It's party season. Which means more friends, more fun, and more mornings spent feeling less than fresh. We don't want to miss out, but equally we don't want to pay the price and crawl into the new year on our hands and knees. So if we're going to drink, there are a few things we can do to help. Here's a quick guide to what's actually going on in our bodies when we have a hangover, and what we can we do to minimise them to survive the holiday season!
The main culprits of a nasty hangover are called Congeners - and they are highest in bourbon, brandy, whiskey and red wine. Congeners are substances produced during fermentation that are not alcohol, and include substances like methanol, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins, and aldehydes. Certain red wines are extremely high in tannins, which can give a killer hangover the next day, and can be especially disruptive if you drink them regularly (tannins prevent the absorption of certain nutrients like iron and calcium). Congeners are also used as fillers in poor quality alcohol, which is why our hangovers are often worse when we go for the cheaper options.
Top Tips - the most purest alcohol in terms of congeners and fillers are good quality clear spirits like vodka, gin, and tequila. Tequila on ice with a splash of water and fresh lemon or lime is my drink of choice. 100% agave tequila is low in net sugar & therefore calories, the lemon provides vitamin C and is good for the liver and mixing it with water means you aren't adding any extra sugar or chemicals.
Alcoholic drinks with a high sugar content are the worst of both worlds. The body is already faced with neutralising the alcohol, so adding sugar to wreak havoc in blood sugar levels, mood and insulin will make everything worse.
Top tips - if you love sipping on cocktails, try to minimise the sugar content. Ask for sugar free margaritas, sour mojitos and try lower sugar mixers like fever tree naturally light tonic.
Yeasts are will leave you feeling bloated, swollen and can be particularly uncomfortable for people who already suffer from IBS, migraines, acne and candida. All alcohol is produced using yeast - it's what converts the sugars into alcohol - however some types of alcohol will have more left over in the final product than others. Beer still has live yeast in it (which is what helps produce the carbonation) as it's alcohol content rarely exceeds 6%.
Top Tips - avoid beer, especially if you are out multiple nights of the week. Taking a strong probiotic throughout the holiday season can also help the body cope with excess yeast, sugar and alcohol.
Our kidneys are the masterminds behind filtering our blood from toxins and flushing out anything that doesn't belong. When we drink, our pituitary gland suppresses the release of anti-diuretic hormones causing the kidneys to flush water (and essential electrolytes) out of the system rather than reabsorb it in an attempt to protect our bodies from the alcohol. This inevitable leads to dehydration, which contributes to the hangover headache.
Top Tips - drinking water throughout the night will help, but the body will still be flushing out fluids at a more rapid pace than usual. Before going to bed and as soon as you wake up, drink an electrolyte solution to help your body replenish. Nuun is great, or you can add some Himalayan sea salt to raw coconut water like Unoco. A smoothie with potassium rich foods the next morning will also help. Try banana, spinach, bluberries, 1/2 a lemon and 1 tbsp ground flax blended with almond milk or coconut water.
Glutathione is the ultimate anti-oxidant in the body. It is one of our most important free radical scavengers and helps us neutralise alcohol as soon as it enters the system. But, it runs out quickly, and once it runs out a compound called acetylaldehyde starts to buildup in the blood, which will make us feel terrible the next day.
Top Tips - We have a finite supply of glutathione, which is dictated by our genes but also our diets, so we can actually load our diets with foods that will help the body stock up on essential glutathione throughout the holiday season. Stock up on Sulphur rich foods like kale, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, brussel sprouts and pak choy; and Cysteine rich foods like spirulina (I add this to my hangover smoothie!), seeds, nuts, organic turkey, oats and fish.
Glutamine is an excitatory neurotransmittor (stimulating to the brain!) that is suppressed by alcohol. This is one of the things that contributes to 'taking the edge off' when we have a drink. However, once we stop drinking, we can sometimes experience something called a Glutamine Rebound, where the body tries to overcompensate by producing excess glutamine. This is one of the reasons why we can often have restless sleeps after a night of alcohol. Severe glutamine rebound can also contribute to tremors, anxiety and can irritate the stomach.
Top Tips - Magnesium will help combat the over excitement of the nervous system caused by glutamine. Take some before bed and throughout the next day if you're feeling quite anxious and restless. Caffeine and sugar will worsen any anxiety or restlessness, so best to avoid if possible and stick to green tea and calming foods.
Anti-diuretic hormone is what prevents fluid from being flushed out of our system, and it shoots up the day after we drink alcohol in an attempt to salvage our blood pressure, rehydrate and regain normality. This can leave us feeling swollen & puffy.
Top Tips - Ensure that you rehydrate with electrolytes, and then exercise. Exercising is one of the best ways to help normalise circulation, blood pressure and endorphins will naturally lower blood pressure and help with your mood.