While we all understand that drinking too much is harmful to our health, even the best of us can get swept up in the moment, especially during the festive season. Drinking too much can leave you feeling really rough the following day. Everyone has their own opinions but are these really nothing more than common folklore?
Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist explains why alcohol makes us feel so bad and how to deal with the morning after the night before.
Why do you feel so bad after drinking too much alcohol?
Alcohol is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which creates a toxic compound called acetaldehyde. A further enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and glutathione (which contains high amounts of the amino acid cysteine) break this down into a non-toxic substance.
If you drink large amounts of alcohol, then the liver’s store of glutathione can quickly run dry. The result is a build-up of acetaldehyde while the liver synthesises more glutathione. As acetaldehyde lingers in the body, it is free to cause damage and induce the symptoms we associate with a hangover, such as fatigue, nausea, stomach irritation, and a general feeling of illness.
Is a greasy fry-up really the best way to cure a hangover?
After drinking alcohol, blood sugar levels can drop, which can lead to hunger cravings. We are programmed to seek out high-energy-dense foods, which are often associated with feelings of pleasure, so this may be a reason why many people seek out the greasy fry-up. There is also the fact that this supposed hangover cure has become ingrained in the conversation around alcohol.
Research carried out by scientists at the University of North Carolina has suggested that a brain chemical called galanin may be at the root of our craving for greasy food the morning after a heavy drinking session. Galanin production increases after drinking, and researchers think this chemical may be stimulated by triglycerides which are increased by consuming large amounts of alcohol1. This chemical increases our appetite for fats hence why we may crave a Full English.
However, while greasy foods may seem like a good idea, they are likely to put a strain on your digestive system as they take a long time to digest. This may result in indigestion and can leave you feeling sluggish instead of revitalised. Honestly, how great do you really feel after tucking into a full English the morning after a night on the town?
Are there any foods that may help quell a hangover?
To some degree, this depends on how much you have drunk the night before. Other factors such as a lack of sleep also contribute to a hangover, and no amount of food will eliminate the fatigue associated with this.
Eggs may help as they are a rich source of cysteine, an amino acid used by the body to produce glutathione which is involved in the break down acetaldehyde. In theory, having plenty of cysteine in the body (from food like eggs) may help synthesise glutathione assisting the body to break down acetaldehyde. A light breakfast of poached or scrambled eggs on toast is a much more sympathetic way to nurture your delicate gut.
Choosing a protein lunch can help maintain energy levels during the day, making it a good option for lunch to avoid mid-afternoon energy slumps which may be more pronounced if you are already suffering the fatigue of a hangover.
The effects of dehydration contribute to a killer hangover, so any opportunity to rehydrate is good. Choosing watery foods to snack on, such as melons or pineapple, can help to rehydrate.
Alcohol blocks a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone, which helps the body hold on to water. This contributes to dehydration and the loss of electrolytes such as potassium. Try eating avocados the day after as these are a rich source of potassium. Avocado on wholegrains toast is a great hangover breakfast as it is rich in potassium. The high fibre bread causes energy to be released more slowly to help get you back on track. You could also try a breakfast smoothie made with avocado, banana, berries, oats, and plant milk which may be easier to consume than something solid if you are feeling particularly rough.
Ginger may help as it has been widely researched for its ability to quell nausea. One of the best ways to enjoy this is in a tea when you get up. Try adding 1 tsp of dried ginger, ½ lemon, and 2 tsp honey to a teapot with boiling water.
If things are terrible and you are seriously struggling to keep anything down, then try dried toast when you get up. Bread is rich in carbohydrates which supply the body with an immediate source of energy to help rebalance blood sugar levels. White bread may be a little easier to digest and cause less irritation to a sensitive gut.
Can supplements help with a hangover?
There is no evidence to support the use of supplements for a hangover per se. However, supplements such as globe artichoke extract have been shown to help with symptoms of indigestion such as bloating, which is common when suffering from a hangover. Electrolytes may also help to rehydrate as they replace minerals such a sodium and potassium, which are used in the body to maintain fluid balance.
What about caffeine or sweating it out in the gym?
Some people turn to caffeine to help energise themselves. Still, the reality is that it could leave you feeling jittery and aggravate a quivery tummy. Energy drinks are a double whammy. They are often loaded with sugar and caffeine, disrupting blood sugar levels leaving you feeling worse shortly after drinking.
Brave fitness fans may choose to sweat it out in the gym, but this could exacerbate dehydration as you sweat more after drinking alcohol and this may lead to increased nausea and dizziness.
What’s the bottom line?
The best approach to easing a hangover is a healthy one. Start by rehydrating, and this might include supplementing with electrolytes. If your head is pounding, then try a painkiller to ease the symptoms. Choose to eat a light breakfast such as poached eggs on toast, and Instead of heading for the sofa, try getting outdoors for a hearty walk as the fresh air will do you a world of good. The festive season can be a whirlwind of socialising, so try to pace yourself to give your liver a chance to catch up.
- Lewis, M. J., Johnson, D. F., Waldman, D., Leibowitz, S. F., & Hoebel, B. G. (2004). Galanin microinjection in the third ventricle increases voluntary ethanol intake. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 28(12), 1822–1828. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.alc.0000148099.12344.c8