Simple steps can help you avoid that festive hangover

Avoid a hangover by taking steps before, during and after a night out, says Sharon Ní Chonchúir.

Simple steps can help you avoid that festive hangover

We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a…

These may be the words of a popular song but we might be in danger of taking them a little too literally at this time of year.

In the coming weeks, many of us will attend parties where we’ll be offered all sorts of Christmas cocktails.

It’s going to be all too easy to overindulge and the next thing we know, we’ll be waking up with a throbbing headache, churning stomach, and depression that inevitably follow a night on the tiles.

“We tend to drink a lot more at Christmas,” says dietician Sarah Keogh of

“We think it’s grand because we all do it but it does a lot of harm to our bodies. That hangover is our body’s way of telling us we’ve done something very bad.”

Last year, we drank 90m pints in pubs and bought 621,000 bottles of champagne and sparkling wine during the months of November and December. That’s a lot of hangovers right there.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There are things we can do to avoid hangovers in the first place and minimise their impact if and when we do end up drinking too much.

We could do what Michael Fassbender does when he wakes up the worse for wear. Dancing to AC/DC helps him to dissipate the fear.

Or we could follow clean-living Gwyneth Paltrow’s advice of brunning a super-hot bath and a freezing cold shower and alternating between the two until we feel better.

But the best approach is to take preventative action and cut back on the number of drinks we’re knocking back.

Keogh warns about binge drinking.

“Binge drinking is defined as three pints or three large wines in a 24-hour period,” she says.

“That might surprise some people as in Ireland, that’s merely the warm-up.”

There are serious dangers involved with binge drinking.

Starting at the lower end of the scale, there’s dizziness, loss of co-ordination, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Then there’s the risk of passing out or alcohol poisoning. And that’s not to mention the poor decisions made due to lack of judgment, decisions that often include risky sexual behaviour.

Sensible precautions

TV presenter and medical practitioner Dr Pixie McKenna urges partygoers to take sensible precautions such as eating something before a night out. Even something as simple as a cheese sandwich will make a difference.

“Never drink on an empty stomach as it will get you drunker faster and make for a hellish hangover,” she says.

When it comes to the alcoholic drinks you should enjoy, Dr McKenna advises sticking to what you know.

“Becoming the cocktail queen at the Christmas party is ill-advised if you normally stick to sauvignon blanc,” she says.

She also warns people off mixing drinks or lashing into the punch.

“You don’t know what’s in there so beware.”

Another tip is not to let people top up your drink.

“Finish one before you move on to the next,” she says.

“That way, you’ll keep track of how much you’re drinking.”

Many people think they’re safe drinking wine but Sarah Keogh urges them to think again.

“A regular bottle of 12% wine adds up to about seven units of alcohol while a bottle of 14.5% adds up to 11 units,” she says.

“If you drink one bottle of wine, that’s a full week’s worth of units for a woman in one sitting.”

She also cautions against buying rounds.

“If you’re in a big group, you could well end up drinking ten drinks and this is a recipe for disaster.”

Healing herbs

GP and herbalist Dr Dilis Clare believes that certain blends of herbs can help reduce the impact of alcohol on the body.

“We’ve been celebrating by drinking to excess since time immemorial,” she says.

“Throughout history, healers have had herbs and blends of herbs to help people to get up and get on with feeding the cattle, looking after the children, or doing whatever they needed to do the following morning. That old traditional wisdom is still there.”

Dr Clare recommends different herbs for these purposes. Ginger and dandelion root stimulate alcohol elimination through bile.

Milk thistle promotes liver enzymes that play a part in processing alcohol. Ginger, meadowsweet, and peppermint soothe the digestion.

Meadowsweet and silver birch are anti-inflammatory and gentian and dandelion root calm the nervous system.

Her personal blend combines all of these herbs.

She advises her clients to take with water before they overindulge in food or alcohol at any time of year.

“I tell them to take one shot before they start, another before they crash out when they come home, and another in the morning,” she says.

“If they do, any hangover symptoms are likely to be less than they have a right to hope for.”

Water is another priority for Sarah Keogh. “When you arrive at the party, drink water first,” she says.

“You often arrive feeling thirsty and you’ll gulp your first drink. Do that with water and you’ll be fine. Do it with alcohol and it’ll go to your head immediately.”

She also recommends having one glass of water for every alcoholic drink.

“It keeps you hydrated and it slows you down,” she says.

“It helps you keep track of where you are and how you feel in relation to your alcohol intake. Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself having had three or four drinks in a row, at which point you’re beyond the stage where you’re able to be rational and tell yourself to stop.”

Healing the hangover

Despite all your best efforts, that disaster might occur and if you do wake up to a hangover this Christmas, our experts have other tips to share.

We shouldn’t treat hangovers with caffeine or fizzy drinks, according to Dr McKenna.

“Water is best,” she says.

Sarah Keogh suggests adding fruit juice and salt to that water.

“Drinks with electrolytes help your body to absorb water and replace sodium a little quicker but water with a little juice and a pinch of salt does that just as well so I wouldn’t bother spending money on expensive drinks,” she says.

When it comes to food, fatty foods are best avoided.

“Mammy’s fry is not advised,” says Dr McKenna. “Go for carbs instead.”

Keogh recommends foods that support the liver in detoxifying your body.

“Fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds will give the liver the antioxidants it needs to do this so things like vegetable soup would be a lot better than a fry,” she says.

Despite your body telling you that all it wants is to curl up on the sofa, some light exercise such as a brisk walk could help.

“It’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing but a 15-minute walk will get your body going,” says Keogh.

“Your body will metabolise the alcohol so much quicker than if you sit in front of the television all day.”

Dr McKenna advises against popping a pill.

“Ibuprofen and aspirin can irritate the gut which is unlikely to be happy as it is,” she says.

She is also against the idea of having some of the hair of the dog that bit you.

“In Ireland, that’s likely to be followed by another for the road and then many more,” she says.

“Whatever you do, don’t start the process of a new hangover to repair the last one.”

A few days of rest and recuperation are what is required in the aftermath of a hangover, according to Sarah Keogh.

“A hangover means you’ve done your body harm and need a few days to recover,” she says.

That’s 48 hours or longer. Be good to your body during this time and bear this in mind if you have more parties to go to.”

Cheers to alcohol-free cocktails

all like to paint the town red at Christmas but this doesn’t always have to mean drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

There are plenty of alcohol-free drinks that go down a treat without running the risk of giving you a headache the following morning.

There’s the famous Shirley Temple.  This mix of grenadine, ice, ginger ale or lemonade topped off with a maraschino cherry is always a hit with designated drivers, expectant mothers and others who are watching their alcohol consumption.

A mojito has all of the flavours of a classic mojito. It combines lime juice, lemonade or club soda with mint leaves and sugar.

A safe sex on the beach is a blend of orange juice, cranberry juice, peach juice, grenadine and no more. Its colourful good looks will make you feel festive without packing the alcoholic punch of its naughtier namesake.

A virgin Mary is another refreshing option. It combines tomato juice, lemon juice, tabasco, celery salt and Worcestershire sauce to give all of the savoury kick you’re used to with a bloody Mary.

For a more indulgent treat, try a virgin pina colada. All you need is pineapple juice, coconut milk, fresh pineapple and ice.

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