Even if you’re not a big drinker you’re probably planning on bringing in the new year with a few drinks. Here’s 9 tips to help prevent a hangover and 9 more for when the damage is already done.
The only way to truly cure a hangover is to not drink. Sorry. Any supplement, wine additive or day after tonic that tells you otherwise is cheap marketing and fibs to make money. The research on hangovers is actually pretty scarce. There haven’t been enough high quality studies to find out what is really going on in the body when a hangover hits or what can be done to prevent or treat them. But here are six facts we do know about overdoing it with booze:
- The hangover kicks in when your blood alcohol level reaches zero.
- The more you drink the worse your hangover will be.
- Alcohol effects your immune system – immediately and in the days after intoxication. It causes inflammation and reduces your body’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses.
- Alcohol is a diuretic (it makes you wee), which means it can lead to dehydration (scientists think that the hangover and dehydration are unrelated but occur at the same time, making you feel really rubbish).
- It’s most likely the acetaldehyde produced when your body breaks down alcohol that makes you feel terrible, not the ethanol (that makes you feel drunk).
- Alcohol interferes with your sleep, so even if you manage to get 8 hours of sleep it will be fragmented and without the deep REM sleep you’re used to.
- When alcohol is produced, congeners are formed in the liquid too. They give alcohol the colours and flavours and are thought to make hangovers worse. They occur more in coloured alcohol, like red wine, whiskey, bourbon and tequila. Different people have different tolerances to certain congeners and most people don’t do well if they’re mixed.
A hangover is the result of a combination of inflammation, by-products of alcohol metabolism, congeners, dehydration and poor sleep. If you are planning on having a drink or two, there are some things you can do to minimize your hangover symptoms.
My top tips to keep a hangover at bay
On the night
- Get well hydrated before your first drink (more about water and hydration here).
- Know your standard drinks
It generally takes an hour for your body to process 1 standard drink. The closer you can stick to this rate, the better you will feel in the morning. A standard drink is the amount of an alcoholic drink that contains 10 g of alcohol, so it varies between drink types. 1 standard drink probably isn’t 1 glass.
1 standard drink
285 ml full strength beer
100 ml wine
30 ml spirits
- Have a decent meal that includes carbohydrate and some fat before or with your first drink. Having food in your stomach will help limit your peak blood alcohol level by slowing down how quickly your body can absorb the alcohol.
- Choose a drink low in congeners, like white wine or white spirits – and stick to one type.
- Have a glass of water between drinks. It’s rehydrating, and it’s not more alcohol.
- Dilute your drinks so you take longer to drink them (add some soda to your wine, juice to your sparkling or an extra tall glass with lots of tonic with your gin).
- Drink a big glass of water (or even juice or a sports drink) before bed will help with hydration too.
- Take a B-complex multivitamin. B group Vitamins are sensitive, thiamine (B1) is particularly vulnerable to alcohol. B12 helps with energy conversion and B6 may be useful in helping to metabolize toxins.
- Take a good-quality multi-strain probiotic. It should include at least one strain of Bifidobacteria to help break down the alcohol.
The next day
- Drink plenty of water.
- Take another probiotic supplement. If you suffer from an upset stomach or diarrhoea after a boozy night, then including the strain Saccharomyces boulardii might be helpful
- Avoid coffee if you’re feeling unwell, it’s a diuretic and can further irritate your digestive system.
- Eat small healthy meals regularly. Be kind to your gut and avoid a big greasy breakfast which is going to give your digestive system even more to worry about.
- Try not to take aspirin or ibuprofen, they too can aggravate your gut.
- Eggs could help your body recover quicker as they contain cysteine. Cysteine breaks down acetaldehyde, a nasty byproduct produced when we metabolise alcohol.
- Boost your B vitamins with whole-grains, seeds and legumes to replace those that the alcohol destroyed.
- Rest as much as possible to make up for poor sleep and even when your blood alcohol reaches zero, your brain function isn’t good enough to resume risky tasks like driving.
- Don’t try hair of the dog. It might feel like it works for a short time but those symptoms will reappear as soon as your blood alcohol level is zero again and you’ll be even more dehydrated and have even more toxins to process. Your body needs a break, ideally at least 2-3 days every week between drinks.
If it really is too late for any of these tips right now, try my green smoothie and rest. It isn’t a magic cure but it might make you feel a little better.
PS. Because I really do care about your long-term health – I need to tell you that there is no safe amount of alcohol. It causes cancer, just like smoking does. If you do choose to drink regularly, having no more than 2 standard drinks a day reduces your risk of alcohol related disease and injury. If you’re pregnant or trying; no alcohol is the safest choice.