Even a lot of healthy people know the sickness and regret caused by one too many rounds at the bar. So many hangover cures can be hit-and-miss, but a team of Chinese researchers has announced that the best way to end a hangover might be the humble can of Sprite.

What’s the Deal?

Sure, soda has a reputation for being an unfortunately delicious concoction of sugar, preservatives, sugar, and sugar, but after a night of alcoholic overindulgence, it might be just the ticket. Why? The symptoms of a hangover — including headaches, fatigue, light-sensitivity, decreased motor skills — are caused by drinking’s tendency to dehydrate and interfere with normal hormone productionThe alcohol hangover. Wiese JG, Shilpak MG, Browner WS. Veterans Affairs Medicinal Center and the University of California, San Francisco, USA. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2000 Jun 6;132(11):897-902..

What the Chinese study found is that what you drink after you’ve stopped consuming alcohol could change the booze’s effect on the body. It turns out hangovers aren’t caused by alcohol itself but by acetaldehyde, which is created in the liver as alcohol is broken down. Acetaldehyde is then turned into acetate, which, despite being a byproduct of alcohol, doesn’t cause hangover symptoms and is probably responsible for a lot of the health benefits of drinking alcohol. So the question is, how do we turn acetaldehyde into acetate as fast as possible?

Surprisingly, the scientists found healthy, antioxidant-rich herbal teas increase ADH, an enzyme that makes hangovers worse by keeping the acetaldehyde from turning into acetate. But what’s even more surprising is that Sprite, along with soda water, dramatically increases ALDH, a second enzyme that makes the toxic, headachey, I-will-never-drink-again feeling go away by turning acetaldehyde into acetate much more quickly.

The Takeaway

In a nutshell: A hangover sucks, but Sprite and soda water help minimize the worst of it by boosting ALDH, a helpful, hangover-slaying enzyme. But before buying a carton of sugar-water to go with your hangover food, there are three important points to be made:

  • Soda water looks to be just as effective, and has far fewer calories than Sprite.
  • The study was founded on in vitro experiments, meaning the conclusions are yet to be confirmed on walking, talking people.
  • At the risk of finger-wagging, the actual best hangover cure is not drinking so much.

Hangovers are a minefield, and there’s probably no cure that works for everyone. Nonetheless, if you’ve spent all night mixing vodka and Sprite, it looks like saving some mixer might not be a bad idea.