While you may enjoy a refreshing cocktail or a glass of wine once in a while, there are a number of things you can do to plan ahead in order to avoid the morning-after headaches, lethargy, and flu-like symptoms that are unfortunately typical of a hangover. This information may be especially helpful as we head into the long weekend, with its booze-fueled campfires and get-togethers with friends and family.
Here are my top four tips for avoiding a hangover, and for relieving one when it’s too late for prevention.
1. Avoid one too many, or the wrong type of alcohol
Alcohol is a known appetite-stimulant and frequently causes us to overeat because it lowers our inhibitions. Just a few drinks — especially those mixed with sugary fruit drinks or soda — can cause a serious insulin spike, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Yes, even healthy people can experience low blood sugar with alcohol consumption. Just a little bit of alcohol (more than two or three glasses per week for women, or four or five for men) lowers leptin and raises cortisol, which leads to disturbed sleep, night waking, and those signature cravings for greasy hangover foods the next day.
Over time, chronic alcohol abuse can reduce the body’s responsiveness to insulin and cause sensitivity to sugar, in both healthy individuals and alcoholics with liver cirrhosis. In fact, a high percentage of patients with alcoholic liver disease are glucose-intolerant or diabetic.
We often crave satisfying, fatty, carbohydrate-laden foods after drinking because the alcohol affects our normal blood-sugar balance. Also keep in mind that many people experience harsher hangovers because they consume alcohol mixed in sugary drinks like colas and other sodas.
Bottom line: Soda water is a better choice for mix, instead of tonic or other types of pop that are high in sugar. I recommend mixing this with Chopin Vodka, since it is gluten-free.
2. Bump up the B vitamins before and after drinking
B vitamins are necessary for the proper breakdown and elimination of alcohol in the body. In fact, in one study, vitamin B6 reduced the number of hangover symptoms by approximately 50 percent. For anyone who has suffered after a night of overindulgence, this is certainly good to hear.
Bottom line: It’s helpful to take a B-complex supplement before drinking for hangover prevention, as well as when you come home, or first thing the next day to replenish lost Bs from drinking. Women should always take a B-complex that’s high in folic acid after consuming alcohol because it helps to negate the increase in breast-cancer risk that’s associated with alcohol consumption.
3. Love your liver
It’s no surprise that alcohol places additional stress on the liver. Supplements that are useful in improving liver function include vitamin C with bioflavonoids, N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC), choline, inositol, and milk thistle. NAC, a derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine, is excellent for preventing hangovers and for protecting the liver from alcohol and other toxins, including the acetaminophen you may take to treat a morning after migraine. Choline and inositol are useful in the breakdown of fats that have accumulated in a fatty liver. Chronic liver conditions with liver damage may benefit from the use of these two compounds with milk thistle.
Bottom line: I recommend taking a liver-support product that includes at least two of the above supplements, along with vitamin C. As an alternative, you can take it for a few days before and a few days after an occasion where you anticipate increased alcohol consumption. Try looking for a combination product for liver health, such as l-trepein from Thorne Research or Liv Tone from Genuine Health.
4. Nix the nausea
Ginger is well known for its natural ability to ease nausea, which is why your mother gave you ginger ale as a child when you had the flu. However, when it comes to hangovers, you should opt for pure ginger root. You can purchase ginger tea at any health food store, or even make your own. Simply cut 10 to 12 slices of fresh ginger root and combine it in a pot with four cups of water. Boil for 10 minutes then strain. Drink it as a tea a few times a day.
Read more: A flu-fighting tea you can make at home
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.