The festive period is upon us. This for many inevitably means parties, alcohol and ultimately... hangovers. And December is unlikely be so rosy for anyone knee deep in prosecco and cocktails in the run up to Christmas.
Time and time again we succumb to overindulgence and many turn to a range of natural cures to banish the thumping headache, dry tongue and racing heart. But when you look at the science, is there really anything you can do to relieve the morning after the night before, au naturel?
WATCH How to make delicious alcohol-free beverages! Article continues after video...
Scientists aren't sure what the exact mechanisms behind a hangover are; it's a bit complex you see. The symptoms are thought to be a combination of: dehydration, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar and an irritated stomach. Although hair of the dog (drinking more), kidney dialysis, charcoal tablets, ginseng, eggs and a hot bath are all provided as potential 'hangover cures' by our old favourite Google.com, the scarcity of quality scientific evidence is in stark contrast to the plethora of 'cures' marketed on the internet. British researchers concluded in 2005 that there was no compelling evidence for anything to actually prevent a hangover with abstinence and moderation being the only way to truly prevent getting yourself in a sticky situation the day afterwards. But moderation is hard for many people and there are a few little things you can do during and after your drinking session to stop yourself feeling like death warmed up the next day.
Although you may want to feel the social effects of alcohol quickly, your vital organs and immune system do not! Having food in your stomach before you drink acts as a barrier to alcohol, helping to drip-feed the booze into your system.
Tip: A meal containing complex carbohydrates and healthy fats such as brown rice with salmon and avocado smash is a good option since fatty food delays your stomach emptying, keeping you fuller for longer and the carbohydrates provide a source of slow release sugars which can help counteract low blood sugar (a possible side effect from drinking).
The type of alcohol consumed may have a significant effect on reducing your hangover. Some people find they are sensitive to an impure substance called congeners found in dark alcoholic drinks. These substances can irritate the lining of blood vessels and tissue in the brain exacerbating hangover symptoms.
Tip: Alcoholic drinks such as gin and vodka contain fewer congeners and have been associated with a lower incidence of hangover compared dark drinks such as red wine, brandy, whiskey and rum. Note that although avoiding dark drinks may lessen the hangover pain for some people, lighter coloured alcoholic drinks can still damage your liver.
Alcohol is a diuretic which means it prevents our kidneys holding on to water, causing us to pee out more fluid than we are taking in. It does this by inhibiting an antidiuretic hormone normally produced in our brain. This can lead to dehydration causing the-oh so-familiar hangover symptoms: thumping headache, racing heart and dry mouth.
Tip: Make sure you down a pint or so of water before you go to bed and keep some more by your bedside to sip throughout the night. The moment you wake up, make sure you continue to rehydrate.
When dehydrated, your body can lose electrolytes (essential body salts), such as potassium, chloride, sodium and magnesium. This is especially the case if you have been sick, sweating or have diarrhoea (alcohol directly irritates the lining of the stomach and intestines). Sports drinks can replace electrolytes along with some glucose which may be important if your blood sugars are running low. There is however increasing interest in the use of milk as a rehydration solution since milk is a natural provider of water, sugar (in the form of lactose) and electrolytes. It is also a far cheaper, natural alternative to sports drinks.
Tip: Try a banana smoothie made with milk if you need to replace fluid, electrolytes and glycogen stores. Or if your stomach if feeling too fragile, a thin vegetable-based broth would also be a good option.
Alcohol can disrupt the metabolic processes in your liver which normally keep your blood sugars constant. If you have a particularly large binge drinking spree without eating much food, the sugar stores in your liver may become depleted, causing your blood sugar levels to drop aka: hypoglycaemia. Because glucose is the primary energy source of the brain, hypoglycaemia can contribute to hangover symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and being moody
Tip: If you are feeling a dizzy and trebly, have something sugary such as a glass of fresh fruit juice to restore blood sugar levels immediately, followed by some longer acting carbohydrate such as oat cakes.
Alcohol impairs your ability to get a good night's sleep. You might pass out easily, but you are not getting the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep you need to feel rested. Plus when drinking occurs at night (as it often does), it can compete with your normal sleep pattern putting your body clock out of sync disrupting other biological processes important for a healthy functioning body.
Tip: Like jetlag you need to get your sleep cycle back to normal. Get as much rest as you can and refrain from doing anything that requires heavy concentration (best leave the tractor driving for the next day).
Drinking even more alcohol is a remedy which reportedly cures hangover symptoms, however it is not advised to be tried since drinking again will only enhance the existing alcohol toxicity and delay the inevitable hangover symptoms.
Tip: If you find yourself with a hangover it’s advised you wait at least 48 hours to give your poor liver time to recover. It is advised that women should have no more than 3 units of alcohol in one day (the equivalent to 2 small 125ml glasses of wine).
Lastly with lost sleep, dehydration, depletion of vital nutrients and weight gain, alcohol can certainly have some negative side-effects on our mind and body. Drinking less may help you look and most importantly feel better. OK, mum-style lecture over.
Rosie is a London based cook, food blogger and supper club host, training to be a Nutritionist and Dietitian. You can follow Rosie on Twitter @GlutenFreeRosie or on her blog.
This story originally appeared on The Debrief.