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Can hair of the dog actually cure a hangover?

Netdoctor (UK) logo Netdoctor (UK) 08/04/2019 Abigail Malbon

Getty © Getty Getty Let’s be honest here: we’ve all tried hair of the dog to cure a hangover. The thought of drinking more alcohol the day after a night of boozing might be enough to churn your stomach, but there’s no doubt it often results in lifted spirits and a clearer head. At least in the interim.

But, of course, drinking on top of drinking is no good for your body. We all know that consuming more water is the real saviour here, but if you’ve managed to drink enough alcohol to result in a hangover and are looking for a quick-fix, will a pint cut it? Or is hair of the dog really just an old wives' tale we’ve been convinced by?

We clear up the myths with the help of experts, and you might want to put your glass of wine down for this one…

What exactly is hair of the dog?

It comes from the phrase: ‘The hair of the dog that bites you’. It's derived from the erroneous folk story that drinking a potion made from the hair of the rabid dog which bit you can cure the effects of the bite.

Somehow, this expression has stood the test of time, and you’ll regularly catch pub-goers stopping off for one more pint the day after a binge. In fact, we’ve probably all tried it at some point – with varying degrees of success.

Why do people believe in hair of the dog?

Refreshing Summer Pint of Beer Ready to Drink © Getty Refreshing Summer Pint of Beer Ready to Drink Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist and addiction expert at Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital explains that the phrase can be extremely damaging for some who may use it to justify their drinking. ‘If you are alcohol dependent, then in the morning your blood alcohol level will be low, and you will experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, anxiety and tremor,’ he says. ‘Topping up with alcohol can make those feelings go away temporarily until your level falls again.’

And even for those who rarely suffer hangovers, a quick-fix might be seen as the best option to minimise the alcohol effects. ‘If you are not dependent but have a binge on alcohol, then the brain - having been soaked in alcohol for a number of hours - feels its withdrawal. That can be experienced as a hangover.’

What's the science behind it?

Basically, there isn’t really any – as with a lot of hangover cures, it’s mostly theory. Many believe that, because blood sugar levels rise when you drink alcohol, and then drop again dramatically when you stop, having one more drink will help lift them again slowly without the extreme spike.

‘Alcohol has effects on the brain which last well beyond the time that alcohol remains in the bloodstream,’ McLaren said. ‘A hangover should be viewed as a mental and physical 'aftershock' to a heavy binge. The brain and body will need time to recover the pre-binge state.’

Does hair of the dog actually work?

© Getty Well, yes… but there’s a catch. ‘It works only in the sense that it can very temporarily ease withdrawal symptoms,’ McLaren says. ‘If you are doing it regularly then it is bad news, and means you are physically dependent on alcohol and will feel very ill and risk serious medical complications if you stop without medical help.’

Unsurprisingly, McLaren doesn’t recommend giving the tactic a go. ‘A hangover is the brain adapting to being without alcohol after a bout of heavy drinking,’ he explained. ‘Topping up in the morning may ease those feelings temporarily but it is never a good idea.’

Does it cure a hangover, or just delay it?

Unfortunately, you’re just prolonging the inevitable with every extra drink you have.

Booze causes your blood alcohol levels to rise, and it’s when they return to zero that your body starts to experience its hangover. By drinking the next day, you’re keeping those levels above zero – but once you stop, the extra alcohol will be metabolised and blood sugar will crash, leaving you suffering with – you guessed it! – a hangover.

The NHS says: ‘If you’ve had a heavy drinking episode, hangover or not, doctors advise that you wait at least 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol to give your body time to recover.’

So long, Bloody Mary.

What are the potential health risks?

© Getty ‘The main risk is that you get into a pattern of physical dependence in which you have to drink because you feel awful if you don't,’ says McLaren. However, if this is a one-off, in the immediate aftermath of drinking, you’re talking all the classic hangover symptoms: headaches, nausea and tiredness.

If you’re drinking regularly, you can expect to suffer from chronic tiredness, poor work performance, mood swings, high blood pressure, reduced immunity, indigestion and an increased tolerance to alcohol. If any of this is a concern, book an appointment with your GP to discuss further.

What else can I do to ease a hangover?

Young woman with muesli bowl. Girl eating breakfast cereals with nuts, pumpkin seeds, oats and yogurt in bowl. Girl holding homemade granola. Healthy snack or breakfst in the morning.. © Getty Young woman with muesli bowl. Girl eating breakfast cereals with nuts, pumpkin seeds, oats and yogurt in bowl. Girl holding homemade granola. Healthy snack or breakfst in the morning.. Clearly, the only way to truly beat a hangover is to not drink… or at least drink a little less. But if you’re suffering, the first thing you should do is rehydrate.

Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click told us: ‘While most people will reach for a sports drink, coconut water is actually more beneficial. It contains five electrolytes present in blood, whereas most sports drinks only contain around two. Coconut water contains more potassium than a banana, natural sugars and sodium in a healthy ratio, which can help you to feel better.’

And if you can face it, try to eat a good breakfast. ‘A meal rich in carbohydrates and fats can help to slow the absorption of alcohol into your system, so it doesn’t hit you as hard,’ says Kanani.

‘Try to incorporate healthy foods such as eggs, oats and fruits. Eggs contain amino acids to help boost liver function and contain a host of nutrients to help replenish your body. Research suggests that eggs also contain cysteine, an amino acid that helps combat the effects of a hangover by counteracting the poisonous effects of acetaldehyde.

‘Oats contain nutrients such as Vitamin B, Magnesium, Calcium and Iron as well as helping to neutralise body acids. They also provide a slow release of energy to help get you through the day.’

A cat nap will also help boost energy levels, while a brisk jog may seem like pure hell – but it will help. And if you’re planning on going to the pub? Maybe just stick to a soft drink this time.

Alcohol dependence resources

If you're worried about the amount you, or someone you know, is drinking, it's important to seek help. Book an appointment with your GP who can refer you to an addiction specialist if necessary. Alternatively, try one of the following resources:

• NHS Alcohol support service.

• Visit the DrinkAware website, or call their helpline on 0300 123 1110.

• Take a quiz to check your own drinking habits on the Alcohol Change website.

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