Two drinks on the table

Natural hangover remedies that actually work.

Last Updated: June 28, 2021

The only cure for a hangover is time, but you can mitigate the misery with both science-based and folk remedies. Here’s the dirt on feeling better fast.

Former bartender and current Grove writer Kristen Bailey is drawing on research and a wealth of experience in the day-after-drinking department to give you the whys and hows of a hangover — and the secret to getting through it intact.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options.


What causes a hangover?

Considering how many hangovers occur around the world on any given day, this ubiquitous condition isn’t very well understood by science — and much of the research into causes of and remedies for hangovers is contradictory and inconclusive.

We do know that lots of factors go into a hangover. One of the most-cited review papers on the subject, which I will refer to simply as The Paper, was co-authored by Dr. Robert Swift, a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Paper cites eight of the most important effects alcohol has on your body and how they contribute to your morning-after misery.

1. Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urinary output by reducing hormones that prevent your kidneys from conserving water. And that’s why you have to pee so often when you drink.

Symptoms: Thirst, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, and a dry, sticky mouth, and red, sandpaper eyes.

2. Electrolyte depletion

Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium are electrically charged minerals in your body that help you stay hydrated, balance pH, move nutrients into and waste out of your cells. Dehydration can cause an imbalance of electrolytes, and vomiting and diarrhea can further deplete them in your body.

Symptoms: Fatigue, lethargy, fast or irregular heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

3. Gastrointestinal irritation

Alcohol boosts the production of gastric acid in your stomach and delays stomach emptying, which can irritate your digestive system. Alcohol also increases intestinal and pancreatic secretions and may cause inflammation of the stomach lining.

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea of the nature that finds you sleeping on the bathroom floor with a towel for a pillow.

4. Low blood sugar

Alcohol inhibits the production of glucose in the body, depletes glucose reserves in the liver, and causes a buildup of lactic acid in body fluids, which further inhibits glucose production. Blood sugar is your body’s primary energy source, and your brain relies on it to process information, record memories, and think clearly.

Symptoms: Weakness, sweating, fatigue, shakiness, moodiness, and a sluggish, cloudy brain.

5. Poor sleep

While alcohol is a sedative, it also reduces your time in a REM dream state, worsens snoring and sleep apnea, and messes with your nighttime circadian rhythm, body temperature, and cortisol levels.

Symptoms: Insomnia, fatigue, sweating, and a feeling of jet lag.

6. Vasodilation

Hangover headaches are likely related to vasodilation, or the alcohol-induced widening of blood vessels, and the effects of alcohol on neurotransmitters and hormones associated with head pain.

Symptom: A heavy, aching head so sensitive to sound, touch, and movement that a feather falling on your head might just be the end of you.

7. Inflammatory response

Those who metabolize alcohol more slowly are likely to have more severe hangovers than those who metabolize it faster, likely due to greater oxidative stress and inflammation. How you metabolize alcohol depends on your genes, your biology, your age, your sex, and other factors.

Symptoms: More pronounced hangover symptoms and malaise—that unsettling feeling of not being well.

8. Mini-withdrawal

Drinking suppresses the central nervous system by increasing the activity of the calm-inducing neurotransmitter GABA and suppressing the activity of the excitability neurotransmitter glutamate. As alcohol leaves your bloodstream, GABA decreases and glutamate is no longer inhibited.

Symptoms: Tremors, anxiety, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to sound and light.

How long does a hangover last?

Blue clock illustration

In general, a hangover will start within a few hours after your last drink, brought on by falling blood alcohol content (BAC). It’ll typically last anywhere from 8 to 24 hours. You’ll probably feel your absolute worst right around the time your BAC — which you can measure yourself with a breathalyzer — reaches zero. After that, things should get progressively better as the day goes on.


Drinking dark booze

To avoid a bad hangover, steer clear of dark alcohol. Congeners, including tannins and acetone, are biologically active compounds that are found in high concentrations in darker alcohols like bourbon, red wine, and Jagermeister. Congeners give alcohol their flavor, aroma, and color — and they may produce a far worse hangover, according to research.

