Alcohol in limited amounts--up to one beverage per day for women and two per day for men--has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system and has been show to extend life. Contrary to popular persuasion, this benefit is not unique to wine (a la resveratrol) but rather the alcohol itself.
However, consuming alcohol in excess--like your last Saturday night tequila blurrrr--can harm your body over time and produce a nasty array of symptoms the following morning.
Oh the pounding headache!
Oh the queasy stomach!
Oh the heavy fatigue!
Hangovers are the worst.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate. Because the volume you urinate exceeds the volume you're drinking, the result is dehydration. But, hangovers are more than simple dehydration.
Alcohol also unleashes an inflammatory cascade. When you drink, alcohol bathes all cells in your body, including the brain. Thus, it should be no surprise that dousing your cells with a toxin would unleash a shower of cytokines, inflammatory signals that alert your body to danger. This is the same pathway activated when a bacteria or virus attacks your body.
Of course, the best way to prevent a hangover is to limit how much you drink or not drink altogether! But, if you drink, how can you minimize your chance of hangover and speed your recovery the following morning? Learn what to do before your drink, while you drink, before you sleep and after you wake up.
Before You Drink
Big party later tonight? Remember to hydrate throughout the day, especially if it's hot outside or if you've been exercising, both of which induce dehydration. Also, skip the sauna after the gym; no need to dehydrate yourself further.
Water is good, but electrolyte-rich fluid like coconut water or G2 is better. Consuming water with sugar and salt is essential to maximizing water absorption.
Drinking on an empty stomach means that alcohol enters your system much more quickly. A well balanced meal with carbs, fat and protein will regulate the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.
Alcohol depresses the immune system, so adequate sleep the night before heavy drinking will bolster the immune system and decrease the chance of getting sick. A well rested body will be better equipped to handle the alcohol aftermath.
While You Drink
The amount of alcohol consumed is directly proportional to the severity of the hangover. So, limit how much you drink!
This isn't a frat party; pace yourself. One drink per hour is a good yardstick. Why? Your liver can only process about one drink per hour. So, alternate water between dranks to prevent dehydration. Ain't no body gonna know you hydratin' but you. Oh, and squeezing lime in your seltzer water will give a nice Vitamin C boost.
Alcohol is produced through fermentation, the conversion of sugar into alcohol. Beside alcohol, fermentation produces byproducts called congeners, which create the taste and aroma of fermented beverages.
However, congeners also cause hangovers. The general rule of thumb is lighter alcohols have fewer congeners. Vodka has the fewest congeners, which is why high quality vodka is lacking in taste and aroma.
Low congener content: Vodka, Gin, White wine
High congener content: Whiskey, Tequila, Red wine
More expensive alcohols tend to have undergone more filtering, which removes impurities that can produce hangovers. Although your wallet might hurt the following morning, your head won't ;)
Before You Sleep
Replace volume before going to bed. The same advice as before: water is good, but fluid with sugar and electrolytes is better.
Pedialyte, a rehydration drink designed for babies with diarrhea, contains the optimal ratio of sugar and salt to maximize water absorption. Before heading out for the party, leave a bottle of fluids on your pillow so you won't forget to hydrate before bed.
After You Wake Up
Choose Medications Carefully
If you've limited your alcohol intake and hydrated appropriately, you shouldn't need medications in the morning.
But, if your head is pounding and your body is aching, choose NSAIDs like Advil [ibuprofen] or aspirin. These medications relieve headache by constricting the blood vessels in the brain which have become dilated from alcohol. NSAIDs also block the inflammatory cascade induced by alcohol, further alleviating your symptoms. However, use NSAIDs with caution; if you suffer from gastritis or stomach ulcers, stay away from ibuprofen and aspirin which can irritate the lining of the stomach.
Avoid Tylenol [acetaminophen] which is also processed by the liver and can amplify the toxin load.
Pepcid is an antacid that can decrease acid production in the stomach and relieve abdominal discomfort.
Avoid More Alcohol
Don't reach for an eye opener. Hair of the Dog that Bit You is a bandaid that will only delay and worsen your hangover.
Avoid any heavy, fatty meals that may irritate your stomach and make you vomit. Simple carbs like fruit and toast are a good choice.
Eggs are often touted as an ideal breakfast the morning after because they contain cysteine, an amino acid needed to metabolize acetylaldehyde, a toxic metabolite of alcohol, which drives some of the very unpleasant symptoms of a hangover.
Other cysteine containing foods include soy beans, seeds, nuts, legumes and oats.
Coffee can provide symptomatic relief, but can also worsen a hangover. On one hand, caffeine provides energy and relieves headache by constricting blood vessels in the brain (just like ibuprofen); however, like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic, which can further worsen dehydration. So, if you're going to have caffeine, have an extra glass of electrolyte-rich fluid to balance volume lost through urine.
Still Feel Like Death?
Request urgent IV hydration which includes electrolyte rich fluid and medications to eliminate your hangover in minutes.
Have a rehearsal dinner or bachelor party? Know you're gonna get smashed and need to function the next day? Be smart and schedule your IV drip ahead of time.
Email services@DoctorK.nyc for group rates!
Perry, Lacy "How Hangovers Work" <http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/drugs-alcohol/hangover.htm>
Rohsenow D. J. et. al. "Intoxication with bourbon versus vodka: effects on hangover, sleep and next-day performance in young adults." Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 1 March 2010. 34 (3): 509–18.
Swift, Robert and Dena Davidson. "Alcohol Hangover." Alcohol Health & Research World. 1998. Vol. 22 No. 1.