Hangovers are an exercise in regret. No matter how much fun I had last night, when the room is spinning, my head is pounding, and my stomach is in turmoil, I always regret that last drink…or two…or three. There is always the wish that I could go back in time and have a do-over. Then there’s the moment when I realize I am hungover to remind me never to do that again, which for me, is pretty effective.
So you’ve got a hangover. Does Chinese medicine have anything to offer in this arena? Well, in Chinese medicine, the action of alcohol is warm, dispersing, and in large amounts, toxic. In both Chinese and Western medicine, alcohol is metabolized by your Liver. The warm and dispersing action of the alcohol dries you out, depleting Liver Yin, which is the nourishing coolant in your body. As a result, Liver Yang, which is warm and active, rises upward creating all kinds of symptoms that you’d rather not have. The overall dryness and heat rising gives you a killer headache, upsets your stomach, and makes you feel miserable in general.
Here are a few things that you can do to be a little less miserable while you’re learning your hangover lesson:
-Rehydrate. This one is simple, as many of your symptoms are the cause of being dehydrated. That said, what you drink makes a difference. Steer clear of coffee, tea, or any other caffeinated drink, as they are also warming and dispersing, which will only make your hangover worse. In addition, don’t even think about having another drink. That advice is most likely coming from your drinking buddies, not anyone who cares about alleviating your hangover symptoms. What they should have told you is to down a couple of glasses of water before passing out in bed last night; you’d be feeling a lot better in the morning.
-As for what to drink, choose warm or room temperature water, herbal tea, or a not-very-sweet sports drink. Even better is Sprite. After studying dozens of drinks, researchers have concluded that Sprite is the most effective drink to reduce your hangover symptoms. That’s because it speeds up the metabolism of acetaldehyde, which is a by-product of alcohol that’s responsible for most of your symptoms.
-For your upset stomach, drink a little ginger tea or ginger grated into warm water. One of the primary actions of ginger is to calm an upset stomach. You can buy ginger root at the grocery store and keep it in the freezer.
-Apply cool compresses to your head or neck. Remember, your headache is coming from a kind of energetic heat rising upward, so help cool it off; you’ll feel better.
-What to eat? When your stomach has calmed down enough to want food, take it easy at first. My go to choice is a congee, which is a kind of rice porridge/soup that’s very gentle on a cranky stomach. Simmer one part rice to seven parts water or broth until the rice is tender. You can add grated ginger, scallions, and a protein of your choice, like an egg, tofu, or chicken. As a breakfast food, add nuts, raisins, and cinnamon, and use a bit of brown sugar instead of broth for flavoring.
By actively rehydrating, cooling your headache, and treating your upset stomach with TLC, your hangover should be a thing of the past in short order. In addition, savor the regret you have for how much you drank last night; it can decrease your risk for hangovers!