This Man Spent 10 Years Researching Hangovers. Here's What He Learned.
Good news for anyone planning to drink and ring in the new year with a hangover: We’ve got a cure.
It’s found in the last pages of a hilarious new book called Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for the Cure by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. He’s an insane, delightful man who’s traveled around the world with a drink in his hand for the last decade, researching hangovers and drinking culture throughout human history. It’s also a well-written history book about drinking that could also save you from being hungover. He’s tested loads of hangover cures on himself, and is sharing his results.
Bishop-Stall talked with us from Toronto about bullshit remedies, the healing powers of Marmite, getting buried under hay in the Alps, and the one hangover cure he swears by.
A history book for anyone who loves drinking
Bishop-Stall’s book seamlessly navigates from anecdotes about flying a fighter jet in Vegas while hungover to historical nuggets about the morning after. “I did 10 years of research with thousands of books, went through archives, and dug through as many primary sources as I could because there hasn’t been much written about hangovers throughout history,” he says. “That said, there’s been a lot written about alcohol and drinking. Alcohol has always been, and remains, perhaps the most mysterious molecule in the universe when it comes to the human point of view. We still know so little about it.”
This is where things get trippy. “The more that I looked at this stuff, the more I found mysterious connections among so many aspects of history, whether it be ancient religions, philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, spirituality, myth. If there was a missing piece or thing that could link them, I could find it through the idea of hangover,” he notes. “It became a meaningful lens for me to look at human experience and history.”
For example, he writes that in the Middle Ages, people “took hangover treatments from ancient times and made them a part of their every day -- particularly cabbage, herring, and cheese. But perhaps their wisest practice was to have two sleeps.” Even today, taking naps is something we can get behind.
Some hangover tips are total bullshit
In his travels, Bishop-Stall didn't just figure out the best ways to combat hangovers. He also played rosy-cheeked mythbuster. For example…
Clearer alcohol is safer than darker alcohol: Don’t fall for this falsehood, people. “If you’re buying the cheapest alcohol, and it’s only been made dark for artificial reasons, then that might be true. But if you’re looking at other kinds of alcohol -- a truly well-made single-malt scotch or wine -- color has nothing to do with it. It only suggests that it’s been well aged,” he explains.
Beer before liquor never been sicker: “Nobody can remember which way the rhyme goes, and it’s all bullshit, too,” he says.
Drinking a glass of water before every drink prevents hangovers: You might think that a hangover is due to dehydration, but Bishop-Stall says it’s not quite true. “You feel better when you have a glass of water for every glass of beer because you’re drinking slower,” he says. “If I have a pint of beer and then a pint of water, it’s hard to drink more than that in about 45 minutes. Your body will properly, easily, and safely process about one drink per hour. When you have a glass of water between every drink, you limit yourself to something close to one drink an hour, which is a very non-toxic way of drinking.”
Inflammation, not dehydration, is what causes hangovers. “Most of a hangover is an immune system response to the idea of danger of toxic invaders,” Bishop-Stall says. “All your cells go rigid and can’t absorb or retain water. That’s why you become dehydrated. No matter how much water you pour into yourself, it’s not going to be absorbed.” Pedialyte works because it “helps your body learn to reabsorb the moisture,” he notes.
Believe in the power of the hair of the dog
Bishop-Stall offers plenty of evidence that a hair of the dog goes a long way towards helping you recover. “For a long time I didn’t believe in it, or believe that it was necessarily helpful,” he remembers. But with the help of Adam Rogers, a writer at Wired, he found science that backs it up. “I found studies [that say] when your body is breaking down alcohol, it begins by breaking down the ethyl alcohol -- the ethanol -- that is, the essence of alcohol,” he notes.
This is where things get interesting. “Methanol is a byproduct that finds its way into many of our drinks,” he explains. “After alcohol has been broken down, the body begins breaking down the methanol, which turns into formaldehyde. That’s not a good thing to have in your body. Reintroducing ethyl alcohol is a good way to quickly stop that process in its tracks.” No more methanol in your body! Yeah, science!
As far as hair of the dog choices go? You might be surprised by a couple of his recs. He blames “‘90s bro culture” for turning Jägermeister, a “specific, soothing medicinal concoction to both help with digestion and steel yourself for the hunt” into something else entirely, though he says it could be a “potent remedy” in the right dosage. The same goes for Zwack, a Hungarian bitter herb-filled liqueur that he writes is “excellent for soothing a broiling gut” and bringing back your appetite.
Three ways to feel better the morning after, without more booze
Bishop-Stall's book has a lot of worldly tips for fighting off hangovers, but not all of us can, say, spend time in the Alps being covered in herb-enriched hay while hanging out underground in a coffin. So, here's what he recommends as surefire cures for the less subterranean among us:
IV treatments: “I think [an IV treatment] may be the most effective way to curb a hangover once it’s already started,” he writes. “But unless you are a doctor and/or have all the required equipment, ingredients and expertise at your disposal, you’ve got to get to a place like this, or have them come to you.” Party cities like New Orleans or Vegas offer plenty of IV treatment spots for hangover recovery.
Marmite: Have you ever had Marmite? It’s inedible to many, but if you can stomach the taste, it may be a solid morning after meal. “Interestingly enough, it’s a byproduct of beer itself,” he says, referring to its yeast. “It has the hair of the dog aspect to it without actually having alcohol in it. And it’s possibly one of the most potent and condensed forms of nutrition available to us on the planet.”
Eggs: “Eggs contain an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which is -- as far as I’ve been able to find -- the most effective magical ingredient when it comes to trying to put together any sort of truly effective hangover remedy.” Enjoy that bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich!
How to avoid a hangover in the first place
Sure, not drinking is the easiest way to avoid a hangover. But there’s no way we can recommend that, not when Bishop-Stall has such a surefire hangover remedy. This is a simplified version of what’s in his book, so go throw that thing on your Kindle to get the full scoop. And be aware: It’s not just taking the pills, it’s when you take them. “The timing with which you take the pills matters greatly -- but not in a stressful, finicky way,” he writes. “It’s simply this: You have to take them all, at about the same time, between drunkenness and sleep.”
Here’s what to take:
Vitamins B1, B6 and B12.
He recommends taking all three vitamins separately, and not a B multivitamin.
Bishop-Stall says it’s been around for two thousand years, so there’s probably something to it!
He writes that it’s “the key ingredient“ -- it’s that same amino acid found in eggs -- and to take a high dose!
He says that an anti-inflammatory analgesic like CBD oil will also work, but to make sure whatever you take doesn’t “tax the liver.”
Now you have enough information so you’re never hungover again. Go forth and drink!