The other day I noticed a new shower gel called ‘anti-hangover’ had found its way into our bathroom. The French translation on the bottle was the slightly more elegant ‘lendemain difficile’ – which got me thinking – surely there’s a better word for hangover in French? But apart from that – I seriously doubt it helps. Obviously the best way to avoid a nasty hangover is simply not to drink too much in the first place. However, this little piece of advice isn’t much good the morning after one of those nights when we’ve let ourselves become carried away by what seemed an excellent idea at the time.
Most of us know what a hangover feels like, but what exactly causes these unpleasant symptoms? Well, normally it’s a mixture of things:
1. Our liver converts alcohol into acetaldehyde (many times more toxic that alcohol itself) and then into the lesser-toxic acetate. This is just fine as long as we don’t overwhelm our liver’s capacity to keep up – by drinking too much, too quickly. This may result in nausea, vomiting and sweating – the classic signs of alcohol toxicity.
2. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on our body because it inhibits an anti-diuretic hormone in our kidneys – so we urinate more often. This causes dizziness, headaches and intense thirst (not to mention dry skin and wrinkles if it becomes a habit).
3. We sleep badly, which only adds to the misery. While alcohol can be a powerful sleep inducer (sometimes to the point of passing out), it also interferes with our rapid eye movement (REM), or deep sleep phase – meaning we wake up feeling tired and irritable.
4. Drinking has a major impact on our blood sugar levels – after all, alcohol is basically sugar. This can result severe imbalances that leave us feeling shaky, moody and weak.
5. Alcohol causes the blood vessels in our brain to dilate – allowing blood to rush through and promoting throbbing headaches.
6. Certain substances produced during the fermentation process – called congeners – make the situation worse. This is especially true for darker alcohols like red wine, beer and whiskey.
A typical hangover normally lasts 24 hours and that can seem a long time when suffering its’ uncomfortable effects. No wonder the Internet is full of remedies and anecdotal advice – never mind that no studies have ever found any convincing evidence that anything actually works. A recent study that found that drinking coffee protects the liver (of heavy drinkers) was promptly used to reinforce coffee’s reputation as everyone’s favourite day after cure. Interesting perhaps, but the fact remains that coffee can make a queasy stomach worse, increases dehydration AND requires additional detoxification by an already overworked liver. Combining painkillers with coffee might bring temporary relief, but keep in mind that aspirin can irritate a delicate stomach and Paracetamol and Tylenol are toxic to the liver. A hair of the dog in the form of a Bloody Mary or a beer only prolongs the pain.
My advice as a Nutritionist?
The bottom line is that we’re back to water again. Sip plenty of pure water all day long to flush out toxins and rehydrate.
Whip yourself up something healthy to replace all the electrolytes and nutrients lost when processing alcohol. A plate of fresh fruit is always a good choice – even better is The Clever Kitchen’s Green Goodness Smoothie (you may have to scroll down a bit to find it – but it’s worth it!)
Get off the couch and go for a walk in the fresh air – or jog if you’re up to it. Exercise helps metabolize and eliminate toxins – plus takes our mind off it.
Be patient and let things run their course – this too shall pass.