Tuesday 20 February 2018

Manage your hangover this Christmas

Manage your hangover this Christmas

Drink sensibly this Christmas or you could end up with a hangover like one of the characters from the hit movie
Drink sensibly this Christmas or you could end up with a hangover like one of the characters from the hit movie

Daniel Davey

Christmas is nearly here and, in all probability, will involve overindulging in alcohol. Rather than expecting people to abstain from booze or even drink moderately over the festive period, it is reasonable to expect that there will be occasions when you drink a bit too much.

Unfortunately, there is no prevention or cure for hangovers, but there are some simple nutrition strategies that you can follow that can ease the headache, reduce nausea and help bring you back to a semi-normal state.


Alcohol (or ethanol) contains seven calories per gram and has no micronutrient value. The body cannot store booze and must metabolise it (use it for energy) when it is consumed.

When you drink alcohol it goes through a process of absorption, distribution and then metabolism. Absorption is primarily through the small intestine into the veins whose first destination is the liver.

This process is influenced by factors such as genetics, ethnicity, gender, age, body type, if food has been consumed, drinking history and volume of alcohol consumed. These are some of the reasons why some people can drink more than others and why alcohol consumption can have highly variable physiological responses in different people.

When you drink alcohol, your body makes metabolising it a priority over all other metabolic processes, and because your body can't store alcohol and must metabolise it right away, other metabolic processes suffer, mainly the efficient metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.

This is most obviously seen on the day following excessive consumption as shakiness and a craving for sugary foods as the body struggles to appropriately balance sugar levels in the blood.


{HTML_BULLET} Temporary increase in heartbeat and blood pressure.

{HTML_BULLET} Peripheral blood vessels dilate, resulting in heat loss and feeling of warmth (red cheeks).

{HTML_BULLET} Reduction in peripheral vision.

{HTML_BULLET} Difficulties in processing and recalling information.

{HTML_BULLET} Significant memory loss occurs with high doses of alcohol.

{HTML_BULLET} To quote Shakespeare: "It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance".

{HTML_BULLET} Poor quality sleep: decreases in REM (deep) sleep resulting in impaired concentration, tiredness and irritability.


As a result of the excess consumption of alcohol, your body is unable to metabolise at the rate it is being consumed. Excess alcohol consumption results in dehydration, headaches and damage to the lining of your stomach that causes nausea.


What you eat before you start drinking can have a huge effect on how you feel the day after. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol, which will prolong the time it takes alcohol to reach your bloodstream.

Never drink on an empty stomach. Drinking water between drinks will also help -- even a few small glasses will make a big difference to your hydration and your body's ability to deal with the alcohol.

Drink a couple of glasses of water when you get home. Taking a multivitamin tablet and a pinch of salt with the water is also no harm as excess alcohol consumption depletes vitamin stores, which are important for recovery, and many vitamins are important co-factors in the metabolism of ethanol.

Studies have shown that certain alcoholic beverages result in worse hangovers than others. Whiskey, wine and some beers can cause more severe hangovers than drinking equal amounts of vodka or other clear alcohols. This is mainly because certain alcoholic drinks result in greater levels of acetone and acetaldehyde being produced during the metabolism of the drinks, which in turn puts greater stress on your body to remove the toxins.

Don't mix your drinks. A drink that works well for a lot of people is gin or vodka with a squeeze of fresh lime, ice and sparkling/soda water.


Start by eating antioxidant-rich foods that help your body to reduce the inflammatory response to the alcohol. Fresh berries, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fresh oily fish and eggs are all great food options.

Ginger has long been used to treat nausea and various illnesses. Try having some fresh ginger with a green tea or in a fresh fruit smoothie.

Fluids are a priority, so begin by sipping on some water. Mixing an electrolyte sachet into your water is a good idea if you are having trouble eating solid food. Recent research has shown that drinking coffee can help to treat hangovers due to the antioxidant compounds that freshly brewed coffee contains.

Exercise is the last thing most people will want to do but some physical activity has its merits. Exercise increases your metabolic rate and blood flow, which can help speed the removal of toxins.


Everybody has their own ideas for a hangover cure: a fry, greasy food, pizza, white toast, more alcohol and energy drinks. None of these are foods that I would recommend. Although they might offer temporary enjoyment, they don't support the recovery process.


Hangovers and the negative effects of alcohol can be minimised by a number of common-sense strategies. However, this advice should not be seen as an endorsement of heavy drinking or a manifesto to help you 'get away' with doing so.

In short, eat some nutritious slow-digesting food before you start drinking, drink in moderation, don't mix your drinks, and drink some water while drinking and before you go to bed.

If you ignore all of these things and end up drinking more than you should, don't compound matters by eating processed foods that provide no support to your recovery.

Try eating some of the suggested foods above and get out for some light exercise -- even if you don't feel better right away, you will feel better for doing something.

Daniel Davey BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHS is a performance nutritionist.

Irish Independent

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