I have learnt the hard way that the fastest and easiest remedy for hangovers is quite simply not drinking! Even writing that sentence seems strange, as those who know me will well remember those long, boozy nights and even longer mornings after, during my 20s and 30s! Although I haven’t given up alcohol completely, my middle years drinking is very measured and for very good reason too, as the consequences are just too much for my body and mind.
It is estimated that up to 75 percent of people who become intoxicated experience some degree of hangover for about 24 hours (often longer) after drinking, until the toxic residue is flushed from the body. But as widespread as hangovers are, scientists remain unsure as to the exact cause. Dehydration is most commonly cited, with the production of toxic byproducts in the body, the body’s inflammatory response to alcohol and drops in blood sugar that occur after drinking also believed to contribute. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing people to urinate more than usual. As a result, those tell tale signs (dry mouth, excessive thirst, pounding headache and nausea) appear on waking. What’s more, as alcohol is a known sleep disruptor, sleep post drinking is not deep and it doesn’t last, thereby exacerbating the issue for many.
Hangovers don’t actually occur until blood alcohol levels start to fall post drinking, with symptoms now believed to be at their worst once the blood- alcohol level returns to zero – almost like a withdrawal effect. This time line varies widely depending on sex (females have a higher body fat content), body weight and the amount of alcohol consumed. When a person drinks, the liver breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde, which is further degraded into acetate and ultimately converted into water, carbon dioxide and energy. But, with excessive intake the liver can’t keep pace and acetaldehyde accumulates in the system causing this toxic outcome.
Although numerous hangover remedies have been touted over the years, from intravenous infusions of saline, vitamins, minerals and other ingredients, to fatty foods and paracetamol, there is no magic pill and adequate rehydration, sleep and the passage of time, peppered with a few targeted remedies, remain the best course of action.
According to my go-to natural health guru Shabir Daya, pharmacist and founder of on-line resource Victoria Health our bodies normally function in a water-based environment that facilitates the removal of congeners (the chemical by products of the fermentation process found in liquors, brandy and darker alcohols) which are the key headache-inducing toxins.
With alcohol-induced dehydration these toxins accumulate in the system. “Of course the diuretic effect also leads to the loss of minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium which are involved in energy production, fluid balance and muscle function,” he adds.
Daya’s go-to remedy is organic apple cider vinegar, as it enhances digestion and liver function, thereby helping to clear toxins and headache-inducing congeners. “Ginger is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and indeed it has been studied for migraines and found to work as effectively as some of the drugs prescribed. Taken as a supplement or in a strong ginger tea, it helps ease headaches and acts as a great digestive aid.”
Blooming Blends is a new(ish) boutique range of nine natural, vegan tinctures to help strengthen the mind, body and soul. The Hangover Blend is overflowing with nature’s best hangover herbs and works to cleanse toxins, soothe the body and invigorate the brain.
Founder Fleur Sladen explains that the key ingredients of milk thistle, artichoke leaf and burdock root are traditional herbs used to help detox, flush and support the liver and kidneys, with added spearmint to calm the stomach and clear heaviness. “Gotu kola is a mild adaptogen that helps stimulate the brain and give my skin a boost and chamomile is a great calmer and soothes digestion. In all the perfect morning-after fix.”
The Ayurvedic perspective
While avid Ayurveda practitioners rarely drink, especially to excess, this timeless philosophy can be relied on to help ease that morning-after pain. “Alcohol is one of the causes of ‘meda dhatu dushti’, explains Sunita Passi, Nottingham-based Ayurvedic Practitioner and Founder of Tri-Dosha Ayurvedic Skincare. ‘Meda Dhatu’ refers to the fat tissue and ‘Dushti’ is the entry of the doshas (the three basic body types in Ayurveda) into the tissues of the body.
So in essence, alcohol increases the waste products of meda (including skin secretions like sweat and sebum) and can create fatty changes in the liver. “In Ayurvedic thinking, if the molecules of alcohol are unprocessed and stagnate, an accumulation of fat will appear around the liver. This helps explain the sweating, excess thirst, dehydration, high blood pressure and more,” Passi explains.
Yoga’s powerful pranayama breathing techniques can also help purify and recharge the system. In addition to rebalancing the body by eating more cooling Vata foods (fresh coriander, parsley, leafy green vegetables, pulses, carrots, rice and sweet potato), spicy and sour, pungent heat-producing foods should be reduced.
Passi’s time-tested remedy to ease nausea and cleanse the liver is simply mixing 1 teaspoon lime juice, ½ teaspoon raw cane sugar, ½ teaspoon baking soda and a pinch of rock salt in a glass of water and drink immediately. Alternatively, she suggests spicing a glass of fresh orange juice with 1 teaspoon of lime juice and a pinch of cumin powder.
If you are one of the many who have suffered one too many hangovers then maybe it’s time to join Ruby Warrington’s Sober Curious band. In her latest book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, Warrington, former features editor of the Sunday Times Style magazine and more recently founder of the digital platform The Numinous, tells us that she was caught off guard by the “toasty warm sense of physical well-being and calm” that fast became her sober norm.
“The clarity that comes with cutting out booze can feel like something of a spiritual awakening,” she adds, “that renewed sense of optimism and being fully present with yourself as a fast track to connecting with yourself and the world around you.”
Life in the sober lane is very much on trend now too and thanks to the growing range of alcohol-free beers and a new breed of herb-and vitamin-enriched craft mocktails, finding a drink you like is becoming much easier. Maybe as good a time as any to enjoy the benefits of sobriety!