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To Heal Hangover, Skip the ‘Hair of the Dog,’ and Hit the Gym

To Heal a Hangover, Doctor Says Skip the Coffee
New Year’s revelers who need to cure a hangover should skip the conventional wisdom advising they swill coffee or another alcohol drink, and instead hit the gym. Photographer: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

New Year’s revelers needing a hangover remedy should ignore the conventional wisdom that they drink coffee or more alcohol, and head to the gym instead.

The body gets rid of alcohol and its toxic by-products four ways: breathing, via the liver or kidney and from sweating, said Aaron Michelfelder, a family physician from Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Illinois. Exercise speeds breathing, increases sweat, and moves alcohol-laden blood to the liver and kidneys more quickly.

“That’s why you should stay hydrated as well,” Michelfelder said in a telephone interview. “It takes a lot of water to process alcohol in your body.”

Drinking plenty of water, especially between every glass of wine, whiskey or beer, has another benefit -- it can reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, he said.

Michelfelder has a list of recommendations that New Year’s Eve partygoers should heed tonight to help the body grapple with the tsunami of alcohol ahead. The first is, avoid a hangover altogether, he said.

“A hangover is brain damage,” he said. “Some of it is going to heal, and some will be permanent. Prevention is the best medicine, particularly with hangovers.”

The most important is to drink moderately and slowly, at most five drinks for men and three for women over a three-hour period. Other measures include taking an anti-inflammatory pill such as ibuprofen and eating before any drinking occurs. The medicine may help avoid nerve damage from the alcohol, while the food may slow the absorption of alcohol. B vitamins may also help, he said.

Coffee Doesn’t Work

Michelfelder’s most surprising advice involves what to do after the hangover has set in. Coffee is unlikely to ease the nausea, dizziness, cotton candy head and general malaise that stems from over-imbibing, though it may lift some symptoms of depression that can set in after the warm and pleasant effects of the alcohol wear off, he said.

“Hair of the dog,” the familiar standby of getting down just one more drink in order to stymie the ill-effects of a hangover, is particularly unhelpful, Michelfelder said. It will only make you feel worse, he said.

“A hangover is similar to taking a sledgehammer and hitting your head,” he said. “Do what you need to do not get a hangover. It’s unpleasant and it’s hard on your body.”

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