The Grapevine

The Elusive Hangover Cure Is Probably A Myth And There Is No Such Thing As A Hangover Immunity

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Your hangover immunity is probably all in your head. Simon Cocks CC BY 2.0

Going into work after a night of heavy drinking is always difficult, and having to sit next to that one coworker who brags about “never getting hangovers” doesn't make things much better. If you've ever questioned the validity of that claim, you’re not alone. Recently, a first-of-its-kind study on hangover immunity and cures found that most individuals who claim to possess this trait usually don’t drink enough to warrant a hangover in the first place.

Hangovers are uncomfortable, painful, and often completely debilitating. Many would pay good money for a quick relief for the self-inflicted ailment, but an international study recently presented at the ECNP conference in Amsterdam this week suggests such a product may only exist in our dreams.

For the first part of the study, researchers from Canada surveyed the drinking habits of 789 Canadian college students from the previous month. According to the press release, the students were questioned on the number of drinks they consumed, the timeframe of the consumption, and the severity of their hangover. Hangover severity was measured via a scale ranging from 0 (none), to 1 (mild), 2 (moderate), and 7 (incapacitating.) The student’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), the international measurement of how much alcohol is present in an individual’s blood, was also estimated based on the students’ recollection of their drinking habits. The BAC of students who claimed to “never get hangovers” was compared against those who experienced varying severity of hangovers.

Results showed that, overall, about 31 percent of the students surveyed reported some sort of “hangover immunity.” However, around 79 percent of this group were estimated as having a peak BAC below 0.10 percent. To put this into perspective, in the U.S. a BAC of .08 percent is considered to be the driving limit. Seventeen percent of those in this category had a peak BAC of 0.05 percent and only two percent of drinkers with a peak BAC over 0.2 percent reported hangover immunity. This would suggest that the majority of those who experience hangover immunity are simply drinking enough to induce the symptoms of a hangover.

“In general, we found a pretty straight relationship; the more you drink, the more likely you are to get a hangover,” explained lead author, Dr. Joris Verster in a statement. “The majority of those who in fact reported never having a hangover tended to drink less, perhaps less than they themselves thought would lead to a hangover.”

For the second part of the study, the researchers investigated the validity of two popular hangover cure claims: drinking water and eating certain types of foods. A total of 826 Dutch students were asked to report on their latest heavy drinking session that resulted in a next-day hangover. The severity of the hangover was scored on a scale ranging from 0 (absent) to 111 (extreme).

Results showed that there was no significant difference in hangover severity between students who had consumed food directly after drinking (before they went to bed) and those who did not. Those who reported eating a heavy breakfast or having fatty food the morning after heavy drinking experienced a modest relief from their hangover symptoms, as did those who reported drinking water during alcohol consumption or before they went to bed, but once again the difference was very small.

“Those who took food or water showed a slight statistical improvement in how they felt over those who didn't, but this didn't really translate into a meaningful difference,” Verster added. “From what we know from the surveys so far, the only practical way to avoid a hangover is to drink less alcohol.”

Over the years many products have boosted claims of reducing the hangover pain. For example, Pedialyte, the popular children’s stomach bug drink recently changed its campaign in an attempt to be marketed as a hangover relief. Although the claim wasn’t completely unfounded, as the electrolytes in the drink can replace those lost during drinking and relieve some hangover discomfort, experts urged that the drink was still far from a miracle cure. Others boosted a more natural method of hangover relief by claiming that pear juice was capable of being able to hasten next-day recovery. Unfortunately, research showed the pear juice only had an effect if taken before alcohol consumption.

Source: Verster JC, Bervoest AC, De Klerk S, et al. Alcohol hangover amongst Canadian university students: can hangover immunity be really claimed. ECNP Conference. 2015.

Correction: The article has been edited to reflect that the correct legal driving limit for BAC in the U.S. is 0.08. 

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