by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
Tis the season to drink...and drink...and drink! Between the office holiday parties, family get-togethers, and happy hours, there's a good chance that you may be in need of some relief at least once this holiday season. If that's the case, here are four strategies imbibers swear by and how they actually work to help ease your misery (plus two hangover strategies to avoid!):
Pickles: Pickles are salty and water is attracted to salt like a magnet, so bumping up your intake will help you retain more fluid. When you're severely dehydrated and suffering from a headache and dry mouth (classic hangover symptoms), every little bit helps!
Coconut water or bananas: When you're dehydrated, you lose not only water, but also electrolytes, including potassium - and too little potassium can lead to cramps, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and heart palpitations. Both of these foods are loaded with potassium, and putting it back into your system can give you some quick relief.
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Tea with honey and ginger: Ginger is a natural nausea fighter and honey's natural sugar helps alcohol break down faster. The trio is also overflowing with antioxidants, which can guard against some of the inflammation and damage, especially to your aching brain.
Scrambled eggs or an egg sandwich: Eggs contain two amino acids that go to work to help you feel better: taurine and cysteine. Taurine has been shown in studies to reverse liver damage caused by a night of heavy drinking and to help the body flush out toxins more quickly. Cysteine directly counteracts the effects of acetaldehyde, a nasty by-product of alcohol metabolism that is more toxic than alcohol itself (it causes headaches and chills).
Here are two tactics to avoid:
Hair of the dog (a Bloody Mary, mimosa etc.): This does actually work, but only for a short time - then you're back to the hangover, only worse. When your body breaks down alcohol, chemicals build up that make you feel sick. When you have another drink, your body prioritizes metabolizing the new alcohol, so you do get a brief reprieve, but as soon as that added alcohol gets processed, you're back where you started, but with even more toxic chemicals floating around. In short, just say no to that Christmas Day cocktail.
Greasy food: By the time you have a hangover, the alcohol is either in your blood or it's been metabolized and the by-products are in your blood. In other words, there's no alcohol in your stomach to be "soaked up." I know people swear by it, but since alcohol irritates your digestive system, greasy food can actually make you feel worse (since grease irritates it too). It's probably the combo of salt, to alleviate dehydration and carbs, which raise blood sugar, not the grease itself that offers some relief.
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Of course, the very best way to really cure a hangover is to prevent it in the first place by enjoying alcohol in moderation, which means no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. One drink equals one shot of 80-proof distilled spirits, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of light beer.