Yes, I know it totally sucks to be that person at a holiday party gently nursing an Aquafina water while chewing on gum—resisting the urge or social pressure to sip on a glass of wine or try one of those mind-blowingly amazing cocktails because, well, you just know how you'll probably feel the next morning and you really need to crush the day tomorrow.
Perhaps you've already tried the old-school method of chasing a bit too much beer or margarita or wine consumption with a pitcher of water (or coconut water or Gatorade or Pedialyte).
Or bought some pill from the pharmacy that seem to metabolize alcohol, but paradoxically, totally F's up your sleep cycles.
Or tried one of those alcohol-free, but oh-so-sugary-sweet, alternative beverages that skip the alcohol and instead give you pre-diabetes issues with all the sugars.
But none of it's working.
So in today's article, just in time for holiday party open bars, you'll discover how to never get a hangover again, or at least how to mitigate the effects of alcohol or a hefty bout of hedonism. After all, we healthy, active folks like to get our party on every now and again, right?
This is just a quick glimpse into the type of very practical tips and strategies you'll find in my new book “Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging“, so if you want to take an even deeper dive into performance, fat loss, digestion, sleep, recovery, hormone optimization, longevity and beyond, you can grab it here.
How Hangovers Happen In The First Place
Your pituitary gland, kidneys, and of course, liver are all affected by alcohol consumption, which can lead to a whole host of side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and the dreaded hangover headache. Most people think that hangovers are the result of dehydration. But even if you have followed the sage advice to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage consumed, you can still wake up feeling less than stellar.
This is because dehydration is just one factor in a hangover.
Your pituitary gland normally produces antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which increases your blood pressure by causing your body to retain water. When you drink alcohol, your pituitary gland churns out less ADH, so you stop retaining so much water, which is one reason the bathroom line is so long at parties. But as soon as your buzz begins to wear off, ADH production increases once again, which causes a rebound of fluid retention, swollen hands and feet, a puffy face, and a headache as blood pressure rises.
At the same time, your kidneys pump out more of the enzyme renin and the hormone aldosterone. This promotes the secretion of vasopressin, which increases blood pressure by inducing sodium retention and potassium loss. This is why people with heart problems are most prone to a heart attack when they have a hangover: the cardiovascular system goes into electrolyte-roller-coaster hyperdrive trying to retain fluids.
And that’s not all.
Cortisol works with aldosterone to balance electrolyte levels, so when you are hungover, your body pumps out more cortisol. This not only contributes to even more fluid retention but also raises blood sugar levels by converting amino acids into glucose in your liver, a process known as gluconeogenesis. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas produces more insulin, resulting in abnormal stress on both the pancreas and the liver. These elevated levels of cortisol can also cause catabolism (decreased protein availability in skeletal muscles) as well as a redistribution of body fat from your legs and arms to your belly.
Oh yes, there’s still more.
As you drink and force your body to metabolize alcohol, your liver converts ethanol into acetaldehyde and acetate, which causes increased production of tiny blood vessel constrictors called thromboxanes. Thromboxanes also cause blood platelets to stick together and form clots and decrease levels of natural killer cells, which are crucial to the immune system. This surge in thromboxane creates symptoms very similar to those of a viral infection, including nausea, headache, and diarrhea.
Finally, most alcoholic beverages contain congeners, which significantly contribute to hangover symptoms. Congeners, which are found in high concentrations in dark-colored liquors like brandy, wine, dark tequila, and whiskey, contain free radicals and positively charged molecules that can significantly disrupt your acid-alkaline (pH) balance and increase your body’s need to step up antioxidant activity to scavenge all those free radicals. As your body goes into fight-or-flight mode to help you handle all these congeners, you get gastrointestinal issues, nausea, headaches, sweatiness, clamminess, and/or chills.
In addition, a night of partying or excessive alcohol intake causes…
…an impressive improvement in body composition and fat loss even if you exercise less (ha! just making sure you're paying attention…always click on the studies if you doubt me).
So what can you do about this cluster of reactions that can occur once you foray into the realm of two or more alcoholic drinks? Read on, and brace yourself for a thorough series of steps that work like gangbusters if you really need to crush the next big holiday party – and still be able to work or workout the next day without feeling like nails are driving into your head. For even more, check out two additional resources I've found to be quite handy: my friend Mark Sisson's “A Primal New Year’s Eve Survival Guide” and Steve Kamb's “Is It Possible To Drink & Still Be Healthy“.
(finally, lest you be concerned that alcohol may not be good for you at all, you should read this alcohol microdosing article, because it's exactly why I personally drink nearly every single day of the year).
