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Tis the Season for Hangovers

hangoverSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor

Sorry, folks, the only way to prevent or avoid a hangover is to limit the amount of alcohol you consume in one session. Millions of Americans know that the price we pay for a night of revelry and excessive alcohol consumption is the next day’s hangover that leaves us vowing never to drink that much again. After a night of binging, many will experience symptoms of pounding headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, stomach queasiness, fatigue, and dizziness, as well as thirst and cotton mouth stemming from dehydration. In other words, a general state of misery. Although unpleasant, hangovers seldom last more than a day. We may regret and then vaguely remember the worst of the morning after, however, those fading memories don’t do much to discourage us from experiencing another hangover in the future.

Essentially, a hangover is the unpleasant result of alcohol intoxication. Hangovers themselves have created a multi-billion-dollar business that includes sales of remedies for headache and stomach upset, as well as hydrating sports drinks. Hangovers cost businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity annually, either from employees who show up for work in a less than optimal state or those who don’t show up at all. There are only two ways to avoid a hangover—either stay within the recommended guidelines for consumption or avoid alcohol completely. That means one drink per hour and a maximum of three drinks for women and four for men per session. Any more than that is considered binge drinking, which sets you up for that wretched morning after hangover.

Hangover side effects generally occur within a few hours of your last drink, as the blood alcohol level begins to fall, leaving you feeling the worst when the level hits zero. Hangovers are typically worsened by the amount of alcohol consumed, drinking when sleep deprived or drinking on an empty stomach, which results in a rapid increase of blood alcohol levels. Some may be surprised to learn what counts as one standard drink. Briefly, one drink equates to 12 fl. ounces of regular beer, 5 fl. ounces of wine, or 1.5 fl. ounces of distilled spirits. After just one round at your favorite bar or restaurant during a 2 for 1 Happy Hour, a woman is close to reaching the daily limit and a man is already halfway there.

Seasonal celebrations make it easy to overindulge. Be sure to eat before drinking and throughout the evening, as food will help to slow the absorption of alcohol and help to protect the stomach lining. When you do plan to imbibe, and wish to reduce your chances of spending the next day on the sofa:

  • If distilled spirits or red wine is your drink of choice, you might want to consider a colorless drink, such as white wine, vodka, gin or light rum. When alcohol is produced by sugar fermenting yeast, toxic chemicals, known as congeners, are formed as well. Drinks such as bourbon, cognac, or tequila are high in congeners, which appear to increase the intensity of hangovers, as compared to clear spirits, which have low levels of congeners.
  • Pace yourself. To avoid a hangover, stick to the one drink per hour rule. This enables your body to process the alcohol and keeps alcohol blood levels under control. Sip slowly when drinking champagne or sparkling wine. The carbon dioxide that creates those wonderful bubbles, competes for oxygen in the bloodstream, increasing the effects of alcohol on the brain.
  • Drink water. Dehydration is the effect of alcohol, not the cause of a hangover. Alcohol inhibits the release of an antidiuretic hormone, whose function is to conserve water in the body by reducing urine loss. Without this hormone, the kidneys don’t reabsorb water easily, so more urine is created. This water diluted urine is the reason why we make multiple trips to the bathroom when drinking, and is a source of alcohol related dehydration. Alternating drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages can help to prevent the dehydration that comes from a night of drinking.
  • Some folks swear by OTC headache remedies. Those that are anti-inflammatory may indeed relieve your headache, but they may also irritate an already upset stomach. If you are a regular coffee drinker, it’s recommended you have just a small amount at first, which may help to prevent intensifying the headache, and then have your coffee later in the day.
  • If you are an exercise enthusiast, it may be best to skip the workout. Typically, after heavy drinking, you will require not only hydration but also nutrition, both of which are necessary for exercise. If you have the luxury of time, sleeping it off may be the best route to recovery.

There are lots of unscientific hangover “cures” out there. Most don’t do much to alleviate the suffering. Best advice, skip the morning after Bloody Mary, as more alcohol will only delay, not cure, the hangover. If you are going for the greasy food cure, it’s better to have that burger and fries before you start partying to help protect the stomach lining and slow the absorption of alcohol. There are some supplements, foods, and sports drinks that may help you recover and feel human again. Aside from alcohol induced, glutamine-rebound poor-quality sleep, the loss of glycogen depletes a natural liver energy source. All that urinating depletes the body of salt, magnesium and potassium, which are needed for normal cell, muscle and nerve functions.

  • Sports drinks can help replace electrolytes and sodium.
  • Eggs contain energy supporting B vitamins, and amino acids, such as taurine, which boosts liver function, and cysteine, which breaks down byproducts formed by alcohol processing.
  • Avocados, sweet potatoes, yogurt and, to a lesser extent, bananas can help replace potassium.
  • Mineral rich, whole grain oats contain calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium, along with fiber and may help improve your mood by supporting serotonin production.
  • Ginger tea can help to relieve nausea and fight inflammatory cytokines secreted by immune cells, found in high levels in people fighting a hangover.

What’s a “standard” drink? https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx
The Science of “Breaking the Seal.” http://mentalfloss.com/article/31408/science-breaking-seal
10 hangover remedies: What works? http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/12/30/hangover.remedies/
Treating hangovers now a billion-dollar industry. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-price-of-a-st-patricks-day-hangover-2014-03-18
Hangover cures. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Hangovers.aspx