No matter what the occasion (rooftop bash, holiday office party, Netflix and wine on a Tuesday), hangovers are always in season. And for anyone who’s ever dragged herself into the office in a post-rosé brain fog knows, you are never too old for the struggle.
Yep, it’s a tough world out there, and raging headaches do not discriminate. But what actually causes a hangover? According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol triggers your blood vessels to expand, triggering said headache — and the inflammatory response by your immune system causes fogginess and inability to concentrate. Add to that a drop in blood sugar (cue fatigue, shakiness, and weakness), irritation of your stomach lining (what’s up, nausea), and the tendency to pee a gajillion times (hello, dehydration), and you’ve got a perfect storm.
So we turned to Real Nutrition NYC’s Amy Shapiro (RD, MS) for the tried-and-true formula to skip the hangover for good — so you’ll never have to mutter “I’m never drinking AGAIN!” well, again.
Step 1: Don’t forget the food
Everyone knows heading to happy hour on an empty stomach is a rookie mistake. But what grub options should you be reaching for before you drink for maximum benefit? Turns out, fatty ones.
“Some theories suggest eating foods high in fat will help coat the intestines, allowing for slower absorption of the alcohol,” explains Shapiro. “I would say [to] eat some avocado, some nuts or, if you can handle it, a swig of olive oil.” Down the hatch!
In the AM, swap out your usual go-to of a greasy bacon, egg, and cheese for a lighter alternative. Shapiro recommends whole wheat toast with avocado and eggs, oatmeal with fruit, hearty chicken soup, or a smoothie. “Remember when you have a hangover you are mostly dehydrated and have low blood sugar, so drinking and eating anything will help,” she adds. “The grease from fried food will only make you more sick, and [that goes for] dairy, too! Keep it clean, simple, and balanced, and you’ll feel better in no time.”
Wait, so no milkshakes? Shapiro says it’s a good idea to avoid dairy, since the fat content and heaviness could irritate your stomach (especially if you’re prone to lactose problems). Some studies also suggest that craving fatty foods after or during drinking is a negative cycle. Ingesting alcohol produces more of the brain chemical galanin, galanin boosts your desire for fatty snacks, and consuming fat produces yet more galanin — which then increases the desire to drink more booze. So avoid the dairy (and other fatty grub) if you’d like to get off the train.
Step 2: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
When imbibing, it’s common knowledge that water is your friend — but that’s easy to forget when you’re swayed by the two-for-one deals at happy hour. Try and stick to a one-to-one ratio, with a glass of water after each glass of booze. A big swig of H2O before bed helps, too — and don’t forget to drink up the next morning.
Shapiro also suggests coconut water as a hangover miracle. A good choice here is Harmless Harvest, which skips the heat processing to maintain natural nutrients like potassium, an electrolyte that aids heart and muscle function, particularly in your intestinal tract. Potassium is lost when you pee, so after drinking, you’re at a major deficit — and replenishing your supply could help your body process alcohol and get rid of that hangover faster.
Step 3: Pick your poison
All cocktails (and beer and wine) are not created equal. “Liquor without sugar-laden mixers tend to leave people less hungover,” says Shapiro. “[Too much] sugar causes the alcohol to be absorbed quicker, and then causes those blood sugar spikes and crashes I mentioned before.”
Her drinks of choice? Vodka with club soda or tequila with lime juice. It makes sense to opt for clear liquors or white wine, since dark libations like whiskey, red wine, and rum contain substances called congeners, which give them their color and flavor — but also contain toxins that interfere with cell function and can be the culprit behind your raging headache.
You may want to skip the bubbly, too. Sadly, studies show that carbonated drinks like champagne actually increase the absorption of alcohol, leading to quicker intoxication and, as the logic goes, a more severe hangover.
Step 4: Try a natural remedy
When all else fails, sometimes you’ve got to get creative. For Shapiro, that means loading on the ginger.
“Chewing ginger, or adding ginger to tea will help with nausea,” she says. In China, ginger has been used to aid digestion and ease an upset stomach for over 2,000 years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. You can also try mixing a few drops of ginger essential oil with a carrier oil (like jojoba or avocado) and rubbing directly above your belly button.
Shapiro also notes that chicken noodle soup is a prime candidate to replenish your sodium levels — and the same can be said of miso soup. Both options will help you rehydrate you, but miso has the added benefit of fermentation, which means it packs a healthy dose of positive bacteria to help clear out your gut and aid digestion. Another good fermented option? Kombucha, which also boasts liver-detoxifying gluconic acid.
If you want to go the one-swig route, reach for the ACV. Apple cider vinegar is known to balance pH levels and increase deficient minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium and iron. Alternately, you can pop a capsule of milk thistle, which is an herbal supplement that supports liver detox. “It basically acts as your liver’s assistant, helping get rid of the alcohol more quickly than your liver could on its own,” gastroenterologist Prem Chattoo told Prevention.
If all that doesn’t work? “Simply go back to sleep,” says Shapiro. That, we can handle — as long as it’s the weekend.