Barrington, IL - A sip of bubbly here, a glass of egg nog there. Drinking too much at a holiday party can make you feel like you were hit by a truck. Anyone who has taken a few too many sips of an alcoholic beverage knows the aftermath quite well. A pounding headache, nausea and exhaustion are all telltale signs of a killer hangover.
But why do we get a hangover in the first place? Dr. Tracy Quinn, a family medicine physician at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. Ill., explains why hangovers make us feel so miserable.
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"A hangover is essentially a build-up of acetaldehyde, which is a toxin in the liver," says Dr. Quinn. "When drinking too much, the liver can't produce enough glutathione, a compound that contains the amino acid L-cysteine, to combat it. Cysteine breaks down acetaldehyde into water and carbon dioxide, which is then flushed out of the body as urine."
After conducting a quick online search, it's quite easy to find numerous hangover remedies as well as a laundry list of various elixirs to purchase over the Internet.
"Hangovers make you feel horrible because alcohol is toxic," Dr. Quinn explains. "Scientifically, nothing has been shown to 'cure' a hangover, but there are a few tips to help nurse the pain. The bottom line is that the best way to avoid a hangover is to stay away from alcohol entirely."
If it's too late for that, Dr. Quinn recommends the following tips to help you recover:
1. Sleep, sleep, sleep.
Most hangovers are over after eight to 24 hours.
2. Flush your system.
Alcohol is dehydrating, and when you are dehydrated; your body is depleted of potassium and sodium, which is why you have that achy "hit by a truck" feeling the next morning. Try to replenish your body with lots of fluids. Drink water or drinks that are heavy in electrolytes, such as sports drinks or coconut water.
3. Take aspirin or ibuprofen the next morning for a headache but not acetaminophen (Tylenol). Acetaminophen is processed by your liver that has just taken a hit from your overdrinking.
4. Avoid caffeine.
Caffeine, like alcohol, is a diuretic, which can further dehydrate your body after drinking, making the headache much worse. Drink extra water if you're going to reach for a cup of coffee, tea or an energy drink.
5. Skip the 'hair of the dog.'
While that Bloody Mary or extra pint of beer with breakfast the next morning sounds like a rallying move, more alcohol means more dehydration, meaning a worse hangover.
6. Have a snack.
Bland foods, such as toast and crackers, can help boost blood sugar and settle your stomach. Eating chicken noodle or bouillon soups, which are loaded with sodium and potassium, can help you feel better. Foods and drinks that contain fructose, such as honey, apples, berries or fruit juice, as well as vitamin C and B can also help metabolize alcohol.
Dr. Quinn says to keep in mind that the body has an amazing capacity to heal on its own. "In the end, the most effective treatment for a hangover is time."