Alcohol is processed in the body by the liver, and this is dependent on two liver enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ALDH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ADH). As you get older, it is thought that the efficiency of these enzymes starts to decrease. Alcohol is broken down by ALDH to acetylaldehyde, and then broken down further by ADH to acetic acid, a non-toxic substance.
Acetylaldehyde is one of the key toxins responsible for the effects of a hangover, and if your ADH is not doing its job properly, there's going to be more acetylaldehyde knocking around your body. The result? A stinking hangover. Blame it on the enzymes.
So what can you do to support your liver, and keep the hangovers tolerable (asides from not drinking)?
1. Keep hydrated. Before you even start on the Pimms, have a large glass of water. The reason the first drink quite often goes down in 5 minutes flat is because you're dehydrated. A healthy liver can process one drink an hour - any more than that, and you risk a hangover.
2. Eat liver-loving foods. Turmeric, cinnamon, artichoke, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, beetroot, avocado, lemon and green tea are all packed with liver-loving compounds. For additional support, the herbal supplement milk thistle can help protect liver cells and aid cell regeneration.
3. Curb the lunchtime drinking (soz). Your levels of alcohol-processing liver enzymes spike in the evening and are at their lowest at lunchtime. This is one of the reasons why a liquid lunch can make you feel more than a little light-headed.
4. Have something to eat before you start drinking. Contrary to common belief, the kebab on the way home won't help. Food has to be in your stomach before you start drinking for it to have any impact. When you eat, the combined alcohol and food stays longer in the stomach, which means the booze isn't released into the bloodstream as quickly. Always have dinner, and make sure it includes some fat (fish, meat, cheese, olives, avocado and nuts are all good options) as this further slows the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed.
And the next morning...
5. Have eggs for brekkie. Poached, scrambled, boiled or fried the choice is yours, but eggs are rich in the amino acid cysteine, which your liver needs to break down the alcohol toxin acetylaldehyde.
6. Go easy on the coffee. Caffeine is actually a diuretic and several cups can actually exacerbate dehydration, the evil behind many hangover symptoms. Instead you need to rehydrate, rehydrate, rehydrate. Water and coconut water are the best options, and fresh ginger tea is also fantastic if you are experiencing nausea. Also munch freely on water-rich foods such as watermelon, tomatoes celery, and cucumber (Virgin Mary anyone?!).
7. Get up and get moving. Sorry, it may feel like the last thing you feel like doing, but some light exercise can go a long way in helping to ease a hangover. Exercise boosts the body's metabolism, which naturally speeds up the rate at which your body processes and gets rid of the alcohol toxins, helping you to feel better, faster.
By Naomi Mead
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