How to cure a hangover: what one man found after a 10-year quest

By Adam Gabbatt

Along with a distant relative prattling on about their objectionable politics, there is one other dread at this time of year: the hangover.

Despite millennia of drinking, there is no consensus on a cure for excessive drinking. But a cure is exactly what Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall set out to find in his new book Hungover.

Drawing on a decade of research, and years more of informal research, Bishop-Stall’s quest took him around the world: drink, suffer, repeat. As he points out in the book, and as anyone who has scoured the internet for a solution to their booze-fuelled hedonism can attest, there has been little scientific research into the hangover remedy.

Bishop-Stall told the Guardian: “The most obvious reason is just a sort of moralistic one. Doctors who are pressed for time say: ‘Why am I going to waste my time on this? All you have to do is not drink."

“And it’s kind of a hard logic to argue against. [But] at the same time it’s probably the most common malady. The economy suffers, people’s daily lives are affected. So why can’t we put a little bit of effort into figuring this out?”

Bishop-Stall threw himself enthusiastically into his research. He took part in an “extreme Las Vegas” trip – from going up in a fighter plane and piloting a fighter jet, where the G-force made him feel like he was” sweating backwards”, to leaping off the 855ft Stratosphere.

He strove to do all these things, necessarily, with a booming hangover. He achieved it via Martinis and red wine, leading him to wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room and discover in his pockets “a folding corkscrew [and] a small doorknob”.

Bishop-Stall found the Stratosphere leap, and its corresponding blast of adrenaline, particularly effective. But for those who don’t have a tall building and bungee rope to hand, there is some science behind the more traditional cures.

“One of the things that I found most interesting,” Bishop-Stall writes in the book, “was commonalities through time.

“Many of the things that the ancients used, whether pickled eggs or boiled cabbage or charcoal, they all have, we now realize, scientific footing. They’re the precursors to the things we try out to this day.”

Victorian London streets with back to back terraces. From London, a Pilgrimage, by Gustave Doré and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872.
Victorian London streets with back to back terraces. From London, a Pilgrimage, by Gustave Doré and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872. Photograph: Culture Club/Getty Images

Even the oft-suggested hair of the dog, a metaphor which, according to Bishop-Stall, dates back to Ancient Greece in 400 BCE and Antiphanes, has some merit.

“Take the hair, it is well written,
Of the dog by which you’re bitten,
Work off one wine by his brother,
One labor with another.”

Antiphanes’ suggestion extended beyond alcohol, according to Bishop-Stall – to “all forms of medical treatment” – but there is science behind it, around ethanol, which is found in alcoholic drinks and methanol, and is used in things like windscreen wiper fluid or fuel, but, Bishop-Stall writes, also finds its way into alcoholic drinks.

It might provide some solace to anyone currently suffering from a heavy night that hangovers are far from a modern problem. In fact, as Bishop-Stall points out, people have been suffering for thousands of years, from Noah, who got sozzled on wine and on waking blamed his son, to the Saxons, who “stayed up drinking before the Battle of Hastings and therefore lost England to the more disciplined Normans”.

After his 10-year quest, Bishop-Stall has settled on a cure that might have saved Noah’s son, and kept England under Saxon rule.

“It really deals with deactivating the most horrendous aspects of hangover. Nausea, headache, body pain – those large things that keep you down to your bed or couch or even sometimes put you into a doctors office. You won’t have any of those.”

His cure is relatively simple, or at least relatively simple to acquire – all the ingredients are available in pharmacies, or online.

To prevent the hangover, Bishop-Stall will quaff – after drinking but before sleep – milk thistle, for the liver; the amino acid and immune system aid N-acetylcysteine; vitamins B1, B6 and B12, which boost metabolism; and that famous gift to Jesus, frankincense – an anti-inflammatory.

So no more sickness, no more pain. No more bothering doctors. But one thing Bishop-Stall still hasn’t managed to crack is “the tiredness, lethargy and grouchiness” that has more to do with a lack of deep sleep than the booze itself.

Bishop-Stall says he is still working on a way to combat those symptoms, but is yet to find “a safe way that I would actually recommend to others”. The quest continues.