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How to Cure a Hangover

The Science Behind the "Ouch!"

How to Cure a Hangover

We’ve all been there, and most likely on the day after New Year’s. The pounding head, the stomach cramps and nausea, the puffy eyes and foggy brain.  After a New Year’s Eve bender, that hangover can put you in bed for all of New Year’s Day (luckily for most of us, that’s a holiday).

 And it seems like as we get older, we need even more time to recover.  Any amens to that?

We’ve all heard you should drink more water, take an aspirin, eat greasy or oily foods, and attempt to sweat it out with exercise or overcome it with caffeine. No matter what you’ve heard, we’ve got some hard science that will help you understand just what happens when you ingest alcohol, how to nurse a hangover, and how to naturally empower your body to combat the after-effects of alcohol.

First, let’s be honest, most of us understand that alcohol is a toxin. After ingestion, it is absolutely toxic to every single one of our cells. It affects nerve cells, digestive tract cells, muscle cells, and even brain cells.  Ethanol, which is the dietary form of alcohol we typically ingest, is found in beer, wine, and hard liquor.  

A single ethanol particle is quite small, and as a result it can dissolve in both water and fat. This makes it extremely toxic to cells, which have fat-soluble membranes, and water-soluble interior contents. Ethanol can essentially travel unhindered throughout the body. Even to the brain.

Just like any toxin, your body has certain ways to break alcohol down and release it as waste products.  In order to nurse a hangover, it’s important to give your body systems what they need to breakdown and metabolize alcohol. Your liver, primarily, handles this job.  A small amount of alcohol breakdown does happen in the stomach, but this is minimal.  Alcohol that passes the stomach goes on through absorption to enter your bloodstream, where it will eventually circle back to the liver.  Once ethanol has entered your bloodstream, it is free to travel anywhere in the body.  Until blood transporting ethanol returns back to the liver so that the ethanol can be metabolized, your body cells will continually be exposed to this toxin. This exposure results in the negative effects of a hangover.

The better your liver is at breaking down alcohol, the less exposure your cells will have to ethanol. The slower your breakdown is, the more ethanol will be able to enter cell membranes and cause damage and even death to your body cells.  You can empower your liver and nurse a hangover by making sure you are taking in certain nutrients.

How to Cure a Hangover

So let’s say no matter how strong your liver is, you still had too much fun on New Year’s Eve and are trying to nurse a hangover.

First, there are some necessary ingredients for your body to break down alcohol. You need enzymes, which your body manufactures. And you need specific vitamins. Niacin, (more specifically, nicotinic acid) a B-vitamin, is required to allow liver enzymes to do their job of breaking down ethanol. Zinc is necessary too, to support the shape and structure of the enzyme that is targeting ethanol. Zinc helps form the shape of the enzyme to ‘fit’ the ethanol molecule, so that it can be broken down into the next step – a molecule called an aldehyde.  Aldehydes in large amounts can also cause some of the typical symptoms of a hangover. Other symptoms can be related to dehydration, so it’s important to rehydrate following a bender.

Ethanol Toxicity --> Liver enzymes begin metabolism --> Aldehyde Buildup --> Hangover

The Best (Healthy) Way to Cure a Hangover

In order to ensure your liver and the enzymes it produces can do their job, its essential to ensure it has a balance of nutrients, but specifically niacin in the form of nicotinic acid, and zinc.

Taking a multivitamin regularly is good for overall health, but taking it prior to your night out could be highly beneficial as well.

Most scientists believe that aldehydes, a byproduct of alcohol metabolism, are what actually cause most hangover symptoms. When aldehydes come in contact with proteins, they interact with that protein and form a highly damaging ‘adduct’. These volatile adducts will cause damage to DNA, cell membranes, and other organelles inside your cells. They can produce harmful free radicals that wreak havoc on your cells and make them age faster.

Even if your liver is excellent at breaking down alcohol, there is a catch. Alcohol is easily and readily metabolized into fat. We’ve all seen a beer belly before, and this is due to fat accumulation around the liver as a result of chronic, excessive alcohol ingestion. This happens on a smaller scale in adults who drink alcohol regularly, and one 12 oz beer can have around 175 calories, just for one!

The best thing that you can do to nurse your hangover is to take a multivitamin every day, drink plenty of water, and if your stomach is upset, small amounts of crackers or dry toast may help soothe your stomach. A sports drink can help replenish electrolytes that you need to begin feeling better after a night of New Year’s Drinking.  Also important, eat often – about every 2-3 hours if your stomach can handle it-- as alcohol can influence how your body is able to control your blood sugar.

Other Hangover Cures

Some research has investigated the use of red ginseng to nurse a hangover, and one study in particular took twenty-five male volunteers aged 25-49 years old with a BMI classified as normal or overweight.  They asked them to drink 100mL of 40% proof alcohol after fasting for 12 hours. After 5 minutes, one group was given a red ginseng, and the other a placebo drink. They took blood samples periodically over the next 4 hours, and the following day asked them to complete a hangover symptom questionnaire.

Blood alcohol levels were significantly lower in the group for that took the red ginseng for the first hour when compared to the control group. The hangover questionnaire after administration of the red ginseng showed that volunteers reported less fatigue than usual, fewer stomachaches, and felt less thirsty or dehydrated than under normal conditions, and also when compared to the placebo group. They also reported less trouble concentrating, as well as a decrease in memory loss compared to the placebo group.

Bottom Line

You can also start the New Year off right by raising your glass of seltzer and lime all night, and enjoy a single flute of champagne when the clock strikes midnight. That way you can use the first day of the New Year as time to take care of your body, and spend time with loved ones, and nurture your mind rather than in bed with a pounding headache.
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