It’s the start of a new year; you want to celebrate it with a few drinks, but more often than not those few drinks turn into a few too many. It felt great at the time – you were the life and soul of the party, the world seemed rosy and 2010 looked like it was going to be the best of all years. The morning after though…well, that’s a different story. Your head feels like it’s about to burst, your stomach heaves like a ship in a storm and the rest of your body quivers as though you’ve just completed a course in electroshock therapy. The new decade looks decidedly less attractive.
Technically, what you’re experiencing is veisalgia. You and I know it as a hangover. And just as we know the living hell they can be, we also know there’s no instant cure, no pill or potion that can quickly erase the pain, the nausea, the guilt…
But while there may be no magic bullet, there are steps you can take to shave the edge off your suffering, to shorten the lifespan of that skull-splitting agony just a little and hasten you re-entry to the land of the living. To understand why they might work, though, to elevate your level of trust in the following remedies, you need to know a little about how alcohol wreaks its vengeance.
What Alcohol Does
Alcohol’s effects on the body are varied and profound. As far as hangovers go, one of the most relevant is its ability to dehydrate us. Alcohol blocks the production of vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone. When the kidneys are starved of this hormone they cease to reabsorb water back into the body and send it directly to the bladder instead. This results in frequent urination and the progressive depletion of the body’s water store.
Dehydration causes the characteristic hangover headache because as the brain loses water it shrinks and begins to stress the membranes that connect it to the inside of the skull.
Not Just Water
Frequent urination, though, doesn’t just get rid of water. Along with the liquid we lose valuable salts, vitamins (notably B and C) and minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium which are essential to the normal functioning of our muscles and nerves. That jittery, shaky felling that accompanies your headache and heaving stomach could well be the result of such a nutrient depletion.
The lack of strength and energy which makes getting out of bed an almost impossible task on hangover mornings may result from the fact that alcohol breaks down the liver’s stores of glycogen. This broken-down glycogen is then expelled in the urine, depriving us of a major energy source.
Most of the alcohol we pour into ourselves is broken down in the liver as our bodies struggle to get rid of what is essentially a toxin. Unfortunately for the overindulgent, this process creates a substance even more toxic to the body than alcohol which, if not eliminated quickly, results in nausea, vomiting and violent headaches. Briefly the steps are:
- Alcohol is broken down by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase into acetaldehyde – the toxin referred to above.
- Acetaldehyde is then converted into non-toxic acetic acid by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione.
Obviously, if the conversion into acetic acid occurs swiftly, the acetaldehyde has a limited impact on the body. The problem with excessive alcohol intake, though, is that it rapidly depletes the liver’s reserves of glutathione, meaning that toxic acetaldehyde stays in the body for much longer periods of time – causing debilitating headaches and nausea.
And, as if the effects outlined above weren’t enough, alcohol both directly irritates the lining of the stomach during its absorption, and causes the stomach to produce greater quantities of hydrochloric acid. At a certain point, these two conditions may combine to provoke an extended session of toilet-hugging.
So, knowing what we now know about the hangover-inducing effects of alcohol we can attempt to reduce our level of morning-after debilitation.
Re-hydrate – combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol by drinking plenty of water. Isotonic sports drinks can help with this as they are not only absorbed faster than water, but also may help replenish lost body salts (electrolytes).
A greasy breakfast – the standard craving and one which provides much comfort. The grease may sooth your irritated stomach lining and the taste will temporarily distract you from your pain. Such food, though, may well be more beneficial if eaten before drinking – the fat will help protect the stomach lining and food will slow the absorption of alcohol, allowing your body more time to deal with it.
Eggs – if your greasy breakfast contains a couple of fried eggs, so much the better. Eggs are rich in cysteine, a component of glutathione (one of the substances essential for converting acetaldehyde into non toxic acetic acid).
Vitamins and minerals – replacing the vitamins and minerals lost through frequent urination can help speed recovery. Try a good quality multi-mineral and vitamin pill. Bananas, too, will help here as they are rich in potassium.
Fruit juice – the sugar in fruit juice will help provide fuel lost through glycogen breakdown. In addition, the particular type of sugar in fruit juice (fructose) speeds the rate at which the body eliminates toxins.
Coffee – who can do without it on those dreadful mornings? One of the effects of caffeine is that it constricts blood vessels – this action can help with headaches brought about by the blood vessel-swelling effects of alcohol. Caffeine will also mask feelings of tiredness, giving the illusion of recovery – no bad thing if you have to be at the office that morning. However, caffeine is also a diuretic and overuse will contribute to the already dehydrated state of your post-celebratory body, so don’t overdo it.
Breakfast of Champions
So, if like millions of others, you think you may have a few too many this New Year’s Eve, make sure you have the necessary ingredients ready for a recuperative breakfast of banana, fried eggs, coffee and fruit juice. Take your vitamins/minerals and drink plenty of water. Then go back to bed for the rest of the day because, as any hangover sufferer knows, nothing really works. At least not fast enough.
Learn more about hangover cures in this video.