The medical term (of Norwegian origin) for a hangover is ‘veisalgia’, which, fittingly, means “uneasiness following debauchery” and “pain”.
The pounding headache and restlessness of a hangover – the price that’s paid for drinking copious amounts of alcohol – can sometimes be terrible enough to interrupt your day’s schedule. With this article, though, we hope to help you reduce its severity.
Here are a few evidence-based ways to help cure a hangover and/or avoid getting one in the first place!
But First…What Happens During a Hangover?
Ever wonder why our bladders seem to fill up so much faster after drinking alcohol? It’s because, technically, they do.
You may know that alcohol is a diuretic, i.e., it makes you lose water. Here’s what this really means though:
One of the effects of alcohol entering our bloodstream is that our brain’s pituitary gland stops producing a chemical called ‘vasopressin’ (or “the antidiuretic hormone”). Without this hormone, our kidneys tend to send water straight to the bladder – as opposed to the water getting reabsorbed back into the blood.1
Because of this, we urinate more after drinking.
For every 250 ml (almost a pint) of an alcoholic beverage that we drink, we lose approximately 1 litre of water – that’s four times as much liquid lost as is gained! (It’s the reason we wake up so thirsty the next morning.)
The organs in our body need water to function; when they aren’t getting enough, they take it from other parts of the body, including the brain. This makes the brain decrease in size, which pulls on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull, which – as you can imagine – results in pain. That’s why we’re always advised to drink a glass of water between drinks, and to have water before going to sleep and upon waking up.
The frequent urination also results in low levels of salts, potassium and magnesium in our body, leading to headaches, fatigue and nausea. These minerals are also necessary for proper nerve, muscle and cell function, which is now impaired.
Our cell function is also affected by a somewhat toxic substance that’s produced when we drink alcohol. Called acetaldehyde, we can thank this substance for the next day’s nausea and throbbing head as well. However, it doesn’t affect us too badly when we only have a few drinks, because our body has an enzyme called glutathione that can convert acetaldehyde into a non toxic form; but the more we drink, the less glutathione can do for us. Incidentally, women are more likely to suffer from severe hangovers than men, because they generally have less detoxifying enzymes like glutathione than men.2-4
Now, here’s where the good news starts: apart from the earlier-mentioned-and-most-obvious solution of drinking more water, there are a few ways to reduce the intensity of hangovers:
1] Choose the booze wisely
All types of alcohol aren’t equal – some can play a bigger role in hangovers than others.
When alcohol is produced, small amounts of other toxic substances (like methanol, isopentanol and acetone, collectively called ‘congeners’) are formed with the ethanol. The presence of congeners is associated with hangover symptoms; for instance, methanol is converted to a substance that interferes with our cell activies.5, 6
Whiskey, cognac, and tequila are generally higher in congeners than colourless drinks like vodka, gin and run (bourbon whiskey is exceptionally high in them). That said, the more alcohol is distilled, the more these substances are filtered out, thus improving the quality of the alcohol (and, also, making it more expensive!).7
2] Avoid Mixing
You’ve probably heard this before, and there is some truth to it. Since different alcoholic drinks have different congeners, combining the various impurities may result in particularly severe hangover symptoms.
While enough studies haven’t been conducted to support the theory, sticking to one type of alcoholic beverage is still a good idea because of an entirely different reason: the greater amounts of alcohol generally consumed within a shorter timeframe, when one mixes drinks.8
3] Avoid Beer as a Chaser
While there isn’t conclusive evidence to support this (because the rate of alcohol absorption depends on each person), it is believed that beer’s carbonation (“fizziness”) actually speeds up the absorption of alcohol. Because of this, and the fact that it’s that much more alcohol, following a shot of alcohol with beer would give the body less than the usual amount of time to process the toxins, resulting in a worse hangover.9
4] Eat before Drinking
Although food may not help a hangover, it can reduce its severity if consumed before drinking. Fatty foods, especially, slow down the absorption of alcohol, giving the body more time to process the toxins.
5] Load up on Micronutrients
We’ve mentioned that the draining of vitamins and minerals from the body (due to excess urination) can add to the severity of a hangover. So, loading back up on them is naturally a good idea – that’s why many hangover pills have high amounts of vitamins and minerals. Those with red ginseng, ginger and prickly pear have been shown to be especially effective.10-13
The nutrients your body needs, in order to recover, can also be found in everyday foods. A meal that includes eggs (for its bunch of nutrients), a banana (for the potassium), and even a fresh lime juice (for the electrolytes, sugars and salts) can lessen the discomfort. A filling meal will also help with the low blood sugar, which also causes a few symptoms of a hangover (like weakness) and contributes to the headache.14
6] Have a Probiotic
The friendly bacteria that live in your gut do so much more than help with digestion; they control a lot of aspects of our body’s functioning as well as our mental health (you can read more about them here).15
A large number of bacterial populations die off due to the excess alcohol. They can be recovered with the help of probiotic food (like yogurt) and drinks, which have live bacterial cultures that benefit our health by repopulating our gut.16
No matter what a drinker does, the body still has to clean up all the toxic by-products left over from the previous night. Drinking in moderation is ideal, but if you experience hangovers, these simple fixes will get you on the road to recovery!
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