Hangovers may be the body’s way of sharply reminding people about the hazards of alcohol overindulgence. It’s actually a physiological group effort: Diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, headache, and shaking are the classic hangover symptoms.
At times, the heart beats faster than normal, your systolic blood pressure shoots up, and the sweat glands go on overdrive. Some people even become quite sensitive to sound or light while others suffer from vertigo (spinning sensation).
In movies and TV shows when someone has a massive hangover, they typically rush to the kitchen for that inevitable cup of black coffee. While the screen scenes may be too dramatic and overplayed, they, however, make lots of sense because coffee contains caffeine (shocking revelation, I know). This powerful ingredient not only staves off sleep but makes you more alert following too much alcohol the day before.
Can Caffeine Defeat Hangover…Just Tell Me
Yes, coffee can help fight hangovers when paired with fluids and an aspirin. A black cup of coffee alone will not reduce the strong pulses in your head.
What Causes A Hangover?
But before we delve into whether coffee is any good for hangovers, it’s good to identify what triggers hangovers. Basically, a hangover is the effect of consuming alcoholic beverages in excess. It causes weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, muscle aches, stomach pain, sensitivity to sound and light as well as dry throat.
Also known as veisalgia, a hangover can possibly be caused by:
Alcohol is a diuretic and it is easy to identify dehydration as a major of hangovers.
Alcohol causes unwanted accumulation of NADH, a chemical compound that literally throws your metabolic system into total chaos. It also affects your electrolyte levels.
This toxic compound is a by-product of the alcohol in your body as its being processed. Certain acetaldehyde levels can cause vomiting, nausea, and skin flushing.
Yes, it’s true that a little caffeine helps in alleviating some of the symptoms associated with a hangover but downing cup after cup of coffee might only be adding a caffeine withdrawal to the list of your hangover miseries. Caffeine tends to narrow your blood vessels and greatly boosts blood pressure — both are bad for your nagging hangover.
Dispelling The Coffee-Hangover Myths
It’s important to first dispel the assumption held by many people of what a cup of Joe can do to a hangover – coffee doesn’t instantly make you sober. The caffeine in your coffee might actually ‘wake you up’ for a brief period but the alcohol effects will still linger.
And drinking cup after cup of coffee is not comparable to drinking lots of water to re-hydrate the body when you have a hangover. The truth is that coffee being a diuretic when you consume excessive amounts of the stuff, it could even worsen your state that is already dehydrated.
Coffee only helps a hangover by preventing your body from experiencing caffeine withdrawal that would otherwise make the situation worse. Coffee though not alleviating the symptoms of hangover simply prevents other symptoms from developing.
Dealing With Hangovers
A hangover presents the coffee drinker with a catch-22 situation. The kind and variety of proposed solutions are not only many but at times conflicting. Here are several possible ways of dealing with a hangover.
Give It Time
Remember, that although coffee may look like the best option, it could end up making you feel worse and for longer. A lot, of course, depends on your unique situation. The best way of dealing with a nasty hangover is to give it time. Focus on the symptoms and explore what you can possibly do to alleviate them.
Get More Sleep
The best solution, if you are in a position to, is to go back to sleep. If that is not an option for you, try drinking a small amount of coffee accompanied by lots of water. Remember that when you wake up, you are likely to be dehydrated particularly if you didn’t drink water before going to bed last night. Therefore test your digestive system’s tolerance first with some water to gauge the quantity or amount of liquids you can keep down.
Try Some Coffee
If your tolerance levels seem okay, try half a cup of coffee with a light snack, perhaps a piece of toast. To avoid experiencing a sugar crash, forgo sweetened creamers or sugar in your cup of Joe. This is because taken on an empty and stomach, the glucose gets metabolize quickly.
It’s important to note that although caffeine may not necessarily come with any special anti-hangover magical powers, as a body and brain stimulant, it helps with the grogginess. Coffee is, however, a diuretic, so it could worsen dehydration.
Get Some Juice and Carbohydrates
Drinking lots of alcoholic beverages may lower your blood sugar levels. Theoretically, therefore, some of the hangover-related headaches and fatigue may be the result of a brain working with less than adequate amounts of its main source of fuel.
Moreover, it’s a fact that many people usually forget to eat when drinking, further lowering the blood sugar levels. Juice and some toast (carbohydrates) is a gentle way of nudging your blood sugars levels back to normal.
Lots Of Fluids – The Best Cure
A major cause of hangovers is dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, dry mouth, thirst, and dark urine. By drinking lots of water and minimizing your intake of caffeine, you’ll be keeping your blood vessels well dilated and thus lowering your blood pressure.
Adding a mixture of salt and sugar to your water helps in replacing the sodium and glycogen you lost last night when drinking alcohol. Other recommended fluids include those rich in electrolytes such as glucose, potassium, and sodium. With lots of fluids in the body, you should start feeling normal again after a little while and even resume your coffee habit.
Caffeine acts fast. When you wake up with a massive a hangover, you obviously want the quickest relief. In fact, you can begin experiencing the effects of caffeine in as little as half an hour.
While you shouldn’t consume too much coffee after a heavy night of alcohol, there’s no valid reason why you shouldn’t look forward to your morning cup of Joe. One study found that one cup of coffee paired strategically with aspirin is also an excellent hangover cure.
So, the next time you wake up with a nasty hangover, don’t go for some weird raw egg concoction or look for a greasy breakfast that often leaves you feeling worse. Instead, take plenty of water/juices, a small a cup of Joe and some aspirin. Just don’t overdo the coffee. A little caffeine works wonders!
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.