The Festive season is in full swing! and often brings with it an excess of eating, drinking and a lack of sleep. And whilst the body is well equipped to deal with minor deviations from the norm – the seasonal stream of social engagements can soon start to take its toll on your health. Dehydration, low energy, cravings for sugary and fatty foods, dark circles, headaches, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and poor skin are just a few of the classic and instantly recognizable symptoms associated with excessive alcohol intake.
Various bodily processes are disrupted when alcohol is consumed to excess, which can combine to create the symptoms of a hangover. It’s not, as is often thought, just about dehydration – whilst this does have its part to play, there’s much more going on behind the scenes.
Here’s a quick summary of what happens when you get a hangover (in case you’re interested in finding out!):
• Increased Urination – When alcohol is consumed, production of ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) decreases which causes you to lose more water, leading to increased urination and dehydration. Fatigue and dizziness can also result as the brain suffers from the effects of dehydration.
• Fluid Retention – As the effects of alcohol start to wear off, ADH production increases again, which can lead to fluid retention, and familiar symptoms such as puffy face and eyes, swollen hands and feet, and a headache as blood pressure increases.
• Electrolyte Imbalance – Drinking alcohol causes sodium retention and potassium loss; blood pressure is increased and electrolytes are imbalanced.
• Blood Sugar Imbalance – Alcohol increases cortisol levels, which further contributes to fluid retention, and disrupts blood sugar balance too, causing shakiness, mood swings, sugary cravings and fatigue.
• Glutamine Rebound – Alcohol inhibits glutamine – a natural stimulant in the body, which is one of the reasons why alcohol can make you feel drowsy. However, once you’ve stopped drinking, the body has to work extra hard to increase glutamine levels again, often leading to a restless night’s sleep. In addition, glutamine rebound can lead to fatigue, tremors, anxiety and increased blood pressure.
• Liver strain – The liver is the primary site of alcohol metabolism in the body, so when alcohol is consumed, extra strain is placed on this vital organ to process and eliminate it from the body. When alcohol is broken down in the liver, acetaldehyde is produced which is much more toxic than alcohol. The body needs an antioxidant called glutathione to break it down. Glutathione is often referred to as the master antioxidant and contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine. Unfortunately, when glutathione stores quickly become depleted when alcohol is consumed, which allows toxic acetaldehyde to build up in the body, leading to severe hangover symptoms.
• Congoners – Some types of alcoholic drinks such as red wine, and dark-coloured spirits such as brandy and whisky, contain substances called congeners, which are by products of fermentation that can significantly contribute to hangover symptoms. Congeners increase the body’s need for antioxidants and can disrupt the acid: alkali balance too. Symptoms such as headaches, nausea and gastrointestinal issues can result.
• Gastrointestinal Irritant – Alcohol is a known stomach irritant and increases stomach acid production leading to stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
• Inflammation – Alcohol increases the body’s inflammatory processes triggering many common hangover symptoms.
So what can I do to prevent or help?
Ok so it’s perhaps not the easiest read but definitely worth knowing just what’s happening inside your body when one glass turns into many more. The knock on effects of drinking too much alcohol soon stack up; it’s no wonder a hangover brings such misery! Clearly the cure is obvious. Keep partying to a minimum, leave early and stick to water. Alas though, we all know this doesn’t always happen; so for those times when the best laid plan goes out of the window; we’re also here to help with some advice on how you can best manage the party season.
The ‘season to be jolly’ may well be here, but when that means one glass too many, this can quickly turn into a ‘not-so-jolly’ hangover.
Milk thistle is often touted as the ‘perfect hangover cure’. Here we explore the healing properties of this traditional herb and other natural options you can use to make sure your body is equipped to deal with the party season.
Milk Thistle – A herbal extract with a long history of traditional use in supporting liver function, milk thistle contains silymarin and silybin – active compounds which may help to protect the liver from toxins associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Silymarin has been found to increase levels of glutathione – often nicknamed the ‘master antioxidant’ – and may even help to regenerate liver cells too.
Artichoke is a fibrous green vegetable that is a member of the thistle family. It contains a substance called cynarin and flavonoids such as luteolin and apigenin. Artichoke is traditionally used to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver which is thought may help to reduce the symptoms of a hangover.
Choline is a water-soluble vitamin, usually thought of as a B-complex vitamin and contributes to the maintenance of normal liver function.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine – NAC is a form of the amino acid cysteine, which is known to increase glutathione, the antioxidant which helps the liver to break down acetaldehyde (a by-product of alcohol processing that is more toxic than alcohol itself). Cysteine is naturally found in poultry, oats, dairy, garlic, onions and Brussels sprouts, although higher amounts may be needed to provide extra support following alcohol consumption.
Magnesium – Many people are low in this essential mineral, and it is quickly depleted by alcohol too. Magnesium has anti-inflammatory activity and so may help to reduce symptoms of a hangover. Taking a high strength magnesium supplement before an evening where you know you will be drinking alcohol may also be helpful.
Vitamin C – Alcohol depletes vitamin C – an important antioxidant, which can help to reduce oxidative stress in the liver. Vitamin C may also help to bolster your immune system too.
B- Vitamins – Alcohol depletes B vitamins, yet these important nutrients are essential to help clear it from the body. So it’s important to ensure you are getting extra B vitamins to avoid getting trapped in this vicious circle. In addition, vitamin B1 is thought to enhance the effects of NAC – an important nutrient, which helps to break down alcohol in the body. Vitamin B6 may also help to reduce the symptoms of a hangover.
Antioxidants – Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are a rich source of natural antioxidants. A freshly made juice containing apple, carrot and beetroot with added ginger, for its natural anti-nausea effects, both hydrates and provides the body with a much-needed antioxidant hit. Key antioxidant nutrients include vitamins C & E, quercetin, Co-enzyme Q 10 and N-acetyl-cysteine may help to protect against alcohol’s toxic effects.
Curcumin – A long-used natural anti-inflammatory, curcumin is the compound responsible for the bright-yellow colour of the spice turmeric. Curcumin has been found to have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Electrolytes – The sodium: potassium balance can become disrupted following alcohol consumption, and you can help to restore this by ensuring a good intake of potassium. Coconut water is a good natural source of potassium – try having a glass before you go to bed. In addition, pH balance can become disrupted following alcohol consumption. A blend of mineral citrates including potassium may be useful to re-balance electrolytes and support optimal pH balance.
The sooner you take action, the better your body will cope…
Clearly the best way to prevent a hangover is either to avoid alcohol or just keep it to a couple of drinks! However, for the odd time that doesn’t happen, our best advice is to be prepared and take action now, to ensure your body is equipped with the essential nutrients it needs to process and eliminate alcohol out of your system as quickly as possible. The sooner you take action, the better your body will cope. However, even if you only start to think about it the day before, or even the day after, it’s certainly better than doing nothing at all.
If you really suffer with hangovers, or have any other symptoms and want to look more indepth into your diet, symptoms and any imbalances or deficiencies. Lynsey our Nutritional Therapist can help you with this. Contact her on email@example.com, or 07733320694, or 0151-345-0156.