Hangovers – How To Lessen The Pain

The best way to lessen the pain of hangovers is to avoid overindulging in alcohol, but for many of us we learn the hard way! Also, if you have a few too many, you will often forget how many drinks you have imbibed as your defences are weakened. But you will remember how you felt the next morning!

Your liver is the primary site for alcohol breakdown (metabolism). In the liver, alcohol is detoxified through a process called oxidation. Oxidation prevents the alcohol from accumulating and destroying your cells and body organs. A healthy liver oxidizes pure alcohol (ethanol) at the rate of about ⅓ of an ounce (10 mls) per hour, which is less than 1 ounce (30 mls) of hard liquor.

Once alcohol is in your bloodstream, your body makes getting rid of it the top priority. Thus, it will stop metabolizing anything else in order to first get the alcohol metabolized. The reason for this is because unlike protein, carbohydrates, and fat, there is nowhere for alcohol to be stored in our body so it has to be metabolized first.

Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation – defined as the consumption of up to one standard drink per day for women and up to two standard drinks per day for men.

Why do hangovers occur?

Excess alcohol is very toxic to human cells because it is broken down (or metabolized) into a substance called acetaldehyde, which is even more toxic than alcohol itself. Acetaldehyde is not created until the alcohol reaches the liver. In the liver, ethanol is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase into acetaldehyde.

The acetaldehyde is then broken down by another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the antioxidant glutathione. Acting synergistically, the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the glutathione, turn the toxic acetaldehyde into non-toxic acetate. Acetate is a substance found in vinegar.

Yes, alcohol metabolism all happens in the liver!

If your liver is working normally, this process works efficiently, giving the acetaldehyde only a short amount of time to damage cells if only safe amounts of alcohol are consumed.

BUT… the liver’s stores of glutathione rapidly run out if large amounts of alcohol are consumed quickly. (Taking acetaminophen regularly can also deplete the liver’s stores of glutathione). This causes the toxic acetaldehyde to build up in the body for long periods of time. Much more damage occurs to your cells, especially in your liver, kidneys and brain. Your liver can repair itself; however, the brain is less able to restore killed brain cells.

The breakdown of acetaldehyde is crucial to avoiding short and long term damage from alcohol excess. For example, studies where the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (that breaks down acetaldehyde) is blocked with a drug called Antabuse, showed that the resulting acetaldehyde toxicity caused such severe headaches and vomiting that even alcoholics were wary of their next drink. Antabuse is a drug prescribed by doctors to fight alcoholism.

Females have less tolerance to alcohol because they have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and less glutathione in their liver. Thus, they can get worse hangovers than men because it takes longer for their liver to break down the alcohol.

Strategies to prevent a hangover

  • Hydrate
    It is wise to drink plenty of water before, during and after drinking alcohol. Before going to bed drink 2 large glasses of water and do the same again on rising the morning after. Water is the most important thing but it works even better if you add the juice of a lime or lemon. Add a teaspoon of Magnesium Ultra Potent powder to the water to lessen the headache.
  • Eating fatty foods before you go out to party
    Eating fatty foods before drinking can reduce chances of a hangover. Putting any food in the stomach prior to drinking alcohol helps to prevent a hangover. Fatty foods in particular take longer to digest and therefore slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. This gives the body more time to process the alcohol and will increase your chances of feeling reasonable the morning after.
  • Drink in moderation
    Ideally, limit yourself to one standard drink per hour because the body takes about an hour to process a standard single drink.
  • Mix your drinks with soda water and add a lot of ice
  • Drink one or two glasses of water after every alcoholic beverage
    This will keep you well hydrated and give your liver more time to process the alcohol and dilute the toxins.
  • Watch your drink choice
    Drinkers generally fare better when they stick with one type of drink. Each new type of alcohol a drinker imbibes, makes the body work that much harder and puts that many more toxins in the body, leading to a more severe hangover.

After drinking

Before bed

  • Take a liver tonic such as Livatone Plus that contains the herb Milk Thistle, B group vitamins, selenium and sulfur amino acids and vitamins C and E to help support your liver to recover and detoxify your body
  • Take NAC in a dose of 1200 mg (2 capsules) to increase glutathione production
  • Take vitamin C 1,000 mg to get rid of the rest of the toxins and reduce inflammation

In the morning

  • Take a liver tonic such as Livatone Plus that contains the herb Milk Thistle, NAC, B group vitamins, selenium and sulfur amino acids and vitamins C and E to help support your liver to recover and detoxify your body.
  • Take extra NAC in a dose of 1200 mg (2 capsules) to increase glutathione production.
  • Take vitamin C 1,000 mg to get rid of the rest of the toxins and reduce inflammation.
  • Make a raw vegetable juice – include orange, lemon, lime, pineapple, ginger, carrot, cabbage and some green herbs such as mint and parsley.
  • If you feel like it, eat breakfast – include some scrambled eggs as they contain sulfur-bearing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine. Include a banana for extra potassium. Keep in mind that caffeinated coffee and tea will further dehydrate you, although caffeine can reduce a pounding vascular headache.


