When you pry your bloodshot eyes open the morning after getting too lit, what do you usually reach for to quench your epic thirst? A tall glass of water? Some blue Gatorade? A shot of tequila? Or a big bottle of medical-grade hydration solution intended for young children recovering from excessive diarrhea and vomiting? As gross as that last beverage may sound (especially if you are hungover), it turns out lots of grown adults drink Pedialyte because they swear it cures hangovers.
If you've never seen or heard of Pedialyte, that may be because it's typically found in the baby aisle of drugstores and supermarkets. Originally, Pedialyte was intended for children and infants to drink during "challenging moments of dehydration," like after they've been sick and puking. But technically, people of all ages can drink Pedialyte.
That's not really common knowledge, though, so in 2015 Pedialyte started marketing itself as a tool for grown-ups, according to Jennifer Williams, MPH, research scientist at Abbott, the company that owns Pedialyte. On Twitter, the brand has been hyping up the benefits of drinking Pedialyte before or after getting drunk. Pedialyte even has its own hashtag, #notjustforbabies, and a punny catch-phrase, "See the Lyte." To be clear, Pedialyte doesn't claim its product will cure your hangovers (the only cure for hangovers is going back in time and drinking less), but it does promise to help with mild to moderate dehydration, which is part of being hungover.
Sadly, drinking alcohol is pretty much a surefire way to end up at least somewhat dehydrated. Alcohol inhibits vasopressin, the hormone that stops you from urinating and helps your kidneys reabsorb water, says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. "So drinking alcohol results in us going to the bathroom more frequently and losing more water," she says. Plus, most of us tend to forget to drink water while boozing. By the time you're hungover, your body is likely lacking fluid and doesn't have the right amount of electrolytes (specifically potassium, sodium, and chloride), which is why you feel so terrible, Zeitlin says.
So, how does Pedialyte help? According to Williams, the drink contains "the optimal balance of carbohydrates and electrolytes needed to help replenish vital fluids." A 12-ounce serving contains 280 mg of potassium, 440 mg of chloride, and 370 mg of sodium. (It also has a little bit of zinc, which can help with acute diarrhea, which can sometimes be a symptom of hangovers.)
If you want to get really technical, here's exactly how those ingredients work together to help hangovers: Sodium and potassium regulate the membranes of pretty much all of our cells, while chloride binds to each of them, explains Alexis Halpern, MD, emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Basically, these electrolytes "match the body's chemistry, so they put the fluid in the right place," she says. When you rehydrate, sodium and potassium keep fluid inside your blood vessels. "Having a sodium and potassium balance is essential in making our bodies work," she says.
Pedialyte's mix of ingredients is why, compared to your run-of-the-mill sports drink or even plain water, Pedialyte might actually have a leg up in terms of its ability to help a hangover. Gatorade, for example, has significantly less sodium and potassium than Pedialyte, so it might not be as effective for treating acute dehydration. Also, whenever you're choosing a rehydration drink, you should be mindful of the sugar content, because sugar is a diuretic, Dr. Halpern says As for water, it's great and all, but you usually end up peeing a lot of it out, so when you're hungover you may need more intense hydrators, Dr. Halpern says.
But just because Pedialyte is great for hangovers, that doesn't mean you should drink it all the time. "It is not designed for everyday use or hydration needs where water is adequate — so it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first to see if daily use is recommended," Williams says. In other words, you should definitely not replace all the water you drink with Pedialyte.
Bottom line: Pedialyte is fine to drink for a hangover, and it may work for you. So, the next time you're laying hungover in the fetal position and acting like a baby, go ahead and drink like one, too.