Searching for the Perfect Hangover Cure

Hangover Helper

Just what the doctor ordered.


Pickled herring is one preferred hangover-killing method. [Flickr: ulteriorepicure]

For those who indulged—er, overindulged—during recent holiday festivities, the ache and groan of a hungover New Year's morning is now but a blurry memory. While there are certainly a few who woke up feeling quaky and off-center and resolved "never again," many of us will likely find ourselves in a similar scenario sooner or later.

Alcohol consumption has been a part of human culture for thousands of years, yet surprisingly (or not), there's been very little serious scientific attention paid to the matter of the hangover.

As Wayne Curtis writes in this month's The Atlantic, a recent survey of medical literature since 1965 turned up around 4,700 papers on alcohol intoxication, yet only 108 of these covered hangovers, at a time when hangovers result in an estimated $148 billion in lost productivity each year in the U.S.

But while there's still no rigorously researched, sure-fire remedy for this most common of self-inflicted ailments, Curtis notes that the affliction hasn't been completely ignored.

"Where science falls short, however, folklore cheerfully takes up the slack. In fact, the hangover cure may be the last remaining bastion of the folk cure in modern medicine--nearly everybody swears by one ancient nostrum or another."

Among the treatments that Curtis field-tested is a technique introduced by Galen the Greek during the second century, in which the sufferer's head is wrapped in cabbage leaves (at a similarly themed seminar during Tales of the Cocktail in 2009, Curtis tested this method on a roomful of attendees, and somewhere on the Internet there's likely a photo floating around of 50 people, myself included, with their heads swaddled in cabbage). Other time-tested hangover remedies include the consumption of oily, salty or especially piquant foods, such as the prairie oyster, with a raw egg and hot sauce, or the rollmop, with pickled herring.

And then, of course, there's the proverbial "hair of the dog," a term that Curtis says dates to 1546. While the practice of consuming alcohol while suffering the effects of alcohol consumption may seem counterintuitive, there is a good argument to be made for the practice. "The science is too complex to delve into here, but it involves temporarily disrupting the conversion of previously consumed alcohol into toxins," Curtis writes. "Think of the morning bracer as a rodeo clown who momentarily distracts the bull as you lie in the ring, buying you a few seconds to crawl to safety before he charges after you again."

Some argue that the short, sharp shock of the cocktail was developed as a morning palliative—bartending guides have plenty of drinks designed to help ease a sufferer into the day, often bearing descriptive names such as the Corpse Reviver, the Fog Cutter, the Morning Glory and the Suffering Bastard—and today, the Bloody Mary has no shortage of adherents who subscribe to the theory that a mixture of tomato juice and spice with a dose of ethanol helps salve a savage morning.

Careful, though: turning to alcohol to dispel alcohol's effects isn't viable, or advisable, as a long-term strategy.

There are plenty of ways to alleviate the effects of a hangover; what's your preferred course of treatment after you've had one or two (or more)?