Quick question: How long do you think a hangover lasts? If you answered several days to a week, you’re correct. Although alcohol itself is processed at a rate of about one drink per hour, the effects it can have on the equilibrium of your body can last much longer. A recent study of over 2,000 people found that those who drank alcohol once a week were 52% more likely to experience poor sleep quality during the week.
That’s not to say you should never drink, however. Alcohol can be a great way to relax, enjoy time with friends, and meet new people. While health conscious people shouldn’t drink as much as others for recovery reasons, it’s almost impossible to not drink at all in this day and age.
So what do we do? When the time comes for us to have some drinks, as it always will, it’s important to be prepared. Being proactive with alcohol will ensure you can minimize the damage before it happens, and it all starts with proper supplementation.
1. Amino Acids for sleep quality
When drinking, alcohol affects the main neurotransmitters of the brain: glutamate and GABA. The two work together to increase signals and suppress signals in your brain, respectively. The reason alcohol makes you feel relaxed is because it increases the GABA in your brain.
However, when your body stops processing alcohol, it runs in reverse, with little GABA and a lot of glutamate. While this may sound good to those of you looking for a pick me up in the morning, the unfortunate thing is that it typically happens about halfway through your sleep, dramatically affecting quality.
In order to prevent this, you may want to take high quality glutamine (500mg-1g). Glutamine is an important building block of GABA and eating it gives your body the means to produce more when you run out. If there is enough GABA, it will block excess glutamate and will prevent interruption of sleep.
2. Metabolizing alcohol in the liver
Alcohol is processed naturally by the liver in a series of complicated processes. The important thing to know is that the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol are lower for women in general. They are lower in men as they age, and are reduced in everyone as they drink more. Unless you are a young man drinking for the first time, chances are your ability to process alcohol is hampered.
In order to break down alcohol, the body has methods of burning alcohol along with its metabolites. These include a compound called glutathione and a number of vitamins. However, unlike enzymes these are consumed in the process. By supplementing your body with the correct vitamins, you are giving it the tools to process alcohol before it can damage your liver. The amino acid N-acetylcysteine, is a critical part of glutathione as well, and you should consider taking at least 200mg of N-acetylcysteine when drinking.
3. Replacing lost vitamins and minerals
In order to process alcohol as best as possible, the body will take vitamins and minerals from anywhere it can get it. This includes your brain, muscles, and other parts where these vitamins are very much needed. Many of the symptoms of the hangover are curiously related to vitamin deficiencies, which should come as no surprise.
In order to prevent the problems associated with losing vitamins, not only do you have to provide enough to burn, but enough to run your body after you’re done drinking. This is especially important for those who work out, in order to ensure proper muscle recovery.
You may consider taking the following vitamins: 100mg of B1, 50mg of B6, 1mg of B12, 300mg of C, and 400mg of Magnesium.
4. Herbal solutions
Finally, there are a few natural solutions that can be used to protect your body from alcohol. Milk thistle has been used for hundreds of years in Europe to protect from various poisons. It has only recently been researched by science for the actual effects on the body. Milk thistle has been shown to have a protective effect on the liver when filtering positions (such as alcohol) out of your blood. In addition, it has been shown to help regenerate liver cells faster in those with extensive damage.
Prickly pear is another ancient cure from Native Americans in the southwest. The cactus was used to help stop inflammation in wounds, but has recently been shown to prevent headaches by reducing inflammation of blood vessels in the brain.
You may consider taking at least 100mg of milk thistle and 200mg of prickly pear
Bringing it all together
Using these components will help you, but the timing has to be right. The old notion of taking a fizzy drink in the morning to cure a hangover is an unfortunate myth. By the time you wake up, the damage is already done. In order to maximize protection, these components should be taken before bed. To prevent you from forgetting, you may put them on your nightstand, along with a glass of water.
By knowing what your body needs to process alcohol, you can return to a state of balance after drinking, making you feel better the day after and for days to come. We all have times when we need to relax and have some drinks. But if we’re smart, we can do it without damaging the health we work so hard to maintain.
About the Author: Jan is the founder of Valhalla Nutrition and a longtime researcher into the science of hangovers. If you’d like to know more about what is a hangover you can visit his blog for the latest research and developments.