Make ginger tea – cut up fresh ginger and boil it in water. Add honey and a freshly squeezed lemon/lime.

Tiger balm

This popular, topical salve used traditionally in Asia as a multi-purpose remedy, is blended from camphor, menthol, cajuput oil and clove oil and is known for its analgesic and blood flow promoting properties. It may not be made to mitigate hangovers, but it is one of the best topical headache cures around. Dab the potent, eye-stinging salve on the back of your neck and temples, massage it in, and wait a few minutes until your headache lessens.

Hair of the dog

Contrary to popular belief, more of the “hair of the dog that bit you” only delays the inevitable. One of the reasons hangovers are so unpleasant is the liver is still processing the toxins left over from alcohol metabolism. Drinking more alcohol can make the symptoms seem to lessen at first but will only make the situation worse once the liver breaks the alcohol down, because it will have even more toxins to deal with.

The next day, try to get straight back to your regular healthy diet.

Many people crave high sugar and high salt foods after a night of drinking and this is a common symptom of adrenal gland exhaustion. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is very stressful to your body and it depletes your body of  vitamins and minerals; particularly B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium.

Major types of alcohol and their effects

  • Beer
    Beer has the lowest percentage of alcohol (2.4 to 6 percent).
  • Wine
    Wine has a higher percentage of alcohol (7 to 15 percent) than beer. White wine is safer than red or blush because it has fewer congeners. In general, the cheaper the wine, the higher the congener content and the worse the hangover.
  • Liquor
    Liquor has the highest alcohol content (30 to 95 percent) and therefore increases the likelihood of a hangover. Clear liquors like vodka, rum and gin are safer than dark or sweet liquors like bourbon, scotch or tequila because they have fewer congeners. Generally, cheaper liquor will result in a worse hangover than more expensive liquor.

How quickly does the blood alcohol level rise and fall?

Once alcohol enters your stomach, up to 20% of it can be absorbed from there and go directly into your bloodstream. Within minutes, alcohol will reach your brain and give the feeling of being a stimulant. No other nutrient is able to do this. The remaining alcohol goes to your small intestines and is absorbed there. A small amount of alcohol is excreted through sweat, saliva, urine, and your breath, which is how it is detected by a Breathalyzer.

When you drink alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will rise rapidly. Within five minutes of having a drink, there’s enough alcohol in your blood to measure. The BAC is determined by how quickly alcohol is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted. You are legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 in the U.S. (the BAC in Australia is 0.05).

The consumption of one standard drink will result in a peak in BAC within 35 to 45 minutes. A 150-pound person with normal liver function metabolizes about 7 to 14 grams of alcohol per hour. This is comparable to 8 to 12 ounces of beer. These figures are indicative of the BAC in the U.S.

Controlling the rate of consumption will give your liver time to metabolize the alcohol and limit your BAC. Once you stop drinking, your blood alcohol level decreases by about 0.01% per hour.

Time is the only way to eliminate alcohol from your system, so cold showers and coffee will not sober you up!

What are the adverse side effects of alcohol excess?

  • Dehydration
    The morning of the hangover you will have symptoms of dehydration – such as extremely dry mouth, headaches, fatigue and a foggy brain. The dehydrated brain shrinks in size and pulls on the membranes that connect the brain to the skull; this causes the headache pain.
  • Loss of minerals
    Minerals such as potassium and magnesium are lost in the urine and this affects the nerves and muscles leading to headaches, dizziness, palpitations and nausea.
  • Unstable blood sugar levels
    Alcohol disrupts the liver’s store of glycogen and blood sugar (glucose) levels become more unstable as a result; this can cause mental fogginess, headaches, cravings for sugar and light headedness. This is especially dangerous in diabetics who may experience dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels that could even lead to loss of consciousness or convulsions.
  • Stomach irritation
    Because alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach, the cells lining the stomach become irritated and this may cause vomiting. This can lessen hangover symptoms because vomiting gets rid of the alcohol in the stomach and reduces the number of toxins the liver has to deal with.

As I said, drinking too much alcohol is not good for you, but if you’re going to do it every now and then, there are smarter ways to go about it.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.


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