10 ways to prevent and cure a hangover

Alcohol. The cause of both incredible euphoria and excruciating pain. It has been consumed by many different cultures all around the world, for centuries.

If you are anything like me, you probably have had your fair share of indulgence. Back in my university days, I can’t remember a week which did not involve consuming copious amounts of alcohol. I was still a teenager and I hardly ever got a hangover; if I did, it wasn’t too severe.

Fast forward almost 10 years later. Nearing 30 years of age, I can’t imagine how I was able to drink so much in my youth. These days, if I drink the same amounts as I did back then, I am left with a monster of a hangover the following morning which sometimes takes 2 – 3 days to recover from!

So what is a hangover? Well, it’s your body’s way of punishing you for drinking too much the night before. Even though alcohol is legal in many countries around the world, it is a drug and one that is toxic to your body. A hangover is a result of this toxicity; the more alcohol you drink, the worse your hangover is likely to be.

If you have ever had (or are having!) a hangover, you will be familiar with the myriad of symptoms it comes with. Pounding headaches, nausea, extreme thirst, aching limbs, an upset stomach, irritability, mild depression – to name a few. These symptoms usually present themselves when alcohol has left the body.

The only sure fire way to avoid a hangover is to not drink at all. But I am assuming that since you are reading this article, that’s not your intention. So seeing as you are going to be drinking, follow the steps below to help prevent and cure a hangover.

Preventing a hangover

1. Have a glass of water with every alcoholic drink


Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you use the bathroom more often. It is no secret that people who drink alcohol, pee a lot. Alcohol makes you expel more liquid than you are taking in. So even though most beers are made up of more than 90% water, most of this water leaves your body.

The pituitary gland which is found in the hypothalamus (part of the brain), stores and releases the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which is also known as arginine vasopressin. It is this hormone which controls the amount of water that is released by the kidneys, to form urine. High amounts of ADH cause your kidneys to hold on to water, which means you urinate less often.

Alcohol inhibits the release of ADH, and (you guessed it), this means the flood gates are open. As a result, you tend to use the bathroom much more often than you normally would. To add to this mayhem, urinating makes you more thirsty and more than likely, you quench this thirst with yet another alcoholic beverage. This means that ADH is further inhibited and so a never ending cycle begins; it’s also known as ‘breaking the seal’.

The best thing you can do to avoid extreme dehydration is to have a glass of water with or after every alcoholic drink. This will replenish the water that is lost in urine. Because of the lower levels of ADH, you will most likely lose around 50 – 70% of this water by visiting the bathroom again, but it is much better than drinking alcohol alone; your body won’t be as dehydrated the next day. And trust me when I say, that makes ALL the difference.

If possible, also have something like Gatorade, to help replenish electrolytes you have lost. Additionally, before you go to bed, have a glass or two of water. But don’t overdo it; frequent bathroom visits will disrupt your sleep.

2. Don’t drink on an empty stomach


Trust me, I have gone out drinking on an empty stomach and every single time, I have had a hangover. This is because you get drunk much quicker, as your body absorbs alcohol at a much faster rate than it would with a full stomach.

Here is the reasoning behind this: when you eat, food enters the stomach, where it is stored. Enzymes in your stomach begin to break down the food; this takes time to do. The stomach does not absorb any of the food but merely processes it. Next, the digested food is passed on to the small intestine, where it is absorbed into the blood stream. The small intestine has much more surface area than the stomach does and so is vastly greater at absorption than the stomach is.

After you have a heavy meal, a valve known as the pyloric valve shuts off and this prevents food passing from the stomach into the duodenum (first part of the small intestine), until it has been processed in the stomach. On an empty stomach however, this valve remains open, meaning alcohol is passed into the small intestine at a much faster rate. This in turn means it is absorbed faster.

So it is always a good idea to have a relatively heavy meal before drinking. Make sure whatever you eat contains adequate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrate. A healthy option would be chicken breast with sweet potato mash and an avocado on the side.

Be warned though – drinking on a full stomach is no excuse to go crazy; if you drink more than what your body can handle, you will suffer with a hangover the next day!

3. Avoid dark coloured drinks


Congeners are more abundant in dark drinks like whiskey, brandy, dark rum and red wine, compared to clear drinks such as vodka, gin and white wine. Dark drinks can contain up to 40 times more congeners than lighter ones.

Congeners are a byproduct of the fermentation process and are what give alcoholic beverages their taste and aroma. They include tannins, acetone, acetaldehyde and fusel oil. Hangovers are caused not only by alcohol but also by these byproducts.

A study was carried out which assessed what effect the colour of a drink had on the intensity of a hangover. 95 healthy and heavy drinkers aged 21 to 33 took part in the study. One night they drank either vodka or bourbon and on another they drank a placebo. The students consumed enough to achieve a 0.11g alcohol / 100ml breath concentration.

The research showed that those students who had consumed bourbon (a dark drink), reported their hangovers were much worse. However, they did not perform worse in reaction time tests, compared to students who drank vodka.

More expensive drinks are also distilled a few times more than cheaper versions of the same thing, thereby getting rid of more impurities and toxins. So if you’re going to drink vodka, opt for Grey Goose rather than that supermarket brand!

