What does your gut say?
by Kris Parfitt
- The Capitol Hill Times -
I don’t drink often, but when I do I end up with a pretty bad hangover the next day. Last Christmas Eve I drank what I thought was a modest amount, but could barely be with my family the next morning (and I’m a mom who plays Santa!). And, last New Year’s Day I was so sick that I couldn’t move until dinner. I have barely had any alcohol this year because I cannot afford to lose another day, but my husband’s birthday is New Year’s Eve and I want to celebrate and enjoy a few drinks with him and our friends. How do I avoid the hangover, but still enjoy the party?
I admire your intent, having lost a few days myself to over-indulging the night before. You didn’t mention which alcohols you were drinking that made you sick, but you have probably heard of the quote “Beer before liquor never sicker, liquor before beer, never fear.” (Wine can be substituted for liquor.)
Studies show that the body absorbs alcohol from sugary drinks (like wine) faster than processed drinks (like beer), which might be the inspiration behind the quote. Studies also say that a chemical compound called congener, which adds taste and color to darker drinks, such as whiskies and red wines, is often times responsible for hangovers.
But the wisdom of a quote and studies of alcohol use isn’t prevention enough when you drink too much of anything. As you are well aware, hangovers don’t exist when you don’t drink. Hangovers aren’t caused by the order in which alcohol is consumed, but by the body’s bio-individuality. In other words, how your body absorbs alcohol is what impacts you later in the evening and the next day.
When alcohol is consumed, it’s quickly absorbed into the blood stream via the stomach (20 percent) and small intestines (80 percent), then directly to the liver from both locations. The liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol, but the liver is limited to small amounts per hour. For example, it takes about one hour for the liver to metabolize 12 ounces of beer, or five ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of 80-proof hard liquor.
It has been found that people who are bigger, taller and have more body fat can metabolize more alcohol than thinner people with low body fat. Muscle tissue has more water than fat tissue, thus the blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) will be higher in a person with low-body fat. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it dissolves in the water of the blood, which is then carried to and absorbed by the body tissue. However, because alcohol can’t dissolve in fat, it isn’t absorbed into fat tissue. Consuming alcohol faster than what the liver can metabolize results in extra alcohol in the blood stream, depending on your body-fat amount.
Other factors that determine how a person’s body reacts to alcohol include, but are not limited to food consumption and hydration levels before and during drinking, conditions of hypoglycemia or diabetes (blood sugar levels), prescription medicine and recreational drug use, physical fitness, family history and ethnicity.
Knowing how alcohol affects the body can help increase mindfulness, but, if you’re going to drink, it won’t guarantee that you’ll be hangover free.
And while there is no cure for hangovers, other than the passing of time, there are distractions, like sleeping, going for a slow walk, watching movies with friends and laughter.
So you can toast your husband and your friends with the confidence that you’ll be able to take care of your family and yourself the next morning, here are five tips to decrease your chances of a hangover:
1. Beforehand, eat a solid meal with a good balance of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and proteins.
2. Some studies show that a glass of milk with a tablespoon of olive oil lines your stomach, creating a protective layer. It may be worth experimenting with this combination one evening.
3. As you drink, continue to eat fats and carbohydrates, which help slow the absorption of alcohol, as well as healthy sugars from fruits and veggies, which replace the sugars used by the liver while it processes the alcohol.
4. Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink and before you go to sleep. Not only does it stall for time while your liver processes, it keeps you hydrated.
5. Know your body’s limits, drink slowly, and remember to always have a safe way to get home.