Friday, May 24, 2013

Having a hangover does not have to be the endgame of drinking alcohol.  If you plan ahead and play your cards right, you can get away scot-free!
Oh that feeling of headache, thick head, nausea, indigestion  and malaise that follows a night of partying with alcoholic beverages.  While it’s nobody’s preferred outcome, most adults have experienced a hangover at least once in their lives (and many have them on an ongoing basis).

In fact, most people of legal drinking age quickly develop their own mysterious concoctions for either preventing or curing hangovers.  Some will swear by having another alcoholic beverage upon waking (“the hair of the dog that bit you” approach).  Others will insist that the cure is in a few anti-inflammatory pills and a day spent in bed.  Naturopaths always aim to treat the root cause of the problem.  So other than quitting drinking, what can we do to help prevent a hangover?  Whether you’re looking to prevent a hangover or treat one already in process, see below for more information.

What is a Hangover?
Before we can go about fixing the problem, it is important that first we understand what it is that we’re dealing with.  “Hangover” is the term used to describe a picture of symptoms caused by excessive consumption of alcohol a number of hours earlier (often the night before).  There symptoms can be unique to the individual or even to the type of alcoholic beverage consumed, but often include: nausea, vomiting, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, dry-mouth, headache, dizziness, fatigue, clouded-thinking, and joint pain.

There are many factors that contribute to the symptoms of a hangover, but the most prevalent is Dehydration.  Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes the body to flush increased amounts of water out through the kidneys and into the urine.  This is also the reason for your increased urination during alcohol consumption.  Along with the increased flushing of water through the kidneys, many of the body’s water-soluble nutrients are flushed into the urine as well.  This leaves the drinker deficient in a number of vitamins and minerals, including: B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Electrolytes like Magnesium, Calcium, Sodium, chloride and Potassium.

Traditional Thoughts
I have heard a variety of interesting cures for hangovers.  Some are simple, like drinking a certain beverage (even pickle juice) while others are complex concoctions of eggs, oils, foods, beverages, and just about anything else you can think of.  While we always encourage you to experiment to discover what works best for your body, please see below for some recommendations backed by science.


Obviously, the best possible way to deal with a hangover is to prevent it from happening in the first place!  The ideal way to do this is to always drink responsibly, or not at all.  Since this isn’t often the case at parties, here are some other suggestions:

Drink Plenty of Water  
Staying well hydrated before and during your drinking can easily help to prevent the symptoms of a hangover.  Many people will drink at least 500ml of water to begin an evening, and then alternate each alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic one.  These “spacer drinks” should mainly be water, or other electrolyte-friendly beverages, like juice or ginger ale.  Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages or energy drinks as these can further aggravate the problem by increasing the diuretic effect.  Most important of all, finish the evening with as much water or juice as you can stomach (without feeling sick).  Keep a glass of water next to your bed to allow you quick access throughout the night, to keep you well hydrated.

It can often be useful to supplement some key water-soluble nutrients prior to beginning to drink.  A great B-complex can go a long way to protecting against a hangover.  Other great ideas are: electrolyte powders, and vitamin C.  Stocking up on these nutrients before flushing your system can help your body to maintain stores and prevent later depletion.

It is extremely important to eat something before you start drinking.  Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can actually cause tiny pinpoint bleeding in the stomach lining.  Having food in your stomach protects against this and also slows the absorption of the alcohol, giving your body time to prepare and process what it takes in.  Food is also a great source of minerals and electrolytes that can protect you from dehydration.

Choose Your Alcohol Wisely
While many people have a favourite alcoholic beverage to use in social situations, if you've been suffering from a string of hangovers, it may be time to change yours.

After a night of drinking, one of the best things that you can do is finish with another round of your vitamins, but only if you are not already nauseated.  As mentioned above, be sure to take these with as much water as possible and keep more near your bed.  Having a pre-made electrolyte drink available during these times can significantly improve your chance of waking up hangover-free.  Commercial electrolyte drinks are often very high in sugar, which can actually interfere with your water balance and with your sleep, so avoid them during these times.


Unfortunately, some of us don’t plan well and realize far too late in time that we had one too many the night before.  If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to really take the time to take care of yourself.  This can prevent the hangover morning from becoming a hangover afternoon or even week.

The most important thing that you can do immediately after waking with a hangover is to rest.  Giving your body a chance to rebalance and get its systems back in check can help to shorten the amount of time that you suffer.

Drink Fluids
While many people recommend having another alcoholic drink to stave off a morning hangover (“hair of the dog that bit you”), this just delays the inevitable.  The one exception may be a Bloody Mary because it is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals.  Make it a virgin (alcohol-free) to save yourself pain later.  If possible, avoid drinking any more alcohol, and instead focus on water and/or electrolyte solutions.  Juice can be useful because of its natural vitamin and mineral content.  In the case of severe nausea, be sure to focus only on electrolyte solutions and avoid drinking large amounts at a time.  Sip the fluids slowly and pace yourself. .

Avoid Over-the-Counter Drugs
While many will immediately reach for aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), these drugs are often not the answer.  They do calm the immediate pain, but can actually create a larger burden on your liver and slow the clearing of the remaining toxins in your blood.  If you absolutely must function with your new-found hangover, try herbal anti-inflammatory supplements instead like: Boswellia, and Curcumin.  They have a lesser burden on the liver, but can help to block the same pain pathways as the drugs more commonly used.

As soon as you can stomach food, it is a good idea to begin reintroducing small simple meals.  This is a quick and easy way to replenish your electrolytes, and to give your stomach something to work on other than its own acid.  Some people will swear by a large greasy breakfast to help settle a nauseated hangover stomach, but usually it is better to start small with a simple food like crackers, bread, or broth to see what your body can handle first.

Get Outside
As soon as the worst of the nausea and headache have passed, it is important to get outside and move your body.  Seeing the sun and breathing fresh air can quickly help to clear the mind and get the body’s balance back on track.  If you can move your body while doing so, simply by walking, or whatever activity level you can handle, it will help you clear the toxic build-up in your system.  Being outside (in nature if possible) has been shown to improve mood and outlook in as little as a few minutes. If, when you wake up, you can manage to do physical activity (without vomiting); sweating can significantly increase the rate that you shed any leftover alcohol from your system.

If all else fails, simply try to sleep your hangover away.  Over time, and with some water, your body will find its own balance once again.  Try to remember this feeling for next time in the hopes that moderation may seem a bit more appealing in the future.  No matter what, we hope that you feel better soon!

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