December 31, 2014

Strange hangover cures: from sheep’s eye to bull’s penis

Eric Hopton for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

As any fool knows, the only fool-proof way to avoid hangover Hell is to keep the firewater away from your mouth in the first place. But humans are, after all, only human, and abstinence comes hard. So, for those of us who are mere mortals and too easily tempted to excess, redOrbit enters the seasonal spirit world and checks out putative cures for the hangover curse – just in case…

Traditional “remedies” range from the “hair of the dog that bit you” – that’s topping up the alcohol with even more the next morning – to gallons of black coffee and mountains of burnt toast, through eggs, to greasy fried breakfasts, bananas and multivitamins. Commercial products cover the whole spectrum from quick analgesics to out and out quackery.

A search through the literature on the subject throws up some interesting stuff buried among the piles of mumbo jumbo.

Lacy Perry, writing for How Stuff Works, does a good job of analysing the most popular cures. Perry is spot on in condemning the “Hair of the Dog” myth as pure fiction. In fact, this can be a dangerous option. Pumping more booze into an already toxified body and over-strained liver can give short-lived relief, but in the end it can only make things worse.

Perry also debunks the “Burnt Toast” remedy which is apparently based on the assumption that the charred bread contains carbon that acts like the activated charcoal used in treating some cases of poisoning. Burnt toast is nothing like activated charcoal and the verdict on this one has to be an emphatic “utter rubbish.” It’s as crazy as the habit of sick nineteenth century chimney sweeps in dosing themselves with a lump of soot mixed into warm milk.

The Black Coffee lobby get a slightly better verdict. The caffeine hit can help combat the post-indulgence fatigue. Coffee can also, says Perry “Help alleviate a pounding head because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it reduces the size of blood vessels. This counteracts the effect of the alcohol, which makes them swell, making the head hurt in the first place.” But too much caffeine, with its diuretic effect, can lead to more dehydration.

Eating eggs gets a bit of a “thumbs-up” too. Apart from packing a lot of energy, like a white and yellow life support system for the terminally hung-over, eggs also contain large amounts of cysteine. Cysteine “breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver's easily depleted glutathione.” So, however you like your eggs, they may just help, acting like a sponge for those deadly toxins.

If you fancy a bit of bacon to go with the eggs, you have scientific support. Back in 2009, researchers from Newcastle University proved that a bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover by boosting the level of amines which clear the head.

One cheap and simple option is water. Rehydration is essential for recovery and plenty of water also dilutes the contents of the stomach. Perry again – “Adding salt and sugar to water helps replace the sodium and glycogen lost the night before. Non-caffeinated, non-carbonated sports drinks can achieve the same effect.”

Fruit juices and vitamin B and C supplements can also help. They boost energy levels and research has shown that they speed up the breaking down of toxins.

Painkillers can reduce the impact of headaches but have can have side-effects and even damage the stomach and liver. Use with caution.

For those with a penchant for the weird and wonderful, there are some truly exotic “cures” from all over the planet. The Guardian newspaper has picked out a few beauties.

From Russia we have the charming custom of drinking the brine out of a jar of pickled gherkins. The Russians believe the pickling process produces digestive probiotics and that the salt in the brine replaces lost electrolytes. I don’t see much mileage in this one. All that acidic juice is not going to help that raw stomach lining one bit.

Then there’s Pancita, a chilli spiked beef tripe stew from Mexico and another hot spicy offering – the raw fish based Leche de tigre from Peru which also has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. The South Koreans swear by their Haejang soup, a heady soup of bones,  vegetables and congealed ox blood.

Indigenous Australians with a bad head like nothing more than a good slug of green tree ants mashed into a delicious hot tea. Meanwhile, inebriated Mongolians are rumoured to turn to pickled sheep’s eyes in tomato juice. Germans go for pickled herring with raw onion. In New Zealand it’s a mince and cheese pie washed down with chocolate milk.

Those tough Old West cowboy dudes swigged down rabbit-dropping and Sicilians prefer a dried bull's penis. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

Surely there’s something there that tickles your fancy and may become your favourite “reviver”. But please remember, redOrbit advocates responsible drinking and, in truth, the only cure for a hangover is lots and lots of time.


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