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Hangover Cures. Fact or Fiction?
What is a hangover?
Most of us with few exceptions have had the misfortune to feel like death was banging on the door. It wasn't really, but that's what a hangover can feel like. But should we worry all that much? After all we have hundreds of cures for hangovers don't we? Or do we?
Nearly all of the cures that are recommended today haven't been proven to work and yet people will swear by them. To find out what might be a definitive cure we need to understand what a hangover is, why we suffer from hangovers and what effect alcohol has on the body. But more importantly is there anything we can do to reverse the effects quickly?
We will firstly look at the following facts about hangovers:
- What is a hangover? This is a range of physiological symptoms experienced when too much alcohol has been consumed, usually within a short period of time. The nasty manifestations mainly occur due to ethanol - the alcohol in your drinks.
- Symptoms range from - headache, sensitivity to light and noise; aching muscles, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, thirst, shaking/tremors, red eyes, dizziness. These symptoms appear when the intoxicating effect of the alcohol begins to wear off. In addition it is common to experience depression, irritability, mood changes and anxiety. The feeling of being very tired is also common. This happens because alcohol does not allow the body to go fully into the refreshing deep sleep that we normally have overnight. It is a lighter form of sleep that leaves people with a 'washed out' feeling when they wake up. Lastly and contrary to popular belief hangovers can last much longer than the usual 24 hours.
- Why do we get a hangover? The full reason is not yet fully understood. What is known however is that hangover symptoms are likely to be a cumulative effect. The overall symptoms would seem to be caused by acute alcohol withdrawal. In addition, alcohol prevents hormones used to prevent too much urine to be passed to stop functioning properly. In a nutshell we need to go to the loo to pee frequently. Because of this excess loss of fluid a number of other physiological responses kick in. Dehydration is first, followed by low blood sugars(hypoglycaemia), then loss of nutrients/salts/minerals. All this leads to the classic symptoms of a hangover.
- The headaches, dry mouth, swollen tongue, thirst are likely to be caused by dehydration. In addition these and other symptoms are due to the toxic affects of the alcohol as it is broken down in the liver. The alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde and broken still further into acetic acid - some of you may be familiar with this chemical as it is the main one found in vinegar. So basically many of the hangover symptoms are due to poisoning and other impurities within our bodies.
- As mentioned previously, due to the large amount of urine we pass, we loose essential nutrients from the body. Some of the symptoms of a hangover are due to a deficiency of these nutrients. For example headaches, fatigue, nausea and sensitivity to light and noise are all associated with depleted levels of sodium and potassium. The general ill feeling is due to low blood glucose levels, caused by the liver being unable to maintain these due to coping with the breakdown of the alcohol. In addition the loss of Vitamin B12 also causes general tiredness and malaise.
Finding A Remedy
It seems fairly clear that a hangover cure should be aiming to do several things:
- Assist the body to de-toxify itself or at least minimise the damage done.
- Bring essential fluids back into the body.
- Sooth the stomach and intestines so that food and drink can be taken without an adverse reaction.
- Replenish the vital nutrients that have been lost.
- Help with the aches, tiredeness and other symptoms.
I'm not going to suggest 'don't drink' . Instead we'll look at what measures can be taken to prevent that 'morning after feeling' without spoiling our fun too much.
- As far as possible staying within or near to the recommended daily intake of alcohol would prevent a hangover completely. Daily recommendations are for women, 2-3 units and men 3-4.
- This can be difficult to achieve particularly at the big party times of Christmas and New Year. If this is likely to be the case then prepare well before hand. Having something to eat, even a light carbohydrate snack, will assist with the slowing down of alcohol absorption into the body. This gives the liver in particular more time to cope with the toxic affects of the alcohol.
- Whenever possible stick to clear beveridges such as vodka as these have less congeners in them due to the purification process. A congener is a product formed during the fermentation process, the more congeners a drink has the more it will contribute to hangover symptoms.
- Drink plenty soft drinks or water in between alcohol drinks.
- Eating a light snack or meal after taking alcohol is beneficial for many people. However, I would avoid heavy fatty foods as you could over load the stomach that may already be irritated by the intake of alcohol.
