Treating a hangover is much like treating a spill of French-roasted cappuccino on your finest white shirt. The sooner you attack the invader, the better your results will be. Since 75% of drinkers have at least one hangover per year, you will stay ahead of the pain if you expect a hangover and act with immediacy. It makes no sense to do nothing in the hope that it won’t bite you in this round.
Signals that you have a hangover vary from subtle to overwhelming. On the mild end of the spectrum, you may have extreme fatigue, sensitivity to light and/or sound, a loss of appetite, weakness, trouble concentrating or sleeping, and dehydration (signaled by dry eyes, insatiable thirst or a feeling that you have cotton balls in your mouth). More severe symptoms include headache, dizziness, trembling, anxiety, and muscle spasms. On the extreme end, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, an increase in heart rate (tachycardia), or changes in blood pressure make a hangover particularly unpleasant. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
Why does all this happen? When you consume high amounts of alcohol, normal functioning of the brain is interrupted. Try as it might, it cannot enter into the REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, phase of sleep. This is the part of our sleep patterns when the brain restores itself. Without it, we will be weary, no matter how many hours we give to the mattress god.
The need to re-hydrate the body increases when consuming alcohol. This is because alcohol is a diuretic. When alcohol is ingested, the pituitary gland in the brain blocks the production of vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone. The kidneys are prevented from saving dihydrogen oxide from urine. This results in a malfunction that sends water directly to the bladder, instead of sending the toxins alone to the bladder and re-absorbing the water into the body. Drinkers experience an urgency to expel this water at a rate 4 times greater than the liquid they consume.
The body then begins to borrow water from other organs, particularly the brain and surrounding tissue. This causes the brain to shrink. Although this shrinking does not directly cause pain, the brain has a covering called the dura that is connected to the skull by little fibers. These fibers are sensitive to pain, and the shrinkage may actually increase the pain associated with headache. Water is also stolen from the muscles, causing them to shrink, spasm and tremble. The heart is a muscle, and severe dehydration can cause tachycardia or changes in blood pressure – a dangerous situation for anyone at any age.
The metabolism of ethanol also factors-in with the equation for hangover pain. The body passes through two phases in this process:
• Phase 1 – Ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde, a substance that is toxic to the liver.
• Phase 2 – Acetaldehyde is converted into a harmless substance called acetate. However, BEFORE this happens, it can magnify the symptoms of a hangover.
• An additional note: Brown alcohols also contain as much as 2% methanol by volume. Methanol can take 10 times longer to break down than ethanol, causing the symptoms of hangover to last much longer.
In addition to methanol found in brown alcoholic beverages, congeners swirl around in dark alcoholic beverages, including red wines. These congeners are chemical substances that include methyl alcohol, aldehydes, histamine, tannins, tyramine, iron, lead and cobalt – impurities that form during alcohol processing and maturation. While you may delight in the flavors of oak, bourbon, sherry and other sweet, rich flavors, these tend to produce more severe hangovers.
Despite the fact that congeners and methanol can increase the severity of a hangover, be aware that color is not necessarily connected to the level of alcohol in a beverage, particularly in beer. It is more important to know your beer styles and the alcohol by volume associated with each.
Examples of dark colored beers with low alcohol by volume are:
• Guinness Draught Stout – 4.2% abv – Irish Dry Stout
• Newcastle Brown Ale – 4.7% abv – English Brown Ale
• Moorehouse Black Cat – 3.4% abv – English Dark Mild
• Saint Arnould Dunkelweizen – 4% abv – Dunkelweizen
Examples of light colored beers with high alcohol levels are:
• Belgian Tripel – Pale yellow 7.5-11% abv
• Braggot – Mead made with malt – Light straw to dark black - varies from 10-13% abv
• Cider or Perry – clear to brilliant pale yellow - 7-13% abv
• Biere de Champagne / Biere Brut – light straw to golden yellow - 9-12% abv
• Belgian Golden Strong Ale – yellow to medium gold - 7.5-10% abv
These light colored beers may not display any hint of alcoholic warmth, and their light body makes it easy to consume high quantities. Knowing this, you need to be cautious if you are to avoid a hangover.
Note for the Ladies - Just before you menstruate, when your estrogen levels are low – you are more susceptible to getting drunk and suffering from a hangover.
How to Treat a Hangover
Much has been written about hangover cures throughout history. As early as 400 B.C., Hippocrates was writing, "Through the like, disease is produced and through the application of the like, it is cured." In this spirit of reasoning, dog bites were treated by burning some of the dog’s hair, grinding it into a powder, and pressing it into the wound. This is the derivation of “Hair of the Dog.”
Common remedies throughout the world include eggs, tripe, pickle brine, sauerkraut, pickled herring, hot spices, hearty soups, fruit and vegetable juices. All serve to replenish water, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are typically lost by the body during the detoxification of alcohol.
Caution must be taken with over-the-counter drugs
• Ibuprofin: When combined with alcohol, Ibuprofin - with trade names of Nurofen, Advil and Motrin - can increase the risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding.
• Acetylsalicylic Acid: Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), combined with alcohol, irritates the stomach and increases the possibility of gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
• Acetaminophen: Alcohol amplifies toxicity of the liver when combined with Acetaminophen. (Trade names areTylenol, Anacin-3, Tempra, and Datril, Efferalgan or Doliprane.)
• Herbal Products: Also beware of using herbal products – St. John’s Wort and alcohol can cause severe depression, while Kava Kava and alcohol may damage the liver.
Best hangover Cures
Sports Drinks - Drink before bed. Caution – Gatorade or G has a lot of sugar, and can contribute to weight gain. You may be better with Propel.
Scalp Stimulation - Rub your head vigorously, or pull clumps of your hair gently but firmly. This will help reduce the effects of a headache by delivering blood to the scalp.
Nutritional Yeast – Nutritional Yeast, also known as Brewer’s Yeast is an inactive yeast that remains after beer making. The cells in this yeast are dead and no longer have any leavening power. It is used as a nutrient supplement, and is rich in B-complex vitamins and other nutrients such as chromium, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium. This is NOT the same as baker’s yeast, used to bake breads. Be aware that uncooked baker’s yeast can deplete the body of B vitamins, so don’t get the two confused. Nutritional Yeast comes in a powder (the most potent form), as flakes (best for health shakes), and in tablets.
Beneficial nutritional brewer's yeast does not contribute to yeast infections such as Candida albicans, because brewer’s yeast is not made of living cells. It is often used to counteract loss of appetite, or to treat severe diarrhea or acute diarrhea during travel.
If you are allergic to yeast, do not use this as a hangover remedy. It may cause migraine-like headaches, itching, hives, local or general rashes, and Quincke's edema.
Prickly Pear Cactus Extract (Nopal Powder) - Taken hours before drinking, it alleviates dry mouth, loss of appetite, and nausea…but not headache or dizziness, as documented in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a study led by Dr. Jeff Weise at Tulane Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.
Take vitamins prior to alcohol consumption - Vitamin E, Vitamin C and other Antioxidants, as well as B-vitamins, particularly B-6 are recommended. DO NOT take large doses of vitamin A – this can be toxic to the liver.
You may also wish to try some Quick & Easy Recipes to Treat a Hangover.