Fried Canaries and Black Velvet? Perhaps Not


For those of us suffering from excessive post-exam revelries, science has been slaving away on what must surely be the most important question out there: how to make the next morning’s headache bearable? The answer, Professor Michael Oshinsky believes, is not in the urban legends and old wives tales of tomato juice, raw eggs, buttermilk, or fatty fry-ups, but the lowly coffee and aspirin.

The basic remedy, tested on rats, goes against common advice that caffeine dehydrates an already thirsty body, and that strong painkillers can further upset an already over-worked liver and lead to further illness, but Professor Oshinsky disagrees. His solution is based on the ability of caffeine and aspirin (which has anti-inflammatory abilities) to block acetate, a chemical product of ethanol that causes headaches. Certainly an easier option to stomach than a raw egg.

This is not to say that the other options don’t perk up those seriously rethinking their decision to buy that last drink. The long tradition of the fried breakfast cannot be undeserved, and we know that the Romans ate fried canaries to ward off hangovers. Similarly, the phrase hair-of-the-dog has been used since Shakespeare’s time. Originally used to describe the practice of treating a dog bite by placing a hair from the dog in the wound, this method continues the belief in the curative powers of what caused the illness in the first place, usually in the form of a Bloody Mary (tomato juice, vodka, Worcester sauce). Another that is sworn by is the foul-sounding Black Velvet, which mixes champagne and flat Guinness.

Around the world there are numerous weird and not-so-wonderful remedies. From eating Mongolian pickled sheep eyes in tomato juice to drinking pickle juice in Poland, it is evident that when needs must, citizens of the world become inventive. In Puerto Rico rubbing a slice of lemon or lime in the armpit of your drinking arm is believed to prevent dehydration and the subsequent headache, while Haitians use the cork of the bottle which caused the hangover as a voodoo doll.

Drinking sweet and fizzy isotonic concoctions such as Lucozade as a cure can work against you. The carbon dioxide helps the alcohol travel to the brain faster, while the sugar rush only means a crash later in the day. Exercise, if it can be faced, is often a good invigorator, and walking home at the end of the night (if safe) is also sobering, although nothing can make the alcohol in your system leave faster than the average of a unit per hour. A dose of Alka-seltzer before falling into bed is the saviour of many, lessening the following morning’s bite.

Different mornings result from the different contents of the previous night’s glasses. Dark coloured drinks such as red wine, brandy, and port contain chemicals called congeners that cause rather more punishing hangovers. White spirits and (sadly) more expensive brands are the choices that pay off in the morning. Of course, scientists have always maintained that the best cure is prevention, yet for a peculiar reason many of us don’t take this option, and choose instead to face the morning after with our remedy of choice. Or, more often than not, just hide under a duvet.


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