What nutrients are required when you’ve consumed too much alcohol?

Consuming alcohol can inhibit the absorption and usage of specific nutrients, which play a role in good health such as complex B vitamins, especially thiamine, B12 and folic acid, as well as your fat soluble vitamins A, C, D and E, and minerals magnesium and zinc.

Why are they important? 

Malnutrition from regular and heavy alcohol consumption may contribute to other signs and symptoms, and health conditions. The importance of the nutrients affected by alcohol are as follows:

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) is involved in the metabolism of proteins and fat and the formation of haemoglobin. It is also essential to energy production for its role in metabolising carbohydrates.
  • Vitamin B12 is essential to good health. It helps maintain healthy red blood cells and nerve cells. As vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, vegans and vegetarians who drink alcohol are more at risk of deficiencies.
  • Folic acid is an integral part in the formation of new cells; a lack of it can cause anaemia.
  • Zinc is essential to our energy metabolic processes and immunity. A zinc deficiency can make you more susceptible to colds and flus and a reduction in energy.
  • Magnesium has many roles in the body, primarily responsible for the function of neuromuscular cells and the cardiovascular system.
  • Vitamin A is important antioxidant for cell growth, cellular communication and a healthy immune system.
  • Vitamin C is one of our most potent antioxidants and is essential for a healthy immune system, tissue and bone repair, as well as for the elimination of free radicals.
  • Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in the absorption of calcium into our bones and teeth to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, other bone conditions and gum disease. It is also very important for the regulation of our immune system.
  • Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant responsible for reducing free radical damage, immune function and conditions related to ageing and cardiovascular health

Why ‘hair of the dog’ might be a bad idea

“Hair of the Dog” may not necessarily be the best idea to avoid a hangover. It will provide a numbing effect, initially, but all you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable, and it will likely make your hangover symptoms worse. Your body has to process all the toxins you spent loading it up the night before, and giving it additional amounts of alcohol just extends the timetable.

Common hangover cures you might want to rethink 

Reaching for the Panadol – Panadol is paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, which is generally used to treat pain and fever. Although it may help ease the symptom of a headache, acetaminophen can cause great havoc on your liver if ingested while intoxicated. The reason being is that when your liver is busy metabolising alcohol, it processes the painkiller differently than it otherwise would. As a result, toxic compounds are produced that can cause inflammation and damage to the liver. It could also potentially increase the chance of bleeding in your stomach and gastrointestinal tract due to it already being inflamed from the alcohol. My advice is, unless you’ve got just a killer headache, you’re probably better off avoiding the Panadol and drinking lots of water and getting some rest.

Also, contrary to popular belief, having a big greasy breakfast may not necessarily be a great idea either. The reason being is that a large, fatty meal is going to be more difficulty for your stomach to digest and that fried foods may irritate the gut causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and/or cramping.

Foods you should try instead

There is some science behind the tradition of eggs, for the morning after. Egg yolks are rich in cysteine, an amino acid that scientists believe may break down acetaldehyde, a toxin that is produced when the liver processes alcohol, which is also responsible for some hangover symptoms.

A smarter way to feed a hangover is with lighter food like dry toast, boiled rice or pasta, plain yoghurt or stewed fruit and plenty of fluid. Freshly squeezed juices are a great way to increase fluid intake as well as providing vitamin C, which may assist the liver in flushing the toxins from the alcohol. Also, the fructose in the fruit helps to naturally boost the body’s energy and the fibre will also assist your body in breaking down and absorbing the remains of last night’s alcohol. Finally, since alcohol can have a diuretic effect, the fruit will restore the vitamins and nutrients that are lost from frequent urination and any associated diarrhoea and vomiting.

Bananas are another champion food since they are high in potassium, an electrolyte that is lost as a result of heavy drinking.

Beverages that contain electrolytes such as coconut water, Gatorade or even Hydrolyte sachets can be very beneficial to consume before you go to bed or the following day to replace the electrolytes that are lost due to the diuretic effect of alcohol. 

 Hangover-friendly meals 

  • A whole wheat scrambled egg wrap – with diced tomato, avocado, lean bacon (optional) and salsa.
  • Poached eggs on wholemeal or multigrain toast + grilled tomato, spinach and avocado
  • Protein banana smoothie – protein powder (preferably pea-based), almond or coconut milk, banana (or other fruit of your choice), chia seeds.
  • Miso soup
  • Chicken soup
  • Porridge made on almond milk topped with sliced banana and chia seeds
  • Chia pudding made on coconut milk or water
  • Smashed avocado with feta and tomatoes (feel free to add an egg) served on wholemeal or multigrain toast.

Are there foods that help prevent a hangover? 

It’s important to note that people will absorb and metabolise alcohol at different rates and there are many factors that contribute to that as well as the severity of a hangover. Some tips regarding foods that may assist with reducing the severity of a hangover include:

  • Water or coconut water – dehydration is the most common cause or a hangover and symptoms associated with it such as a headache. By staying well hydrated before you go out drinking, while you are out and before you go to bed may reduce the severity of a hangover.
  • A solid meal will cause your stomach to focus on slowing the movement of food and liquid through your body so the digestive process can occur. If you don’t eat before you drink, the alcohol will essentially be absorbed a lot faster into your blood stream. Focus on fat and protein-loaded foods to provide a nice slow-burning meal that will help regulate the absorption of alcohol.
  • A meal that contains complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, rice or pasta will provide your body the B vitamins and glucose it loses from heavy alcohol consumption. Since these carbohydrates are slow releasing, the glucose will stay in your blood stream for longer.

What can you do to protect or assist your liver after overindulging?

There are some specific nutrients, antioxidants and traditional herbs that have been clinically proven to assist with the function and health of your liver. Taking these in a supplement form is the most efficient way. Having said this, before taking any supplements, it should be discussed with a health practitioner to make sure it is safe for you. Some of these nutrients and herbs include:

  • Silybum marianum (milk thistle) -is traditionally used in western herbal medicine as an antioxidant that protects the liver and supports its function.
  • Glutathione – often referred to as the ‘master antioxidant’, as it is the most abundant endogenous antioxidant and a key regulator of oxidative stress and immune function. Glutathione is involved in detoxification and elimination of metabolic by-products.
  • Theracurmin – Curcumin, the chief active ingredient of turmeric, has demonstrated antioxidant activity and promotes healthy gallbladder contraction, which is important for the overall health of your liver.
  • Zinc, selenium and vitamin C – antioxidants that are important for optimal glutathione function and reduce oxidative stress, contributing to the detoxification process.

Other foods that are important in the health of your liver include:

  • Globe artichoke is used as a choleretic (substances that increase the volume of secretion of bile from the liver), to increase bile flow, and to help relieve digestive disturbances such as indigestion.
  • Brassica and green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower and collard greens contain anthocyanin antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress on the liver.