Beating a hangover is all about preparation: before drinking, during drinking, and dear God, after drinking. Health practitioner Gabriel MacSharry introduces us to a natural approach to conquering the hangover. His recommendation for hangover is to prepare by taking the medicine before the big drinking event. This will largely offsetting the horrible symptoms of which mainly include dry mouth, thirst, increased output of urine, fatigue, irritability and depression.
Understanding the Hangover Pathophysiology
As with the natural approach to any health condition, it is important to know the underlining cause in order to devise a treatment. Alcohol contains congeners, the chemical by-products of fermentation which have a poisonous effect upon the body. Acetaldehyde is considered to be the most toxic of alcohol by-products. It is this chemical which gives us the feeling of hangover. Acetaldehyde has a large variety of toxic influences on the body. In fact long-term exposure can cause autoimmune and neuro-psychiatric conditions. The mind boggles as to why we have so much fun with alcohol!
As the main area of damage is the liver, generally most of the other complications spawn from this. An approach to take if you know you’re going to have a heavy night on the tiles is to protect your liver in advance.
St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum) is the best herb for protecting the liver from damage. It is anecdotally said to reduce the negative effects of hangover if taken beforehand. St Mary’s Thistle has a broad spectrum of actions which help to maintain healthy liver function. Alcoholic liver damage results in an elevation of liver enzymes. In trials, St Mary’s Thistle largely reduces liver enzymes in people who have liver disease, suggesting that it will have benefit where there is damage from alcohol. It accelerates the regeneration of liver cells when taken after liver damage has occurred. It increases survival rates in patients with advanced liver disease (especially alcoholic cirrhosis). It also has a protective mechanism against stomach ulcers. St Mary’s Thistle taken before alcohol consumption will certainly have a protective action on your liver and taken after will aid the detoxification of the liver and hence the body. It’s a very safe herb in the right preparation and at the right dose.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a strong diuretic which increases the excretion of fluids from the body, and will always cause some level of dehydration.
Coconut water is hands down the best substance in nature to replete the body of electrolytes lost in dehydration is the water from the young coconut. It is the closest thing in nature to the IV drip. Bought in delis and health shops, it is expensive, but also pleasant-tasting and nourishing. It contains potassium, magnesium, other minerals and trace elements, natural sugars and salts.
And afterwards? Now we are down to the business end of the hangover treatment. Try one, many or all of the following herbal medicines.
Ginger Root(Zingiber officinalis) is a powerful antiemetic (a drug that is effective against vomiting and nausea). It is beneficial when used during the morning sickness of pregnancy and in seasickness, hence its suitability for use when hung-over. The most favourable mode of administration here would be as an infusion (tea). Cut 10 to 12 slices of fresh ginger root and combine with 4 cups water. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain and add the juice of one orange, the juice of half a lemon, and 1/2 cup Manuka honey. Drink freely.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) oddly enough acquired its name from its use in flavouring mead (a traditional alcoholic beverage).
It works great when administered as a tincture of the fresh herb. Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, the bases of the active ingredient of aspirin and has an anti-inflammatory action. Combined with its mild painkilling qualities, this makes it very useful in the treatment of achy joints and muscles. Its most redeeming medicinal action here however is as a digestive tonic. Very effective for relieving heartburn, reflux, indigestion, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea, all present to some degree when the digestive tract has been assaulted by high alcohol and sugar intake. Meadowsweet also has a positive effect on the gut microflora that are essential for repair and detoxification in the digestive system.
Here is a traditional hangover herbal tea formula – courtesy of a wise old medical herbalist Thomas Bartram who died at the age of 96 years just recently in 2009.
One part Meadowsweet (antacid)
Black horehound (antiemetic)
Gentian (tonic) 1/4 part
Ginger (stomach settler) 1/4 part.
Add 2 teaspoons of dry formula to cup of boiling water, infuse for 10 minutes. Drink freely through the day.
Don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach. This will enhance the damaging effects on the body as the body uses the alcohol as its sole fuel source and this will play havoc with your blood sugar levels.
Re-inoculating beneficial gut microflora is a powerful way to repair and detoxify your digestive system and the body in general, especially from toxic overload as in alcohol toxicity. There are probiotic supplements available for this however, best done by consuming lacto fermented foods such as natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, unpasteurised milk, unpasteurised cheese, miso, kimchee, kombucha, sour pickles, properly-made sourdough bread and crème fraîche.
Consider a Sauna/Steamroom/hot bath. Once rehydrated, a period of induced sweating will help rid the body of toxins and ease achy muscles and joints. Use Epsom salts for greater effect.
Lastly, if you simply avoid alcohol totally, you’ll be cured of a hangover for life!
Gabriel MacSharry is a native of Sligo city, Ireland. He has a Bachelor Degree in Electronic Engineering from NUI Galway. After changing career he graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Health Science Complementary Medicine from Charles Sturt University in Sydney Australia, and went on to complete a Bachelor Degree in Western Herbal Medicine and a further Diploma in Nutrition from Nature Care College in Sydney. Gabriel has gained valuable clinical experience in the last 15 years both in Australia and Ireland, consulting in Nutrition and Herbal Medicine. He is a member of the Irish Institute of Medical Herbalists (IIMH).
Gabriel is a certified GAPS Practitioner trained by Dr. Natascha Campbell-McBride, author of “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”. Gabriel is the health columnist for The Western People newspaper and writes regularly for publications throughout Ireland. He also hosts a weekly radio health show on Ocean FM every Wednesday at 11am. He gives health talks and speaks at conferences with a focus on Nutrition and Herbal Medicine for healthy living and their use in the treatment of various health conditions. He can be found here.