Are you Ready for the Festive Season? Your Guide to the Dreaded Holiday Hangover!

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Whether its the night after the Office Christmas Party, Christmas Day or New Year, many of us have known the ill effects of drinking too much alcohol...the dreaded Hangover!

Yet, do we actually know what a Hangover is? Is there a ‘cure’? Is it possible to drink alcohol without getting one?

What is a hangover?

It has been shown that the UK are particularly terrible for our drinking antics, statistics about our drinking and the ill effects of this have been extensively studied. A shocking study found that 1/3 of employees had been to work with a hangover, and of that third 85% declared that it affected their work performance [1]. Shockingly one statistic stated that the average British person will spend 4 years of their life with a Hangover [2].

Typical symptoms of a hangover are:

  • Heavy Head
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Headache, sensitive to light and sound
  • Shaking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhoea and Abdominal pain
  • Reduced Mood
  • Inability to Focus on a task [3].

These symptoms tend to appear between 8-16 hours after the first consumption of an alcoholic drink, however they do not always manifest if alcohol consumption is kept to a minimum. The definitive cause of a Hangover is yet to be decided, but there are many reasons why alcohol doesn’t agree with our perfectly tuned bodies.

It disturbs our water balance...Alcohol causes us to urinate more frequently and leads to chronic dry mouth. Alcohol is a depressant and inhibits the production and use of the hormone Anti-diuretic Hormone (ADH) in the body. ADH is responsible for our ability to control frequency of urination. By suppressing it, it causes water to ‘flood’ to the bladder increasing urgency of urination. As a result of increased losses of water and urinary electrolytes the body is dehydrated, which can lead to fainting, dizziness, sore muscles and fatigue [4].

Its Chemical Breakdown is Toxic… when alcohol metabolises it goes through a number of complicated steps converting the ethanol found in alcohol to Acetaldehyde then to Acetic acid. Acetaldehyde is a toxic compound to humans. The rate limiting step converting Acetaldehyde to Acetic acid is the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. If the enzyme is not found in abundance or not working efficiently then Acetaldehyde will build up damaging the liver’s processing ability and causes sickness. Alcohol and its breakdown products are irritants to our body’s sensitive linings, e.g the stomach which can also cause sickness [3,4].

It disrupts our sleep cycle… The amino acid responsible for stimulation is Glutamine. High levels of alcohol (a depressant) will inhibit the work of Glutamine which will cause feelings of ‘sleepiness’. However, due to the rules of Homeostasis within the body, our brain will detect this and over compensate by encouraging greater production of Glutamine, called the ‘bounce back’ or ‘rebound’. This over production is often the reason why sleeps eludes us after a night-out [4].

Our body believes it is under attack...this causes an inflammatory response to occur. Inflammation will develop in meninges surrounding the brain, this can causes memory loss, dizziness and pain [4].

How to avoid a Hangover?

Always eat before you drink. We absorb alcohol through the stomach and small intestine. If there is food there then it will absorb slower and cause a lower intoxication level.

Stay hydrated. Try drinking your alcoholic drink of preference followed by a glass of water and so on. This will prevent you from becoming too drunk, allow your body to stay hydrated and reduces the effect of a hangover.

Take N-acetyl Cysteine. This is a form of cysteine that is used to treat alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. When taken in minutely small doses it can combat the toxic breakdown compounds of the alcohol.

Take B-Vitamins before you drink. B vitamins are incredibly effective at converting toxic compounds. Especially when combined with N-acetyl Cysteine.

Vitamin C is depleted when alcohol is drunk, mainly because Vitamin C is an antioxidant and overwhelming quantities of alcohol increases oxidative stress on the body. This can cause damage to the DNA, Proteins and Lipids of the body. Ensure to consume Vitamin C in abundance before and after drinking. Furthermore, Vitamin C contributes to the production of energy. Which can prevent the sluggish, fatigued feelings associated with Hangovers.

Ginger. Ginger is highly recommended for its ability to reduce the feelings of sickness and nausea. |Additionally, it is anti-inflammatory which will reduce stomach irritation further, preventing sickness.

Magnesium much like Vitamin C, Magnesium is depleted during alcohol consumption. Magnesium is responsible for the balance of electrolytes that are lost during frequent urination and excessive sweating caused by alcohol consumption. In addition, it contributes to energy production and yield, reducing feelings of tiredness.

Tips on Drinking Sensibly

The NHS suggests that you do not consume more than 14 units a week whether you are male, or female. Consider that a 175ml glass of wine is between 2 and 3 units, and a pint of beer is 3. Moreover, you should also avoid binge drinking as this can often be more damaging to your liver. Finally, leave at least 48 hours between periods of heavy drinking [5,6].

Avoid self-induced headaches, sickness and sleepiness over the festive period by following a few simple steps.

  1. Aviva Media Centre. (2008). UK employees admit that regular drinking affects their jobs. Available: http://www.aviva.co.uk/media-centre/story/4048/uk-employees-admit-that-regular-drinking-affects-t/.
  2. Bates,C. (2011). Average Briton spends FOUR years with a hangover.Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2039555/Average-Briton-spends-FOUR-years-hangover.html.
  3. MayoClinic. (2014). Hangovers. Available: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/basics/symptoms/con-20025464.
  4. Mercola.J. (2013). Hangover Hacks You Can Hang Your Hat On. Available: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/31/hangover.aspx
  5. NHS. (2015). Alcohol units. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/alcohol-units.aspx.
  6. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/

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