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Have a Happy Hangover

Photo credit: Max Tutak

Your head is throbbing. Your stomach resembles the spin cycle of a washing machine and your mouth feels like something’s died in it. In your hideously hungover state, you SWEAR that you will drink nothing but celery smoothies for the rest of your life.

Sound familiar? The good news is that if you break your vow to abstain from all things alcoholic, there are ways you can limit the damage.


The darker the drink, the worse the hangover. A study in the BMJ found that bourbon caused the worst symptoms, with brandy, red wine, whiskey and rum following hot on its heels*.

So why do darker drinks result in hangovers from hell? Congeners are the culprits. These complex compounds occur as a by-product of the fermentation process and dark drinks contain more of them. On the plus side, they help to add flavour and aroma, but they have a toxic effect. Each type of alcohol contains different congeners, so mixing your tipples is never wise because you’re multiplying the impurities flooding your bloodstream.

Unsurprisingly, red wine tends to induce more severe hangovers than its white counterpart. As well as being rich in congeners, it also contains tannins, sulphites and histamines, which are notorious for causing headaches. On a more positive note, it’s high in health-giving compounds such as resveratrol, which has powerful antioxidant properties, so drinking it in moderation is actually recommended by some health professionals. Purely for medicinal purposes, of course.

Swapping your red wine for white, your Jack Daniels and Coke for a G&T and your bitter for a pale ale won’t prevent a hangover, but you should feel slightly more human the next day.


Ever notice that you stagger to the toilet far more frequently when you hit the bottle? That’s because alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes your body to create more urine. The subsequent dehydration will undoubtedly make you feel worse the next day, but it’s not the main factor.

Although dehydration is often blamed, most hangovers are actually caused by the body breaking down methanol, the simplest form of alcohol. When it’s metabolised, toxic by-products such as formaldehyde and formic acid are created, which can take 24 hours to leave your system. These, along with congeners, are the main causes of the classic hangover symptoms such as headaches, nausea, anxiety and shakiness.

Another ingredient to add to the hangover cocktail is fatigue. Even if you occasionally pass out after a heavy drinking session, you won’t stay in the land of nod for long. Excessive alcohol intake leads to sleep disturbances, resulting in tiredness and irritability the next day.


Sadly, there’s no guaranteed way to actually prevent a hangover apart from avoiding alcohol altogether (erm, no thanks..) Sticking to lighter drinks will help and there are other precautions you can take to minimise symptoms the next day.

Remember how your mum always told you to line your stomach before a big night out? Turns out she was right. Fats are particularly good at absorbing alcohol, so don’t feel too guilty about scoffing a sneaky burger. Having said that, avocado on toast or a substantial bowl of cereal with whole milk are infinitely more pleasing to the nutrition gods.

Continuing to snack during your night out – even if it’s just peanuts and crisps - will stop alcohol entering your blood stream too quickly. The faster it’s absorbed, the more tipsy you’ll feel, the more likely you are to reach for another, and the more hellish your hangover will be the next day.

As well as lining your stomach, try to limit excessively sugary drinks. An Instagram-worthy Mojito is hard to resist, but too many sugar-fuelled cocktails and sweet mixers can spell disaster in the morning. They cause sugar levels to fluctuate and irritate the stomach, making you feel worse the next day. Soda and tonic water are safer bets.

Last but not least, sipping water throughout the evening will help prevent dehydration and will slow down your drinking. It may sound boring, but your body will thank you the next day. Don’t forget to down at least a pint of it before hitting the hay, and keep some by your bed for when you wake up with dreaded ‘desert mouth.’


Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to overdo things, especially during the festive season. If you find yourself downing Jager Bombs while teetering on a table doing your best Lady Gaga impression, try eating your way out of your hangover hell the next day.

Complex carbohydrates: A greasy fry up may be tempting, but it can exacerbate nausea. Instead, opt for a breakfast containing slow release carbs like wholemeal toast, porridge or muesli. These are easier to digest and will regulate blood sugar levels. Nibbling on carb-laden snacks throughout the day will also help (but cakes and biscuits don’t count, sorry…)

Bananas: This super-convenient snack is packed with potassium, which just happens to be one of the main minerals lost when drinking alcohol. Bananas replenish the store, reducing feelings of weakness and nausea.

Eggs: These nutrition power houses are rich in cysteine, an amino acid that helps to produce an antioxidant called glutathione which breaks down the toxic by-products of alcohol metabolism.

Honey: Honey is high in fructose, which has been shown to help rid the body of alcohol. One study found that honey increased the rate of alcohol elimination by up to 32%** Research is limited, but drizzling the golden nectar on your porridge or smearing some on wholemeal toast may help.

Sports drinks Okay, not technically a food, but an important weapon in your hangover arsenal nonetheless. Alcohol’s diuretic effect means that electrolytes are lost too - they are literally flushed away. This can lead to feelings fatigue, weakness and even an embarrassing attack of the shakes. Sports drinks help to re-balance electrolyte levels and boost hydration, but steer clear of the sugar-laden, slightly radioactive looking ones.

So, although there’s no fool-proof way to prevent a hangover, choosing your drinks wisely, staying hydrated and eating the right foods can help. Alternatively, there’s always that delightful celery smoothie you promised yourself…


* BMJ 2002;324:0206184

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