As far as hangovers are concerned, the old saying is true: an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. If you understand how hangovers work, and can retain your presence of mind before you drop into bed, you can stop your hangover in its tracks before it starts, and spare yourself some of the pain.It’s important to remember that you can’t prevent a hangover altogether: you can mitigate the worst effects, make it less unpleasant, or shorter, but there’s always a price to be paid! Unfortunately, hangovers don’t have a miracle cure.
Nausea is one of the hallmarks of the hangover. It’s caused by your body’s attempts to deal with the toxic ethanol you’ve put into it. Ethanol can’t be broken down in one single process: it’s a complex molecule that your liver needs to split in several different ways before it’s finally rendered harmless.
Your liver uses one enzyme to break ethanol down into acetaldehyde, another to break the acetaldehyde down into acetate, and finally, this acetate can be split into water and carbon dioxide, which can harmlessly circulate and then leave the body. Until the last of the acetate finally leaves your system though, this process and its by-products leaves you feeling queasy and unsteady.
Cure: Drink Carefully
You can’t halt this process altogether: ethanol has to leave your body, and the process will upset your stomach. What you can do is make it as easy as possible.
The more toxins and pollutants a drink as in it, the harder it is for your body to digest. The process of yeast fermentation that makes drinks alcoholic also produces lots of other substances apart from ethanol. These are known as congeners. In some drinks – beers and wines, and some spirits, these help to contribute to the flavour (as well as containing some additional nasty toxins like methanol!). In others, like vodka, the congeners are carefully filtered out, leading to a purer drink.
If you stick to clear, highly filtered spirits, you can cut down on some of the pain of a hangover, as there are fewer toxins for your body to remove from your system.
Cure: Eat a Banana
Some of the frail, weak and nauseous feelings you experience the morning after over-indulging can be blamed on low blood sugar. Among its other effects, alcohol can also cause your body to lose control of its blood sugar levels, meaning you wake in the middle of a severe blood sugar valley. This means you feel weak and exhausted, low in mood, and swamped by the nauseous feelings caused by your body processing away the ethanol.
Eating a banana before bed boosts your blood sugar: it means you don’t wake up in the worst possible state, and your body has more resources with deal with the problem of excising all the ethanol you’ve put it into.
Headaches and hangovers go together like bread and butter. It’s the classic sign of overindulgence, leaving the sufferer with pounding, persistent head pain, and sensitivity to light and loud sounds that can make the simplest task miserable.
This headache is caused by dehydration. Alcohol affects your body in lots of different ways, and one of them is hindering its ability to regulate how much water you have in your system. It’s normally carefully balanced, with your brain creating an ‘anti-diuretic hormone’ that ensures your body only excretes excess water when there is a true excess – too much water causes your cells to swell up, while too little causes them to contract, and also deprives your body of a key ingredient for many of its most important processes.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, encouraging your body to shed all the water it can. This is why you find yourself visiting the toilet more after a couple of drinks. If you’re working up a sweat on the dance floor, that too contributes to your dehydration.
If you wake up dehydrated you soon know about it: your shrunken, parched brain cells mean your brain is literally smaller than when you went to bed, and it’s pulling on the lining of your skull!
To avoid the agony of the hangover headache, you need to avoid that dehydration. Drinking a glass of water before bed is good hangover advice, but you can go further to cut down on the pain.
Drinking a soft drink – ideally water – between each alcoholic drink helps to keep you hydrated all night and stops a hangover from getting a grip. It also slows down the rate you drink at, meaning you don’t take in as much ethanol, and so all symptoms of your hangover will be less severe.
Then, before you go to bed, don’t just drink water. Rehydrate fully with an O.R.S. rehydration tablet – these dissolve to restore more than the water your body needs! They also contain all the key electrolytes leeched out of your body as you dehydrate. An electrolyte dip exacerbates all the symptoms of your hangover, so topping up before the situation gets out of hand helps to keep the worst of the suffering at bay!