4 Steps To Beat Your Hangover This Weekend
By Tyler Woodward
Love going out, but tired of Saturday Hangover's and Sunday Scaries? Kiss your hangovers goodbye with this 4-step guide to beat your hangovers.
- Working Backwards - Understand What Causes A Hangover to Understand How To Avoid It
- The Game Plan - How To Structure Your Night To Save Your Morning
The 4 Parts Of A Hangover:
In order to understand how to not be hungover, we have to understand what causes us to be hungover. The hangover, also known as veisalgia (who would’ve known), consists of 4 parts:
- Dehydration -
- Toxic Waste Production -
- Immune system/ inflammatory response -
- Glutamine rebound -
Alcohol, like many toxins, is mainly processed by the liver. So when we consume alcohol it enters our bloodstream and remains there until our liver is able to process/break down the alcohol. The amount of alcohol in our bloodstream is known as our BAC or blood alcohol content, which will vary depending on the amount of alcohol that we drink and our body’s ability to process alcohol.
When our BAC is high enough and the alcohol reaches our pituitary gland within the brain it blocks the release of vasopressin. Vasopressin is an antidiuretic hormone, meaning that it reduces the amount of water we release when we urinate. This is the phenomenon you have likely heard called, “breaking the seal”, and causes us to pee much more frequently when drinking alcohol. Although you are consuming more liquid than normal when you drink, the issue is that it is not proportional to the amount of liquid we expel. It is currently believed that for every 250mL of alcohol we drink, we expel about 800 -1,000mL of water, so 1:4 ratio of liquid lost to liquid gained. This leads to severe dehydration as we continue to drink.
It’s also very important to note that dehydration not only leads to a loss of water, but also many electrolytes like salt, potassium, and magnesium which further increases our dehydrated state.
Dehydration causes the body-ache and headache associated with hangovers. As our body runs out of water and electrolytes it begins to pull from its own water stores to distribute the water to areas deemed essential. This results in water being pulled from our skin, muscle tissue, brain, ect,. When the brain is severely dehydrated it literally shrinks in size and pulls on the structures that connect the brain to the skull, often resulting in headaches and for some people a sensitivity to light. This is the same reason that your muscles may feel weak or achy after drinking and look more vascular/dehydrated.
2. Toxic Waste Production -
In order to metabolize or break down alcohol your liver must convert alcohol into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is actually a more harmful substance than the alcohol itself because it is so unstable. When acetaldehyde is left to itself it will oxidize forming free radicals which are associated with a ton of health consequences and diseases including oxidative stress, inflammation, aging and cancer. Our liver is able to break down acetaldehyde by using the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and the antioxidant glutathione, resulting in the formation of a nontoxic substance known as acetate. The issue comes into play when our liver runs out of glutathione and is therefore unable to break down any more acetaldehyde, and whatever acetaldehyde remains will cause stress and damage to the body. Women naturally produce less glutathione and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase which is believed to be part of the reason they may experience worse and longer hangovers.
Interestingly enough, many people of East Asian descent experience a phenomenon known as “Asian Glow” which causes their face to turn red when drinking alcohol. This is because they have a mutation in their genes that causes them to naturally produce high amounts of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, but they often produce less glutathione than most people. This results in alcohol being converted into acetaldehyde faster, but the acetaldehyde lasts longer due to the lack of glutathione.
Alcohol consumption also increases the production of stomach acid which isn’t inherently bad, but in excess may cause you to vomit or be nauseous the morning after.
3. Immune System Overload -
After drinking the immune system can often be in overdrive, resulting in high levels of inflammation. This is likely caused by stress that alcohol places on the liver and gut. As stated before, if your liver runs out of glutathione any excess acetaldehyde produced from alcohol will result in systemic (the system, aka the body) inflammation. Additionally, alcohol makes the lining of the intestines more permeable (allows larger molecules to pass through) which may contribute to more endotoxin (“bad” bacteria) being able to enter the bloodstream and causing inflammation. Lastly, the result of the shift in water distribution to the liver and gut, likely results in more oxidative stress and inflammation in the surrounding organs and tissues.
4. The Glutamine Rebound -
When we drink alcohol we stop producing the natural stimulant, glutamine. After our body has finished digesting the alcohol we consumed (typically in the middle of the night), our body begins to ramp back up its glutamine production to compensate for the lack of glutamine produced during the alcohol consumption. The increased glutamine production results in the poor sleep quality and next-day fatigue that is associated with hangovers because it prevents us from reaching our deepest levels of sleep (or at least as much as normal). The glutamine rebound is also associated with causing anxiety, restlessness, and increased blood pressure experienced during a hangover.
It is also much more common to snore after heavy drinking, especially in people who already snore. This is believed to be due to the depressant nature of alcohol causing some of the muscles controlling your airways in either your nose, mouth, or throat to become relaxed and close, inhibiting air flow. This also contributes to poor sleep quality from drinking.
