Seeing in Christmas and the New Year is often a double-edged sword - enjoyment laced with the remorse of hangovers and overeating. A preemptive strike can largely prevent the morning after.
Acetaldehyde is the first product made when your liver breaks down alcohol. This substance, some 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself, generates free radicals and interferes with certain chemical processes in the brain. The quicker you get rid of acetaldehyde, the less likely you are to suffer a hangover.
Alcohol is also a diuretic, causing a sudden loss of fluids, ions, sugars, essential minerals and vitamins, such as vitamin B.
* Eat something first. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. At the very least, have a small protein-filled snack and take a multimineral supplement before going out.
* Take cysteine supplements ( 200 mg) beforehand, combined with 50 mg of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin C (500 mg). Cysteine plus glutathione, which it produces, both detox the effects of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde immediately destroys thiamine, and doctors have long known that an instant cure for an alcoholic with a hangover is an injection of B1. In studies, animals given a mix of vitamin C, vitamin B1 and cysteine were able to survive potentially lethal doses of acetaldehyde (Agents Act, 1975; 51: 64-73; Intl J Vit Nutr Res, 1977; 47 [Suppl 1G]: 185-212). Take supplements before, during and after drinking.
* Pick your poison carefully. All alcohol contains chemicals called 'congeners' as a byproduct of the fermentation process. As a rule, the darker the drink (red wine, scotch, brandy, bourbon), the more congeners it has. Stick to light-coloured alcohol (gin, vodka, white wine) and, if possible, organic wine. Don't drink the cheap stuff, which is laden with other chemicals, too.
* Nurse your drinks. Drink no more than one drink per hour, so that you keep pace with your liver, which breaks down the byproducts of alcohol at about the same rate.
* Go smash an egg. Drink eggnog or a milk drink with egg and a bit of fruit sugar before you retire (or a 'bull's eye' - a raw egg in a glass of orange juice). Eggs are rich in cysteine.
* Drink an entire glass of water, which will help rehydrate you.
The following day, if your head is killing you:
* Try homoeopathy: Cocculus indicus 6C (good for a beer hangover as well as for nausea, drowsiness and dizziness); Natrum phosphoricum 6D (good for a wine hangover as well as for symptoms of dehydration or too much acid); Nux vom 6D (for nausea, general overindulgence, irritability and sensitivity to noise); and Natrum sulphuricum 6D (for dull, heavy headaches).
* Try herbs. Make a tea of two teaspoons each of chamomile, hawthorne, hops and peppermint in a cup of hot water. Or try Padma 28, a herbal based on an ancient Tibetan formula and a traditional remedy for eating too much meat or fat.
* Try essential oils, in a steamy bath, a sauna or as a basic massage oil applied to your temples. Adding a few drops of oil of basil, juniper, grapefruit or rosemary will help detox you more quickly.
* Take a mix of calcium carbonate and activated charcoal. An unpublished US study found that a proprietary brand of charcoal and calcium called 'Chaser' (www. Doublechaser.com) was 10 times more effective than a placebo in preventing 17 common hangover symptoms. Don't take it regularly, as it will also soak up nutrients.
* Continue your supplements, but add the full complement of B vitamins (especially pantothenic acid, or B5), magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, which is also depleted by acetaldehyde (Am J Clin Nutr, 1995; 61: 1284-9).
* Take taurine, if you are a chronic drinker. Animal studies show that taurine is depleted by chronic exposure to alcohol, although these results may not apply to humans (Brain Res, 1996; 735: 9-19).
* Don't do this very often.
Harald Gaier is on holiday this month.