Advice for those seeking to ‘enjoy’ a drink over the festive season

I was interested to read about a study published recently which charted the vast number of sick days taken off in Australia due to hangovers. A study published in Medical Journal of Australia found that 2.6 million ‘sickies’ were taken in 2001 because of booze. The estimated cost to employers is some 473 million Australian dollars ($370 M US, 280 M euros, �£190 M) per annum. It seems that there’s a very real price to pay for having one or two too many.

What I found interesting about this study is that it challenged the stereotypical image of hangover sufferers as hard-drinking. Actually, the bulk of sick days were taken by what are classed as ‘light’ or ‘moderate’ drinkers. The authors of the study suggest that this is because there are more moderate than big drinkers out there. This is plausible, of course. but there’s another explanation too. One reason that individuals may not drink much is because, quite simply, they can’t. Some people do not tolerate alcohol well, and can find themselves getting hung-over without pushing the boat out much at all.

Seeing that many of us will be deep into the festive season, I thought I’d dedicate today’s blog to some simple strategies that can be used to protect ourselves from the thick head and general grogginess that can come after some social drinking.

One way to reduce the toxic shock alcohol can induce in the body is to name our poison with some care. Some alcoholic beverages such as port, brandy and cheap red wine tend to be loaded with substances called ‘congeners’ that are believed to contribute to hangovers. Quality wines will be relatively free of these congeners. As far as beer goes, it may pay to opt for German varieties such as Holsten and Becks: the lacing of these beers with potentially toxic additives is strictly verboten. Of the spirits, vodka’s pure nature makes it generally the best choice for those seeking to minimise the chances of a hangover.

Matching each alcoholic drink with a glass of water is another prime tool for reducing internal toxicity as it helps to dilute alcohol and other toxins in the system, as well as speed their elimination from the body. Water also combats the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Those seeking a simple but effective way of diluting alcohol’s impact on the body should just add water.

Alcohol tends to cause quite brisk release of sugar into the bloodstream, though this can cause blood sugar levels to come crashing down some time later. Sugar lows can disrupt sleep and can contribute to the pounding head and feelings of fatigue that can come with a hangover. I recommend downing a fruit smoothie or perhaps some tomato juice before collapsing into bed as this may help maintain blood sugar levels throughout the night and aid restful sleep. More of the same in the morning may help to restore sugar levels and help with rehydration too.

Because alcohol and congeners are detoxified in the liver, another approach to preventing hangovers is to support this organ in its house-clearing duties. The herb Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is renowned for its ability stimulate and protect the liver, and taking this even just a few hours before drinking can genuinely buy some grace. For those prone to hangovers, my advice would be to take Milk thistle from now right through the festive season. The active ingredient in Milk thistle is a group of compounds known collectively as ‘silymarin’. I recommend taking 500 mg of this each day.

In practice, I have found these simple tips are highly effective for allowing individuals to enjoy a drink without it causing serious impairment to their enjoyment the next day.

One Response to Advice for those seeking to ‘enjoy’ a drink over the festive season

  1. Tiggy 31 March 2007 at 12:38 am #

    Gin is also good for not getting hangovers, esp. if you have a lot of tonic with it.

    So milk thistle really does help the liver then? I thought not enough valid tests had been done to be sure. I wanted to recommend it to someone with liver cirrhosis (from Hep C), but I didn’t like to in case it wasn’t a valid treatment.


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