Read More: The Last Guide You'll Ever Need For Sleep
Tolerance - Why Can Some People Drink More?:
Most scientists today believe tolerance is made up of primarily two aspects:
- It's Mental - The more you drink the more your body becomes accustomed to drinking and being drunk. Tolerance in this regard is basically a skill, you literally become better at drinking and handling yourself while drunk.
- Genetics - As we know now, many east Asians produce extra alcohol dehydrogenase, but not enough glutathione to match. Some people on the other hand will have better "genetics" to drink, meaning they naturally produce more of both alcohol dehydrogenase and glutathione and likely can also store more.
Theory - Our cells are readily capable of adapting to stressors in their environment (our body), so it makes a lot of sense that the body's (or really the cells) of frequent and chronic alcohol drinkers are capable of adapting to the increased alcohol consumption. By naturally increasing its glutathione and alcohol dehydrogenase storage and production over time, the body improves its ability to handle and process alcohol.
If you're interested in hearing more about how we've been taught biology backwards, that our environment actually dictates which of our genes get "turned on and off" make sure to check out my article, "Evolution: The Story Of The Cell"
The Game Plan - How To Beat Your Hangover:
In order to conquer your hangover let’s break down a typical night out into four separate parts:
- The Pre-Game (Before drinking)
- Game Time (Drinking)
- The Post-Game (After drinking)
- The Morning After
You’ve likely been recommended to eat prior to going out and for good reason. Eating before going out can help to slow the digestion of alcohol, but also helps to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to break down alcohol. Here is my pre-game advice recommendation that will keep you off the couch tomorrow: Consume a well-balanced meal of some proteins, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium.
- Sodium - Consuming some extra salt prior to drinking can help to negate some of the effects of dehydration by supplying your body with additional electrolytes. So, make sure to throw on some extra salt to your meal.
- Fats - I highly recommend consuming fats from a saturated fat source like those found in grass-fed meats, butter, or dairy products. This isn’t because saturated fats do anything special, but because polyunsaturated fats do way more harm. Like the toxic byproduct of alcohol, acetaldehyde, polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable in our body due to our high internal body temperature. The highly unstable acetaldehyde molecule will react with polyunsaturated fats in our blood stream resulting in even more oxidative stress and inflammation occurring in the body. The less polyunsaturated fats we consume, the less available for acetaldehyde to interact with.
- Carbohydrates - Consuming some form of carbohydrates will help to keep your blood sugar levels high as you consume alcohol. When we consume alcohol it can inhibit your liver's ability to release glucagon. Glucagon is the hormone responsible for signaling to your cells to break down their glycogen stores (stored energy) due to the lack of blood sugar available. If our blood sugar becomes low and glucagon isn’t released, our cells are basically running on empty. It’s also highly beneficial to consume fructose which is processed directly by the liver and converted into glycogen. Replenishing the glycogen stores in your liver prior to drinking ensures that your liver is primed and ready-to-go for the alcohol detoxification. My personal recommendation is organic Orange juice, which also happens to be a great source of Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant. Additionally, consuming a starch like potatoes or rice will help to keep your blood sugar levels up for longer compared to simple sugars like glucose or fructose.
- Protein - I recommend trying to consume protein that is rich in the anti-inflammatory amino acids glycine and taurine . Glycine in particular has been shown to exhibit protective effects on the liver and also coincidentally (or not) is one of the three amino acid precursors to glutathione (the antioxidant necessary to break down acetaldehyde). Glycine is found in very high doses in collagen powder, bone broth, gelatin and can also be found in moderate doses in meats, dairy and some seafoods.
If you want to ensure that you are getting enough glycine in before going out, make sure to check out our zuCollagen and zuBroth supplements. These are arguably the highest quality proteins on the market and are sourced from New Zealand grass-fed, grass-finished organic beef. The unflavored collagen is great to put in coffee, smoothies or even juice, the broth is an unreal seasoning and also can be drank by itself, and my personal favorite the chocolate collagen is a great addition to coffee, milkshakes, and hot chocolate.
- Avoid “Sugary” Drinks - You’ve likely heard this one before, but it’s actually a misconception. The drinks we often associate with the worst hangovers are the most sugary drinks, but the most sugary drinks like wine, rum, and brandy also tend to have the highest content of congeners. Congeners are additives that are placed in certain alcohols in order to produce the desired look and taste. They are most commonly found in darker-colored alcohols. When we consume congeners we are basically doubling down the load placed on our liver in terms of detoxification because not only does our liver have to process the alcohol we’re drinking, but all the congener additives.
- Mix & Chase With Juices - This may seem like it’s contradicting the last rule, but remember it’s not the sugar that is actually causing your hangovers, rather the congeners that are in these sugary drinks. According to Dr. Raymond Peat, fructose can accelerate the oxidation (breakdown of alcohol), increase oxygen consumption in our cells (=increased metabolism), and prevents oxidative stress from alcohol. In fact, the study shown above found that diluting (mixing) ethanol (pure alcohol) with orange juice resulted in no hangover! You really can’t go wrong with any fruit juice or even beet juice, but orange and pineapple juice may have a leg up due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Consume High Quality Alcohols - Ensure that the alcohol you are drinking does not contain any additives or congeners.
