If you're one of the 23% of people who apparently don't feel hangovers, you’re a lucky person who might only need this blog to help their struggling friends on Memorial day. We see that the more alcohol you drink the more likely you are to have a hangover, and that's a fate I don't wish on many — especially since it affects our performance days after.
In this article I'm going to cover why we feel sick when hungover, what you can eat before starting to drink, how to stop feeling so sick the next day, with lists of foods you can use to beat hangovers and resources for making them taste delicious.
Bookmark this article now, you'll wish you had when you are searching for it the day after Memorial Day!
Who hasn’t asked in the moment, “Why do I feel so sick when I'm hungover?” Is it just the universe’s punishment for having such a good time?
First, let's define what a hangover is. The most common symptoms are tiredness, fatigue, nausea, thirst, headache, and dizziness. That said, a lot of people just report feeling hungover. It's a definition unto itself.
Thirst is an obvious symptom of dehydration, and partly caused by the water that’s displaced by alcohol. It’s also due to the electrolyte depleting effects of drinking.
Metabolic acidosis — part and parcel with dehydration — is even possible with more moderate drinking sessions and is attributable to the direct effects of alcohol as well. If you go too hard and end up throwing up, you run the risk of causing even more serious electrolyte imbalances.
Next, you have to look at the byproducts of alcohol metabolism. Not only does processing alcohol increase your needs for vitamins and minerals (vitamin B1, thiamin, being the most affected), but the byproducts are toxic in themselves and contribute to the feeling of having poisoned yourself. Acetaldehyde, malondialdehyde, and formaldehyde, are just some of the nasty sounding chemicals your liver has to work harder in order to process your good time.
New research helps explain why hangovers have their own special definition. Inflammatory cytokines, commonly associated with oxidative stress and chronic diseases, also go way up after drinking alcohol.
Other culprits include low blood sugar, which could be related to the excessively high blood sugar attributable to sugar-laden alcoholic drinks, a one-two punch for your liver. Alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency, which is a genetic mutation that allows ethanol to accumulate to high levels —- may be one other reason you get hangovers so easily.
Take any one of the causes I just covered and ramp it up for a formula for feeling you're worst the next day.
Starting on an empty stomach is a surefire way to crash and burn early in the night. Same goes for starting dehydrated and low on nutrients. Start your evening right with the recipes in my ebook on optimizing sleep and recovery, and I will guarantee that you'll feel better. That old wives’ tale of eating fatty foods before a night out? I call BS.
Not drinking enough water and dehydration can be caused by a diuretic effect of alcohol, suggesting that electrolytes in nutrient depletion can play a role in making a hangover worse.
With so many people in the world deficient or insufficient in calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and potassium — some of the most important nutrients for processing alcohol and maintaining hydration — it's no wonder so many people bear the unnecessary burden of an especially bad hangover. It goes to show that what you eat plays a major role in making a hangover better, or worse.
Drinking sugary alcohols and dark alcohols can also contribute. After a night of elevated blood sugar, you may wake up with particularly low blood sugar, making you feel hardly there. And then there's what’s called congeners in dark alcohol (whiskey, red wine, rum, and others), which can disrupt the acid-base balance in the body and increase your need for antioxidants.
As much as I hate to say it, vomiting is a catch-22. It’s your body’s natural reaction to being poisoned and expelling alcohol left in your gut, but as you are getting rid of the toxin, you’re also depleting your electrolytes (especially potassium) and doubling your dehydration.
A long night drinking is usually accompanied by a short night sleeping. Even if you were able to get the recommended hours of sleep, the quality goes way down, leading to drowsiness and fatigue. Think of it this way: your body is working extra hard to get rid of all that alcohol, meaning your sleep isn't all that restful.
Then there’s the foods that can help you to feel back to normal after an anything-but-normal night:
Eating a meal beforehand slows the alcohol spike in your system and lets you maintain a healthy blood sugar. Slow-digesting, complex carbs, ample protein, and healthy fats make up any healthy meal, but there’s more you can do to optimize your food today so you can thank yourself tomorrow.
