A little over a year ago, I started seeing an acupuncturist. My friend Whitney urged me into her office to learn more about Chinese medicine and the accompanying Eastern outlook on diet and nutrition. Heidi took one look at my paperwork and, in the nicest and most medically professional way possible, told me what I kind of already knew: that my health was a mess.
I’ve been wanting to write more about what Heidi’s taught me over the last 14 or so months, especially for those of you with gluten and other auto-immune issues like myself. But I’m going to start with something more universal – something that might just help you though the finish line of the holiday season.
There are so many of my bad health habits that Heidi’s helped me replace with better more natural practices. Unfortunately, drinking is not one of them.
One of the main things I’ve struggled with in my health journey is how to keep an eye towards wellness and still have fun. I try and give my liver a break now and then, but now when I have a big night out, I take extra care in getting my body back on track the next day with natural antidotes rather than a bottle of Advil (though having one or two as an anti-inflammatory will help round out the below).
Here are some of my go-to natural hangover cures when I’m feeling like one or more of these owls. For more articulate explanations of why these work, I’d suggest reading Heidi’s original hangover heaven blog post which is full of wisdom and one-liners, like “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
1. Coconut Water. Alcohol’s most worrisome side effect (besides its gravitational pull towards karaoke bars, late night falafel, and men who will make terrible fathers) is dehydration. Because of this, replenishing your electrolytes is an important part of nursing your hangover. Water will help, but alone will not do the trick. Coconut water is full of important electrolytes and will help replenish what you’ve lost. Gatorade works too, which is why you see so many college students carrying it to class. But besides all sorts of dyes, it’s full of high fructose corn syrup, which throws the digestive tract out of whack. Good coconut water can be expensive, but I’d rather splurge on the raw, more natural brands like Harmless Harvest than flush my money down the toilet on something like Vita Coco. In general, you should be wary of a product that claims to be pure and natural yet does not need to be kept in a refrigerator. More on that below.
2. Lacto-Fermented Vegetables (i.e. Pickled Things). Probiotics are a very important medicine for your gut. Since my digestion is already so sensitive, I feel most of the effects of my hangover in my stomach…which often leads to a very unproductive day lying in the fetal position on the couch watching Sex and the city marathons. Since alcohol destroys your stomach flora, it’s important to replenish with probiotics the next day. You can buy over the counter pills (the best ones are kept in the refrigerated section of your health food store), but lacto-fermented vegetables carry trillions of good bacteria. You’ll find a bajillion more in one pickle spear than in the whole jar of pills. Now, what you find next to your sandwich at the deli is probably not going to help. The vegetables need to be lacto-fermented the old fashioned way so that you can benefit from the live cultures. Look for anything in the refrigerated section. Anything found on the regular shelves will be too highly processed to contain any of the good bacteria that your gut needs.
3. B Vitamins. B vitamins play a key role in brain and nervous system functions. They also help in breaking down alcohol in the body. Heidi is a huge fan of Blue Bonnet’s Stress B Complex because it has the correct blend of B vitamins and just enough Vitamin C to help your body absorb them.
4. Charcoal. Growing up, my mom always gave me a couple charcoal pills when I had a flu or stomach bug because it binds to toxins in your system. Now that I’m an adult, the more prevalent evil is alcohol rather than little kid germs. Heidi recommends taking one charcoal pill before you go out and one when you get home. The problem with taking one prior is that you actually won’t get as drunk. This can of course be an excellent strategy if you have a sales job that requires you to drink a fifth of vodka every night and still make it into the office at 8am. But for the rest of us, it might defeat the purpose of flooding our insides with toxins in the first place. I try to take a charcoal before bed (if I’m in any sort of state to remember) and one in the morning to mitigate the effects of an owl hangover like “the physical.” One important thing to note: don’t take charcoal within 2 hours of any medication. It will bind to those too and render them useless. And the last thing you need to add to your hangover is for your birth control and/or anti-psychotics not to kick in.
5. Good salt. Along with electrolytes, sodium also gets flushed from the body when you drink. That’s perhaps why our bodies crave bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches the next morning. But it’s probably easier for your digestion to just add salt to your coconut water or whatever else your eating. Not all salt is created equal and most table salt is so highly processed it carries very little efficacy. I have a sodium deficiency and by simply replacing my regular salt with pink Himalayan, I’ve been able to keep myself more balanced. It tastes great and contains a host of vitamins and minerals.
6. Kombucha. Since you can’t exactly start eating a jar of pickles on the street on your way to work, kombucha is perhaps the more culturally appropriate way to get probiotics back in your body after your bender. The drinks have become so popular over the last couple years, even my local bodega carries a few different varieties. I like the ginger flavor as that also calms the stomach, in case the bacon egg and cheese is still calling to you.
7. Milk Thistle. I never heard of this one before Heidi, but apparently the active chemical in Milk Thistle (silymarin) helps the liver repair itself. And if this doesn’t necessarily make your headache go away, it will at least fortify you for the next time your friend/client/cousin forces you to take multiple tequila shots against your will.