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Waking up with a hangover – what causes them, what cures them?

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There’s a good chance more than one local reveller will wake up with a hangover on New Year’s Day.

But, what causes them and what cures them?

With so many people expected to celebrate the end of 2023 with a champers or two, the Newcastle Weekly sought some professional advice from Dr Georgina Williams, a HMRI diet and gastroenterology researcher.

Dr Georgina Williams.

And, here’s what she had to say.

“A hangover is a set of symptoms caused by the different ways that alcohol affects the body,” Dr Williams explained.

For example:

Why do I have a hangover?

  • Alcohol is a diuretic which causes the body to lose extra fluid resulting in dehydration (symptoms – headaches, dizziness and brain fog)
  • Alcohol disrupts sleep quality (symptoms – fatigue and irritability)
  • Alcohol upsets the gut (symptoms – diarrhoea, stomach pain and reflux)
  • The liver has to work extra hard to metabolise both food and alcohol (symptoms – appetite changes, increased cravings)
  • Acetaldehyde is produced during alcohol metabolism (symptoms – blood pressure changes, nausea, inflammation)

Can I prevent a hangover?

“Evidence suggests the best way to avoid one is to abstain from alcohol,” Dr Williams said.

“But, we know on New Year’s Eve, this is not always likely.

“So, the following strategies may be useful:

“Aim to eat a meal with low GI carbohydrates (e.g. rice, legumes, wholegrain bread, pasta) prior to drinking alcohol.

“Keep hydrated: Aim to drink water before and during drinking events. A glass of water between alcoholic drinks may help to drink less alcohol overall.

“Drink in moderation: Alcohol guidelines recommend no more than four standard drinks on any day.

“Choose lighter coloured liquors (e.g. vodka, gin) as darker liquors (whisky, brandy etc) contain by-products called congeners, which can worsen hangover symptoms.”

Can I cure a hangover?

“Luckily science shows there are some ways to make a hangover more manageable,” Dr Williams said.

These include:

  • Fluid, fluid, fluid! Try to consistently drink throughout the day. Water is preferable however tea, coffee, or no-sugar carbonated drinks may also help. If feeling nauseous, take small sips regularly rather than large gulps
  • Once feeling up to it, aim for a meal with both carbs and protein (e.g. eggs/salmon on toast, fruit smoothie, veggie fritters). Avoid fatty foods e.g. bacon, hot chips if your gut is feeling sensitive
  • Gentle movement such as a slow walk (perhaps to the café for brunch) can assist with blood flow and fatigue
  • Take a nap to catch up on some sleep

“Supermarket shelves, pubs and bars are increasingly offering low and no alcohol beverage options,” she added.

“These can be a great option to moderate your alcohol intake and still feel like you’re joining in.”

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