Managing Your Upcoming Hangover

New Year’s Eve might be one of the best nights of the year and for good reason as it is the last opportunity to rock out on behalf of the past 364 days.  While New Year’s Eve is euphoric, it comes into stark contrast with New Year’s Day – the most pounding, irritable, unpleasant day of the new year.  Of course it’s the only day of the new year at that point, but it’s also international hangover day.

The question I sought out to answer was how to minimize, cure, or eliminate the effects of the hangover.  Let me first explain generally how hangover symptoms happen.

Hangovers are relatively poorly understood compared to other disease states primarily because researchers are more interested in alcohol abuse and addiction.  What they do know is that alcohol affects your body in a few ways:

1)      Dehydration/Fluid loss

Alcohol inhibits the production of a hormone that helps you retain water and keep you hydrated called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) sometimes called Vasopressin.  Blocking the secretion of this hormone causes you to urinate more often, thus losing water.

2)      Headache

Neurologists’ theory at this point is that alcohol dilates the blood vessels in the brain which then causes a throbbing headache.  The vessels then press upon pain sensors and thus you are uncomfortable.  Note that it’s still just a theory at this point.

3)      GI/Nausea

Alcohol is an irritant to the stomach and intestines which leads to inflammation, delayed emptying, an increase in gastric acid, and other intestinal secretions (especially with concentrated spirits).  An accumulation of triglycerides and their components in liver cells occurs as well.  Any or all of these factors can contribute to GI pain, nausea, and vomiting during hangover day.

4)      Low Blood Sugar

Alcohol appears to alter how your liver metabolizes.  Due to the accumulation of the triglycerides and fats in liver cells and buildup of lactic acid in body fluids (from metabolic processes not necessarily vigorous exercise), glucose production is inhibited.  Since your brain primarily feeds on glucose, the absence is thought to lead to fatigue, weakness, and mood disturbances.

How to prevent a hangover?

I’m just going to skip suggestions like “abstain from drinking” or “drink moderately” because everyone already knows that.  Since American’s aren’t the finest breed at drinking moderately, and neither are many other nationalities on New Year’s, it can be safely assumed that a better answer will be necessary.

1)      Combating Dehydration

Hydrating before, during, and after boozing is crucial to avoiding dehydration which can also be linked with headaches.

2)      Headache

Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, vessel constrictor, and is hypothesized to fix the aforementioned hypothesis.  Obviously just conjecture.  However, caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it will make you urinate more often, so be sure to hydrate will taking in caffeine.

Ibuprofen or naproxen, contents of common pain relievers such as Advil, Aleve, Motrin, etc. are grouped into NSAIDS (non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs).  These pose the risk of further irritating the stomach.  A natural alternative would be to take Tylenol which is acetaminophen.  Don’t do this. Alcohol metabolism enhances acetaminophen’s toxicity to the liver (Girre et al. 1993), as if it wasn’t bad enough already. (citation)

3)      Nausea

Whether it’s a folklore legend or not, lining your stomach with milk is one of the best preventive barriers you can put up to gastrointestinal problems. Antacids may alleviate nausea and gastritis. Another option is marijuana and its family of cannabinoids which may reduce anxiety to improve sleep and induce hunger.

4)      Sugar

Consuming fruits, fruit juices, or other fructose-containg foods is reported to decrease hangover intensity (Seppala et al. 1976).

Random Other Advice!

Steer clear of dark colored liquors because that usually indicates a high level of cogeners which have been linked to hangovers.  Avoiding whiskey, tequila, brandy, and red wine are just examples of choices that will lead to headaches.  Gin, vodka, rum, and white wine are preferable for the same reason. These cogeners are impurities in the drinks that are toxic byproducts from the alcohol making processes.

Frankly and disappointingly, research is limited and there have been no conclusive studies elucidating an easy fix to hangovers.  It’s surprising that Big Pharma hasn’t gone after it a bit more because it could be a huge money maker.  To me, the hangover is the body’s way of telling you that you were a fool and an intrinsic incentive not to do it again.  Either way, at least you’re now mildly informed as to what’s happening to your body and maybe how you can attentuate the uncomfortable but warranted symptoms.

Further reading:

The Alcohol Hangover – VA hospital in San Francisco

Article - Endocrinologist, U of Chicago

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