Now that the biggest party night of the year, New Year’s Eve, is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to settle into the year ahead. But did your New Year’s Eve hangover scare you away from ever enjoying a drink again? We’ve gathered up some information from Michael L. Oshinsky, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology at Jefferson, about the science behind the causes of a hangover, and the best ways to treat them.
What is a hangover, anyway?
A hangover headache is classified by the International Headache Society as an alcohol-induced headache caused immediately, or after a short delay, by ingestion of alcohol, usually in the form of alcoholic beverage. It is induced by an increase in a metabolite of alcohol called acetate. Blood levels of this breakdown product of alcohol peak four to six hours after a person finishes consuming alcohol. Further metabolism causes acetate to contribute to an increase in a chemical in the brain called adenosine. High levels of adenosine can cause a headache in many people, especially people who have a history of migraines.
There are a ton of commercial products that are touted as cures for a hangover. Does anything work?
The vast majority of treatments for a hangover headache have very little or no scientific basis. IV treatments do little more than rehydrate a person, making it simply as beneficial as drinking a glass of water. Dehydration can exacerbate a headache, but our research suggests that dehydration is not what causes the headache symptoms of a hangover, therefore it cannot cure it.
What is the best way to combat a hangover?
The first step is to avoid a hangover to begin with by limiting your alcohol intake. Most experts agree that drinking in moderation is OK, and can even have some health benefits, but that overdoing it isn’t a great idea. If you do overindulge, our research in rats suggests that using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, when a person finishes drinking, followed by a caffeinated drink four to six hours after, works best to treat the headache portion of the hangover.
Cheers to a happy, healthy, hangover-free new year!