It may seem a bit of a contradiction to plan for something as awful as a hangover, but with the reality of Christmas season fast approaching, I think it’s time we all fessed up to reality and accepted the hangovers that are coming our way. Once we’ve embraced the fact that it will happen, we are in a much better position to figure out how to minimise the pain and suffering.
We are always looking for ways to avoid, or cure, hangovers and are willing to try almost anything (raw eggs anyone?). So what can we do other than not drinking to avoid the headaches, stomach pains and general haziness? Below are some cast-iron tips along with a few more dubious cures that may or may not take your fancy…
We are heading into the party season, and worst of all, the office Christmas party season! I can feel you nodding knowingly – we have all been there. Somehow when you release a group of co-workers who spend around 2,000 hours a year together out in the wild one night a year, things tend to get a little out of hand… Time to accept the reality and start planning for that hangover.
Why does it happen?
We experience hangovers due to brain inflammation caused by the impurities in alcohol and the by-products of the alcohol metabolising. Congeners are toxic by-products formed during the fermentation process when the alcohol is being made. Alcohol makes your brain detect the poison in your bloodstream, which contributes to your body starting to fight to get rid of those toxins. Your body will have to digest not only the alcohol but also these congeners. Our liver can only take care of one unit of alcohol an hour.
So how can we minimise the side effects of our drinking habits?
We can deny it, but if we know we are going for it during the party season, why not prepare for it?
Ever had the feeling that alcohol goes straight to your head when you haven’t eaten properly before drinking? Without food in your belly, the alcohol gets absorbed through your small intestine and stomach lining much faster. It is very important to eat well before drinking, or do it like the Italians and eat while you are drinking. This way you allow your body to take its time absorbing the alcohol and your hangover the next day may not be quite as bad. When your stomach is full, the valve between the stomach and small intestine will stay closed, allowing the alcohol to stay in your stomach for longer, with the side effects dissipating more slowly.
The ideal meal would include carbohydrates such as pasta or rice, or fatty foods. It is also believed a large spoonful of olive oil before drinking is enough to coat your stomach to avoid the alcohol being absorbed too fast. Obviously, that won’t block the valve, and the alcohol will still get into your bloodstream through the small intestine. Not sure about you, but I like my food, so I’d rather opt for that pizza…
A word of warning – if you have a habit of eating last thing at night, maybe getting a kebab on the way home, in the hopes of waking up feeling better, then I am sorry to disappoint, but it is too late. Eating at the end of a night out has no positive effect; it is simply too late as the alcohol has already entered your bloodstream. In fact, eating just before bed can affect your sleep and, as we see below, sleep is one of the single most important determinants of the extent of your hangover.
Lack of sleep can make your hangover symptoms feel worse. On the day you know you will be having a late alcohol-fuelled night, it is important to have plenty of sleep in advance. If you can’t have a late morning, then find time for a nap before heading out. When you drink, your quality of sleep worsens. If you can get a few extra hours of sleep before you imbibe, this can really help with how you feel the next day.
Low ABV or No ABV
Start off by having a few non-alcoholic beers or low ABV cocktails. Or even better, drink water between drinks. I try to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink I imbibe. This way I can try to avoid feeling dehydrated the next morning. Also, drinking water throughout the night will make you slow down and drink less alcohol.
Choose drinks with low congeners
As mentioned before, congeners are one of the main causes of a hangover; the more congeners, the worse you’re going to feel. Some people are more sensitive to them than others. Bourbon has the most congeners, while vodka has hardly any. So, stick to clear spirits over tequila, whisky or brandy, and white wine over red. (You may still feel rotten the next day, but maybe not as bad as you might have done…).
Avoid fizzy drinks
Whether you are having the occasional Coca-Cola between drinks or imbibing Champagne all night, this will help to speed up the alcohol absorption into your system. So, if possible, keep the fizzy drinks to a minimum. Yes, that also means G&T will get you inebriated faster.
Fizzy drinks such as lemonade, Coke or sparkling water may help to settle your stomach the next day, but before then, it is best to avoid them altogether.
Before you go to sleep drink a sports drink or anything else with electrolytes. This will help your body retain more fluid. The best time to hydrate is before going to bed after a night out, but it is also a good idea to choose drinks with electrolytes or salts throughout the night and the next day.
