Eat, drink, and be wary

'Tis the season to be jolly - and pay the price the morning after. Clare Dwyer Hogg offers advice on avoiding the hangover from hell
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Christmas means having a party – or several – and parties invariably involve the drinking of alcohol. Not many of us, if we're honest, will consider keeping the season alcohol free, but does this mean the festive weeks will be overshadowed by blinding headaches and blurred vision? Not quite. Don't be resigned to post-alcohol misery just yet – there are ways and means of limiting the damage.

Government reports this week have shown that female alcohol consumption alone is expected to rise by 30 per cent between 1999 and 2004, and the Department of Health is rethinking its approach to alcohol strategies. But now, as Christmas approaches, it seems partygoers may need a few strategies of their own.

Ian Marber, the co-founder of The Food Doctor Nutrition Clinic in London, gives his advice about alcohol on the assumption that people will certainly overindulge. "We're not talking about two glasses of wine here," he acknowledges, "so when thinking about this subject, you have to live in the real world."

Living in the real world, then, means making the morning-after suffering less horrific than it might be. And if that's the name of the game, it helps to be prepared. Marber advises: "Before you go out, make sure to have something to eat." This may sound obvious, but – as he points out – the office-party phenomenon often means that people rush straight to the event from work and end up drinking large quantities of alcohol without anything substantial in their stomachs to soak it up.

Marber concedes that when he's offering advice at times like these, he abandons his traditional nutritional values in favour of simply easing the consequences of drinking alcohol. "Even if you just eat a cracker with ricotta cheese or something, it makes all the difference later," he says. He also advises that you take a vitamin B complex supplement before you go.

And later, back at home, when the party's over and the tiredness is just beginning to hit, what should drinkers do to keep their insides happy? Marber advocates sugar. "Although I'm generally not a fan of it," he says, "I definitely recommend that when you get home from a big night out you have a glass of diluted juice, and keep one by your bed."

It is important to make sure that glucose levels in the bloodstream are replenished, as drinking alcohol leads to the absorption of a large amount of simple carbohydrates into the bloodstream. When glucose levels are lowered, the body releases adrenalin to combat this: unfortunately, this process is likely to kick in just a few hours into your drunken slumber, jolting the sleeper from unconsciousness straight into a wide-awake state, with the heart pumping and too much time to think about the antics of the night before.

Of course, the likelihood is that the majority of drinkers may well forget to have dinner or take their supplements before starting to knock back the cocktails. If this is the case, it is unlikely that you'll have time – or the presence of mind – to pop out to buy a quick herbal remedy during the party, so utilise the simplest of remedies – water. Penny Povey, the head herbalist at Farmacia Urban Healing, stresses the importance of this most natural of substances. She suggests that drinkers should have one glass of water for every drink of alcohol, although she readily admits that most people will not follow that course of action. "It is difficult to do, so if you can't, try at least to drink three glasses of water throughout the night," she says.

If a party goes on a long time – from 6pm to 2am, say – that's a large amount of dehydration waiting to happen. Povey points to dehydration as the main culprit in bad hangover experiences. Although if you get caught up in the party frenzy and drinking water somehow slips your mind, there are a few other last-minute options she can recommend. "The night's drinking will have meant that your body has lost essential electrolytes, so before you go to bed have some milk or Lucozade to replace them." Or, if you prefer a ready-made medicinal-sounding mixture, Povey recommends Emergen-c packets, which contain potassium and a variety of other electrolytes. "Take one before you go to sleep – which will start the processes working – and then one when you wake up." This way, it is to be hoped, the nausea will have started to dissipate by the time you awake bleary-eyed the next day.

If the first waves of nausea do strike as you greet the cold light of morning, there's not much you can do. There's no need to feel depressed as well as hung over, though; try peppermint or ginger tea to calm the discomfort and make sure to eat a breakfast. Beware the old traditions, however, and steer clear of a fried breakfast even though your body will be craving carbohydrates. "Avoid the fry-up. You don't want a greasy breakfast, because your body is already under attack from the alcohol of the night before," Povey says.

This doesn't mean being reduced to munching on a dry Ryvita and sipping carrot juice, however. "Have scrambled eggs and toast," she suggests, "along with orange juice for the sugar content. Protein and carbohydrates settle things." That's the kind of advice sufferers welcome.

The kind of advice they don't want to hear, however, could be the best. Exercise – anathema for the hung-over – is supposed to be one of the best remedies. The lymphatics that run alongside the blood vessels become sluggish if toxins become stored there, which contributes to the overall fuzzy feeling the day after a party tends to bring. If lymphatics are pushed into working through exercise, however, the immune system is boosted, which in turn helps get rid of toxins. Povey recommends that "even if you can manage a blast of fresh air for 30 minutes, it really helps." This may be a little too much for the dedicated Christmas drinker, for whom the age-old Alka Seltzer and sofa cure seems the easiest option, but if you find yourself falling too easily into this category, perhaps you should venture out a little this season.

One remedy that comes highly recommended is the herb Milk Thistle, which moderates liver enzymes: particularly useful at this time of year, as livers become inflamed and their enzymes become overactive. Ideally, you should start taking it a couple of weeks before Christmas and continue until after New Year for it to have its full effect, so if you can plan ahead, it's a good precautionary measure.

The unfortunate rule of hangovers, of course, is that a quick cure simply does not exist. Perhaps a little bit of forward planning can minimise the post-party pain this year. If not, wisdom with hindsight is always a good idea for next year's celebrations.

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