Solution: If you’re going to drink liquor, keep it clear — vodka, gin, silver tequila.

5 ways to ease your hangover naturally

The only guaranteed cure for a hangover is time. But the limited hangover research that exists provides us with a few science-based options for minimizing the misery and ratcheting up recovery.

Below are some hangover cure suggestions based on scholarly sources for remedies, but more importantly, a highly unscientific survey on social media to see what works for my drinking friends. Maybe their ideas are supported by science, maybe they’re not. But, If it sounds like something that might help you, give it a shot.

Note: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

1. Hydrate that hangover first thing

The first order of business when you wake up feeling like something your dog hacked up is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Not only are you dehydrated, but you probably need a shot of electrolytes, which help get — and keep — you hydrated and balance your pH levels.

What should you drink to cure a hangover?

Science says:

According to the Cleveland Clinic hydrating a hangover with a low-sugar sports drink, electrolyte beverage, or coconut water with salt — along with plenty of water—will bring sweet relief. The Paper suggests that caffeine may counteract the “fatigue and malaise” associated with a hangover.

Survey says:

  • Electrolyte powder or drink (10 votes)
  • Ice water with lemon (4)
  • Ice-laden fountain Coke (4)
  • Kombucha (4)
  • Caffeinated beverage (3)
  • Pickle juice (3)
  • Ice-cold chocolate milk (that’s my mom!)
  • Spoonful of soy sauce

2. Eat some food — if you can

Feeding a hangover helps restore normal blood sugar levels and ease nausea, weakness, and fatigue. Food may also help with that raging headache. Most importantly, food makes you poop, and once you poop out those toxins, you’re on your way to feeling better.

Yellow cutlery illustration

What should you eat to cure a hangover?

Science says: The science is scant on this one, but the recommendations are all over the map. Harvard Medical School suggests carbs — specifically, toast and juice. The Cleveland Clinic points to evidence that natural sugars in honey and fruit can help move alcohol out of your system faster.

Survey says:

  • Greasy fast food cheeseburger (5)
  • Pho (3)
  • Menudo (3)
  • Toast (2)
  • Spicy Mexican/Thai/Indian food
  • Potato chips
  • Fruit (Umboshi plum, banana, watermelon)
  • Ice cream and gummy worms

3. Supplement

Supplements may be where it’s at when it comes to easing your hangover symptoms. The many healing properties of plants and their high nutrient content helps repair and restore normal function to your body’s systems.

Green pill bottle illustration

What supplements are good for hangovers?

Science says: Harvard cites a study that says taking B vitamins and zinc may reduce the severity of a hangover. There are lots of hangover treatment supplements on the market containing a variety of healing herbs, including milk thistle, lycopene, prickly pear, B vitamins, ginger, ginseng, black pepper, vitamins C and E, zinc, and magnesium.

Speaking of which, have you heard of Calm Gummies? It’s a magnesium citrate supplement that I’ve since heard lots of folks like for dulling the sharp edges after a night of overdoing it.

Survey says:

  • THC (5)
  • Ginger tablets (3)
  • Alka-Seltzer (3)
  • Turmeric (3)
  • CBD (2)
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin C
  • Activated charcoal

4. Just chill

Blue candle illustration

The next best thing is to try just chilling while the hangover runs its course. Here’s what the respondents to my highly unscientific social media survey said they do to find comfort and solace during a hangover:

  • Shower
  • Lounge in the pool eating watermelon
  • Get comfy on the couch, and work on the NYT crossword puzzle
  • Treat it like the flu — feed it some chicken soup, and alternate between movies and naps
  • Have some hot sex to release oxytocin
  • Suck it up and get through the day
  • Bribe significant other to go pick up takeout
  • Spend a few hours in a bed, bath, or meditative trance to rally, then walk or garden
  • Huddle in a heap

5. Sleep

Crescent moon illustration

Sleep is great for a hangover. Not only does sleep put you out of your misery, but it also fast-tracks your body’s healing processes. If you’re at home, sink into your comfy bed, or hole up on the couch, and sleep it off.

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