how to use nutrition to combat a hangover

If there were a magic pill we could take that would instantly rid us of the monstrous hangover that precedes a full day and night’s drinking, then I’m sure it would be pretty expensive. I also know I would have invested heavily over the years if such a thing existed! Unfortunately nothing quite so magical exists. However there are nutritional tips, tricks and strategies, as well as supplements, which you can use to make the following day more bearable. A hangover is the end result of not only a good night, but other physiological factors, here’s a look at the main ones:

Dehydration – the one everyone knows about, and probably the most important. Once alcohol enters the bloodstream it stops the pituitary gland from creating vasopressin. This is an anti-diuretic hormone that tells your body that it’s time to release fluid, resulting in all further liquid going directly to the bladder, rather than being absorbed by the body - thus leading to dehydration. Studies have shown that 250 millilitres of alcohol cause the body to expel four times as much liquid in waste. This dehydration is what leads to headaches the next day.

Electrolyte loss – as the consumed liquid goes straight to the bladder, and your toilet visits become more regular, you will literally be flushing key electrolytes – salt and potassium – away. Ever woke up with muscle cramps the next day? This is why.

Glycogen loss – stored within the liver and muscles, this glucose (converted from carbohydrates) is converted back to glucose and sent out of the body in your urine. That’s not WKD you can smell, it’s your energy stores! This is why you feel fatigued, and lack coordination and energy the next day.

Toxins – once alcohol is broken down in the liver, it leaves behind the toxin acetaldehyde. This is so toxic that the body sends two compounds to attack it - think angry doormen ejecting you from a club - known as acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (say that after a few Jaegers!) and glutathione. The problem arises because the liver only has a limited amount of these compounds, which leads to a build up of the toxins as you drink, causing liver damage.

Glutamine loss – The amino acid, glutamine, is inhibited once alcohol enters the bloodstream. Once you stop drinking, the body tries to make up for this loss, and this then leads to the psychological side effects post-alcohol consumption. Glutamine is a natural stimulant and source of energy for the brain and nervous system, the yo-yo effect leading to side effects such as anxiety, restlessness and tremors. This is also the reason you will not reach a deep enough sleep, which is vital for recovering.

What about vomiting? Well, this effect comes from the stomach producing too much hydrochloric acid, which tells the brain the stomach’s not happy. What happens after this a nauseous feeling, and usually a couple of minutes praying at the porcelain altar.

So, that explains the reasons for a hangover, but what about the tips and tricks to help you recover the next day? Below are my top supplement and nutritional tips to make the dreaded hangover a little more bearable… 

·      Food-wise, some people swear by a greasy full English breakfast, and this isn’t as crazy as it may first seem. Eggs contain cysteine, which breaks down acetaldehyde in the liver’s depleted glutathione, plus, the benefits of the high calories result in higher energy levels. A much better approach is to eat before a drinking session, as with no food in the stomach the alcohol hits the bloodstream quicker. So, a full English before you go out would be the better option.

·      To remedy the loss of electrolytes - especially potassium - bananas should be your go to food. However, a bottle of sports drink will also replenish your stores quickly.

·      To combat dehydration, the simple answer is to consume water to rehydrate the body. A pint of water before you go to bed might be too late, and will almost certainly have you up using the toilet in the middle of the night. However, it does help to fight against dehydration once your body has broken the alcohol down. So, either drink plenty of water between alcoholic drinks, which acts to slow down your drinking and limit alcohol consumption, or have a glass ready for when you wake up. Getting rehydrated as quick as possible is the best way to ease a hangover.

·      Fruit/orange juice contains fructose, and many vitamins and minerals that were depleted the night before. They’re always a good option, as are quickly absorbed forms of Vitamin B and C.

·      Most people simply reach for some form of painkiller, and wash this down with a coffee, but that is not an advisable way of dealing with a hangover. For a start, coffee is a diuretic, which will make you pass more fluid than you’re taking on, and many of the painkillers will have a further effect on the liver. However, ibuprofen and aspirin inhibit prostaglandins, which are associated with increased hangover severity.

·      Supplement-wise there are three that are key, the most common being Milk Thistle. However, it’s not needed - or of any use - to the weekend drinker. It doesn’t work as a quick fix, and is therefore best used by those who have long-term liver damage.

The second, and probably the most acute, is L-Methionine. This works by bonding with the alcohol in the liver, and producing citric acid, thus removing the toxins. If you only try one supplement to ease your hangover it should be this one, it’s backed by science and it really works, taking 1000-2000mg either towards the end of your night or just before bed is the best method, just don’t get caught popping innocent pills in a club!

To complement this Vitamin B6 is a great addition as it acts      as a diuretic to flush the leftover toxins from your body.

So, the perfect pre-night out plan would look something like this:

Before your head off, have a heavy meal containing fats, carbohydrates and some protein. This slows the absorption of the alcohol down, and also fills your body’s energy stores for the hard days/nights dancing ahead.

Whilst out, make a conscious effort to drink water, this slows your drinking rate down, giving the body time to process the alcohol. You’ll still feel drunk, but the after effects left behind will be easier to deal with.

Take 1000-2000mg of L-Methionine before you go to bed, along with 100mg of vitamin B6 and a glass of water; leave another glass by the bed for when you wake up too.

For your first meal of the day, have a banana and fruit juice; this replenishes vitamins, minerals and glycogen. Follow this when ready with some poached eggs on wholemeal toast with real butter, and a cup of redbush tea (great for rehydrating).

Finally - swear never to drink again, and moan on Facebook about how your hangover is the WORST ever, and how you require lots of sympathy.

If after reading all of this, you still think ‘hair of the dog’ is the best method, then crack on and enjoy the further compounded hangover you are merely delaying!

David Stache
Nutritionist and Co-Founder of Nourish