How to head off that hangover
Published 31/12/2010 | 05:00
After spending the night rocking around the Christmas tree, the last thing you'll want to do the morning after the night before is deck the halls with boughs of holly.
But when your stomach is doing somersaults and your trembling body would put Shakin' Stevens to shame, should you turn to the hair of the dog or try to find the miracle cure in a big dirty fry up?
None of the above, according to Dr Bernadette Carr, Medical Director of VHI Healthcare, who believes very few people understand the science of hangovers.
"One of the biggest myths of them all is the hair of the dog," says Dr Carr. "People genuinely believe that if you wake up in the morning and you have a really bad hangover the way to sort it out is to drink whatever you had the night before. That clearly is not going to work at all because the hangover is due to excess alcohol or the by-products of alcohol in your system.
"So taking more of something that is making you feel bad is definitely not going to make you feel better." Another massive misconception is mixing your drinks makes your hangover worse.
"There is the myth about mixing the grape and the grain," says Fionnuala Sheehan, chief executive of Drinkaware.ie. "While the drinks may be flavoured differently, it is all ethanol you are drinking. So it is the quantity of ethanol that is going into your body that is giving you those ill side effects."
All booze is more or less created equally, so whether it is stout, wine, cider, whiskey or tequila, it's not the different types of drinks that will land you with a hangover, but the number of drinks you consume.
"Dehydration is a big factor because alcohol suppresses your body's anti-diuretic hormone that stops you losing too much water," says Dr Carr.
This means that for every pint you consume, up to four times as much liquid will be expelled from your body.
However, recent research shows that it is not only the lack of water that is to blame when it comes to the hangover from hell.
As your body struggles to metabolise alcohol it produces acetaldehyde, a by-product created in the liver more toxic than alcohol itself. When you drink sensible amounts this toxin is neutralised by a substance call glutathione. However, drink too much and the liver's supply of glutathione runs out.
"If you overdo it you overload your liver's ability to detox your system," says Dr Stephen Murphy, a practising GP and member of the Aviva Medical Council.
And don't think you can weasel your way out by a quick trip to your local pharmacy. The growing market in miracle hangover cures should be approached with caution, says Dr Murphy.
"Personally, I would find it difficult to understand how they work," he says. "Look, the simple cure is to embrace the phrase 'everything in moderation.' If someone is going out with the intent of getting drunk or consuming too much alcohol they shouldn't be surprised the next morning with what happens."
Another side effect you can expect is a bad night's sleep.
"Alcohol suppresses your REM sleep, so you are getting a less satisfying sleep," says Dr Carr.
This is because alcohol inhibits the body's ability to produce glutamine, a stimulant that keeps you awake. However, when you stop drinking your body overproduces this natural stimulant meaning you will be unable to fall into the REM sleep your body requires.
But the long-term health damage associated with binge drinking and the increased possibility of being involved in an accident, rather than any fear of a hangover should be the key factors in curbing your enthusiasm for drinking to excess.
"Alcohol is great fun but it can be bloody dangerous if you abuse it," says Dr Murphy. "Ask any casualty consultant about what happens when people get it all horribly wrong. When you drink to excess the least of your worries is the hangover you'll have the next morning."