Your head is ringing. Your mouth feels like an emery board. The dawn light streaming through the window is blinding as you try to piece together anything embarrassing you might have done the night before. Are you going to be sick? Possibly. But first, you must find water.
There are few things worse than waking up with a hangover. We’ve all been there, to varying degrees. And, as the festive season approaches, some of us will be heading back there again.
But what is it about drinking that makes us feel like we’ve been hit by a truck, one that reverses back over you and then drives off again? According to Dr Anita Sturnham, alcohol is a diuretic and therefore “stimulates hormones that increase urination and water loss from the body”, which is why we feel so dehydrated. “We also know that alcohol is converted into metabolites acetaldehyde and ethanoate,” she says. “These metabolites are toxic to our cells, causing nausea, sweating, increased heart rate and headaches. If that wasn’t enough, alcohol also disrupts our cytokine system, the small proteins that act as part of our immune system. An increase in cytokines IL-2 after drinking alcohol causes headaches, fatigue and even memory loss.”
On top of that, some drinks are reportedly mixed with other compounds called congeners, which are added to improve the taste and smell of a drink at the cost of an even worse hangover. “Worst culprits include red wine, brandy and whisky,” says Dr Sturnham.
So, what’s the miracle cure? We asked four experts for their tips on beating a hangover (and please, always remember to drink responsibly).
Kay Ali, nutritional therapist
Turbocharge your breakfast with some leafy greens
While our bodies are able to neutralise acetaldehyde into acetate, this largely depends on our antioxidant status. Our master antioxidant glutathione is essential: it’s made from the amino acid cysteine, which you find in high concentrations in most protein foods. Beef, chicken, eggs, oatmeal and lentils are some of the best sources. It’s not surprising then, that people report that they feel better after a fried breakfast, which can incorporate many of these foods.
However, there’s scope to further optimise this first meal. Glutathione production from cysteine relies on several cofactor—magnesium, glycine, glutamate and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Dark-green leafy vegetables are great sources of magnesium—try a combination of buttered swiss chard and spinach alongside your morning sausage, beans and eggs for a boost. Even better, add tomatoes and mushrooms; they deliver nutritious sources of glutamate that may help glutathione production.
If you’re hungover, it’s tempting to lie in bed until midday. However, moving your body and, if possible, breaking a gentle sweat might be helpful. A brisk 15-minute walk outdoors gets the lymphatic system moving and will aid detoxification further. The fresh air is great for oxygenating the brain, too.
Up your vitamins
When alcohol is consumed frequently and/or excessively, it can function as an antinutrient. It increases the body’s demand for key vitamins and minerals, which may leave you feeling tired, sluggish and even immune-compromised—not ideal during the festive season. Supplements can be helpful providing they are well-researched and taken as part of a balanced and varied diet.
Dr Anita Sturnham, GP specialising in dermatology and founder of Decree skincare
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink—the higher the blood percentage, the worse the hangover.
Up your antioxidants
Try liposomal glutathione, an antioxidant supplement that helps to eliminate the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism from the body. Take some before bed and as soon as you wake.
Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef
Hydrate with water as you drink. Look at H20 as your drinking partner — between every alcoholic drink, have a full glass of water, one for one. You’ll find this has a profound impact on how severe your headache is the next day.
Avoid greasy food
As enticing and attractive as a burger and chips might be at the end of the night, avoid it because the fat and sugars throw your blood sugars out even more and add a greater toxic load to the liver. All of this combined makes that hangover even worse the next day.
“Look at H20 as your drinking partner—between every alcoholic drink, have a full glass of water, one for one”
Amelia Freer, nutritional therapist
Ditch the bourbon
Sulphites (which are often added to wine as a preservative) and congeners (fermentation compounds found in dark drinks, such as bourbon) can potentially contribute to hangover symptoms, so avoiding these might help a little.
Have a break
Give yourself a break from alcohol (having a hair-of-the-dog drink the next day might temporarily minimise symptoms, but it could prolong your hangover overall).
And most importantly, always drink responsibly.