The feeling of a hangover or the consequences of drinking too much alcohol is a feeling many don’t soon forget. It could be the intense pounding headache, the nausea or the fatigue that draws you to your bed, or worse the desire for another drink. To understand more of how the symptoms manifest in the body, take a closer look at what alcohol does at a physiological level.
Alcohol, also known as ethanol, acts differently in the body compared to the macronutrients of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is a water-soluble molecule that is most readily absorbed on an empty stomach because food delays absorption. If drinks aerated with carbon dioxide are consumed, such as champagne or liquor mixed with soda, the effects will be felt sooner. This is how we can so suddenly feel that relaxing and good feeling that oftentimes accompanies the first drink. In addition, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin are triggered giving the sense of relaxation and wellbeing (Paton, 2005).
Because blood from the stomach and small intestines is received directly to the liver, exposure is the greatest here. Other tissues such as brain, heart and muscles receive the same concentration as alcohol in the blood. Breakdown by enzymes occurs and the resulting toxin is acetylaldehyde (Paton, 2005). It is this accumulation and the resulting depletion of glutathione, an important antioxidant, as well as dysregulated cytokine pathways and hormonal alterations that bring about the symptoms of headache, nausea and fatigue (Wiese, Shilpak and Browner, 2000).
So, once you have reached the point of too many drinks and your acetyladehyde levels are high, what to do? Remedies galore exist and perhaps you have tried them all. Seven tips are listed here in the event you find yourself needing some extra support.
- Most important is dehydration. Urination and elimination increase due to the diuretic effect of alcohol. Drinking water is the best way to rehydrate but coconut water, with more electrolytes than most sports drinks may be a good substitute. To help combat dehydration, consume water in between sips of alcohol.
- Always have something to eat with your alcoholic drink. Eat before arriving at the party, even if it is just a light snack. Food in the stomach slows the absorption of alcohol.
- Some targeted supplements could also help in the detoxifying process. Things like Vitamin C, milk thistle and N-acetyl cysteine, the precursor to glutathione can be supportive. Because alcohol depletes B vitamins, taking a good B complex including Thiamin and B12 before you consume alcohol may also help.
- Green tea or Ginger tea. Green tea is full of antioxidants that will support the liver’s ability to clean out. Ginger tea is proven to help with nausea, a symptom that often appears with over drinking. As tempting as coffee may be, avoid it due to its dehydrating effects.
- A good warm bath with Epsom salts, for added Magnesium, may speed up the detoxifying. Use caution though, not too get overheated and consume water while bathing to prevent further dehydration. For extra relief add, 4-6 drops of lavender essential oil to bathwater.
- Eat some fermented foods. Alcohol also affects the bacteria in the gut. By consuming kimchi, cultured vegetables or kombucha, your microbiome will have support it needs.
- Peppermint essential oil. This helps with headaches and nausea. Pour a drop or two onto cotton ball and inhale. You may also mix with a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond oil and apply to tip of nose.
By using any of these remedies, you may find ease in your symptoms. The best way to avoid a hangover is to know your limits and not get one. Consuming excess alcohol can add stress to the liver, the kidneys, the brain and the immune system. If you do enjoy alcohol, do so at a reasonable rate. Set a goal ahead of time; consider your healthy threshold. In the event you find yourself feeling bad due to the toxic effects of alcohol, consider one of these tips. Cheers!
Paton A. (2005). Alcohol in the body. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 330(7482), 85-7.
Pittler, M., Verster, J., & Ernst, E. (2005). Interventions for preventing or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 331(7531), 1515-8.
Wiese, J., Shlipak, M., Browner, W,. (2000). The Alcohol Hangover. Annals of Internal Medicine. ;132:897–902. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-132-11-200006060-00008