A guide to minimising hangovers

There are things we can do before, during and after drinking alcohol which can help

SOLANGE VÁZQUEZ

Sometimes, it’s hard for journalists to decide how we should start an article. There are so many possibilities. However, on this occasion, I have no doubts. We are going to talk about what to do to minimise a hangover, so there is only one possible way to begin and it consists of three words: Don’t drink alcohol.

Easy, isn’t it? Well, for some people, yes; for others, not so much. In the forthcoming weeks - work celebrations, get-togethers with friends, Christmas in general - many people who don’t normally drink are going to do so and others who drink in moderation are going to ingest more than they normally would, because we are nearly all social drinkers and at this time of year we become super-social drinkers (often more than we would really like). And in many cases our bodies are going to reproach us the next day, and with reason.

Why? Because too much alcohol creates a storm in our body, which basically fights to get rid of it, and it triggers all the symptoms of a hangover: headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, muscular weakness, palpitations, intolerace to noise... a whole catalogue of horrors, in fact.

Is there anything we can to do minimise these symptoms, which can often be incapacitating? Yes, there is. And it makes all the difference. If, before drinking alcohol, we plan a little and follow some advice, the next day will be much more bearable. Here, I will explain what we should do before drinking, while drinking and after we have already drunk too much.

Before

“Obviously, alcohol is a toxin and we shouldn’t trivialise it. It takes a lot of lives every year, but, as with most things, the poison depends on the dose,” says Gabriela Uriarte, a nutrition coach and the author of a book called ‘Hacer dieta engorda’ (Dieting makes you fat). But, if we know we are probably going to drink too much, either because we’re not used to it or because we just don’t care, we can protect ourselves well by drinking plenty of water before starting on the alcoholic drinks. And, as our mothers and grandmothers have always said, nobody should drink on an empty stomach.

“It’s better to have a full stomach, and if possible with food which has slow fat absorption like nuts, eggs or meats, because that will have a strong effect on the absorption of alcohol,” says Gabriela.

And what if we take an omeprazol, a paracetamol or an ibuprofen beforehand? A lot of people swear by that...

“It is no use whatsoever,” says Sonia Sáenz de Buruaga of the Spanish Society of Community Pharmacy. “In fact omeprazol, if we don’t need it for medical problems, makes our digestion worse. Nor is ibuprofen much of a friend to a stomach upset by alcohol”. So we can’t turn to medications like these to prevent a hangover? “There are compounds based on artichoke or thistle which can be taken before drinking alcohol and they will help to eliminate it better, just as vitamin B tablets do. They help with the fatigue and to absorb the alcohol,” says Sonia.

During

Right, so here we are, downing the glasses of wine or the beers. What can we do so that we don’t look back at this tomorrow with hate in our hearts? “Water, water and more water,” insists Gabriela Uriarte. At a dinner, after every glass of wine, a glass of water. In a bar, have a small bottle of water between rounds. Will fruit juice or a soft drink do? “No, it’s not the same. Water hydrates more than anything else and, after all, a hangover is largely due to dehydration. Also, fizzy drinks tend to contain a lot of sugar and that makes hangovers worse. Water is the best thing,” says Gabriela.

Sonia Sáenz de Buruaga agrees. “Those types of drinks don’t contain alcohol but they lower insulin and peaks of glucemia, so it is better to avoid them, whether on their own or with something else,” she says. There is a way to do this: “Nowadays there are sugar-free tonics and soft drinks. They are the ones to choose,” she advises, and she has another suggestion: “Dark alcoholic drinks like whisky and brandy are worse for hangovers than transparent ones, because (and I’m simplifying things here), although they have the same level of alcohol as others like gin or vodka, they also contain congeners (chemical compounds, that add to the flavour) which are also bad for hangovers because they increase the toxicity,” she says.

Something else we should avoid: shots. They are minibombs of alcohol that we drink in one gulp, thereby breaking the normal anti-hangover rule of drinking slowly. “And to top it off, they tend to be highly coloured, with a lot of sugars,” says Sonia Sáenz de Buruaga. They have everything we need for this to become a very bad memory.

After

OK, the deed is done. We have drunk too much and we know it. When we get home, is there still time to do anything about it? Not really, to be honest. However, eating something and drinking a lot of water before going to bed is a good idea. Then, sleep as much as we can so the body can recover. Although alcohol and a good sleep don’t really go well together, do they? So we will probably be restless, toss and turn, wake up with palpitations... what a disaster. And this is only the start of what is going to happen to us during the rest of the day, because a hangover doesn’t disappear in a couple of hours.

“The symptoms are at their worst when the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream returns to approximately zero. This means that the effects can last for 24 hours or more,” say experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an American body that has been warning about the dangers of alcohol for more than half a century.

What should we do in these 24 hours (or more) while our bodies try to get rid of alcoholic toxins? “Because what we have is a tremendous dehydration, we need to give the body a great deal of fluid. That has to be water, obviously, but bone broths are also useful because they ‘glutamise’ better and are good for the stomach. And, if we feel we are strong enough, we can take moderate exercise, such as going for a good walk,” says Gabriela Uriarte. Sonia Sáenz de Buruaga also adds that we can also use hydration serum (the type used for diarrhoea), more vitamin B and, now, paracetamol or ibuprofen, “but only a minimum dose”.