Hangover nausea is arguably one of the worst symptoms of a hangover.
Waking up after a night out, feeling sick, is a common problem for many people. Often, it doesn’t take much alcohol to feel like this.
But what actually causes hangover nausea and is there anything you can do to stop it?
In this article, we’re going to look at some of the main reasons why you feel nauseous after drinking alcohol. And more importantly, if there’s anything you can do to get rid of these symptoms.
What causes hangover nausea
Scientist believe that everyone has a different threshold for feeling nauseous.(1)
And the sensation of nausea involves a complex interplay between your psychological state, central nervous system, stomach, and endocrine (hormone) system.(2)
Therefore, there’s no single cause of hangover nausea and there are several different factors that contribute.
Next up, we’ll look at some of the main reasons why drinking alcohol can cause nausea.
1) Irritant effect of alcohol
Naturally, alcohol is a toxin in its own right. It causes irritation of the gastric mucosa (stomach and lining).
Drinking in excess can cause gastritis, which in other words means, inflammation of the stomach lining. This inflammation can leave your stomach unsettled. That said, gastritis is seen more commonly in chronic alcohol use.(3)
2) Delayed gastric emptying
Alcohol is well-known to delay gastric emptying. Essentially, this means it slows down how fast food is pushed from your stomach into your small intestine.(4)
As a result, food sits in your stomach for longer. If you’ve had a large meal after your night out, it could leave you feeling more nauseous.
3) Increased stomach acid production
There are conflicting studies regarding whether drinking alcohol increases stomach acid production. That said, reflux symptoms are very common after a night of drinking.
Some studies have shown that alcohol does, in fact, increase stomach acid production and this can contribute to hangover nausea.(5)
Congeners are naturally occurring by-products that are produced when certain types of alcohol are aged. They give alcoholic drinks their distinctive taste and aroma. For example, darker colored drinks such as red wine and whiskey have higher concentrations of congeners.
Unfortunately, congeners have been shown to make hangovers more severe. They are broken down by your body to produce toxic substances that can make you feel sick. One example is a substance called formaldehyde which is formed when methanol (a type of conger) is broken down.
If drinking in moderation, your liver is able to safely package and process these by-products before levels start to rise.
However, drinking in excess results in a build-up which is thought to contribute to several hangover symptoms including nausea.
These are some of the factors contributing to hangover nausea. Some people are naturally more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others.
How long does hangover nausea last?
So, how long does hangover nausea last? The simple answer is, it depends on much you’ve had to drink and how sensitive you are to having nausea after drinking.
The most severe symptoms are usually within the first few hours after waking. In most cases, it shouldn’t last more than half a day and if you find that you’re still vomiting after this, something else could be going on. Especially if you’ve had something dodgy to eat the night before.
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Hangover nausea remedies
Now that we’ve got the science at the way, we’ll go over some helpful tips that could help settle upset stomachs.
Before we start, it’s important to mention that a “hangover nausea cure” doesn’t exist and abstaining from drinking is the only real way of achieving this.
That said if you’ve woken up in the morning and immediately regretting those extra tequila shots, here are some tips that could help.
One of the best natural anti-nausea remedies there is, ginger has been researched extensively and is accepted as a remedy that works.(6)
Similar to ginger, peppermint is also a well-known natural anti-sickness remedy with a decent evidence base. It’s also recommended for IBS type symptoms such as bloating and flatulence which drinking can trigger.(7)
Best of all, peppermint makes a tasty tea which you may have hidden away in your cupboard already.
The oldest trick in the book, rehydration is key after drinking alcohol. Although it’s unlikely to have a direct effect on hangover nausea, rehydrating may make you feel better overall.
If you’re feeling too queasy to stomach a glass of water, chewing on some ice is a great alternative. It’ll melt away giving you small amounts of water with an added cooling effect.
Believe it or not, ice lollies have also been shown, in some studies, to reduce post-surgical nausea. (8)(9). It’s thought that the cold constricts blood vessels in the brain which has an anti-nausea effect.
Things to avoid
Next up, there are some common hangover nausea remedy myths that we wanted to clear up.
It’s the standard go-to drink for many people when hungover. But it’s probably doing more harm than good. Caffeine is a diuretic that will exacerbate dehydration and a stimulant which can make you feel more on edge.
Therefore, drinking coffee when hungover is unlikely to have many benefits apart from a short-lived energy boost.
Going for a run to “flush out toxins” is a another myth that’s best avoided.
Drinking in excess is a stressful event for your body. Recovery and rest are what’s needed to feel better and there is no scientific basis for flushing out these mysterious toxins by exercising.
What to eat to get rid of hangover nausea
Perhaps a better question would be, what not to eat to make hangover nausea worse.
Food, in general, may not be well received if you’re feeling nauseous. That said, there are some foods which are better than others.
Foods that are easy to digest such as plain carbohydrates are broken down in your stomach a lot easier than meat or vegetables.
Therefore, boiled potatoes, plain pasta, and rice are your best bet.
On the other hand, red meat and salads are likely to make you more nauseous. This is because they take much more time to digest and sit in your stomach for longer. The same goes for greasy food.
Similarly, citrus fruits are acidic and can also exacerbate things.
Medication for hangover nausea
Many people try a concoction of over the counter medications to help stop hangover nausea. Next up, we’ll briefly cover some of the common ones used and highlight potential negatives.
The active ingredient in Advil is Ibuprofen which belongs to a class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID). It’s a medication used for pain and could be useful for headache. but it’s unlikely to help with hangover nausea.(12).
This is an antacid that also contains salicylate which works as an anti-inflammatory. Salicylic acid is also the active ingredient in Aspirin and also belongs to the NSAID group of drugs mentioned above. It also doesn’t taste very nice and may not go down easily when hungover. Pepto Bismol is unlikely to provide any relief for hangover nausea.
Tums is a simple calcium carbonate-based antacid that shouldn’t do any harm.
Dramamine is an over-the-counter medicine used to treat motion sickness and nausea. It’s an anti-histamine that has anti-nausea properties.
Hangover nausea – Final words
That brings us to the end of our look into hangover nausea. We’ve walked you through the potential causes and some remedies that could help.
Hangover nausea is caused by drinking too much alcohol. Trying to “cure” hangover nausea is the wrong approach.
Reducing your alcohol intake, keeping well hydrated and making sure you eat a meal before going out is all that’s required to prevent hangover nausea.