On January 1st, National Hangover Day nurses the aching heads of all of us who over celebrated New Year’s Eve each year.
Symptoms of a Hangover
- Feeling tired: Alcohol is a toxin. Our bodies metabolize toxins (alcohol) at a certain pace. When the speed of consumption exceeds the pace the liver can process it, we become intoxicated. The risk of hangover becomes substantially higher, too. As the liver breaks down alcohol, it produces the toxic chemical acetaldehyde. One of the substances the body produces to counter these toxins is glutathione. The body can only make so much at a time, and a night of drinking quickly depletes it. Since glutathione is a stimulant, when it’s exhausted, we feel tired.
- Upset stomach: Alcohol promotes secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Excessive amounts of hydrochloric acid leads to a queasy stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting.
- Headache or muscle aches: Alcohol is a diuretic. Dehydration leads to aches and pains, as well as the upset stomach listed above.
How to Prevent that Hangover
- Eat – A fat and protein-loaded meal before or during the first round of drinks slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. No, the food doesn’t act a sponge, soaking up the alcohol, but it does slow down the digestive process. Fats and especially proteins, take longer to digest, and the alcohol will be released more slowly into the bloodstream.
- Drink water – Keep hydrated between beers or shots by drinking a glass of water in between. Hydration dilutes the alcohol, giving the liver time to keep up and replace the fluids lost.
- Avoid diet cocktails – According to WebMD, studies show cocktails mixed with fruits, fruit juices, or other sugar-containing beverages lessen the intensity of a hangover.
- Pace yourself – The saying, “Beer then liquor, never been sicker. Liquor then beer, have no fear,” has more to do with the amount of alcohol consumed than the type. Beer tends to be consumed more quickly than hard liquor, and as the night goes on, each successive drink tends to go down easier. Starting with liquor and then switching to beer halfway through, one might drink more beer, but less total alcohol than if the process is reversed.
The only sure-fire cure for a hangover is time and lots of fluids. Some common remedies may help ease the symptoms, and others only delay recovery.
- The most common ‘cure’ is called “the hair of the dog that bit you.” This remedy suggests having some of what caused the hangover will help cure it. However, the approach will only delay recovery as it will further tax the liver, increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid, and will not replace any of the fluids already lost to last night’s revelry.
- Drink coffee – In the movies, a strong cup of coffee is often shoved into the hands of the hangover victim in hopes of bringing some life back into them. Coffee is a diuretic, and while it may stimulate the body temporarily, the effect doesn’t last and will only delay recovery.
- Pain relievers may be the logical choice for that pounding headache, which is a common symptom of a hangover. However, they also tax the already overworked liver. If a pain reliever is necessary, aspirin will have the least effect on the liver but can irritate the stomach. Either way, pain relievers may delay recovery more than ease the symptoms.
- Over-the-counter miracle cures may seem too good to be true, and they probably are. Most of them require each pill to be taken with large quantities of water. See * above about re-hydration. These products may help ease the symptoms, but at an unnecessary expense.
- Eat a banana. Bananas are high in potassium. While consuming alcohol, we lose a lot of this nutrient. Potassium loss contributes to muscle aches and cramps. Eating a banana will help ease these symptoms.
- Drinking plenty of water* during the party and replacing fluids after can help ease the symptoms of a hangover. Rehydrate with water, or also try fruit juices and sports drinks. These will replace electrolytes that have been lost and also help recover from low blood sugar. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption has a direct correlation to an increase in insulin.
- Eating a meal with complex carbohydrates, protein, and a little fat can help ease the symptoms of a hangover. Whole wheat toast can absorb some of the acids the stomach is producing. A fried egg can give the stomach something else to do instead of producing acid and also replaces some nutrients the body lost during the party binge.