Friday 23 August 2019

Fighting the festive hangover

There's no magic cure but if you do indulge, health experts recommend pacing yourself, fatty foods and water, writes Claire O'Mahony

Hangover from hell: Eat, drink and be merry, but be sensible while doing it
Hangover from hell: Eat, drink and be merry, but be sensible while doing it
Full Irish 'cure'

Claire O'Mahony

Like novelty jumpers and a 5lb weight gain, hangovers are the unpleasant by-product of getting into the festive spirit a little too much. They often happen accidentally, such as the drinks party you attend, where not even a cocktail sausage is provided to line your stomach, or equally it might be the night out where you just lose the run of yourself.

Many imbibers employ strategies in an attempt to lessen the dreaded 'fear' the following day, ranging from a pint of water and ibuprofen before bed to never mixing the grape with the grain. Others forgo the preventative aspect and rely on the restorative powers of a cure, be it the full Irish or, patently less sensible, hair of the dog.

Unfortunately, science tells us that there is no magic bullet for avoiding hangovers. If you drink more than two to three drinks, there are no guarantees that you won't feel ropy the next day.

It doesn't sound a lot to consume. But the unavoidable facts are that more than three drinks is officially deemed a binge; a standard pint or glass of wine contains two units of alcohol and the official low-risk alcohol guidelines say no more than 14 units a week, spaced out, with two days alcohol free. If you drink a bottle of delicious 14pc New Zealand pinot noir on the couch while watching 'Elf', that's a whopping 10 units.

"There comes a point where you've drunk so much that nothing is going to make a difference," says dietitian Sarah Keogh of

Where food can help, she stresses, is if you eat before and while you drink, slowing down the amount of alcohol entering the blood stream, giving the liver a little more time to process it. Even if you are watching calories, fattier foods, like chips or creamy sauces, are a good bet on a night out.

Sore head: Waking up with a headache the morning after
Sore head: Waking up with a headache the morning after

"If you eat something that's very low-fat, it clears out of your stomach in under two hours, whereas something with more fat takes four hours to clear. It lines the stomach a little bit better and delays the absorption of alcohol," she explains.

We're all familiar with the advice of alternating water with an alcoholic drink (and that should be instead of, not as well as an alcoholic drink), but Sarah says that your first drink of the night should always be water because you're thirsty and you're likely to gulp it down. At dinner, help yourself to the jug of water on the table, because revellers frequently just drink the wine or beer on offer, forgetting that they'd usually have a glass of water with dinner anyway.

This means a killer headache the next day, not only because of alcohol's dehydrating effects, but also because your baseline of water consumption is off. It's all about pacing yourself, Sarah believes.

"After two to three hours, stop drinking and go on water for an hour. It's an interesting one because it helps you rehydrate but most people then realise how they're feeling and they'll actually stop drinking at that point," she says. "Sometimes we're so busy having a laugh, we don't listen to the body."

As to widely-held beliefs that drinks with bubbles like Prosecco make you drunker, or to avoid darker drinks like red wine and rum, which have cogeners that can increase hangovers, the jury's out, with scientific research conducted into these assumptions not providing a clear-cut answer. "I think that bubbles are what usually start the night and it's your first drink and you're on an empty stomach, so it will go to your head a lot quicker," she says.

In relation to steering clear of dark drinks, she advises: "Some people react differently to different drinks. It's a little bit of personal experience to know what you can drink and how it works, and how you feel with it."

Miriam Taber of Drinkaware reiterates that, technically, you cannot avoid a hangover if you drink more than the recommended amount. But she points to the organisation's website,, for easy ways to reduce the amount you're drinking on a big night out, or drinking at home, something that's on the rise.

"It's things like don't top up your wine glass; always finish one before pouring another, because otherwise you can't keep track of how much you're drinking. The same applies to spirits," she says. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, if of little use as your tongue scrapes the top of your mouth and the room spins the morning after.

Soft drinks diluted with ice to keep the sugar content down (alcohol lowers blood sugars and keeps them low) and the much-loved fry-up (to replace the salt lost from frequently going to the toilet the previous night) are every party-pooped person's tried-and-tested cures.

And although it's likely to be the last thing you feel able for, a brisk walk in crisp winter air can work, says Sarah Keogh.

"You might think you'll die but a 10 to 15 minute walk is brilliant because it's getting the body working and helps clear it out, waking up the liver and the digestive system."

Skin saviours

Cosmetic doctor, Dr Katherine Mulrooney of Dr Mulrooney Clinic, shares her top skincare tops for the morning after a big night out.

  • Start the day with a pint of water with added rehydration salts. I find Oxylent Sport excellent as it contains added amino acids, vitamins and minerals so really helps rehydrate and replenish the entire body.
  • Make two small pouches with an ice cube inside and hold up to the eyes for five to 10 minutes to help relieve puffiness and wake you up.
  • Take a long shower, massaging lots of exfoliator into the face and body to boost skin micro-circulation and give the skin a glow.
  • Massage a serum - try Seavite Super Nutrient Serum (€57.50) - into face and neck. Follow with face cream to soothe and nourish skin.
  • Have porridge with fresh berries for breakfast to help balance blood sugars and re-energise.

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