This story was budgeted for today’s paper, but didn’t make it because of the deluge of stuff we needed to get in. Give it a read and then weigh in: What’s your favorite hangover cure?
Don’t let New Year’s Eve party become morning regret
Experts offer advice on avoiding a hangover
By Suzanne Bohan, STAFF WRITER
Before throwing back those celebratory glasses of champagne, whiskey or beer this New Year’s Eve, you may want to ponder the fate of the active ingredient in any form of booze.
Alcohol is an equal opportunity toxin, once you overwhelm your body’s ability to process it. The result: The infamous New Year’s Day hangover.
But with a few smart strategies, and a little self-control, you can raise a midnight toast and still wake up New Year’s Day with a spring in your step.
“It is feasible to prevent a hangover,” said Dr. Jerry Goldstein, a University of California, San Francisco, neurologist and director of the San Francisco Headache Clinic.
So long, he added, as you follow the advice of hangover experts like Goldstein before, during and after New Year’s celebrations.
Initially, alcoholic beverages bring on nothing but good feelings. Alcohol stimulates the liver into producing more sugar, so that first drink rewards you with a sense of heightened alertness, since glucose is the brain’s primary energy source.
And with its effect on the central nervous system, that first drink or two also relaxes you and releases inhibitions, bringing out that party spirit your friends know and love.
What’s not to like about that?
Nothing, so long as you keep it to just a few drinks over the course ofthe evening. But during the nation’s longest party night, that’s easier said than done.
First, that easy charm fades as you keep drinking. As one study stated, “loss of critical judgment” creeps up with each subsequent drink, accompanied by “emotional instability.” Next up is impaired perception, comprehension and reactivity. That slowed reaction time is among the many reason that intoxicated drivers are a deadly menace on roadways.
And that’s only the outward manifestation of excess alcohol.
On the inside, once you go beyond the ability of the body to clear out alcohol (an hour or two per drink — it’s quicker for lower-alcohol drinks like wine, and longer for hard liquor) — it’s practically your biological destiny to suffer the ill effects of excess alcohol.
As alcohol works through your body, it’s converted into a chemical that your body can’t wait to get rid of: acetaldehyde, which is 30 times more toxic than alcohol. Usually, it does that easily, breaking down acetaldehyde into harmless byproducts and eliminating them from the body. That breakdown process, by the way, takes a lot of energy, which is why alcohol warms up people.
But when you drink too much, and generate too much acetaldehyde, it causes some of hangovers’ most well-known symptoms. That excess acetaldehyde is behind the nausea and vomiting of drinking binges, since the chemical irritates the lining of the stomach and small intestine, and releases stomach acids.
Acetaldehyde can trigger a rapid pulse and sweating, symptoms well known to certain populations after drinking, especially those of Asian descent. Many people in these populations carry a genetic trait that leaves them unable to fully metabolize acetaldehyde into its harmless by-products. Even a few sips of alcohol can quickly leave those with this genetic trait flushed and feeling ill for hours.
But acetaldehyde overdose is only part of the story. As your body valiantly works to metabolize that excess alcohol, it depletes your stores of blood sugar, leaving you lethargic, irritable and foggy-headed. Alcohol also depletes electrolytes like sodium, potassium and calcium, which retain fluid.
With those stores diminished, you’ll excrete more water, causing dehydration — another hallmark of a hangover. Four drinks equaling 8 ounces of liquid consumed over several hours will cause the elimination of up to 32 ounces of water. That dehydration, in turn, creates headaches and other hangover symptoms, according to one study.
But you’re far from helpless against this cascade of alcohol’s effects.
Goldstein pointed to a number of effective strategies for counteracting this chemical inundation.
The most common-sense approach is setting a quota for how much you’ll drink in a night. During the evening, alternate alcoholic drinks with water or juice. The latter is especially helpful, since it contains fructose, which not only replenishes sugar levels, but speeds, by up to 80 percent, the metabolism of alcohol into its harmless components, which are then eliminated, Goldstein said.
Eat a good meal before the night begins. And in contrast to typical health advice, eat a high-fat meal, experts advise. Food slows the passage of alcohol into the small intestine, where it’s more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. And fat slows the absorption of alcohol down even more.
But don’t go overboard with the greasy food, cautioned Goldstein. “I wouldn’t do a triple burger, because it could cause nausea,” he said. “Do one burger or burrito.”
If you use vitamin supplements, take an extra dose six hours before going out for the evening in time to fortify your body, Goldstein said. B vitamins in particular help the liver process sugar, and vitamin C has shown benefit in preventing hangover symptoms. Most of the packets of “hangover pills” sold in convenience stores contain these and other ingredients.
A critical juncture in your hangover prevention quest is just before retiring. One of the best remedies is just a glass of milk and cookies.
“You’re getting some sugar, you’re getting some calcium, you’re getting some potassium and sodium,” said Goldstein of the evening snack. “That can be very important.”
A cup of bouillon also restores electrolytes, as do sports drinks. Goldstein also highly recommended fruit juice, including tomato juice — which will also replenish sugars as you sleep — as will a dose of honey.
A pain reliever can also help prevent a New Year’s Day headache, but experts caution against taking one if you’re nauseous, as it may worsen symptoms. And avoid one painkiller, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), which can be toxic to the liver when taken after drinking.
Finally, drink plenty of water during the evening, and before retiring. With these steps, Goldstein said, “You can eliminate the possibility of a severe hangover.”
He had some final advice for New Year’s revelers: “Go easy, go slow, and have a good time.”
Contact Suzanne Bohan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-348-4324