4. Avoid carbonated drinks


Carbonated drinks (i.e. fizzy ones) are believed to increase the rate at which alcohol is absorbed. A study was carried out which investigated the effects carbon dioxide in champagne had on blood alcohol concentration.

The study was carried out on 12 subjects (6 male, 6 female). They were asked to consume both ordinary champagne and the same champagne with gas (CO2) removed. The results showed that the ordinary champagne lead to a significantly higher level of blood alcohol concentration, which in turn resulted in slower reaction times.

The mechanism behind this is unclear, however a personal theory I have is due to bloating. When you consume fizzy drinks, you are ingesting carbon dioxide (that is why you burp so much). Carbon dioxide could cause your stomach to feel bloated and so causes it to release its contents into the small intestine at a faster rate than it normally would. And as explained in the drinking on an empty stomach section, that causes you to get drunk faster.

Your best option is to stick to uncarbonated drinks and use water or juice as a mixer instead of cola.

5. Don’t smoke


I am sure you already know how bad smoking is for your health. It causes damage to almost every single organ in the body and greatly increases your risk of lung cancer, bronchitis and heart disease. But smoking could also make your hangover much more intense.

A study carried out by Brown University, showed just that. 113 university students took part in the study and kept a record of their alcohol and tobacco consumption for a period of 8 weeks. The results showed that those students who smoked more when they also drank heavily suffered from worse hangovers.

Tobacco smoke contains acetaldehyde, which is responsible for the nausea and headaches which accompanies hangovers. Nicotine could also cause the release of cytokines which can result in inflammation of the brain, leading to headaches and nausea.

The need for a cigarette can be extremely empowering after a few drinks, so if you don’t think you will be able to say no to smoking, consider not drinking until you have beaten your addiction.

Curing your hangover

You tried your hardest to control your alcohol intake, but the party last night was too much fun and you got carried away; you’re now suffering from a hangover. Don’t worry, I’ve had many a hangover in my time and I’m here to help you feel better.

6. Have a healthy breakfast


Alcohol causes your blood sugar levels to plummet and so you need to get it back up. However, the last thing that you want to eat is something that is going to cause your already vulnerable stomach any discomfort. The claim that greasy food will help a hangover is a myth. This is because all the alcohol in your system has been absorbed, so there’s nothing left to absorb. Many people opt for deep fried foods, however this may do more harm than good as all that grease could upset your stomach.

Instead, have a healthy breakfast. Eggs are easily digested and packed full of protein. The cysteine they contain will also help get rid of toxins left over from breaking down alcohol. Together with this, have some fruit (especially bananas) as they too, are gentle on the stomach.

If you can obtain some fresh coconut water, drink that as well. Not only is it thirst quenching but it rehydrates your body and replenishes lost electrolytes. Make sure you drink plenty of pure water as this too will rehydrate you quickly.

7. Take a multivitamin


Hangovers are not just caused by dehydration. Alcohol reduces the concentration of vitamin B in your system together with vitamin C and other important minerals like potassium. Some people swear by the effectiveness of taking a multivitamin (especially one that contains vitamin B12) to fight off a hangover. Even though there is no scientific evidence behind these claims, taking a multivitamin can do no harm and might actually help ease your discomfort.

Inflammation is thought to be one of the main causes of many hangover symptoms, however it can be combated with certain supplements such as red ginseng and prickly pear. The latter, when taken a few hours before drinking has been shown to reduce the risk of a severe hangover by more than 50%!

If you feel nauseous, have some freshly made ginger tea – it is very effective.

8. Do some gentle exercise


Exercise is a miracle drug and it may help ease your hangover symptoms. When you exercise, you breathe in more oxygen and this could increase the rate at which alcohol is broken down. Exercise also releases endorphins, known as ‘feel good’ hormones.

However, exercise may not be for everyone. I know from personal experience that on days where I have had an extremely intense hangover, exercise is the last thing on my mind.

If you do decide to exercise, opt for something gentle like yoga or a light jog. You are already dehydrated so make sure you drink plenty of water. Avoid intense exercise that makes you sweat as this will further dehydrate you.

Also, don’t hit the sauna. All this will do is dehydrate you further, making you feel worse than you did before.

9. Get some shut eye


When you are hungover, getting more sleep than you usually do is very important. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, alcohol disrupts your sleep. Sure, it makes you feel drowsy, but the reality is that drinking disrupts the deepest and most important part of your sleep cycle, the REM stage. As a result, you wake up feeling tired and irritable.

Secondly, your body heals itself whilst you sleep. This will help your liver detoxify all the nasty byproducts of breaking down alcohol. Getting a good 7 – 9 hours of rest is incredibly important for your health. If you are having problems falling asleep, follow these tips.

10. DON’T drink more


Many people have told me that having an ice cold beer will help alleviate the symptoms of a hangover and there might be some truth to it. But the problem is – are you going to carry on drinking forever? Eventually you are going to have to stop and that point, the hangover you will get…well lets just say, it won’t be anything pleasant.

Also, be weary of drinks that may dehydrate you more. I know people who drink coffee after a heavy night out, but this does not work for me. I prefer to sip on good old H20!

Have you ever suffered from a hangover? What did you do to help treat it? Please let me know by commenting below!

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