At Last Bottle, drinking is part of the job description, and with this great responsibility comes a need to dampen the receiving end of a long day’s work. Luckily, we’re trained experts, and today we’re sharing some accumulated wisdom on how to prevent or at least minimize the mind-numbing, bone-aching, soul-crushing effects of a hangover.
Fun fact – the lost productivity due to hangovers is estimated to be in the billions!
Phase 1 – Before you start drinking
As the wise Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Definitely true because the hangover prevention protocol starts BEFORE you start drinking.
Pop some NAC
Think of this stuff as a street sweeper for your liver.
At least 30-60 minutes before your first drink, take around 500-1000mg of NAC, short for n-acetyl cysteine. This is a key ingredient in many of the all-in-one hangover remedy pills available.
We aren’t biochem experts, but here’s what we do understand: your liver breaks down alcohol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde. Then your liver uses something called glutathione to convert acetaldehyde into a harmless substance. NAC helps your body produce more glutathione, which in turn helps your liver clean alcohol’s toxins from your system.
“The only cure for a real hangover is death.”
Japanese Raisin Tree extract
This stuff has been used for hundreds of years in Asia. Japanese Raisin Tree extract contains a compound called didhydromiratecitem (DHM) that has a solid history of scientific tests and clinical trials suggesting it helps your liver metabolize alcohol and reduces feelings of intoxication.
In the most cited/hilarious study, scientists got a bunch of rats really drunk (read the abstract here), giving them the equivalent of 20 beers in two hours. Then they flipped the little guys on their backs and waited to see how long it took them to upright themselves. After 70 minutes the rodents finally found their feet again, but still seemed pretty tore up. Next they administered the same amount of alcohol laced with DHM into another group of rats, and repeated the test, only this time the rats were up and running again in just 5 minutes!
Other studies have shown taking DHM helps lower blood alcohol content faster, and DHM is a key component in popular anti-hangover supplements.
Some of the more highly rated ones include:
Milk thistle has long been touted as a wonder supplement for the liver, and it works in a similar way as NAC, bringing both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties into the mix. Like NAC, it helps produce more glutathione, which helps clear toxins from your liver. It’s worth noting however, that many studies recommend a 30-day regimen of Milk Thistle to get the best effects.
Hydrate and eat
This tip is so obvious, but worth mentioning. Eat a decent meal and drink 16+ ounces of water. Once you start drinking (responsibly of course) you’ll have a base in your tummy to buffer the alcohol and it won’t hit you as hard.
Phase 2 – While you’re drinking
Avoid darker alcohol
If cocktails are your thing, stick with clear booze like Vodka or gin, which have fewer impurities than brown colored stuff like bourbon and whiskey.
That’s because dark alcohol (and also wine and beer) contain “congeners”, or toxic impurities leftover from fermentation. Bourbon actually contains the highest amount of congeners, and coupled with its high alcohol content, makes for the worst hangovers according to one study.
Another obvious move. If you can muster the discipline, enjoy a glass of water between drinks. On a practical level, this slows down the rate at which you consume alcohol (remember all those warnings about drinking in moderation??). On a physical level, it helps you stay hydrated.
There’s actually some basic science behind this. Your brain contains a lot of water, and when you’re dehydrated, it tends to shrink a bit. Coupled with inflammation from too much alcohol this makes for an even worse headache.
Phase 3 – The morning after
Step aside Gatorade. This is a job for coconut water.
Gatorade’s marketing efforts might have you convinced it’s the best choice for athletes and boozehounds alike, but the truth is you should have a case of coconut water on hand. It’s the real post-drinking MVP.
It has twice the number of electrolytes and a host of other healthy vitamins to help replenish your dehydrated system. It also contains as much potassium as a banana, and plenty of antioxidants to help combat the oxidative stress that alcohol induces on your body. Bonus, it doesn’t have the citric acid and sugar that Gatorade contains, so it’s a bit healthier.Coconut water has 2x the electrolytes of Gatorade and is a top pick for hangover recovery Click To Tweet
Settle your stomach with ginger
If you’re feeling nauseous, taking a small dose of ginger might offer the quickest relief. We’re partial to those little chewy “gin gins” or “chimes” but a ginger shot from Jamba Juice or some ginger tea will work great too. Or if you’re just super hardcore, chew on a piece of raw ginger.
Get every last minute of sleep possible before you awake to the blinding light of day.
Heavy drinking affects your ability to slip into deep REM sleep and that means you wake up feeling tired. Some folks might advise getting up early so you can start battling the hangover, but sleeping in will ultimately help the most.
Drinking a lot of booze has been shown to cause inflammation in your brain, which is one reason your head is pounding the next day. Some aspirin (note, do NOT take Acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is super bad for your liver when combined with alcohol) will help dull the throbbing pain. While the best thing we can do for our liver is to NOT overdrink and take NSAIDS, Tylenol is by far the most toxic to the liver — Aspirin and Ibuprofen both actually fall into the “low” category for hepatotoxicity. The NIH gives ibuprofen the thumbs-up, stating that “ibuprofen has a recognized anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic property and is one of the most commonly NSAIDs used worldwide. It is characterized by a high safety profile and very low liver toxicity incidence.”
The greasy meal
Pliny the Elder suggested eating raw owl eggs or a fried canary. Ancient Greeks ate sheep lungs. The Mongolian’s ancient remedy for a hangover? Pickled sheep eyes in tomato soup. You don’t even want to know what the Sicilians suggest as a fix. In America we have a more appetizing plan that calls for something like biscuits and gravy with a couple eggs, or some leftover pizza.
While there’s no scientific proof that a big greasy meal after a night of drinking does anything, but it tastes good and probably helps with your mental state in some way, right?
Go for a run
The last suggestion is also the last thing thing you’ll want to do.
The trick? Don’t think too hard about this one. In the words of the famous footwear company, “just do it”. Once you start sweating out all those toxins and get some endorphins flowing, your body will thank you.
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Big thanks to Nurse Monica for her sharp eyes in correcting a statement we had about Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen! We raise our glass to you and other RNs out there keeping us safe and healthy.