How you can live to fight another New Year's Eve...

As your Christmas hangover fades, you'll swear that you'll never touch another drop. But just in case your resolve weakens during the coming round of parties, Roger Dobson reports on cures from around the world and, looks at one preventive treatment that may be best of all
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's that time of year again, that seasonal morning-after when the brain shrinks, the mouth goes dry, the breathing gets shallow, and the headache lasts all day. The New Year's Day hangover is poised for its annual take-over of the lives of millions, and, as usual, drinkers are dusting off their favourite cures. After centuries of trying to find a cure for hangovers, there are almost as many alleged cures as there are victims. The problem is that almost none have been shown to work when they are put to the rigours of scientific testing. A glass of water may prevent a hangover for some people, some of the time, but then again it might not. A breakfast of raw eggs is also claimed to be a potential winner, and so too are fried eggs, salted herrings, sauerkraut, a Bloody Mary, herb drinks, and fizzy cabbage juice.

It's that time of year again, that seasonal morning-after when the brain shrinks, the mouth goes dry, the breathing gets shallow, and the headache lasts all day. The New Year's Day hangover is poised for its annual take-over of the lives of millions, and, as usual, drinkers are dusting off their favourite cures. After centuries of trying to find a cure for hangovers, there are almost as many alleged cures as there are victims. The problem is that almost none have been shown to work when they are put to the rigours of scientific testing. A glass of water may prevent a hangover for some people, some of the time, but then again it might not. A breakfast of raw eggs is also claimed to be a potential winner, and so too are fried eggs, salted herrings, sauerkraut, a Bloody Mary, herb drinks, and fizzy cabbage juice.

Despite best endeavours to find a cure for an unpleasant condition that can at its worst, last for up to two days, science has yet to find an answer to the hangover. But perhaps this is not surprising, given that there is no agreement over what a hangover actually is. We know that the common symptoms include headache, muscle cramps, thirst, dizziness, fatigue and nausea, but we don't know why moderate to heavy drinking triggers such a vicious revengeful attack by the body. It could, for example, be toxins or chemicals or additives in the drink, and methanol, found more in dark alcoholic drinks like red wine, has also been blamed. Dehydration has an effect too because alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages urination. Not only does it increase the frequency of discharge, it also makes the body give up more than it got, and so for every three pints of beer drunk, four pints of fluid are lost. To make up for the loss, the body starts to take fluids from other areas, including the brain, which has a higher proportion of water than most other parts of the body. This is thought to be one reason for the hangover headache.

The only certain cure this New Year's Eve is abstinence.

Be prepared: Faced with a choice of red or white wine, a red usually creates a worse hangover, although a quality red may be better than a cheap white. Methanol, found in its highest concentrations in dark alcoholic drinks like red wine and cognac, takes 10 times longer than alcohol to break down in the liver. White wine, vodkas and light rum are examples of clear alcohols low in compounds called congeners. Drink shorts with non-fizzy mixers because the carbonated bubbles make the body absorb the alcohol faster. Iced beers tend to have fewer toxins. Eating before drinking will slow down the absorption rate of alcohol.

Water: Drinking a glass of water between each drink of alcohol may help to cancel out the diuretic and dehydration effects of the booze. Large quantities of water taken before bed can also ward off dehydration and will help expel the alcohol from the brain. Drinking water the morning after will at least help flush out toxins faster.

Fizzy cabbage juice: Favoured in Russia, this is claimed to work wonders for a headache. The cabbage is said to be rich in vitamins and therapeutic salts, the fizz makes sure it speeds into the bloodstream. Cures hangovers within an hour, it is claimed.

Eggs: The body uses a compound called glutathione to mop up the toxins left by heavy drinking. But natural stocks of it run out when faced with too much toxic material. The main component of glutathione is an amino acid, cysteine, which is found in large quantities in eggs. Try two raw eggs swallowed like oysters and washed down with a pint of water.

Marinated fish: Big in Germany, Scandinavia and the Low Counties, these preserved fish are said to replace natural salts lost through dehydration.

Hair-of-the-dog: Researchers believe that a small amount of alcohol the morning after may attract the liver away from dealing with nasty methanol. Thus, it is suggested, the liver breaks down the methanol more slowly and with fewer painful side-effects. The combination of alcohol, water and juice in a Bloody Mary may explain why it is favoured by many drinkers.

Sugar: A very sweet cup of tea, chocolate biscuits or cake, or honey, help to ease hypoglycaemia, which is triggered when the alcohol breaks down sugar stores in the liver, possibly leading to light-headedness and weakness.

New England clam chowder: Said to work, within an hour, by imparting natural salts and vitamins. A bar in New England called Friendly's is said to have the world's best hangover cure: New England Clam Chowder, then a beefburger, then a chocolate pancake.

Medication: Ibuprofen may ease a headache, and is preferable to aspirin, which can irritate the stomach, and paracetomol, which can be toxic to the liver after a large alcohol intake.

Herbal teas: A Chinese mix of natural sugars and ginseng claims to do it within the hour; supporters of a Korean concoction of liquorice root and honey reckon it gets rid of a headache in 30 minutes by shunting toxins out of the liver.

Sauerkraut pickle: Drinkers in the Ukraine swear by a cup of chilled sauerkraut for breakfast. It is rich in natural salts, potassium and magnesium.

Mulligatawny soup: Hot in parts of Canada, it's said that this scored tastebuds approach helps the body to sweat out toxins. Or try a bowl of hot curry.

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