Today, my 30ish-year-old liver immediately cringes at the thought of drinking past 10 o’clock in the evening. Just a few years ago, I’d easily bounce back after a night out and be merrily on my way to brunch by noon; these days, a few glasses of wine are enough to keep me bedridden for the entire next day. Have I learned my lesson, you may wonder? I mean, not entirely, but I've made progress. It was a Damp January for me, not a dry one.
- Caroline Cederquist, MD, co-founder of bistroMD
My saving grace, however, has come in the form of another type of clear liquid. As I’ve grown (arguably) wiser over the years, I’ve discovered that what I do to prepare—and recover—from a night of drinking is vital. Namely, staying adequately hydrated as I drink. But what to do if it’s 2 a.m. and I haven’t had a sip of water since midday? One word: Electrolytes.
To find out the benefits of drinking electrolytes after a night of drinking, I spoke with Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified physician and founder and chief medical officer of BistroMD. She shared the main culprits of a hangover with me, plus how to prevent one, and how electrolyte replenishers, like Liquid I.V., can help your cause. Best part? I tested it all out, so you won’t have to suffer from another nasty hangover ever again.
First things first: What are the main culprits of a hangover?
According to Dr. Cederquist, a hangover results from your body processing alcohol. “A hangover is mostly due to the way alcohol is metabolized in the body. Alcohol metabolism primarily occurs in the liver, where the byproduct acetaldehyde is created. This compound is highly toxic and can produce inflammation in the body and subsequent hangover symptoms,” Dr. Cederquist says. That said, hydration and hangovers go hand in hand.
Although water isn’t going to change the way alcohol is processed, it can certainly help lessen the blow. “The loss of hydration is not believed to be the direct cause of a hangover, but dehydration can influence its severity. Fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances are also often exacerbated due to increased urine output and the greater risks of sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea when alcohol is consumed,” Dr. Cederquist says. That’s why it’s imperative to supply the body with what it may have lost after a long night of drinking. “Replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes can help improve hangover symptoms and, most importantly, prevent serious risks of severe and even deadly electrolyte imbalances,” she adds.
“Replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes can help improve hangover symptoms and, most importantly, prevent serious risks of severe and even deadly electrolyte imbalances."—Caroline Cederquist, MD, a board-certified physician
How electrolytes can help prevent a hangover
As we know by now, alcohol consumption can lead to a mixture of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Though plain water is enough to maintain hydration on a regular basis (and even while drinking), it might not help restore electrolyte levels on its own, according to Dr. Cederquist.
For context, electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge, which help balance the amount of water in your body, balance pH levels, manage cell health, and regulate multiple bodily systems. Meanwhile, dehydration is a condition caused by losing too much fluid from the body.
Hence why adding electrolytes to water can be a great morning-after recipe. “Because alcohol can increase the risk of fluid loss and electrolyte imbalances, electrolyte drinks can help restore both fluid and electrolytes. Drinking alcohol can also lead to low blood sugar, and the added sugars in some electrolyte drinks can increase these levels,” Dr. Cederquist says. She also notes that it’s important to stabilize blood sugars with a balanced meal or snack with fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein, and/or healthy fat, as rapid fluctuations in blood sugars can cause fatigue, headache, and other more serious side effects.
What happened when I tried drinking Liquid I.V. after a night of drinking
On most nights out, I’ve done the more responsible thing: Consistently drink water between sips of espresso martinis to stave away a nasty hangover. Of course, this doesn't always happen.
“The most important thing is not exactly when you drink the electrolytes, but that you aim to stay hydrated before, during, and after drinking alcohol,” Dr. Cederquist says. My plan of action after forgetting the "before" and "during" components of this protocol at a recent tequila-forward fète? Testing out Liquid I.V., a wellness company that makes non-GMO electrolyte drink mixes with key benefits. (Their packaging claims include: two times faster hydration than water, three times the electrolytes of traditional sports drinks, and five essential vitamins, including vitamin B3, B5, B6, B12, and vitamin C).
“The most important thing is not exactly when you drink the electrolytes, but that you aim to stay hydrated before, during, and after drinking alcohol,” Dr. Cederquist says.
After a long night out celebrating a friend’s birthday—where I had several margaritas—I was already feeling crumby by the time I got home. Most nights that I drink, I get an aching feeling in the pit of my stomach that only gets progressively worse by the time the sun rises. Sometimes, the discomfort makes it even more difficult to keep water down, leading me into a deeper state of dehydration the next day. So, in hopes of nipping it in the bud, I poured myself a Liquid I.V. Tropical Punch Hydration Multiplier packet into my beloved Stanley cup (yes, it's in stock) as soon as I got home.
For starters, it tasted great—like a citrusy mixed drink that should be served with a bright pink flower—which definitely was motivation to keep chugging. Fortunately, my stomach ache hadn’t gotten to the point of no return, and I started to feel my pre-hangxiety dwindle ever so slightly, and the dryness in my mouth completely faded with every sip. After finishing about 12 ounces worth of the drink, I set it down and headed to bed.
While the Liquid I.V. certainly wasn’t a magical potion that undid all of the drinking I had done, it made all of the difference. See also: Me not miserably clawing my way to the nightstand to locate the bottle of Advil and instead feeling good enough to make it to an early pilates class the next morning.
Another workaround? You can always just go the alcohol-free route and enjoy one of Liquid I.V.'s hydration mocktails, like their cucumber mojito or smoky mezcal paloma. Sign me up.
An RD compares wine and champagne:
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