Why do you think Bloody Mary is so effective as a hangover cure? Tomato juice has salts that will make your body repair itself faster. Other good options to sip the next day are coconut water (for its antioxidants and potassium), Gatorade, Kombucha, a vegetable-based broth, tablets like Berocca or, if you’re feeling brave, pickle juice. Avoid sports drinks that are heavy on caffeine. You might also want to check this article, where Tim McKirdy reviews some of the popular hangover drinks.
Keep your blood sugar levels up
It is very important to eat well the next morning to restore your blood sugar, vitamin and mineral levels. Your liver will need all the energy to process the toxins. The ideal breakfast would include things like eggs and avocado on toast, omelette or a porridge with banana and nuts. Include a glass of fresh OJ for extra vitamin C, as this can speed up the metabolism. Unlike before drinking, the morning-after meal should not be greasy but something that is easy on the stomach.
Hair of the dog
Sometimes a drink the next day at brunch can make you feel less fragile. It often helps alcoholics with their withdrawal symptoms, but it is not a recommended way to cure hangovers. However, if you do choose this option, try a drink like a Bloody Mary for the salts, and make sure not to drink too many as you will only delay the hangover to the next day!
There are some supplements that can help with keeping your liver and kidneys working properly. Some might be better for keeping your stomach settled (ginger, for example). I take milk thistle tablets most days (even non-drinking days), but it doesn’t take the hangovers away. I consider it more like a way to look after my liver, because I know I enjoy a drink or few at times.
Another supplement that is believed to relieve hangover symptoms is prickly pear extract.
If you can’t be bothered with supplements or think they are a hoax, you can sip tea as an alternative; ginger for nausea, peppermint for an upset stomach, turmeric to fight the inflammation, chamomile to help you sleep and green tea or hibiscus for better liver function.
You always hear people saying that by exercising the next day they are sweating out the alcohol. However, the only way to get rid off alcohol in your body is to metabolise it; you can’t actually sweat it out in larger quantities. Only two to eight percent of alcohol leaves the body through urine, sweat or breath (yup, that morning breath of yours is alcohol!). The rest, 92 to 98 percent, needs to be metabolised.
Exercising after a night out is also dangerous and can put a huge strain on your heart. Also, your body will be dehydrated due to the alcohol consumption, and if you work out, you are much more likely to pick up an injury or strain. Noticing a lot of muscle spasms? That’s dehydration for you.
However, that doesn’t mean you should just lie on the sofa comatose. Go out for a short walk. The fresh air will do you good and gets your body moving.
I’ve never been a fan of any kind of medication. Taking painkillers to deal with a hangover is not recommended. Some medication (such as paracetamol or anything with acetaminophen) can cause more damage to your liver and stomach. Your liver is already being overworked trying to metabolise alcohol and by taking painkillers, you will create more work. The side effects of these tablets can be worse when you have been drinking. Alcohol and aspirin both work as blood thinners, so it is not a good idea to take aspirin to try to cure your hangover.
Bulls Eye aka Egg & OJ
Some people swear by raw egg to treat hangover symptoms. Apparently, if you mix it with orange juice you can’t even taste the egg. But I’m always quite sceptical of raw eggs… At least make sure it’s an organic free-range egg if you try this.
Rub lemons in your armpits
In Puerto Rico they believe rubbing lemon slices in your armpits will somehow prevent dehydration when drinking alcohol. Dehydration has a huge impact on how you feel the next day. If you don’t mind smelling of lemons all night, you might want to give this a go. I remain doubtful, however…
If you don’t mind drinking pickle juice to cure hangovers, perhaps you might like the Japanese tradition of eating pickled plums, umeboshi, to treat hangover symptoms. Umeboshi is supposed to be very sour and salty. I do like sour and savoury flavours and all things pickled so I’m game if anyone wants to offer me some pickled plums.
There are no real hangover cures, but there are a few things you can do before and after a night out. Here’s a summary of what your ‘hangover plan’ should look like.
1 Take a nap.
2 Eat a bowl of pasta.
3 Take milk thistle tablets.
4 Avoid fizzy drinks during a night out.
5 Start off by drinking low ABV drinks.
6 Avoid drinks with congeners.
7 Drink water throughout the night.
8 Don’t eat before bed.
9 Hydrate with Kombucha before bed and the next morning.
10 Eat a good breakfast with orange juice (add a raw egg in it if you dare) or a Virgin Mary.
11 Don’t exercise or drink alcohol the day after heavy drinking.
12 Don’t bother with painkillers.
What do you do to avoid hangovers? Do you have a secret ‘cure’?