Most people don’t plan on having a head-pounding, crawl-back-under-the-covers, can’t-get-over-being-grumpy hangover the morning after a bit too much celebration.
It may not be until you are suffering from a hangover that you wonder how to cure it and whether coffee is part of the solution.
Causes of Hangovers
Scientific American notes that hangovers have been with us since fermented beverages were discovered in ancient times.
You may feel like it’s your head that takes the biggest beating during a hangover, but it’s your liver — the main body organ that breaks down the toxins in alcohol. The magazine explains that this is a time-consuming process, which eventually reduces the main toxin, acetaldehyde, into acetate and then into water and carbon dioxide.
Analyzing a 2010 study by Michael Oshinsky of Philadelphia’s Jefferson University, Scientific American says Oshinsky theorizes that acetate causes hangover headaches. Over-consumption of alcohol causes the body to accumulate an excess of acetate, a common human substance that also results from other bodily processes.
Another theory the magazine cites is based on the observation that barrel-aged alcohols seem to cause more hangover headaches. Researchers think that substances alcohol picks up during fermentation and aging in barrels — including an added dose of acetaldehyde and acetate as well as tannins and histamines — may make headaches more likely.
So can coffee provide and adrenal rush to the rescue?
The Coffee Cure — Fact or Fiction
Movies and novels often show people drinking coffee to overcome intoxication. But that’s mostly a big gulp of misinformation. Most scientific research shows that morning coffee increases alertness but doesn’t decrease inebriation.
However, Oshinsky’s study did show that coffee can play a positive role in taming a hangover headache, but only if it is consumed with aspirin or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen.
Unfortunately, this combination is problematic because both substances can cause a stomachache by increasing digestive acid. So make sure you drink lots of water with them. Also, drinking plenty of water is necessary, because both alcohol and coffee cause dehydration by constricting blood vessels and making you pee copiously.
Another consideration, CNN News says, is that if you regularly drink coffee in the morning, skipping it may add a caffeine-withdrawal headache to your woes. Instead, drink caffeine in moderation.
As to water, don’t expect that downing major quantities will avert a hangover. It doesn’t, according to a 2015 pair of studies in the Netherlands and Canada that also shed doubt on folk remedies such as eating fatty foods and heavy breakfasts.
Both studies, which focused on college students, concluded that the only sure prevention for a hangover is to limit alcohol consumption.
What to Do?
So if coffee alone won’t rescue you and if your will power is weak when socializing involves alcohol, what can you do to lessen the potential for a hangover?
Australia may have discovered a preventive measure this past summer. Its Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization reports that consuming pear juice before drinking wine, beer and other spirits may decrease blood alcohol.
If you fail to start your evening with pear juice, all hope of recovering from a hangover isn’t lost. And it may not be bleak if you have coffee but no aspirin or ibuprofen to go with it. The key may be to keep certain kinds of soft drinks on hand.
Scientific American’s report also talks about a 2013 study from China’s Sun Yat-Sen University, which found that a beverage called Xue bi speeds breakdown of alcohol toxins due to containing taurine. It’s a common soda additive that is also in Sprite and Seven-Up.
No soda in your fridge? Soldier on, but take the bus to work.