First, make sure to stock up the foods highest in these 4 critical nutrients for preventing a hangover:
Nitric Oxide — the favored supplement for recovering from exercise putting some pep in your step — has also been shown in an animal study to improve the negative effects on balance and reaction speed. So if you want to feel more in control while getting your buzz, consider food sources of plant-based nitrates or a supplemental form like Resync.
If you want your work cut out for you, we've actually already made recipes that optimize these nutrients. These are critical for managing recovering from alcohol, so it’s no surprise that they are also vitally important in sleep and recovery. We put together 40 recipes that will take your game to the next level by emphasizing recovery for every layer of your body, from your skin to your bones. It's no excuse for regular drinking, but these delicious, science-based recipes might come in handy every now and then!
Recover Every Layer of Your Body: 40 Science-Based Recipes For Better Sleep, Faster Recovery and Healthier Connective Tissues
How do you stop feeling sick when hungover? There are specific foods that target the symptoms you’re feeling. Here are some of the most effective:
One of the number one strategies for handling nausea is ginger. If the intense taste may make you feel worse than better, then consider a quality certified supplement.
Aronia berry may also help repair the damage to your stomach done by alcohol, so try it out in addition to other polyphenol-rich foods, click here for our list of the best.
Besides a nice cup of herbal tea, another way to reduce nausea is to eat something. It may seem counterintuitive to settle an upset stomach with something that might not stay down, but trust me, your body needs the nutrients.
Does water help a hangover? Yes, but you need more than water to optimize hydration. Are there electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and a buffering agent like sodium bicarbonate (aka. baking soda)? These play a major role in making sure that water gets to where it's supposed to and functions the way you want it to.
Check out our blogs on what to drink for optimal hydration here.
Caffeine definitely helps with feeling less tired, more alert, and having a sense of well-being; tea even has L-theanine which has been researched for its calming effect. But don't let caffeine become a problem: if you're drinking coffee everyday, then that's a sign of dependency and you can actually become more dehydrated.
Are you drinking coffee for the benefits of caffeine, or because it feels like your body doesn't work well without it?
If you do caffeine to alleviate some hangover symptoms, just remember to drink plenty of water, you don't want to be dehydrating yourself even more!
Nitric oxide boosting supplements may help with the sluggishness, sleepiness, dizziness, and fatigue associated with a hangover. Plant-based nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide by the body, can also help you feel more energized and focused. Plant-based nitric oxide boosters, like those found in Resync Products, have additional nutritional value you need for the day after, so make sure you’re not settling for unhelpful synthetic stuff.
Plus, high doses of alcohol are documented to impair heart health and vein mobility by depressing your nitric oxide levels, which is why getting your nitric oxide levels back to normal could help you get back on track.
If you're looking for a natural solution for aches and pains left over from the night before, you don't have to turn to an NSAID, with their nasty side effects of stomach damage. Turmeric, ginger, aronia berry, and the natural polyphenol phytochemicals they contain are potent anti-inflammatory agents used for aches and pains.
If you go for turmeric, just make sure you're actually absorbing what you're paying for! Turmeric that you eat gets processed by your liver about as fast as you can eat it, resulting in a complete lack of affect. You have to eat or I should say consume your turmeric alongside other nutrients and ingredients that can boost its bioavailability, otherwise you're wasting your money. The turmeric extract in Resync Recovery is an example of a preparation that has been optimized so you actually feel the positive effects you're looking for.
I wouldn't be myself to say, If you or someone you know might have alcohol use disorder or addiction, there is help available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a national helpline you can call for advice and resources. Talk with your doctor about options to help you live the life you want to! Change doesn't need to be hard.
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Helping you lead a healthier life,
The Resync Team
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Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 5/24/2021.
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