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St. Patrick’s Day: Hangover cures that actually work

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year. Depending on how hard you’re celebrating the Irish holiday, you could be in for a whole lot of pain by Saturday morning. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

First rule: Don’t try to remember how much green beer you drank the night before. Retelling it would be like reliving it.

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year. Depending on how hard you’re celebrating the Irish holiday, you could be in for a whole lot of pain on Saturday morning.

“Hangovers are essentially the body’s reaction to a poison. It’s a substance that stays in the body for a long time and is taken care of by the body by only small amounts by the hour,” Dr. John MacNeill, a pharmacologist and University of British Columbia professor, told Global News.

READ MORE: How to prevent or cure a nasty New Year’s hangover

It’s usually eight hours after a binge when you start to feel the symptoms – fatigue, thirst, headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound.

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Sound familiar?

Here’s everything you need to know about hangovers and how to fight them.

What causes a hangover?

The medical community can’t pinpoint precisely why hangovers kick in, but there are plenty of theories.

For starters, alcohol is a diuretic so you’re excreting more water from your body than you’re taking in. This can leave you dehydrated. Meanwhile your liver is working overtime to clear out the excess booze.

“There’s a disruption in people’s sleep, their biological rhythms change, there’s withdrawal from the alcohol, and electrolyte levels change…the bottom line is we don’t completely know [what causes a hangover] but these could be partly contributing to it,” Dr. Bhanu Kolla, a Mayo Clinic senior consultant and psychiatry professor, told Global News.

READ MORE: Does heavy drinking tamper with your immune system? Here’s what happens

This is why you wake up to fatigue, thirst, migraines, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, cramping, sweating, shaking, an increased pulse and an increased blood pressure, Kolla said.

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The symptoms stick around for about 24 hours as your body picks itself back up.

Here’s the expert verdict on the most popular hangover cures:

Over the counter drugs: You could be reaching for Tylenol, Advil or Aspirin when you’re bleary-eyed and in pain.

Turns out, Tylenol is a bad idea.

“The liver is working extra hard to get rid of the alcohol and Tylenol is also metabolized by the liver. We don’t want to overburden the liver when it’s already working hard,” Kolla said.

READ MORE: Alcohol without the hangover? This scientist is testing booze without the nasty side effects

Aspirin can irritate your stomach even more, MacNeill said. If you’re dealing with a headache, Kolla suggests a Motrin or Aspirin could be helpful, but only for those symptoms. No cure is going to offer whole body healing, he said.

If you’ve got a tummy ache, antacids will help too, according to MacNeill.

Kolla said Alka-Seltzer, for example, might help with nausea, cramps and uneasiness in your stomach.

Hair of the dog: Having another drink the day after as an “eye-opener” doesn’t work, the experts say. It’s also risky.

“When we look at a person’s risk of developing alcohol dependence problems, doing this is a risk for going on to develop alcohol dependence,” Kolla said.

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READ MORE: 6 misconceptions about nutrition and healthy eating

Remember, booze is a diuretic and you’re already dehydrated. While more drinking may numb the symptoms, doing this is only going to make things worse.

Drinking water and Gatorade: Guzzle up on liquids, whether it’s H20, Gatorade, coconut water, juice, milk, soup, or anything else that’ll help you rehydrate.

Gatorade will offer a quick hit of sugar, calories and electrolytes, according to Dr. John Brick, director of Intoxikon.

He recommends making sure you drink water before bedtime and again when you wake up in the morning.

What about coffee? For many people, not getting their daily dose of caffeine from coffee or tea could make their hangovers worse, Brick warned. Drink a very small amount in the morning and see how you feel, he said.

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Once caffeine gets into your system, it also takes hours to metabolize. Kolla said it may be the caffeine, or the hydration, but coffee appears to help to wake people up.

A greasy breakfast: Bacon, fried eggs and hash browns doused in hot sauce – that may be the go-to cure for some people, but it doesn’t necessarily work.

If you aren’t used to eating greasy food, it could make you feel worse, Brick said. Food, in general, helps to slow down the absorption of alcohol and that may decrease your overall intoxication, he said.

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Kolla said any meal will help to supply calories and energy to your body, too.

Crackers or bread: When you’re tipsy or dealing with a hangover, someone always offers up bread, crackers or pretzels to “soak up the alcohol.”

It doesn’t work that way, Kolla said.

READ MORE: 8 so-called ‘healthy’ foods registered dietitians wouldn’t (or rarely) eat

“Alcohol is very quickly absorbed in the stomach and small intestine so if you’ve been drinking at night, it’s very unlikely that crackers will help to absorb anything,” he said.

But the hit of glucose from the simple carbs might help on a whole.

What about a healthy meal? Never drink on an empty stomach, Vanessa Zoras, a Cleveland Clinic Canada registered dietitian said. Before going out for a night of drinks, have a meal that offers protein, fibre and healthy fats, she said.

She offered up a burrito as an example. It’s packed with meat, beans, cheese, vegetables and guacamole.

Make sure you have a snack before bedtime, too. She suggested hummus and crackers.

READ MORE: Trying to lose weight? 10 tasty foods you’ll like and can eat guilt-free

In the morning, “easy, digestible carbs” will be your godsend. She said this could look like pretzels with banana and a glass of water, vegetable soup with crackers, and toast with peanut butter or cheese.

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Be prepared: Try your best to alternate between a pint of beer and a glass of water come Friday night, Zoras said. This will pace you for the night.

Kolla said men shouldn’t have more than three drinks over the course of an evening while women should aim for no more than two.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol you’re imbibing whether it’s beer, liquor or wine. It’s the actual amount in concentration of alcohol is what causes the hangover,” MacNeill said.

READ MORE: Alcohol ‘directly causes’ seven forms of cancer, scientist suggests

The experts agreed all around: there is no rhyme or reason behind the notion that you can’t mix different kinds of alcohol throughout the night. It doesn’t matter if you start the night drinking wine and then switch to beer or vice-versa.

“This is a myth of epic proportion. Consuming many different types of drinks statistically increases the probability of drinking something you are allergic to or have a reaction to but mixing different beverages, per se, does not contribute to hangovers or to getting sick,” Brick said.

But Brick notes: sweet drinks hide the alcohol and that can result in drinking more than you intended, especially if you drink fast.

Rest and relaxation: Take a nap, MacNeill said. Stay away from brightly-lit rooms and loud noises. These may only worsen your symptoms. Try to lay low, rehydrate and take a nap if you’re feeling awful on Saturday.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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