Ernest Hemingway swore by absinthe mixed with champagne, and Hunter S Thompson a box of poppers; more recently Nigella Lawson praised the ‘prairie oyster’ (an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, brandy and vinegar) and Cameron Diaz a beer and an Egg McMuffin.
Hangover cures are as various as they tend to be disgusting. But what, in this season of constant drinking and excess, really kills a hangover? And is there any more scientific solution than a Smiths of Smithfield bacon sandwich with a Bloody Mary?
To begin with, what actually is a hangover? Well, usually it’s a compound malady. First up you’re looking at dehydration. ‘When alcohol is consumed, our kidneys flush the system, essentially trying to get rid of the booze,’ explains nutritionist, naturopath and CEO of Psycle, Rhian Stephenson. By itself, this loss of water and electrolytes can make you feel dizzy and fatigued.
Then you’re looking at a kind of poisoning. When alcohol reaches the liver it is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. Unhappily for us, says Stephenson, one of the key compounds it is broken into is ‘acetaldehyde, which is up to 30 times more toxic than the alcohol itself: high levels can cause sweating, pain, nausea and vomiting’.
As quickly as it can, the body then tries to break this down again, using a different enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, and the powerful antioxidant glutathione. ‘Together, this powerful detox duo can break down the acetaldehyde into harmless acetate (which is similar to vinegar, and easily excreted by the body),’ continues nutritionist Gabriela Peacock. ‘However, when you drink too much, you run through your stores of glutathione. This means acetaldehyde is not metabolised but builds up, causing the toxic hangover effect.’
Lastly, ‘alcohol provokes an inflammatory response in your body, in which your immune system is triggered [by all those negronis] to fire off agents that provoke hangover symptoms including muscle aches, irritation, memory problems and trouble concentrating.
So far, so depressing. But while the healthy dream would be an early night with a ginger tea, there are things that will vastly mitigate your hangover symptoms.hot A shot containing ginger and cayenne to fight inflammation, and lemon and vitamin C and pain relief. Ideally taken with a charcoal shot, as the charcoal binds to toxins. £3 at purearth.co.uk or Gail’s Bakeries
For me, the usual advice on pre-tox preparations rather misses the point. Many of the loudest hangovers come from nights that begin with ‘just a quick one’. As for evenings when there’s an actual, planned party, it may be that a rich and fibrous meal will help to line the stomach (the stomach absorbs 25 per cent of the alcohol we drink). But said meal doesn’t dovetail with my preferred Christmas outfits of laced-up corset/catsuit/not-much-more-than-tinsel. However, for those of you bang on the outsize trend, fill up on proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats (a chicken kebab) before you fill your boots.
As you hit the bar, you might consider avoiding congeners — nasty little byproducts from alcohol fermentation ‘thought to make a hangover more aggressive’, says Stephenson. ‘Some drinks naturally have more congeners, like bourbon, whisky and red wine; they’re also added to poor quality alcohol, which is why hangovers can be worse when we opt for the cheap stuff.’ Happily, clear spirits tend not to have them, viz the clean-living A-lister preference for vodka and silver tequila (Gwyneth, for example, loves a margarita — she muddles hers with cucumber, obvs).
Clearly, you’ll match each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. And of course you’ll avoid mixing, as it’s harder for the liver to clear multiple different alcohols.
And yet, here you are waking up with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse in your head and Oscar the Grouch stirring the garbage can of your guts. What to do?
Immediately, you should hydrate. Here you’re looking for liquid and electrolytes. Stephenson suggests antioxidant-rich grapefruit juice with some sea salt in a glass of water; failing that try for coconut water, or at a pinch, a cold can of Sprite (which Chinese researchers have found help make the various liver enzymes that metabolise alcohol).
Once you’ve levered yourself vertical, ‘there’s something to be said for the classic fry up when it comes to hangovers’, says nutritional therapist and author of Be Good to Your Gut, Eve Kalinik. ‘Not so much the really greasy ones, but go for organic eggs and pasture-raised bacon, sourdough and avocado. Eggs and bacon are a great source of amino acids that will clear out excess acetaldehyde; avocados are rich in glutathione and sourdough is a fermented food, which for most people is easier on the digestion than other breads, and can support beneficial gut bacteria.’
If you want a further boost, or if food simply isn’t happening, then look to Gabriela Peacock’s miracle cure: Clean Me. One in her series of supplement packages (including Restore Me for fatigue and Enhance Me for healthy hair and skin), Clean Me is designed to support immune and liver function. While it is designed to be taken over a 14-day period, it is also an amazing morning after pick-me-up.
‘The ideal is to keep some in your handbag; take some in the evening while drinking and some more in the morning,’ explains Peacock, whose devotees include James Blunt and Millie Mackintosh. Clean Me’s pills and powders contain the key ingredients to help the body synthesise more glutathione — for example, the B vitamins and also zinc — as well as master antioxidant vitamin C, and clarifying derivatives of broccoli and wheatgrass. ‘Living in London, your liver will constantly be detoxifying your body from pollution, and hence needs all the support you can give it. You simply cannot eat enough of these wonder nutrients, particularly at this time of the year, so you need to supplement.’
If you want to make like Rihanna, you might consider an IV drip. This Christmas, Get a Drip is running an on-demand service: book them and they will visit you with, for example, their Party Drip. A 30-45-minute drip can include anything from electrolytes, B vitamins and glutathione, to painkillers and anti-nausea medication.
What else? Neurologists at Harvard have found that taking ibuprofen during or straight after drinking will reduce your damaging inflammatory response. And, also in the States, former Tesla engineer Sisun Lee has created ‘Morning Recovery’. Based on a traditional Korean remedy using an extract from the Oriental raisin tree, the drink was launched with much fanfare in July, since when he claims to have sold $1 million worth.
Finally, try the traditional sweat it out method. You need to be cautious not to exacerbate dehydration, affirms Stephenson. But if you’ve replenished your electrolytes then go for it. ‘Hands down the best exercise is cardio: it will increase circulation and respiration and enable you to expel toxins through breath and sweat.’
One day soon all this may be outdated. Professor David Nutt (former government drugs advisor and professor at Imperial College) has created a synthetic alcohol — alcosynth — that he claims mimics the positive effects of drinking, without any of the bad ones; he is currently raising the money to fund the last round of safety studies. But until then, drink, be merry and go to bed with some nurofen and salted grapefruit juice.
Original article published in Evening Standard Magazine, in December, 2017