Hangover cures that work, according to experts

Bankhouse Brewery owner Damien Norman. Photo: Luke Hemer
Bankhouse Brewery owner Damien Norman. Photo: Luke Hemer

For most people, it's hardly uncharted territory - that bleak landscape of nausea, sluggishness, headache, dry-mouth and general self-loathing which demarcates the dreaded hangover. To paraphrase the great Billy Connolly, "once experienced, never forgotten - at least until the next time".

And depending on the fervour with which you may or may not decide to embrace the inevitable countdown to 2022, you could well wake up on the other side with what the Swedes cheerfully call being 'smacked from behind'.

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Many of us, of course, will probably begin this evening with good intentions. But because New Year's Eve is one of few annual occasions that gives express licence for a cheeky drink or two, we all know those plans are liable to fall to the wayside, so to speak.

So, what of the antidote - the elusive hangover cure?

For those of us with enough foresight to know there's a real and not remote possibility they'll wake up January 1 feeling like hell in a handbasket, think of this article as compulsory homework, only useful.

For those who already consider themselves seasoned soldiers in that age-old quest for the hangover cure, ignore and suppress the cynic within you, read on and become enlightened.

The first thing to note is that cures for Bacchanalian excess have captivated the imagination of humankind for millennia.

Renowned second century Greek physician Galen of Pergamon, for instance, helpfully instructed his patients to wrap their heads in cabbage leaves.

The Ancient Romans, by contrast, thought it best to down a raw owl's egg or two. Fast-forward to the nineteenth century and you'll find the French had perfected something not wholly dissimilar - the prairie oyster: an altogether unholy combination of raw egg, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar, among other things.

The Germans, meanwhile, are by all accounts partial to the Rollmop - something which closely competes with the prairie oyster on the disgusting scale: raw pickled herring rolled around a gherkin.

The Russians, on the other hand, apparently take a more laidback approach, settling with pickle brine, which is probably about as delectable as it sounds. And the Turks swear by tripe - the lining of a cow's stomach.

Bankhouse Brewery owner Damien Norman thinks some vigorous exercise and/or denial will do the trick. Photo: Luke Hemer

Bankhouse Brewery owner Damien Norman thinks some vigorous exercise and/or denial will do the trick. Photo: Luke Hemer

Still, I suppose none of those audacious delicacies are as bad as dried bull penis or 'pizzle', as the daring locals of Sicily call it. Google that at your peril.

Closer to home, the go-to hangover remedies of some of our local experts appear to err more on the side of the mainstream.

Damien Norman, owner of Bankhouse Brewery - a recently established microbrewery in Dean - said his preferred hangover treatment had long been a combination of "lots of water" and "some work - anything that gets the blood pumping".

"I'd describe my first hangover as not pleasant," Mr Norman said with an air of understatement.

"But I think what always helps is to get a bit of physical activity happening if possible and then try to work through it."

To the extent Mr Norman sees vigorous exercise as the path out of hangover misery, you'll be forgiven for thinking it more a policy of denial, rather than a cure; an almost British-like keep calm and carry-on kind of stoicism which forbids you to admit to anyone how you're really feeling.

But according to Monash University physician Merlin Thomas, Mr Norman's advice is not far off the mark in terms of what science suggests works.

"Basically, any activity which will clonk our brain to think 'it's time to wake up' - whether it's intense exercise, a shower or coffee - will help allay some of the symptoms of hangover," Professor Thomas said.

The reason why, Professor Thomas said, is because the likelihood of waking up hungover largely turns on the extent to which your alcohol consumption has interfered with your night's sleep.

"Only two-thirds of people who become intoxicated in fact experience a hangover the next day," he said. "And while the reason those lucky blighters are spared is not entirely clear, we think it's because they sleep better."

"We know alcohol interferes with your sleep pattern - it's why when you try to wake up the next morning your brain tells you it'd rather go back to sleep or else curl up and die."

So, in Professor Thomas' view, the best cure for the hangover - short of prevention - is sleep.

"It's true drinking large amounts of water can also help with dehydration," he said. "But a hangover is not dehydration."

"It's the same with fatty or greasy food - a hangover is not a nutritional deficiency and won't be fixed by any of those things."

Co-owner of Kilderkin Distillery Chris Pratt, who thinks freezing showers or swims are not your friend when hungover. Photo: Luke Hemer

Co-owner of Kilderkin Distillery Chris Pratt, who thinks freezing showers or swims are not your friend when hungover. Photo: Luke Hemer

Elsewhere, Chris Pratt, co-owner of Kilderkin Distillery in Ballarat, also endorsed a "slow start, plenty of water and going back for another rest" (and perhaps a bucket?) as arguably the best and only hangover cure.

Mr Pratt said nothing else was likely to work, least of all anything that involved cold water; a lesson the native born Scot heeded after a swim in the North Sea the morning after a heavy night of exploits, it only dawning on him later "how stupid [the idea] was".

"People seem to think the freezing water will shock them into reality again but it's not true," he said.

Another palliative myth Mr Pratt was quick to dispel was the old 'hair of the dog' trick - a belief dating back to the mid-sixteenth century that you can obviate a hangover by simply having a morning drink.

As you can imagine, the legend has inspired a legion of fancy cocktails, from the Relapse, the Let it Bleed, the Fog Cutter to the Corpse Reviver, and the Suffering Bastard.

"[A morning drink] might help in the short-term but definitely not in the long-term," Mr Pratt said.

Professor Thomas, likewise, said the idea - which has its origins in the fallacy that a hangover is the same as alcohol withdrawal - had been scientifically disproven.

"For people suffering hangover, hair of the dog only delays the inevitable and, in the meantime, just worsens their already impaired decision-making," he said.

On the other hand, there is a school of thought that spirits like vodka and gin won't cause a hangover, at least not on the scale that wine or beer might.

But Professor Thomas said this, too, was a myth.

"A hangover can be caused by vodka, whisky, beer, wine - any alcohol that's had to excess regardless of its make or quantity," he said.

"I think the best way to avoid drinking to excess is by drinking good, expensive alcohol - so buy the good Australian stuff, enjoy it slowly and you will probably avoid a hangover."

For those interested in applying that sage New Year's Eve advice, Bankhouse brewery has recently launched a new, toasty ale called Local Gold, produced entirely from local ingredients.

And Kilderkin Distillery, which is home to the iconic Larrikin gin, has just launched a new Bramble and Apple Pie Liqueur.

After all, it can never be too soon to attempt a New Year's resolution, at least until the next time.

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