The festive season is here. It's time to eat, drink and be merry. More often than not, though, most of us get carried away by the Christmas cheer and end up over-indulging in the alcohol department.
If you know this is you then the most sensible thing you can do for your body during the silly season, besides drinking in moderation, is to have a "pre-party plan".
The following 10-point plan is designed to strengthen and protect your liver and body against the effects of alcohol and reduce nasty Christmas and New Year hangovers. Good liver function is vital to ensure that your body is detoxing efficiently and processing any alcohol out of your system quickly and cleanly.
The pre-party plan
Point one: Drink slow
The liver can only handle one drink an hour. Any more than this and a toxic backlog of alcohol builds up in the blood, circulating the excess alcohol throughout the body until the liver is ready to deal with it. This stresses and damages the liver and results in a hangover. It's important to drink slow enough so that the liver can keep up, so drink no more than one drink an hour.
Point two: take milk thistle
Alcohol affects every organ in the body, but the liver is particularly susceptible to alcohol-induced damage. The herb known as milk thistle or St Mary's thistle helps to strengthen the outer membranes of liver cells, protecting them from damage caused by alcohol. Milk thistle helps to make liver cells less permeable to alcohol which helps prevent cell damage. It also reduces the destruction of glutathione a vital detoxing enzyme which helps increase the speed at which the body can breakdown toxins such as alcohol. Alcohol-induced hangovers are also minimised by taking milk thistle.
Point three: Drink water
Alcohol 'switches-off' the hormone that helps the body retain water. This results in dehydration and headaches. Loss of body water stimulates thirst which, of course, encourages more drinking. The only fluid that will relieve dehydration is water. So, prevent dehydration by trying to drink water or mineral water in between alcoholic drinks. When you get home drink plenty of water before going to bed and on waking to lessen hangover symptoms caused from dehydration.
Point four: take N-acetyl-Cysteine
Try N-acetyl-Cysteine. This supplement contains the amino acid cysteine which is converted to glutathione in the body. Glutathione acts directly on the metabolism (breakdown) of alcohol. Cysteine also acts as an antioxidant and will help to prevent hangovers.
Point five: Eat vitamin B
The body uses up a considerable amount of nutrients when processing alcohol. Niacin (vitamin B3) binds to the alcohol molecule (acetaldehyde) and helps transport it out of the body. If vitamin B3 levels are low, this elimination process will be impaired and will prolong alcohol levels in the system. By increasing vitamin B foods and taking a complex B supplement daily you will be ensuring that your vitamin B levels are adequate to deal with any increase in alcohol intake.
Also take one B complex tablet before going out. Food sources high in vitamin B include avocado, currants, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts (almonds, walnuts), fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), organic chicken, lean meat, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, wholegrains, and green vegetables.
Point six: Eat vitamin C
Antioxidants are important to help fight the cellular damage alcohol consumption can cause. Vitamin C is destroyed by alcohol, so supplement with vitamin C daily. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and is immune function-boosting. Increase your dietary consumption of vitamin C foods like blackcurrant, broccoli, citrus fruits, guava, parsley, peppers, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, rosehips, and strawberries. Other antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E, co-enzyme Q10, selenium, zinc, betacarotene, grape seed, pine bark, green tea, bilberry, gingko biloba, and lipoic acid.
Point seven: Eat more zinc
It is important that your zinc levels are adequate. Zinc is immune-enhancing and acts as an antioxidant. Take a zinc supplement daily and before going out. Food sources high in zinc include red meat (beef), ginger, milk, oyster, shellfish, fish, nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and wholegrains.
Point eight: Line your stomach
If you have more than a few drinks in a night, when the alcohol hits your stomach it will trigger an immune response. Histamine is released which irritates the stomach lining, leading to pain and nausea. If you know you are going to be drinking have something to eat before you go out, to line your stomach. This way you will be able to handle your alcohol more effectively.
If you eat a meal with fat, protein and carbohydrates in it, you will absorb alcohol three times slower than on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed more rapidly in the small intestine than the stomach, so the longer you can keep alcohol in the stomach the slower your blood alcohol levels will rise. Foods that contain fats slow stomach emptying. Have a meal containing some form of good fat. Choose foods such as fish, olives, foods cooked with olive oil, hummus, avocado and raw nuts.
Point nine: Choose your drinks wisely
Stay away from sugary, high calorie alcoholic drinks and mixers. This includes tonic, soft drinks and mixer concentrates. Go for soda water with your favourite spirit with some fresh lime or lemon. Hangovers are worsened by low blood sugar levels when you wake up. Having a big sugar rush the previous night will send your sugar levels soaring in the immediate term. However, these will plummet overnight, leaving you feeling exhausted, dizzy and flat in the morning.
Point ten: Try NUX-VOM
A great hangover SOS to take on the 'morning after' is a homoeopathic remedy NUX-VOM and is ideal for hangover symptoms such as headaches and nausea. This is also a great one to have when you've over-eaten.
By Lisa Guy
Naturopath and nutritionist
Art of Healing