The good news is that there’s a possibility that hangovers could be a thing of the past. Professor David Nutt is aiming to create an alcohol substitute that gives you the ‘buzz’ you get from drinking alcohol, without the unsavoury side effects of a hangover the next day. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? The bad news, sadly, is that if this goes ahead, it won’t be on our shelves until 2050. But don’t fret. With the Christmas party season in full swing, Grace Fuller chats to several experts to glean top tips on how we can help beat our hangovers the natural way...
Firstly, what is a hangover? Most of us have found ourselves, at one time or another, suffering the effects of overindulgence. It’s all a bit of a pain in the… well… head, as Shona Wilkinson, Superfooduk.com nutritionist, explains.
“Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that once it’s in your blood your body needs to put its water supplies in your blood to dilute it. This creates an increase in blood volume and pressure. To bring your blood pressure down, we then need to excrete the water down the toilet. The problem being, now our cells are lacking the water that they need.” Our brain is around 70% water, so dehydration can lead to brain shrinkage, which is what causes the pain, and when you’re hungover, it also has to deal with a mountain of alcohol toxins. “They all need processing and excreting, which puts strain on your liver and kidneys.”
Soothe your head:
Considering how a hangover comes about, water seems like the obvious cure… but not all water is equal. The control of hydration is in the hands of electrolytes, which are minerals found in water. “For your best chance of beating that hangover, choose mineral-rich water or add in some extra electrolytes. They’re designed for athletes and sports people, and the water will also help to flush out the toxins, speeding up the detoxification process. Drink a large glass of mineral-rich water before bed, take a glass to bed and be sure to drink plenty in the morning,” explains Shona.
Avoid sugar – before, during and after:
Before, during and after drinking it’s best to avoid sugary foods and drinks, as alcohol consumption tends to play havoc with energy and blood sugar control. Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar, recommends focusing on protein and unrefined carbohydrates, which release glucose slowly. She advises saying ‘no’ to caffeine and spicy food that can not only worsen the dehydration, but also irritate your stomach.
Have a bite before bed:
Try to have something to eat before tucking up for the night – although this doesn’t mean a kebab on the way home!
“Having something nourishing to eat before going to bed will help give you the nutrition that your body needs to detoxify. Drinking too much is taxing, so something healthy will go a long way to support your recovery,” says Shona.
Nutritionist Cassandra Barns adds, “stay away from foods that contain high levels of unhealthy fats. These include fried foods, foods that contain hydrogenated fats (mainly margarines and processed foods), and poor quality, cheap cooking oils.” Cassandra points out that the liver has to work extra hard to process these types of fats: challenging when it is already under strain dealing with the alcohol and its breakdown products. “Unhealthy fats can also worsen any inflammation in the body, which can add to the effects of the inflammatory cytokines that (as we saw above) could contribute to hangover symptoms.”
Take activated charcoal:
Activated charcoal (similar to common charcoal but formulated for use as a dietary supplement) binds toxins in the gut before they can be absorbed and helps remove them from the body. “Take during or shortly after drinking alcohol, rather than the next morning,” says Shona. This allows them to do their work more effectively – prevention is better than cure, of course.
The morning after, go for a run:
A run? Really? This may sound like the last thing you feel like doing, but, as Shona explains, “The movement will get your blood circulating and will help speed up detoxification, while the sweating will help you excrete the toxins. It will, however, add to your dehydration. Ensure that you drink plenty of hydrating fluids before, during and after your run.”
Drink the liquid from the pickle jar:
Yes, you’ve read this correctly. “The vinegar could be stimulating the liver to help detoxify and eliminate the alcohol. When pickles ferment, they also produce a certain type of soothing bacteria to help with irritated stomach,” explains Cassandra.
The water and mineral content of fruit will help to rehydrate you and can put an end to your hangover headache. “There’s an enzyme in pears that scientists are investigating for its ability to help us metabolise alcohol, and prevent us from having a hangover. If you’re going to eat fruit, it makes sense to choose a pear,” advises Shona. You can also go for berries, too. “They’re rich in antioxidants and offer protection from free radicals, which are considered another cause of hangovers,” adds Marilyn.
You can also top up your antioxidant levels by taking the right supplement. “The unique blend of organic wholefoods in Natures Plus AgeLoss Women’s Multi (www.revital.co.uk, £28.45) will help to replenish the vitamin and mineral loss after a night out of drinking. It will help to counteract the high free radicals production that your liver will release to detoxify the alcohol intake,” suggests Cassandra.
Eat bone broth:
If you make your own broth or stock at home using animal bones, vegetables and a pinch or two of sea salt, then you could do worse than to drink a cup or two of this the morning after. ‘Bone broth contains lots of minerals that are naturally released from the bones during cooking – and these, together with the salt, could help to fight fatigue and boost your energy levels. The amino acids it contains can help to soothe the gut lining too,” says Shona.
Mind the magnesium:
Magnesium can be depleted by alcohol, nd many of us are already deficient in this nutrient, so add magnesium-rich foods, such as leafy green vegetables, to your diet. Cassandra also suggests that Natures Plus KalmAssure Powder (www.naturesplus.co.uk, £22.50) may be helpful. And make sure that your Vitamin C intake is good too. “Magnesium and Vitamin C both support the enzyme that breaks down and eliminates alcohol from the body, helping you to feel more refreshed.”
Try a downward dog, rather than the hair of the dog:
The movements that you make in low impact disciplines such as yoga and Pilates will help to increase blood flow to all parts of your body, but importantly, your liver. “The more blood that passes through, the quicker your liver can detoxify the alcohol,” says Shona. “The sweating will help to eliminate the toxins through your skin. However, that can make the problem of dehydration worse, so ensure that you drink plenty of water at the same time.”
Focused breathing is an important aspect of Pilates and can help with any nausea you may be feeling, whilst also being a great way to take your mind of your hangover…
“Anyone who does Pilates regularly will recognise the moment, a few minutes into a session, when you get an overwhelming sense of release and calm, and – dare I say it? – even joy,” says Lynne Robinson, Founder of Body Control Pilates and author of Pilates For Life.
“As your breathing deepens and settles into its rhythm… as your spine lengthens and unravels… as your deep core muscles connect and your limbs stretch out… mind and body unite and you suddenly feel in control. The world seems to be a better place.”
It’s clearly almost addictive, which might explain why many classes have waiting lists. Lynne agrees. “No one leaves, no one wants to miss out.”