As everyone who has consumed more alcohol than they should have understands, the common symptoms of a hangover are headache, poor concentration, reduced motor skills (and subsequent poor motoring), dizziness, thirst, nausea, excess gastric acidity and tiredness. A hangover can be mild or severe depending on many factors including the amount and type of alcohol consumed and the rate at which the alcohol was broken down and eliminated. This rate of breakdown is based on hereditary factors, age, gender, diet and existing health conditions. Thankfully, there are scientifically verified herbal remedies that can assist the body in metabolizing alcohol and protecting you from its toxic byproducts and hangovers symptoms.
How is Alcohol Metabolized?
The rate at which alcohol gets metabolized in the body is one of the main factors that determines the severity of hangover symptoms. Most of the alcohol that people drink is metabolized in the liver. Alcohol first gets broken down to an intermediate product, acetaldehyde, by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) through the process of oxidation (as well as via the secondary effects of catalase and cytochrome P450). Acetaldehyde is highly toxic and cancer causing and needs to be metabolized quickly. In addition, many highly reactive free-radicals are generated in the process of alcohol metabolism that require the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms to neutralize them. When these antioxidant enzymes are exhausted then cellular DNA damage can occur.
Hangovers from the Build-up of Acetadehyde and Free Radicals
Irregardless of how much alcohol is consumed, the body can only eliminate a fixed amount of acetaldehyde per hour, on average it takes between 1-2 hours per standard drink (heavier body weight individuals process at a slightly faster rate). Acetaldehyde is then converted to harmless acetate (vinegar) by a second enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH)2 which can then be finally utilized as energy and eliminated as C02 and water.
It is when excess amounts of alcohol are consumed that the acetaldehyde builds up in the body and is responsible for the toxic symptoms of nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse and skin flushing as well as the prolonged hangover symptoms of tiredness, poor concentration and reduced motor skills. In heavy drinkers and alcoholics then the excess free radicals and acetaldehyde toxicity contributes to chronic liver disease, various cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular and nervous system diseases.
Acetaldehyde and the Facial Flush
Up to 50% of Asians (most common in China, Japan and Korea) and a lesser percentage of other races have genetic variants in the gene responsible for metabolizing acetaldehyde (ALDH)2. This results in higher blood acetaldeyhde levels causing an embarrassing facial redness and vasodilation, also known as the “Asian flush”. Unfortunately, this also results in a greater incidence of alcoholic toxicity and hangover symptoms of nausea, headache and vomiting and thus such individuals are often recommended to avoid or limit their alcohol intake. A higher incidence of digestive tract and liver cancer is observed in those who experience the facial flush and continue to drink regularly and this is thought to be due to the additional damaging effects of acetaldehyde toxicity and a strong reason why anyone with a pronounced facial flush should avoid alcohol entirely.
So what’s a good natural hangover remedy?
Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic that causes dehydration as a result of the increased urination. The first job is a rehydration drink with balanced electrolytes and we recommend coconut water, or a drink made with coconut sugar or coconut syrup. The herbal medicine philosophy is “prevention is better than cure” so it’s wise to take some liver protective herbs before and after consuming alcohol. What are the most effective liver protective herbs as proven by laboratory and clinical studies? The tropical Asian herbs Hempedu Bumi (Andrographis paniculata), Kunyit (Curcuma longa) and Pokok dukung anak (Phyllanthus niruri) have all been exhaustively studied for their effects on protecting from ethanol toxicity and enhancing liver function. Each of these herbs has been verified by extensive scientific research to fulfill the criteria needed in a natural hangover remedy: liver protective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, anti ulcer, bitter stimulation of digestive enzymes, elimination of toxins and improved glucose metabolism.
What can be expected when taking a powerful natural hangover remedy? If taken before and after consuming alcohol (and drinking within moderation) followed by adequately rehydrating, then hangovers can be very much reduced or eliminated entirely. If taken only on the “morning after” then the goal is to reduce the symptoms and protect the body from alcohol toxicity.