by Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, the W.D. and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine at UTMB.
Though most of my readers assure me they are people of moderation when it comes to drinking, the holidays can sometimes be challenging.
Many of my patients report that they drink alcohol only over the holidays. Whether you are a regular drinker or an occasional one, the holidays are rife with risks for immoderation and along with this the suffering of hangovers.
A hangover is like a stern parent, chastising us for our mistakes the night before.
If there is any benefit to a hangover, it is to remind us to be more careful with our alcohol intake. There is nothing like a bad headache, stomach pain, muscle aches and a really bad attitude to remind us that no matter how much fun we had last night, we and those around us are paying a price today.
A hangover is a combination of dehydration and the direct toxic effects of alcohol on our liver, brain, muscles, stomach and other organs. I recall a verse from Proverbs that talked about those overindulging as feeling like having been thrown around the deck of a ship all night and awakening to say, “When will we drink wine again?”
This brings us to the subject of relief for the miseries of overindulgence. Recall this is a preventable problem.
Moderate alcohol intake is evidence-based to improve health. But don’t tell that to someone who awakes with a head the size of their recliner and a bad stomach ache that reduces them to a moaning, fatigued, useless human being for the day.
For regular drinkers who overpour from time to time, none of this will be new information. The occasional or seasonal drinker may need some direction.
“The hair of the dog that bit ya” is perhaps the oldest remedy of treating a hangover by taking more of what caused it in the first place. Paradoxically, a beer, glass of wine, or shot of liquor can help reduce the pain and suffering of a hangover. Analgesics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also be helpful, though doses over 4 grams in a day can worsen liver damage. Ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Alleve) can also be helpful but likewise can aggravate stomach or liver damage caused by drinking. Buffered aspirin may be safer and more helpful.
A more natural approach is drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic drink. This is because much of the hangover syndrome is due to dehydration.
Even if you want an ice-cold beer after a day fishing or other favorite activity, some water will help reduce your risk of hangover.
This helps your body recover from fluids lost through sweat and exertion.
Drinking lots of water after overindulging can be very helpful to recovery. Waking up with a raging thirst is a cue that your body needs fluids. Orange juice or other fruit juices can help replace low sugar and potassium levels and fluids lost from overindulging.
Keep some food in your stomach while you are drinking, as alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach and food can slow this process.
Some practical treatments include Tums, Maalox, Zantac, Pepcid and other fast-acting antacids to take the ache and nausea out of the gut.
Ginger as a tea or pill can also be helpful for stomach issues. Umeboshi plums, available at Asian markets and health food stores, are long reputed to cure hangovers.
Turmeric can ease headaches associated with hangovers, and mints such as peppermint and spearmint as teas can also ease stomach symptoms.
Milk thistle is a proven botanical to reduce the negative influence of alcohol on the liver. B vitamins are depleted with chronic use of alcohol, which can lead to neurological problems. Take a high potency B complex after drinking.
Bananas soothe the stomach and help replace potassium and magnesium lost after alcohol intake.
A good nap is a great relief and also keeps you out of trouble with your bad breath and bad attitude around family and friends.
No one ever died from a hangover, though many have wished they had. Perhaps the best advice is to avoid overdoing it and know your limits.
This item was originally published in The Galveston County Daily News.