- Avoid Gluten - Gluten is a large insoluble protein that when digested causes inflammation in our intestinal tract and increases the amount of inflammation in our body as a whole. Some people can’t consume gluten at all, others are “intolerant”, while many people seem unaffected, but regardless of your gluten status it’s best to avoid gluten if you’re trying to minimize your hangover.
Here is a list of alcohols I recommend for minimizing your hangover:
- Organic ciders or wines
- Gluten-free beer (if you don’t have an issue with gluten, regular beer can be fine)
- 100% agave tequila
- High-quality Vodka, rum or gin (preferably that was distilled in potatoes or fruit, which ensures that it is gluten free).
It’s not a coincidence that your body craves greasy, salty food while drinking as it’s probably one of the best post-game meals you can have. I recommend making sure that you stick with saturated fats for the reasons we stated before and don’t consume a lot of protein after drinking as this can just place extra stress on the liver. After that just throw some extra salt on whatever greasy goods you choose to eat and have at it.
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck in terms of preventing a hangover, you’re going to want to consume foods that are high in the vitamins used to process alcohol. These are the b vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Going along this idea, here are some recommendations:
- Red Meat - high in zinc and B3, B6, and B12 vitamins
- Shellfish - high in zinc
- Bananas - Rich in B6, potassium, zinc and magnesium
- Dairy - Rich in vitamin B12, calcium
- Eggs - Great sources of the B Vitamins and choline (vitamin J)
- Dark Chocolate - Very high in magnesium, contains some zinc and is loaded with antioxidants
- Avocados - Great source of magnesium, and the B vitamins
- Fruits - Generally a good sources of vitamins and high in antioxidants
If you’re feeling like having a hearty meal maybe opt for an omelette with some cheese and avocado. If you’re in the mood for something sweet go for a banana split with some fruit and dark chocolate chips.
I also recommend consuming some form of juice prior to going to bed. Overnight, after drinking, our blood sugar levels can drop because our liver is using all of its stored energy (glycogen) to process the alcohol instead of fueling the rest of the cells in the body. By consuming some juice that is high in fructose you’re going to directly supply your liver with additional energy and glucose will be directly absorbed by your cells. Juice is also a great way to rehydrate your body, but adding in an extra glass of water or an electrolyte-filled drink like pedialyte definitely won’t hurt.
Lastly, if you want to go the extra mile to ensure you that you’re not hungover there are a couple of supplements that can help:
Glutathione - Glutathione depletion while drinking is likely the biggest factor in causing hangovers. Supplementing with glutathione will replenish your glutathione stores, so your liver can break down all the toxic acetaldehyde from alcohol.
Anti-Inflammatory Supplements - bromelain (from pineapple), vitamin C, turmeric, n-acetyl cysteine or aspirin.
*Note* - Aspirin is processed by the kidney, so it’s not going to overtax your liver any more, but if you have any kidney or liver conditions it's always best to check with your doctor.
Antioxidant Supplements - Vitamin C, vitamin E, olive leaf extract
Chromium - Supplementing with chromium can help maintain your blood sugar levels throughout the night and may also help promote the release of vasopressin, keeping you more hydrated throughout the night.
Exercise - I don’t know what it is, but whenever I’m forced to walk home from a party or bar I’m significantly less hungover. It might have half to do with staying awake for longer and allowing your body to process more alcohol, or maybe walking just kicks your body into overdrive, but for whatever reason this extra step seems to go a long way for me.
The Morning After:
Hopefully, after following these steps, the morning after is your victory lap because you woke up feeling fine. Let's be honest though, binge drinking large amounts of alcohol even after taking all these steps takes a toll on the body. Following these steps is designed to help minimize the damage, so ideally you don't wake up nearly as hungover and recover as fast as possible.
I also won't lie to you, once you're hungover it's pretty much a sunk cost and a race against time until your body is able to regenerate and feel normal again. But if you are hurting in the morning here are a few tips to hopefully help perk you up and potentially heal yourself faster:
- Take an Aspirin - This can help to fight headaches among some of the other symptoms associated with hangovers and again does not tax your liver. Also, by crushing up the aspirin and mixing it into water it is much less likely to negatively affect your stomach if you’re already nauseous.
- Drink Some Electrolytes, Water or Juice - By replenishing some of the electrolytes and mineral stores your body used last night it can help it get back to normal
- Get A Sweat On - Or in the words of my friend, “Detox to Retox”. Again this is anecdotal advice, but getting a sweat on, even if it’s just a short walk outside, seems to really help feeling better after a night of drinking. Also, be careful you are not very dehydrated at this point because exercise is just going to further dehydrate you.
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. I personally have found that these tips have significantly decreased my hangovers and hope they do the same for you. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward__. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading
Until next time… be good
B.S. Physiology and Neurobiology