by Gianne Rayandayan, Herbalist
To preface, the best hangover prevention is avoiding alcohol altogether. That being said, there are many accessible remedies we may look to for mitigating hangover symptoms!
Alcohol Metabolism: Ethanol and Acetaldehyde
Once alcohol has entered your system, your entire body works to metabolize it from your bloodstream. After a night of drinking, it is common to feel a variety of symptoms as this process happens. Ethanol-- the alcohol found in beer, wine, and liquor-- passes into the bloodstream via the stomach lining. From there, it travels to the brain, liver, kidneys, and heart, affecting key regulatory systems in the body. Low levels of ethanol in the bloodstream often create the giddy, care-free feeling commonly associated with drinking. Too much ethanol, and the body is unable to metabolize it at a fast enough rate, leading us to feel a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
Common symptoms of a hangover include:
- Elevated heart rate
- Brain fog
Your liver and various enzyme pathways convert ethanol into acetaldehyde, a toxic and carcinogenic substance. The buildup of this compound creates oxidative stress and free-radical damage at the cellular level. While one night of drinking is usually nothing to fear, there are steps we can take to minimize damage to our bodies. Boosting liver function, increasing antioxidants, rehydrating, and combating nausea, anxiety, and inflammation are all key to overcoming the uncomfortable effects of alcohol metabolism.
Liver Protection and Detoxification
NAC (N-acetyl-cisteine) plays a large part in the body’s detoxification process. It is a bioavailable amino acid and precursor to one of the body’s strongest and most abundant antioxidants: glutathione. Not only does glutathione work to neutralize the effects of free radicals, but has been shown to effectively support the liver in cases of Tylenol overdose. Our NAC capsules by Pure Encapsulations are a high-quality option for supporting cellular defense, glutathione production, and antioxidant activity.
ALA (alpha lipoic acid) is another compound that the body uses to make glutathione. Its hepatoprotective and antioxidant properties come from increasing enzyme activity required to break down acetaldehyde. These ALA tablets from Jarrow Formulas feature a quick and sustained release mechanism specially formulated to keep blood sugar imbalances and gastric irritation low. We love this for promoting glutathione and other key antioxidants!
Taking either NAC or ALA --at least 200 to 400 mg of either supplement-- 30 minutes prior to drinking can help give your body a headstart in staving off a nasty hangover. Both work synergistically with B-Vitamins, meaning their actions are improved with the addition of a B-complex supplement (more on that in a bit).
What’s more, simply eating leafy greens may help speed up your hangover recovery. Chlorophyll is the green substance found in plant cells-- its job is to convert sunlight into energy for plants to use. The benefits of chlorophyll are not only free-radical neutralizing and anti-carcinogenic, but energy-boosting as well. By way of detoxification, chlorophyll is also indirectly immune-boosting-- a necessary action as high alcohol consumption suppresses the immune system. Our Chlorophyll Capsules are made with Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), a highly nutritious herb known for its blood-cleansing and mineral properties.
Certain herbs have been shown to be specific to supporting the liver when taken preventatively. Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) and Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) are two members of the Thistle family with long-standing use as liver protectants and anti-inflammatories. Apart from stimulating liver functions, regulating bile production, and reducing oxidative stress, these herbs hold the added benefit of supporting liver cell regeneration. Choose between our Jarrow Formulas Artichoke Tablets or full-spectrum Milk Thistle Powder Capsules for supporting all-around liver function.
All toxins aside, a large cause of hangovers is dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, and too much fluid-loss can deplete the body of key nutrients and minerals. Consuming minerals and B-vitamins are a great way to replenish the body’s fluid levels after a few rounds of drinks! Vitamins B1 through B6 in particular have been shown to be helpful in reducing hangover severity. What’s more, vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps further the actions of NAC, ALA, and glutathione. While nothing can replace taking in enough water, taking a B-Complex before and after a night of drinking can help to rebalance important electrolytes and fluids. Our Banana Bags feature B-vitamins like thiamine and folic acid while offering minerals like magnesium sulfate for quick electrolyte rebalancing-- no additives or preservatives, and no IV needed!
Inflammation and Nausea
So far we have covered great ways to tackle hangovers by supporting your body’s broader detoxification systems. As we move into our go-to’s for more stereotypical hangover ‘symptoms’, it is important to consider how much of the discomfort (e.g. nausea) is due to inflammation. Alcohol and acetaldehyde irritate the body’s stomach-lining, causing inflammation and increased stomach acid secretions-- all guilty culprits for nausea.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus)-- also known as Nopal--has been used in Mexico for centuries to ease a variety of ailments, including hangover treatment. What’s great is that this plant is native to San Diego County/Kumeyaay territory. Prickly Pear has been shown to be a highly effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb. Clinical research has confirmed the effectiveness of the Prickly Pear extract Tex-OE(R) for significantly relieving nausea due to gut-lining inflammation. We are excited to be carrying Source Naturals Nopal Endurance, one of the only Prickly Pear supplements to include Tex-OE in their formulation.
Another well-known nausea remedy is Ginger (Zingiber officinale). This SouthEast Asian herb boasts properties close to a panacea-- it is at once a warming digestive aid, antiemetic, antispasmodic, and immune-boosting powerhouse, while providing strong anti-inflammatory relief. The fresh root is commonly prepared as a long-simmered tea or ‘decoction’. If waiting around your stove for 30 minutes sounds unappealing, we carry convenient Chewable Ginger Tablets . Stock these in your medicine cabinet throughout the year for hangovers and general digestive complaints.
Headaches and Anxiety
Lastly, so many folks seek ways to take the edge off of hangover headaches and subsequent anxiety flare-ups.
Throbbing temples are attributable to many things we’ve covered in this post so far--acetaldehyde buildup, dehydration, and inflammation.
One prophylactic approach would be to add a Turmeric supplement like Gaia’s Curcuma NF-kB to your daily regimen. Many cultures work with Turmeric to reduce inflammation in the body, and its constituent curcumin has seen decades of successful clinical research. When taken over time, Turmeric may help prevent headaches caused by blood-vessel inflammation. It may also help ease any inflamed digestive tissue that came in contact with the ethanol itself (think esophagus, stomach, intestines).
For acute relief, our Head-Aid Liquid Extract Formula is a go-to. Fresh Ginger works with Willow Bark and Meadowsweet (Asprin’s herbal origins) in this anti-inflammatory and cooling formula. Take at the first sign of throbbing and continue every hour. A fantastic compliment to Milk Thistle and Artichoke for detox hangover headaches.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning hangover anxiety as a symptom many folks experience. ‘Hangxiety’ is described as feeling like a milder version of alcohol withdrawal-- jitters, nervousness, and irritability. For this, we love recommending Ananda’s Full-Spectrum CBD Oil Extracts which we carry in 300mg, 600mg, 1000mg, and 2000mg concentrations. CBD is a wonderful remedy for anxiety-related nervousness and body-tension. Stop by our store to browse our locally supplied CBD selections! If you want to know more, our blog post CBD 101 and FAQ offers more info on the use of cannabidiols.
As you can see, hangovers are no joke! As much as we encourage you to have fun and celebrate, your health and wellness are our highest priorities here at Remedy. We hope these suggestions provide you with the knowledge and tools to care for yourself and loved ones. Cheers, and see you in the New Year!