You wake up with a dry mouth, head squeezed as if in a vise-grip, sandpaper in your eyes and contemplating bolting toward the toilet for the old heave-ho. What could you have done to prevent a hangover this holiday?
Winter’s holiday season brings festivities, albeit smaller ones during pandemic times. The number one way to prevent a hangover is not to drink at all. Not happening, you say. Well then, how about moderate drinking? The current thinking is one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man. This formula tends to go out the window at certain times during the holidays.
Just as you plan in advance how you will get home safely after an evening of drinking (calling a taxi, nominating a designated driver, leaving early…), it’s a good idea to think about a strategy for avoiding a hangover in advance.
If you’re not planning to abstain, here a few things to keep in mind to help prevent a hangover.
1. Drink water, eat something.
Alcoholic beverages are dehydrating, which only makes a hangover feel worse. Drink plenty of water before, during and after you imbibe alcohol. Coconut water or electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade can help soothe a queasy stomach.
Eat before you drink, and while drinking choose something that contains protein and fat to slow down the absorption of alcohol through the stomach.
Did you know that alcohol is not digested like food? Alcohol starts getting into the bloodstream as soon as it hits the tissues of the mouth, and most of it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream while in the stomach and small intestine. That way it can get to the liver faster for detoxification. On its way through the bloodstream, alcohol is carried to all the organs in the body.
2. Pace yourself to prevent a hangover.
Your body is trying its hardest to detoxify the toxic ethanol in the alcoholic beverage before it causes cell damage. If you drink too much or too fast, you overwhelm the liver’s ability to detoxify.
There are genetic differences in how people metabolize alcohol, so what works for your friend may not work for you. Don’t try to match your friends drink-for-drink.
If you plan to take an over-the-counter pain remedy, avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) because it is hard on the liver and can even cause liver damage when taken with alcohol.
3. Eat your veggies, get some sleep and take vitamin C.
In addition to the toxicity of alcohol, it also creates inflammation in the gut and brain. Pounding headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound…some of this misery is a product of inflammation. Reducing chronic inflammation in general is a good idea, though nothing is guaranteed to prevent a hangover. Things that help reduce inflammation include reducing stress, eating plenty of vegetables and taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamin C. Things that increase inflammation are many: stress, lack of sleep, sugar, alcohol, drugs, caffeine, processed foods.
4. Take magnesium and B-complex if you’re already stressed out.
Alcohol depletes magnesium and B-vitamins. Many people are already low on these nutrients due to stress or diets low in green vegetables, so consider adding a good-quality magnesium supplement (magnesium glycinate is one form that is easier to absorb) and a B-complex vitamin to your supplement regimen. Food sources of magnesium are greens (such as broccoli), beans (such as lentils or black beans), nuts, seeds and whole grains. For B-vitamins, all of the above with the addition of eggs, meat, fish, and tempeh are good food sources.
5. Take good care of your gut and liver with probiotic foods.
While the polyphenols in red wine, for example, can be beneficial in small amounts—alcohol in general is irritating to the stomach lining and compromises the healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Probiotics can help maintain the integrity of the gut lining, and they are being investigated as a way to improve liver health as well as gut health.
Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, and natural sauerkraut are good sources of probiotics that encourage healthy gut bacteria.
6. Look at the bigger picture.
Remember the point of holiday festivities is to spend time with friends and loved ones. Be aware of social pressure to drink more than you’re comfortable with, and think about how you can keep alcohol consumption at a level that is right and healthy for you. That might be zero, and it can change depending on where you are in life. There are plenty of other cool and fun alternatives.
To sum up—if you’re going to eat, drink and be merry, prepare ahead of time. First, plan your safe ride home. To prevent a hangover: pace yourself, hydrate with water and electrolytes, eat your veggies and vitamin C to reduce inflammation, consume extra magnesium and B vitamins, take care of your gut lining with probiotic foods, and think about how you want alcohol to fit in perspective of your life, family and health.
Have a fun and safe holiday. I hope these tips help keep your season jolly and healthy.
(If you have a drinking problem or if you feel out of control and suspect that you may have an addiction to alcohol, skip this article and seek professional help. You can call a substance abuse hotline provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for 24-hour free and confidential treatment referrals and information: SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline).
Enjoy the winter season, wherever you are! If you would like to work with me one on one, I am offering Functional medicine and Chinese medicine via telehealth. Now is a great time to fine-tune your health naturally. Contact me through my website.