October 7th, 2012

Why Hangovers Get Worse With Age

In your 20′s you can knock back two martinis, down a glass of champagne, sip your man’s beer and drink countless bottles of wine over dinner and not feel hungover the next day. Move into your 30′s, and the martinis and beer go. Edge towards your 40′s and you’re swearing off alcohol altogether after a ‘rough night’ of two glasses of wine. In your 50′s, cough medicine makes you hungover.

Is it age?  And if so, what can you do to defy it?  The good news is, it isn’t age. Rather, it is the accumulation of toxins that occurs when we get older making it more challenging to process and eliminate alcohol. The result –  the more toxic we are, the more intense the hangover.

Putting less toxins in the body is the obvious solution, and that includes alcohol. Wine is simply grape juice with ethanol (a toxin) infused into it. For every glass of wine consumed, ethanol makes a hundred passes around the body before it is eliminated. A healthy liver gets rid of one drink per hour; imbibe more than that and you’ll get drunk and risk a hangover.

According to Eric Braverman, MD, author of A Younger You, a healthy liver is shiny and red, while an alcoholic or fatty liver looks bruised and like rotting foie gras. Braverman asserts that almost all people who consume two drinks a night have a fatty liver. A fatty liver elevates triglyceride levels, impairs glucose regulation and makes it more challenging to clear toxins from the body.

If you consistently wake up at 3am, when the liver is most active, you may have a fatty liver or certainly, an over-loaded and over-worked liver. Having alcohol-free days and using nutritional support will help rejuvenate the liver.

The enzyme responsible for breaking down ethanol, is alcohol dehydrogenase.  Alcohol dehydrogenase spikes in the evening but is lower at lunchtime. That’s why a glass of rosé at lunch makes you drunker than an evening glass of wine.  Genetics also determine how much alcohol dehydrogenase you produce. People of an Asian descent, often have less of this enzyme, making them more vulnerable to being drunk faster and more susceptible to a hangover.

Food sensitivities may also contribute to a hangover. If you find yourself feeling worse after beer or champagne, then you may have a Brewer’s yeast sensitivity.  Sensitivities are acquired not born with.  The more you expose yourself to a food, the more likely you are to develop a sensitivity to it.  A gluten sensitivity, for instance, would make scotch, whisky and vodka-based drinks your kryptonite (most vodkas in the US are grain-based, not gluten-free). I have a gluten-sensitivity but love an Old Fashioned.  If that’s my drink of choice, I know I’m not getting out of bed before noon the following day.

Additives and sulfites in wine will also add to the liver’s ability to clear and process toxins. French wines have less additives than Italian, Spanish and American wines. These days, I principally stick to a good French wine.

If you are going to drink, the aim is to limit the amount of other work the liver has to do.

Below are ten steps to help decrease the risk and intensity of a hangover.

1. Protect the liver with antioxidants – alpha lipoic acid, milk thistle, B Complex, cinnamon and turmeric all help protect and regenerate the liver cells.

2. Limit exposure to dietary and environmental toxins – eat organic and antibiotic free, avoid chemicals and preservatives in food, drink clean filtered water, limit pharmaceutical medication and use non-toxic cleaning products in the house.

3. Eat bitter foods to help increase bile production to remove toxins from the body – arugula, artichoke, broccoli rabe, dandelion greens, endive, kale and radicchio are examples of bitter foods. Eat branizno and broccoli rabe at an Italian restaurant; make an arugula and artichoke salad; sauté dandelion greens and toss with lemon zest.

4.  Start your day with a hot water, lemon and cayenne pepper drink. The bitterness of the lemon and cayenne pepper starts the bile flow to help clear toxins from the body.

5. Get tested for food sensitivities.  We use ALCAT for testing food sensitivities.

6. Avoid drinking wine with pasta, and beer with pizza. Eating carbohydrates when consuming alcohol places extra stress on the liver to regulate glucose levels and concurrently clear the alcohol. Choose wine with fish instead (but not tuna or swordfish as they are high in mercury, another toxin).

7. Ideally, drink in the evening, not at lunch, when alcohol dehydrogenase is at its peak.

8. When drinking alcohol, always start with a glass of water.  You are typically dehydrated and the first glass of wine goes down in 10 minutes due to dehydration not necessarily taste. Then match your water to wine.

9. Don’t mix your drinks.  The combination of wine, beer and liquor places more stress on the liver to clear the different alcohols. And don’t even think about using an energy drink or diet soda as a mixer, it will wreck havoc with the liver’s clearance mechanisms.

10. If you are hungover, sleep, shower, eat eggs for breakfast (helps recovery), drink filtered water and coconut water (replaces electrolytes), munch on cucumber, watermelon and other juicy foods and load up on B vitamins.

Enjoy your drink of choice, then start going through your parents’ wine cellar explaining to them the diminishing returns they will get from drinking wine unless they add in liver support. Be kind and share the information – they were drinking a lot in the 60′s.