drinking three bottles of this stuff every time you party could fill you up so much that you drink fewer cocktails—not a bad strategy.
May Work Best For: anyone who currently subscribes to the hangover prevention method of one glass of water for every drink—and is looking to branch out.
Drinkwel Daily Capsules
What It Is: A daily multivitamin specifically made for people who imbibe with gusto, these capsules contain a megadose of B vitamins, plus vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and copper. Drinkwel claims that those are nutrients that are either depleted when drinking, support liver health, or help your body better process alcohol. The idea is that it can function as both your daily multivitamin while also giving you hangover-fighting superpowers.
The Verdict: Like the other vitamin-based cure, this didn't have any effect on our tester, who was left high and dry with a pretty miserable hangover.
May Work Best For: Those who are deficient in these vitamins may see some sort of effect, but if you’re eating a healthy diet and meeting your daily requirements for these nutrients, you likely won’t.
The Homemade Cure: The Elixir Of Undeath
What It Is: A purple Vitamin Water (it must be purple) mixed with an Alka-Seltzer tablet. This is the go-to remedy for Doug “The Beerbarian” Bailey, the sales manager for Red Lodge Ales and one of the toughest beer drinkers I’ve ever met.
The Verdict: This summer I tried to drink beer-for-beer with Bailey as he guided a tour of Montana’s best craft breweries for Zephyr Adventures. I was told that if I wanted to survive, the Elixir of Undeath would be my best friend. And it did seem to help a little bit. “I’ll go so far as to say it didn’t hurt,” says Aaron Rothfolk, a geologist who was on the trip with us.
May Work Best For: those prone to headaches. Thanks to Alka-Seltzer’s mild analgesic effect, you get some headache relief as well as the electrolyte and sugar boost from the Vitamin Water.
The Breakfast Cure: Chilaquiles Rojos
What It Is: When all else fails—as it generally did for us—take bleary-eyed comfort in this dish of eggs, steak, and a salty-savory sauce. It’s a beloved post-party breakfast for residents of Mexico City. “Chilaquiles are the best hangover cure because it has every hangover necessity," says Danny Mena, the chef and co-owner of Hecho en Dumbo, a New York City restaurant specializing in authentic food from Mexico City. "It has the necessary amount of fat to satisfy the body's craving; it has spice that will make you sweat, which cleanses the toxins from the body; the salty cecina [a salt-cured steak] is beneficial when dehydrated; and finally the cooling effect of the cream and cheese balances it all out.”
The Verdict: None of our testers had the foresight to make this the night before, and none of us had the wherewithal to actually make it mid-hangover, but we do want to eat it stone-cold sober.
May Work Best For: those who tend to frequent the Taco Bell drive-through at 3 a.m. but hate themselves for it.
Recipe courtesy of Danny Mena. Serves four.
- 6 tomatoes, quartered
- 1 small white onion, quartered
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 10 leaves of epazote (a Mexican herb that can be found at almost any Latin market)
- 5 serrano peppers
- 2 tbsp of neutral cooking oil
- 4 cups of corn tortilla chips
- 4 tbsp Mexican crema (sour cream will work if you can’t find crema)
- 4 tbsp queso fresco
- 4 strips of Cecina, a salt-cured steak (hanger steak can be substituted)
- 4 over easy eggs
- To make the salsa: In a medium pot add tomatoes, onion, garlic, serranos and oil and cook over high heat for 10 minutes until slightly charred. Then, add just enough water to cover and the epazote and cook for 20 minutes. Blend well in a blender or with an immersion blender and season with salt and pepper.
- In a large pot add the chips and salsa and cook for 5-8 minutes, to the point of which the chips have absorbed the salsa and are soft, but not mushy. While the chips cook, sear your steak and cook your eggs (cook your steak first, then cook the eggs in the same pan to maximize those great steak flavors).
- To serve, place the stewed chips in a bowl and add the cream, the crumbled cheese, the steak, and top with the over-easy eggs.
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