We're Only Human
At the end of the great party you were of course bullied into having those extra drinks by very insistent friends. The trouble is at the time we don't really care. Our drunken illusions convince us that no matter how bad the hangover will be later, it was worth it for the great night you had. A few hourse later reality comes screaming in bringing with it hell on earth. If you have not been a complete idiot the night before then chances are you will have at least made it home, and not be on public display in the middle of town. So Lets take a look then at some of the most popular hangover remedies to see if they really can help.
- Bloody Mary. Normally served the day after a drink binge. The blood Mary may have some potential for curing some of the symptoms and is basically taking 'the hair of the dog' where alcohol taken will cure the effects of a hangover. To some extent this is true. But only because taking more alcohol will temporarily relieve alcohol withdrawal. Having said this many Bloody Mary's can be made up with not only the usual vodka and tomato juice, but many other varied ingredients. Celery, lemon, lime, olives, pickles, salts, cheese are just a few. These additions would certainly help to replace some of the lost nutrients. However, it is unlikely to help with tiredenss, aches and pains and may well cause further stomach and intestinal upsets for some people. Lastly and from a health angle it is not really a good idea to take further alcohol so soon after a heavy night of drinking.
- Eating before you go out, only helps to absorb alcohol and will not stop a hangover if you go over the top
- Black coffee - does nothing except give you a temporary lift. That's if your stomach can keep it down. In addition caffeine can both stimulate the bowel - more diarrhoea - and stimulate the passing of urine - more dehydration.
- Fried breakfast - could lead to more stomach and general intestine problems. In addition many people with a hangover just can't face food. For those who can this will certainly give you an energy boost and replace some nutrients. It won't do much for dehydration. Also if you are a regular drinker I wouldn't recommend having a greasy fat breakfast frequently. In addition to weight gain there could be long term health implications.
- Water - will certainly replace lost fluids and it is recommended that you take a pint of water before going to bed to combat fluid loss. Continue to take water during the next day as well. Very good advice but it won't replace mineral and general nutrient loss.
- Raw eggs - will give you nutrients but may well give you something else you hadn't bargained for - salmonella bacteria for example. Since you are already feeling like you've been lobotomised it would be better to steer clear of this remedy.
- Pain killers such as paracetamol, aspirin etc., are commonly used by people to get relief from some of the symptoms of a hangover. In fact painkillers could make things worse. Firstly some pain relief might well irritate the stomach further, especially aspirin. Paracetamol is notoriously toxic for the liver. With the liver already trying to cope with alcohol toxins it would be better to leave the pain relief alone. Knowing what we do know now, the aches and pains should actually disappear once you have replenished your fluids/nutrients and toxins start to subside.
- Rest is very important when nursing a hangover. But rest on its own will not help the body to recover lost fluids or nutrients.
What is apparent is that for many people one single remedy would not be sufficient to get over a hangover. A combination remedy would be better and one that includes:
- stomach medicine
- pain relief if needed
We can broaden this out a bit:
- If your stomach feels really queezy start off your treatment with a preparation that both helps nausea and reduces acid. This treatment will then allow you to get fluids back into your body without vomiting them back up.
- The next priority is to get fluid back into your dehydrated body. Water is one of the best or you may prefer a soft drink. When you know you have a big party coming up it is a good idea to purchase some rehydration treatment sachets from your local chemist. They contain pottasium, sodium, dextrose (sugar) and citric acid. These are some of the most important nutrients lost when drinking and can be mixed with water or a soft drink.
- Once you have managed to get fluids and nutrients into your system you will start to feel better. The next step would be to have some food. This will help not only to increase your energy levels, but will also help to further settle your stomach and assist your gut to get back to normal. It will also put another lot of nutrients back into your system. Choose whatever is the most apetising to you at this time and a food you feel your stomach will tolerate.
- Remember to continue drinking water/soft drinks.
- If you really feel you must have pain relief then take some medication now, after your stomach has food in it. This will lessen the irritation effects of the medicine.
- The last part of your treatment is to relax and rest. Many people find having a short, brisk walk is beneficial. This is a good idea if you feel up to it, as this will not only relax you, but give your aching muscles a good stretch. You should also have a lie down if at all possible. Preferably going back to bed but having a nap on a chair or sofa would be fine
The aim of this article is not to spoil your party season but to make it more enjoyable. And if you have your own particular hangover remedy that works, then by all means stick to it. For the rest, I hope you will find something within the article to keep those gross hangovers at bay - most of it is common sense. It just leaves me to say - have fun, be safe and keep well.