There's nothing like rum and eggnog or a glass (or two) of champagne to ring in the New Year. But if you overindulge, you could find yourself feeling less than stellar the morning after.
The good news is that your choice of cocktail and what you eat before, during and after your party can minimize – perhaps even prevent – the effects of a hangover. It's pretty straightforward: The more you drink, the more likely you are to feel lousy afterward. The signs and symptoms of a hangover start when your blood alcohol concentration drops considerably, usually in the morning after a night of drinking.
Common symptoms such as headache, nausea, sensitivity to loud noise, fatigue, poor concentration, moodiness and muscle aches can last up to 24 hours. The physical consequences of consuming too much alcohol – urination, inflammation, indigestion, low blood sugar and sleep disruption – all contribute to that hungover feeling.
Not everyone gets a hangover, though. According to a 2008 study from Boston University School of Public Health, about 25 per cent of the population may be immune to getting a hangover. Genetics, age and gender may all play a role. Women, for example, are usually more vulnerable than men to the effects of alcohol. On average, women weigh less than men do, and, as a result, they reach higher blood alcohol levels. Women also have lower levels of enzymes that break down alcohol, which means a few drinks remain in a woman's system longer.
There's no magic bullet to ward off a hangover (except time, of course). The following seven strategies, however, might offer some relief.
Practice moderation. The severity of a hangover is directly related to how much alcohol you consume. So, the best way to prevent a hangover (or at least lessen the symptoms) is to drink moderately, or not at all. Decide in advance to limit your intake to one or two standard drinks (such as five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1-1/2 ounces of spirits). If that's not possible, limit yourself to one drink per hour, the rate at which your liver processes alcohol.
To slow your pace, drink a large glass of water between alcoholic drinks. Doing so will also help prevent alcohol's dehydrating effect, which can contribute to thirst, headache, disrupted sleep and fatigue.
Eat and drink (water) before you go. If you're going to drink, do so on a full stomach to slow the absorption of alcohol from your stomach into your bloodstream. Before your New Year's party, eat a hearty snack that includes protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats. Greek yogurt with berries and granola, apple slices with two tablespoons of nut butter, one-half of a turkey sandwich and a green salad, or dried fruit and one-quarter cup of nuts are good choices.
Drink water throughout the day so that you arrive at your party well hydrated.
Avoid dark-coloured spirits. Whisky, tequila, rum and brandy contain congeners, compounds formed during the fermentation and distilling process. Congeners have been shown to increase the frequency and severity of hangovers. Colourless spirits such as vodka, white rum and gin have low levels of congeners. Even so, the more alcoholic beverages you drink – regardless of colour – the more likely you will have a hangover the next day.
Avoid "hair of the dog." A drink the morning after a big night will bring your blood-alcohol level back up, but you'll only feel better for a short time. (Remember, hangover symptoms set in when your blood alcohol drops considerably.) This well-known hangover remedy hasn't been proven and will likely only prolong your symptoms. It may also worsen them later in the day.
Eat fruit. Some research suggests that fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit, blocks some of alcohol's disruptive metabolic effects and speeds the body's ability clear to it from the body. Fruits high in fructose include apples, bananas, blackberries, cherries, kiwi, mango, dried fruit, pears and pomegranate seeds. Fruit also supplies potassium, a mineral that needs replenishing after an evening of drinking.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it causes the body to lose water and, along with it, the electrolyte minerals potassium, sodium and chloride.
Eat to feel better. If a hangover hits, rehydrate by drinking plenty of water. Replace lost electrolytes by sipping on vegetable soup, tomato soup, tomato juice, coconut water or a sports drink. To help relieve stomach upset, eat bland, easily digested carbohydrates such as crackers, toast or cooked pasta in broth. Eat small snacks – think protein and healthy carbohydrates – every three hours to help keep your blood glucose level steady.
Consider prickly pear. Available as a supplement, there is evidence that this cactus fruit can help reduce the severity of a hangover thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. (It's thought that the severity of a hangover is related to inflammation caused by impurities in alcoholic beverages and byproducts of alcohol metabolism.)
In a 2004 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association – Internal Medicine, taking prickly pear extract five hours before binge drinking cut the chance of having a severe hangover by about 50 per cent. Taking the supplement also significantly reduced dry mouth, nausea and loss of appetite.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.