According to Wikipedia, a hangover is essentially an “experience of various unpleasant physiological and psychological effects following the consumption of ethanol”.
So, in other words – pain.
A hangover can’t be defined by symptoms as we all suffer in distinctive ways and metabolise alcohol differently … but generally, you are left with a bounty of loveliness including headaches, fatigue, stomach upset, moodiness, anxiety, bottomless pit syndrome (which is how I define that never-ending hunger).
I want to paint a picture of what happens when you consume alcohol. Once alcohol is in your system, your body makes metabolizing it a priority. That means that it will stop metabolizing anything else in order to take care of the alcohol. This happens because unlike protein, carbohydrates, and fat, there is nowhere for alcohol to be stored in our body.
Your liver is the primary site for alcohol to be metabolised and Acetaldehyde (the toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism) is detoxified and removed from the blood through a process called oxidation. Oxidation prevents the alcohol from accumulating and destroying cells and organs.
The problem is that when the liver has a constant high level of alcohol being delivered to it, or a shock wave of alcohol to work its way through eliminating, i.e. through binge drinking – oxidation doesn’t function as well as it may need to – it can become overburdened. The liver has a finite amount of Glutathione, which is needed to break down acetaldehyde. This means is that alcohol is left to wreak havoc on the body. You can thank this for the feelings of nausea, weakness and general icky feeling the next day.
When alcohol enters your bloodstream, it tells your pituitary gland not to produce vasopressin, which is the hormone that typically keeps your bodies moisture content consistent. Without vasopressin, liquids get transported straight to your bladder, which is why you really open the floodgates after the first time you pee during an alcohol heavy evening.
When you’re drinking, you lose about four times more liquid than you gain, which also causes the dehydration that leads to that morning after headache that accompanies a hangover. When you excrete this much liquid, you tend to lose Potassium, Magnesium and key salts which are crucial for nerve, cell and muscle function.
So what can we DO?!
So with the above in mind – these are some simple tips you can implement to help reduce and maybe even prevent a hangover from surfacing.
DON’T SKIP MEALS
A full stomach before drinking absorbs alcohol and protects your stomach lining. It will also protect you (not always…) from those midnight hunger pangs that send you straight to the kebab shop.
EAT A WELL-BALANCED PLATE OF PROTEIN, FATS, COMPLEX CARBS, VEGGIES/FRUITS
This is crucial to balance your blood sugar and redeliver any nutrients lost through alcohol consumption. Think: avocado on rye bread with poached eggs, shakshuka eggs, oatmeal topped with nuts, seeds
and berries and even a healthy fry up – scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, a side of sourdough toast and some good quality unsmoked bacon will do the trick!
Also, include foods rich in magnesium and potassium to replace those lost through excessive urination. Both are essential for muscle, cell and nerve health – in other words, helping your brain power through and your body move!
- Magnesium rich foods include almonds, spinach, legumes, seeds, avocado and yoghurt
- Potassium can be found in bananas, broccoli, nuts, seeds and fish
Why not make a hangover smoothie filled with almond butter, spinach, broccoli, a dollop of yoghurt, banana, coconut water (provides essential electrolytes) and some berries.
To support the liver and help it detoxify the remnants of that Merlot. That headache the next morning, is partially funded by dehydration – so to not only avoid a horrid headache but help alleviate the pain, make sure you are getting a minimum of 2 litres of water throughout the day!
DON’T RELY ON CAFFEINE
As much as you may want to reach for that cup of joe, coffee the next morning can sometimes make matters a hell of a lot worse! Drinking coffee could make your headache worse. The caffeine that you might need to prevent to stay a withdrawal headache would also intensify your hangover headache. Caffeine narrows blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. If your head is already pounding, this would make the pounding worse.
Additionally, coffee is a diuretic, so it’s easy to become further dehydrated. And no one wants to spend their hangover day on the loo…
Help the body’s natural detoxification by sweating it out. Going for a brisk walk and getting some oxygen can also help, or some warm yoga can help.
If you do choose to exercise, make sure you hydrate yourself sufficiently as you don’t want to cause yourself to be more dehydrated – and also make sure you are not still inebriated, as no one wants to see you moonwalking on the treadmill!
Milk thistle, Ginger, Fennel Tea – certain herbal tinctures and teas can help reduce the side effects of a hangover. Milk thistle is fabulous for helping the liver detoxify and support the gut from the vicious sideeffects of alcohol AND it is entirely natural. You can take them in a capsule format and they are best taken before and after alcohol consumption.
A number of studies have shown that 1 tsp of Ginger powder mixed in hot water can be just as powerful if not more than taking paracetamol for headache relief! Ginger is also great for relieving nausea, another gorgeous side effect we can have the next day.
Fennel tea helps support the bodies detoxification pathways and also helps soothe any irritated stomachs.
Make sure to enjoy your night/day/no-occasion/big-occasion/boozy brunch – we all need to let our hair done and enjoy ourselves. Clouding your experience with guilt and shame, only means the hangover isn’t worth it!