The History of the Hangover

Fresher’s week is great for meeting new people, exploring Leeds and getting introduced to the Faculty that will be your academic home for your next 3 or 4 years here. However, and let’s be honest here, it will probably descend into a survival game of ‘how many days straight can you drink’. It’s a messy game. For the record, this is not an article advocating drinking; I’m just providing you the tools to (hopefully) feel better once the inevitably happens. With that in mind let’s explore some hangover cures – ranging from the normal to the downright bizarre.

Starting at the sensible end of the spectrum – thanks to the good old NHS – there’s the common advice of drinking slowly, drinking with food and limiting the amount you drink (let’s assume the latter isn’t a viable option, or else you wouldn’t be reading this…). Drinking on an empty stomach makes for a cheap night but is, ultimately, a guaranteed disaster. Mark my words. You can also alternate between alcohol and soft drinks, keeping the buzz without overdoing it. These are good and sensible options, making sure you stay hydrated and slowing the alcohol absorption with food. Alas, they require a modicum of self-control and forward planning, thus avoiding the hangover at the source. So what should you do once the ‘sensible’ philosophy goes out the window and the shots begin?

Well, there are certainly some strange ideas floating around out there and here are some of the weirder hangover cures from around the world:

  • Ancient Rome: If you’re a frequent QI watcher you’ll be familiar with Pliny the Elder. He recommended deep frying a canary and eating it, although historians still debate whether the bird was prepared in any way or scoffed au natural.
  • Sicily: Ever considered chewing on a dried bull penis? Yes, you read that right. I can only suppose it’s to distract you from how bad you feel or to tell your body to pick itself up as fast as possible so you can stop chewing. It’s unconfirmed whether you must spit or swallow…
  • Ireland: Irish legend suggests that the best way to rid yourself of a hangover is to be buried up to your neck in wet river sand. You’ll certainly be feeling more awake afterwards but I‘m not sure about curing the headache!
  • Mongolia: This possibly beats Sicily in the disgusting category – you make a cocktail of tomato juice and pickled sheep’s eyes… Ewe. Let’s put that one on the ‘maybe’ pile.
  • Puerto Rico: This is one of my personal favourites. Before you start drinking rub a lemon slice under your drinking arm, which will supposedly prevent dehydration. I don’t know who devised this – and there’s absolutely no scientific basis to it – but go ahead and try it if all else fails.

There are also plenty of natural remedies available. Eating bananas can replenish your potassium levels, required by the liver to process ethanol, while honey can help restore your sugars. Banana smoothies all round then! Well there you have it, plenty of ways to dodge the hangover bullet following a big drinking session; just make sure you’re safe out there and have fun!


Sam McMaster

Science Editor

(Image courtesy of Rob Garver)

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