When you wake up with a pounding head and cotton-dry mouth the night after one (or a few) too many drinks, you’ll likely find yourself Googling ways to get rid of your hangover, fast. And when you do, you may stumble upon a suggestion to throw back some pickle juice.
Some claim that pickle brine is the reason Polish people don’t get hangovers. Even Dr. Oz has endorsed pickle juice as a hangover cure. According to him, the salts in pickle juice replenish electrolytes that you lose while drinking, which can make your headache disappear. But is getting over a hangover really as easy as taking a swig from the pickle jar in your fridge?
Well, probably not. “The main thing to understand with hangovers is that they usually happen because people are dehydrated, and then also you probably didn’t get much sleep,” Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, a practicing family physician in Long Island, New York, tells Health. So yes, salty pickle brine might help with the electrolytes you’ve lost if you peed a lot, or maybe even threw up, the night before. But taking a shot of pickle juice in the morning won’t make your hangover disappear if you’re not also drinking lots of water and nursing your hangover with a nap.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means that it’ll make you pee more than usual. That’s why you may find you have to go so often during a boozy night out and one of the reasons you feel so dehydrated the morning after. Yes, you lose electrolytes in pee—but it’s the water that really matters. “When you’re losing water, you need to continue to replace that,” Dr. Iroku-Malize says. She suggests that people drink a whole glass of water with every alcoholic drink to make the hangover sting less.
The only way to really prevent a hangover is to not drink too much, Dr. Iroku-Malize says. Her definition of “not too much” is one drink a day for women and two for men. Of course, it’s not exactly realistic that you’ll stick to only one drink every day, especially when special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and New Year’s Eve roll around. The next best thing to do is drink lots and lots of water—not gulp down some pickle juice.
If you had a particularly sweaty drunken night, a sports drink might help the resulting hangover, Dr. Iroku-Malize adds. Sports drinks are specially formulated to balance athletes’ electrolytes. Once upon a time, scientists thought pickle juice might do the same thing. In 2014, a small study of nine runners tested whether or not drinking pickle juice before exercising would keep them from cramping. “This is maybe why people think pickle juice will help with dehydration,” Dr. Iroku-Malize says. There was one problem though: The study didn’t show any difference in performance or cramping between drinking pickle juice or drinking plain old water.
Then again, it didn’t do any harm, either. So if you’re invested in the idea of pickle juice as a cure—and you don’t mind the taste—go ahead and drink around a quarter cup next time you’re in need of hangover relief. But follow your pickle juice swig with a few cups of water, some aspirin or ibuprofen, and maybe a nap.
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