Updated 17 April 2014

No need for a hangover

With a holiday break at your door step, you may be planning to indulge in the bottle. Consider these preventative steps to avoid a holiday of headaches and hangovers.


It's common knowledge that drinking after eating slows the rate of alcohol absorption and that the best way to prevent a hangover, is to alternate champagne with water or at least soft drinks.

Women have to accept that they have less tolerance to alcohol than men - at least until menopause. A woman's tolerance of alcohol is reduced at the time of menstruation, and throughout her reproductive years she will absorb alcohol faster - and therefore become drunk quicker - but metabolise it less well, and so sober up more slowly. To some extent, women get their revenge after the menopause, when their oestrogen/testosterone balance is more like a male's.

Furthermore, the type of alcohol you consume affects your chances of a hangover. Fermentation and ageing of alcoholic beverages produce more than ethanol - the type of alcohol that gets the blame for hangovers.

Substances called "congeners" magnify the effects of alcohol. These non-alcoholic substances are the by-products of fermentation and distillation. They contribute to the taste, aroma and colour of wines and spirits.

Congeners cause much of the toxic reaction the morning after. Scientific studies show that brandy and bourbon cause the most problems, followed by red wine, sherry, Scotch whisky, beer, white wine and gin. Vodka, which isn't aged, contributes the least to hangovers.

Other useful tips to be employed before the big night, includes eating a few raw almonds or a peanut butter sandwich to prevent intoxication.

What to do if you've gone overboard

A few common household products can probably do the trick if you haven't complied with the above-mentioned proactive steps:

  • Tomatoes: probably the reason why the Bloody Mary has been known to be a popular remedy.
  • Chicken soup: grandma's old favourite, chicken soup, seems to work as well for hangovers as it does for colds.
  • Honey: take 2-6 teaspoonfuls of honey every twenty minutes upon awaking, depending on the severity of the hangover. Continue with the honey until you start to feel better, then take four teaspoonfuls with your first meal. The potassium in the honey helps counteract the effects of the alcohol and will decrease the cravings for it. Pair the honey with a banana, and you'll get a further potassium boost.
  • Persimmon/raw cabbage: eat a raw persimmon or cabbage to relieve the headache.
  • Sauerkraut juice: drink sauerkraut juice with some tomato juice if you don't like it straight. These drinks replace lost nutrients.

Scientific studies also suggest that taking vitamin B6 and the amino acid cysteine assist the body in getting rid of the toxins produced by alcohol. It's important to note that you should never take more than 50mg of vitamin B6 because high doses are toxic to the nerve cells.

As is evident, a myriad of cures and pick-me-ups exist and although they hold merit, the truth of the matter is that there's no quick cure. The alcohol needs to be worked through your system and be metabolised. Furthermore, you're suffering mostly from dehydration, and if you didn't drink enough water while partying the night before, only time is going to help you.

Read more:
Hit that hangover
Alcohol guide to blocking hangovers

(Health24, updated April 2014)


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Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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