Updated December 7, 2018.
Holiday season is in full swing and whether you’re psyched for your annual office party or are dreading an awkward family dinner, you’ll probably be hitting up a ton of social events. Which leads to enjoyment of a cocktail or a glass of wine… or two. Or more. Whoops.
If you’re going to drink, you probably know that you should do it in moderation — health experts say that means one drink a day for women and two for men, max. But it’s normal to bend (or break) certain health rules around the holidays. And while occasionally over-imbibing won’t necessarily de-rail your otherwise good intentions, it can leave you feeling like garbage. Cotton-mouthed, bleary-eyed, hungover garbage, to be exact.
While there’s no guaranteed prevention strategy, research shows that the right preparation can at least decrease your chances of spending New Year’s Day on the couch in sunglasses.
Here’s what our experts and recent studies recommend:
1. Drink a cup of Asian pear juice before a night out.
It sounds weird, but according to researchers down under, it works. A government-funded study in Australia found that people who drank 200 mL (about 1 cup) of Asian pear juice before drinking had less hangover symptoms like headaches, nausea, and light sensitivity than those who didn’t. It also improved their levels of concentration. Researchers think the effect is due to the Korean or Nashi pear’s high water content, plus other factors that actually speed up alcohol metabolism and elimination or inhibition of alcohol absorption. So far, the effect has only been studied in this one specific pear variety, so be sure to buy the right kind of juice if you want to give it a try.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
While it’s not the only thing causing your epic hangover, dehydration can definitely make the discomfort worse. Be sure to sip enough H20 before, during, and after drinking alcohol, and match every alcoholic beverage with a glass of water. According to Erica Matluck, a One Medical naturopath and nurse practitioner, water can do double duty as a prevention tool and remedy. “The best cure for a hangover is hydration, hydration, hydration,” she says. “Then sweat your heart out with exercise, a hot bath, or sauna, and rehydrate with an electrolyte replacement like coconut water.”
3. Skip the bubbles and stick to flat drinks.
Of course, it feels more festive to ring in the New Year — or any occasion — with a glass of bubbly, but it turns out that sparkling drinks and mixers can actually make your hangover worse. Researchers in the UK found the gas bubbles in carbonated beverages cause the stomach to expand and increase the rate of alcohol absorption in the blood. Researchers tested this out by having subjects drink flat and fizzy versions of the very same wine. The subjects who drank bubbly got drunk more quickly and the effects lasted longer. So if you’re trying to stave off symptoms, skip the champagne and opt for wine instead.
4. Avoid liquor high in congeners.
What are congeners, you ask? They’re byproducts like methanol and acetone that are formed when grains are fermented and then aged to create alcohol like tequila, whiskey, and rum. Liquors with high amounts of congeners, like cognac, tequila, and whiskey — especially Bourbon — have been shown to cause more intense hangovers. Clear drinks like vodka, gin, and rum, however, contain lower levels of congeners and may cut down your chances of feeling crummy. Of course, the study notes that no matter which drink you choose, the amount you drink has the biggest effect on hangovers.
5. Eat the right mix of protein, fat, and carbs for dinner and breakfast.
Maybe breakfast burritos are your go-to morning-after meal, but it’s important to also eat a well-balanced dinner before you hit the party. Everyone knows drinking on an empty stomach usually leads to disaster. That’s because food slows the absorption of alcohol, giving your body more time to efficiently metabolize it. Eating a meal with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates before drinking will help line the stomach, while a balanced breakfast replaces and re-balances the blood sugar that alcohol depletes (hangovers tend to be worse in people with low blood sugar).
What about pre-packaged supplements?
If you’ve been curious to try any of the prevention products sold in stores or online, you’re better off saving your money. While there’s some research to indicate that certain ingredients (like vitamin B) found in these products can help alleviate hangover symptoms, supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it can be impossible to know which ingredients these products actually contain. And while there are some claims regarding the effectiveness of supplements like milk thistle, vitamin C, and activated charcoal, more research is needed to determine their preventative power. Always talk to your primary health care provider before beginning a supplement regimen.
Why do hangovers happen anyway?
In short: it’s complicated. While experts once thought dehydration was the primary cause of hangovers (since alcohol is a diuretic), they now know that even adequate hydration isn’t always a surefire prevention strategy. Dehydration can definitely make the symptoms–headache, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, etc.–worse, but it’s probably not the only culprit. The discomfort in your gut could be due to inflammation of the stomach lining and delayed emptying of stomach contents, and some research suggests that certain compounds that build up as a byproduct when alcohol is metabolized can trigger some of the other morning-after symptoms like memory loss.
The best hangover prevention tip
No one wants to hear it (especially during the holidays), but the only reliable way to avoid a hangover is to drink less. Remember that “moderate” alcohol consumption is typically defined as one drink a day for women and two for men. If you’re concerned about your drinking or the drinking habits of a loved one, talk to a primary care provider–he or she can help answer any questions and point you to the right resources.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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