If ever we needed a reliable hangover "cure" it's for this New Year. But is there such a thing in alternative medicine?
Since alcohol is a diuretic, replenishing the lost fluids, sugars and essential ions should be one of the objectives of combating hangovers.
A heavy night of drinking will wipe out your reserves of an enzyme called glutathione. This mops up destructive free radicals accumulating in the liver. N-acetyl-L-cysteine, an amino acid (sometimes also known in the US as Mucomyst), helps in rounding up these destructive little free radicals by stimulating the formation of glutathione.
The detoxication process that is needed to keep the next morning's splitting headache at bay will continue at an increased pace and carry on if glutathione is in ample supply.
Taking N-acetyl-L-cysteine beforehand should ensure this and allow you to wake up with a clear head (a team of researchers at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Illinois is looking into the effects of this amino acid at the present time).
Indeed, eggs are rich in cysteine, which may be why eggnog, steak and eggs, steak tartare, and even a glass of milk with an egg and fruit sugar whisked into it and taken before going to bed have long been considered tried and tested hangover remedies.
The "hair of the dog" approach of more alcohol early the next morning seems to work by displacing the methanol detoxication process going on in the liver.
Methanol is found in small quantities in cheap wines and a fair number of other alcoholic drinks, and the liver converts some of the methanol to formic acid, which produces the more severe hangover symptoms.
These biochemical effects are currently being studied by a team of "alcohol" researchers at the National Laboratory of Forensic Toxicology in Linkoeping, Sweden.
Whenever more "normal" alcohol gets consumed, the liver appears to get temporarily distracted from this detoxication work. But eventually the detoxication process must resume, at which point, you finally must face that hangover.
One way of speeding up the detox process is vigorous exercise, a Turkish steam bath or a sauna, which will force out the toxins with your increased perspiration. In aromatherapy, a few drops of essential oils of basil, grapefruit, juniper or rosemary added to a warm bath or to massage oil base and massaged in can help to alleviate symptoms. Inhaling a few drops of one of these oils on a handkerchief can even help those confined to their beds.
In homoeopathy, the four grand old standbys for hangovers are:
Cocculus indicus 6C (good for for dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, especially excellent after drinking beer);
Natrum phosphoricum 6D (to relieve symptoms of dehydration, and counteract acidity after drinking wine);
Natrum sulphuricum 6D (which helps the liver in the elimination of toxins best if a dull heavy headache is present); and
Nux vomica 6C (helps when there is great sensitivity to noises, irascibility, nausea, as well as all the general effects of over indulgence of food, alcohol or other stimulants).
One proven herbal remedy consists of an infusion of two teaspoonfuls each of camomile, hawthorn, hops and peppermint added to boiling water.
Another possible brew is similar quantities of lime flower (or linden blossoms), valerian, rosemary and vervain.
You must remember that a night spent carousing will mean that you have short changed yourself on your normal amount of sleep. A mixture of lime flower and camomile can make you drowsy and offer possibly the best cure of all sleeping it off.
!AHarald Gaier is a registered osteopath, naturopath and homoeopath.