Here's A Heaping Helping of Hangover Helper

Had one too many drinks last night? Here's the best way to nuke that pain.

Photo credit: MorgueFile
Photo credit: MorgueFile

By Vanessa Casteñeda, Editor, Concord Patch

Since travelers first settled in the Americas hundreds of years ago, people have bonded with the assistance of the social lubricant colloquially known as booze.

Incalculable friendships, business transactions, and spiritual rituals have been solidified in the presence of stout beverages. But tragically these libations have a way of making the brain feel like an egg that blew up in the microwave. Surely science has discovered a way to nuke the pain that undermines the afterglow of a memorable evening, right? To the phones! 

The first person I called was George Bulloch, the Chief of the Emergency Department at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Redwood City, California. He told me a few things that seemed obvious. But he also said a few things that raised my eyebrows. 

Dr. Bulloch explained that alcohol dehydrates the body in radical ways that take a hefty toll on it, especially when drinking to excess.

"When you drink alcohol, it acts as a diuretic, getting rid of all the free fluid that you body normally uses," Bulloch said. "That's why you start to pee and pee. Then, after your body depletes the free fluid from your blood stream, it starts to pull water from your cells. And that's what makes it so painful the next day," he explained.

This pain quite often makes people reach for Tylenol or aspirin, but these painkillers may actually make you feel worse, he said, as both are fairly significant liver toxins.

"Introducing either into the gastrointestinal tract that is already irritated from alcohol, will inflame it more, and may stimulate bleeding," Bulloch said. However, this would only be a problem for people with unhealthy bodies. 

He stressed the importance of knowing that there is a risk with each dose, recommending a limit of four grams a day. A standard dose of Tylenol for an adult is 500 mg, according to tylenol.com

For a second opinion, I called Matthew Tarran, Ph.D, Chairman of the Chiefs of Chemical Dependency Recovery Services for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.  Tarran said drinking a lot of water is the best way to eliminate the hangover.

"I've talked to numerous patients who have tried everything in the book, and that is the only thing that works for everyone," Tarran said. "Some people drink coffee, or eat foods with garlic, or go for a run to get rid of a hangover. And the next time they'll do the same thing, and it won't work." 

Nearly everything feels like work on a crusty hungover morning. Sometimes, water just doesn't cut the mustard.  

For people who are not fans of drinking water, Bulloch recommended taking Gatorade or Pedialyte and diluting it with water to make a 50/50 rehydration blend that will replenish fluids lost during the booze imbibing process. Both drinks contain more salts and minerals than your body probably needs. The less concentrated form will contain a solution that will pump your body full of the elements it needs to regain full functionality.

So many variables can cause hangovers that it's challenging to pinpoint a precise cure. Gender is an influence. A healthy male will process alcohol at twice the rate of a female, unless that woman has built up a tolerance. Some people people's bodies don't produce the enzyme that the body needs to digest alcohol.

In any case, having more than two drinks in one sitting can lead to a hangover. Funny enough, Bulloch said hangovers are a good thing. 

"In fact, I want people to have hangovers," he said. "Then if they do, they might think twice about drinking again," he said.

If you are going to indulge, the good doctors agreed that drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume during the celebration will help replenish your body of liquids it will lose after you break the seal. This may make the sunshine feel less invasive the next day.

Given that we are in California, I had to ask whether medical marijuana, known for its pain reducing properties, would assist in the recovery process.

"I wouldn't advise substituting one drug to alleviate the pain caused by another, for it may lead to a dangerous cycle," Tarran said.  

They say different strokes work for different folks. So before I go, I leave you with my fail-safe hangover helper. 

Before you retire for the evening, place a pitcher of water and a glass within reach of the spot where you will snooze. When your eyes creak open, chug a glass of water. Then go back to sleep. Repeat as often as necessary.

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