The French call it "la gueule de bois," or wooden mouth. For Germans, it's "Kater," or a tomcat. Japanese know it as "futsukayoi," or "two-days drunk." But whatever the language and wherever it takes place, a hangover is the same: headache, nausea, shaking, blurred vision, biliousness, dry mouth... the list of evils is long.
Just as lengthy is the roster of remedies for alcohol abuse that
have been touted over the centuries.
In Roman times, Pliny the Elder swore by raw owls' eggs.
In Elizabethan England, a pair of eels suffocated in wine was touted
as the trick. Green frogs were an acceptable substitute for those who
were out of eels.
In the 19th century, hungover chimney sweeps would sip warm milk
with a teaspoon of soot added.
Hair of the dog
Look around today, and the Internet has unleashed an explosion in
proposed hangover fixes, from fried food and the hair of the dog to
expensive formulae derived from plant extracts.
For those who wake up with a throbbing head and a mouth like a
parrot's cage, the choice seems like a life-saver - as long as they
overlook the fact the "cures" are underpinned more by hope than the
approval of science.
"From aspirin and bananas to Vegemite and water, Internet searches
present seemingly endless options for preventing or treating alcohol
hangovers," say US paediatricians Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll.
"No scientific evidence, however, supports any cure or effective
prevention," they write in the latest issue of the British Medical
In a 2005 study, doctors in Britain and the Netherlands reviewed the
only trials of hangover cures that had been conducted to objective
The eight remedies tested were three drugs and four dietary
supplements, as well as the fruit sugar fructose. The drugs comprised
tolfenamic acid, a painkiller; a beta-blocking drug called propranolol
and tropisetron, used for nausea and vertigo.
The dietary supplements were derived from dried yeast; from a flower
called borage (Borago officinalis); the globe artichoke (Cynara
scolymus); and prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica).
Volunteers were chosen randomly and were divided into two groups,
with one group taking the supposed remedy and the other taking a
The borage, the yeast and the tolfenamic acid did ease some symptoms
in a number of volunteers, and a previous study found the prickly pear
also made a difference. Apart from that, "no compelling evidence" could
be found to describe any of these products as effective in treating or
preventing a hangover.
In plain language, say experts, to avoid a hangover, do not drink or
drink only in moderation and have water too, to avoid dehydration, as
well as some food.
Whoever finds a cure for hangovers is clearly on the fast track to
In 2004, alcohol-related absenteeism from work, due in part to
hangover, cost Britain up to 1.8 billion pounds (about R27 billion), per year, according to an estimate by 10 Downing
Street. But this figure does not include indirect costs such as the
impact of worker performance from hangovers.
Cure not wanted?
But can a cure ever be found? And - here's an intrigueing question
- should we even look for one?
Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula
Medical School at Britain's University of Exeter, who took part in the
2005 study, says a hangover is a simple word for a complex thing.
It comprises symptoms affecting different parts of the body, varies
according to the individual and the circumstances in which the drinking
occurred (for instance, a hangover headache could be exacerbated after
a night in a smoky, noisy nightclub).
All this means there are many different pathological pathways
- metabolic, hormonal and so on - in which genetic variations will
also play a role.
Put these factors together, and it is most unlikely that a single,
one-off cure is available, suggests Ernst.
"A hangover is your body telling you a message: 'Don't abuse me',"
he told AFP.
"If we had a foolproof cure for hangovers, we would drink more.
Those of us who like their tipple, me included, would probably hesitate
a bit less over the last glass."
(Sapa-AFP, December 2008)
Physical and psychological effects of alcohol
Lose the booze blues