On a recent 10-day anniversary trip through Belgium and Amsterdam, I decided to test-drive five over-the-counter hangover remedies. Which worked fastest? Which worked best? Which was safest? Which one didn’t work at all? In the name of science, here’s what I found.
(Note: To be clear, I am not a scientist, and this was surely the least scientific experiment ever. So take from it what you will.)
The first hangover on vacation occurred in Antwerp, a gem of a European city that effortlessly combines the ancient and the modern with its beautiful medieval center and thriving fashion and art scenes. My hangover arrived in Antwerp the day after I did, thanks to a combination of long-lost cousins, high-octane Belgian beer, and two uniquely regional types of booze — jenever and Elixir D’Anvers.
The national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, juniper-flavored jenever (aka genever, or Dutch Gin) is like the grandfather of gin. And like your grandfather, who is way more manly than you could ever hope to be, jenever is heavier, maltier, and packs more of a punch than gin, although the two have around the same ABV. Elixir D’Anvers is an electric-yellow herbaceous liqueur that’s been made in this area of Belgium for more than 150 years. A little on the sweet side, it’s billed as a digestive aid when consumed in moderation (I’d guess). Now imagine what these two could do to your head over the course of a night of drinking 11 percent tripels with a cousin you haven’t seen since you both came of age.
Remedy #1: TONIIQ
Toniiq ($15 for six packets at Amazon) has exactly one ingredient: lingzhi mushroom, also known as reishi, which is high in antioxidants and has been used in Chinese medicine for about 2,000 years. The mushroom is said to aid in liver detoxification and increase the flow of oxygen to the body. You’re supposed take the two black pills at night before bed, and the white one in the morning. I popped the black pills, chugged a bunch of water (always a good idea), and went to sleep. The next morning I woke up sluggish and headachy. It was a mid-range hangover, not as bad as a New Year’s or Mardi Gras hangover, but worse than a typical Saturday night. I swallowed the white pill and got ready to explore Antwerp.
By the time we were out and about my headache was gone but I still had that slightly seasick feeling, a little queasy and dizzy, as if the world was just a bit off-kilter. Overall I’d say Toniiq was definitely better than taking nothing, but didn’t do a great job at either preventing or snuffing out my hangover. I tried it again after I got back to the States and doubled up on the dosage with slightly better results. I’m sure my liver thanked me for the detox, either way.
Hangover Cure Rating: ??
Hangover number two was born of a reunion with relatives from my father’s side of the family — aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins. It had been decades since I’d seen many of them so it was a festive occasion. It started with prosecco followed by red wine, then when the conversation turned to beer, as it often does in Belgium, I switched to beer. It was a day-long drinking extravaganza, but there was lots of delicious food, including a healthy amount of red meat, that helped temper the effects of all that booze.
Remedy #2: SOBUR
The main ingredient in Sobur ($36 for a bottle of 20 pills on Amazon) is an herbal extract called Dihydromyricetin, an antioxidant that’s also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. According to the company, this stuff is supposed to lower the neurotransmitter GABA in your brain, a chemical that causes your neurons to turn into stoners who refuse to move out of their parents’ basement. Alcohol increases GABA levels, slowing communication between the nerve cells. This leads to poor cognition and judgement and some of the other crappy symptoms we associate with hangovers. Sobur claims to fix that by lowering the GABA level. You pop two Sobur pills before bed with plenty of water. I did and woke up fine after pretty much drinking from noon to 11pm or so. No hangover to speak of.
Hangover Cure Rating: ???
We arrived in Amsterdam after a harrowing tram, train, train, cab, train, cab ride from Belgium. I had high hopes of getting my drink on the first night, but by the time we dropped our luggage it just wasn’t to be. My wife Kara described strolling Amsterdam as trying to walk through Times Square if all the tourists were on bikes — tourists who harbored nihilistic and sociopathic tendencies, I would add. We retreated to our hotel.
Remedy #3: BLOWFISH
The next day was our wedding anniversary, so naturally we started off with gin and tonics. It seems nearly every bar and restaurant in Belgium and Amsterdam is currently gaga for the G&T; each has its own variation featuring mainly Dutch or sometimes British gins, exotic herbs and/or fruit, and the ubiquitous Fever-Tree Tonic. After a few of those we switched to wine with dinner, then jenever, and then back to beer (there were some interesting Belgian IPAs that I just had to try). And then maybe more jenever. I don’t know. Things get fuzzy after that.
The next morning I was dragging and we had a heavy day of museum-hopping planned, including the hugely popular Van Gogh Museum, which is amazing as long as you don’t mind crowds — so of course it was shaping up to be a nightmare. I tried the Blowfish ($11 for 12 tablets from Amazon), which basically works like Alka-Seltzer on steroids. It’s got a combination of caffeine and aspirin in two tablets that you drop into a glass of water and chug after they’ve dissolved. Be warned that since it has caffeine you probably don’t want to drink a ton of coffee with Blowfish, unless you’re cool with the jitters. The stuff did a bang-up job and I was good to go even before we got to breakfast.
Hangover Cure Rating: ????
Remedy #4: DRAM “Hair of the Dog” BITTERS
I didn’t have much of a hangover the day we flew home, since our last night in Amsterdam involved partaking in something other than booze. Although after I got over my intense paranoia, I was coaxed out of our hotel room by my wife (she got the munchies), and I did manage to get down enough gin and tonics that I woke up a little queasy the next morning. I squirted a liberal dose of DRAM bitters ($18 for a 4-ounce bottle), a artisanal blend of herbs, fennel, ginger, cinnamon, and meadowsweet, among others, into a glass of water and downed it. Bitters are an old-school hangover remedy, and the Hair of the Dog settled my stomach within a few minutes. I doubt it has what it takes to handle a hardcore hangover, but I’d recommend it for mild nausea.
Hangover Cure Rating: ?
Remedy #5: DRINKWEL
It turns out, four hangovers in 10 days is my limit. So I waited until we got back home to try Drinkwel ($40 for 90 pills). Billed as a “multivitamin for people who drink,” it’s been beefed up with 30 natural ingredients including milk thistle, artichoke, kudzu, green tea, schizandra (a berry from China), bupleurum, amino acids, and then even more vitamins and minerals. It’s vegetarian, and they sell it at Whole Foods — how bad could it be?
The next morning I woke up with a slight headache around 8 a.m., but no other symptoms — not too foggy and no queasiness. By around 11, I felt pretty much normal. As the company suggests, I kept taking Drinkwel regularly as a daily supplement. As a person who drinks, it certainly can’t hurt.
Hangover Cure Rating: ???
While all these products have their uses — and clearly, what worked well for me may not work at all for you — I’m going to give the nod to Blowfish here as the quickest and easiest way to cure a hangover. It’s the only one specifically designed to be taken the morning after, so it’s great for those nights when you can’t be bothered to get undressed for bed. The others I’ll keep in rotation; nothing wrong with a little mixing and matching. But not when it comes to booze.