Waking up with a hangover is undeniably rough. Too much grog inevitably makes you feel groggy in the aftermath, possibly with the booze blues and quite likely reaching for whatever you can get your hands on to feel better. From mild to moderate, a hangover presents itself differently in everyone. While “traditional” remedies may be pain killers, water and rest there are other holistic options available to both help cure and equally importantly, to prevent a hangover. I’ve compiled some general information below. Cheers to knowledge (and a clear head)!
Firstly, how does alcohol actually affect our system?
From the moment an alcoholic drink enters the body, it’s treated with special privileges – receiving priority attention and getting absorbed and metabolized before nutrients. Unlike food, which requires time for digestion, alcohol needs no digestion at all and is quickly absorbed into our bloodstream…about 20% is absorbed directly across the walls of an empty stomach and can reach the brain within minutes! While alcohol affects every organ in the body, the most dramatic effect is on the poor liver. If more alcohol arrives at the liver than the liver enzymes can handle, the extra alcohol travels to all parts of the body, circulating again and again until liver enzymes are finally able to process it. That’s why it’s important to drink slowly enough for the liver to keep up – with a general rule of thumb for most people being no more than one drink per hour to avoid facing a nasty hangover if your body couldn’t keep up with processing the toxins!
What defines a hangover?
Physical symptoms felt during a hangover vary from one person to another – in general they include persistent headaches, mental fogginess, dehydration, nausea and fatigue. Hangovers are intensified if you smoke while drinking, as this adds many additional toxins and furthers the processes of dehydration already developing in the body through another side effect of alcohol. Basically, a hangover is your liver’s way of showing you it’s freaking out and overloaded!
How can I prevent a hangover?
Having food in the stomach brings about a slower absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, so it’s best to eat a decent meal before you head out, ideally including carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. If you tend not to have that ‘off’ button when it comes to throwing back the drinks, you could try taking a herb called ‘Kudzu’. Used by Chinese healers for centuries to suppress alcohol cravings, it can also help eliminate the worst symptoms, including the nausea, headache, and sickness. Milk Thistle herb is also a great liver protector to take regularly if you frequently drink alcohol socially. Drinking water throughout the night and before going to bed can help ‘take the edge off’ the morning after. As always, the best approach is prevention, balance and common sense.
What are some of the best foods to eat after a big night out?
Eggs – common Sunday brunch fare! Eggs contain significant amounts of cysteine, an amino-acid that can break down toxins that contribute to the cause of the hangover in the first place. They’re also high in protein, which helps restore and balance blood sugar levels.
However, if you’re feeling particularly nauseous, bland foods may be your best option such as toast or crackers!
Foods high in magnesium – Both alcohol and poor dietary choices – (ie. Burger and fries at 1am!) deplete the body’s stores of this important mineral and this can be the reason behind excessive fatigue and headaches after over indulgence. Snack on nuts, bananas, seeds, wholegrains and loads of green leafy vegetables to top up your magnesium levels or for high doses that are absorbed rapidly, buy a powder form from the chemist or health store.
Foods high in potassium – Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it forces fluids out of the body. When this happens, you lose lots of potassium – which you need to keep the body fluids balanced. Bananas are an excellent source of this mineral (just one will provide half the recommended daily dose). Bananas also replenish lost magnesium. Dandelion tea is also a rich source of potassium, and can help re-regulate the body’s fluids while effectively detoxing the liver!
Ginger – It soothes the stomach and is renowned for alleviating symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and stomachaches. It can help restore normal appetite. Think crystalised ginger, stir frys with loads of ginger, and ginger tea.
What are some over the counter supplements and herbs that can help relieve the common symptoms of a hangover?
These recommendations aren’t just useful for the full-blown hangover, but even if you’ve indulged a little more than you would have liked and just want to allow your body to recuperate and detox effectively….
Willow Bark – This herb is also known as ‘Nature’s aspirin,’ and can be mixed with cold water as a bitter tonic to help with a common symptom of over indulgence, the ‘toxic’ headache.
B-vitamins – helpful as they can reduce alcohol cravings and provide a boost of energy. That’s why the ol’ Berocca tablets are a pretty popular choice for many!
Chlorophyll – A natural plant food, similar in appearance and taste to spirulina. It’s a good detoxifier and blood cleanser, and helps ‘mop up’ internal toxins and take them out of the body.
Burdock root (herb) – Aids elimination of excess fluid and toxins. Purifies the blood, restores liver function.
Like with anything when it comes to holistic health, taking a preventative approach is always advisable…however, for those times when you get a little carried away, bottoms up to knowledge being power.
As always, it is advisable to speak with a health professional before introducing nutritional supplements or herbal remedies into your regular regime. Most health stores have a qualified Naturopath or Nutritionist working in them, and if not, they can refer you on, where necessary. If you need support or would like to speak to someone about your alcohol consumption, please see your GP or call Alcohol Drug Helpline 24/7 on 0800 787 797.