How To Prevent A Hangover (Or How To Recovery From Just About Any Outburst Of Hedonism, Toxic Excess, Or Partying)
Before The Party
-One to three days before the big party, begin to log as much sleep as possible. Research has shown this extra sleep helps to mitigate the effects of later sleep loss. In addition, to lower inflammation and improve mitochondrial function, limit your intake of vegetable oil and omega-6 fatty acids and emphasize monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and saturated fatty acids (SFAs). Animal studies have confirmed that high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) increase liver damage in response to alcohol intake, while more stable fats like cocoa butter and coconut oil can protect against this damage. If you do eat omega-6s, try to make sure they come from whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, and eggs.
-If you struggle with sleep, definitely check out my articles “Deep Sleep Decoded: Everything You Need To Know To Increase Your Deep Sleep Percentages.” and “The Last Resource On Sleep You’ll Ever Need: Ben Greenfield’s Ultimate Guide To Napping, Jet Lag, Sleep Cycles, Insomnia, Sleep Food, Sleep Supplements, Exercise Before Bed & Much, Much More!”
-Next: work out (preferably kinda hard) on the day of the party. Strength training or HIIT prior to heavy eating or drinking can improve glycemic response to carbohydrate-laden foods or drinks. Exercise also increases antioxidant activity and reduces alcohol-induced liver damage. Eat several egg yolks or a serving of liver. Your liver will be burning through its choline stores so it can mitigate the damage of drinking, and this will top off those stores. Choline supplementation or doubling your normal dose of fish oil can also work well.
-Before the party begins, about an hour or two prior, eat a spoonful each of extra-virgin avocado oil, extra-virgin olive oil, and red palm oil. The polyphenols in olive oil and avocado oil and the vitamin E in red palm oil can protect against alcohol-induced oxidative stress, and the monounsaturated and saturated fats in all three protect the liver. In a pinch or in a hurry, just choose one.
-If you have time or suspect you'll be ravenous when you get to the party, eat a light meal along with the fats above. Although a liver that is emptied of glycogen stores does allow you to convert the fructose in cocktails and wines into liver glycogen, which might make you consider a complete liver-glycogen-emptying fast before partying, if you plan to drink heavily, you want some food in your stomach to slow the absorption of the alcohol, but not so much food that you’re overloaded with calories from both the meal and the booze. If you do not eat, you risk flooding your body with too much ethanol too fast, and the subsequent conversion into acetaldehyde can overwhelm your antioxidant defenses. Preferably, this meal should include plenty of polyphenol-rich plants and spices, including turmeric powder, ginger, berries, and beets, since anything pungent or colorful is fantastic for alcohol metabolism. Another way to get in herb or plant matter is to take 1 to 2 grams of curcumin or a spoonful or two of Dr. Thomas Cowan’s potent vegetable powders. Examples of good light meals include a fresh salad topped with fish, beets, and nuts; a mess of scrambled eggs, turmeric powder, and kale served up in a corn tortilla or nori wrap; and a few small handfuls of nuts, dried ginger, dark chocolate, and berries (not only does the cocoa fat in chocolate protect against ethanol-induced liver damage, but the cocoa polyphenols can increase your antioxidant capacity). Make sure you salt these types of light meals with a good mineral-rich salt. Along with your light meal, or mixed in with the same coconut oil or olive oil mentioned above, you can mix a few spoonfuls of collagen powder or one heaping tablespoon of Kion Aminos into a smoothie or drink of your choice (such as green tea—see below) or drink a cup of organic bone broth. The glycine in collagen and gelatin reduces lipid peroxidation and antioxidant depletion in the liver. Adding vitamin C with a supplement or a squeeze of lemon can increase glycine absorption.
-Try supplementation. Take 500 to 600 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and 1 gram of vitamin C. NAC is a precursor to glutathione, the antioxidant responsible for metabolizing alcohol. Hospitals give NAC megadoses to treat Tylenol- and alcohol-based liver poisoning. Vitamin C helps NAC supply glutathione, an essential antioxidant. Take 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium. Alcohol depletes magnesium and can also cause constipation, and this helps with both. You may want to save this tactic for after the party if you find the magnesium gives you loose stool, which is common, or use a time-release magnesium formula such as Jigsaw MagSRT. Finally, although I don't market it a hangover remedy per se, the new Kion Flex is a great source of turmerosaccharides, a potent extract of turmeric that seems to knock the edge off any alcohol issues (at least for me). Read “Biohacking Recovery: The Big Problem With Curcumin, What To Use Instead, & A Brand New Formula For Blasting Your Recovery Through The Roof.” to learn all about this miracle spice that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years.
You can also drink a cup or two of very high-quality green tea or matcha (use code GREEN15 and get a 15% discount on any order). Green tea contains polyphenols that protect against ethanol-induced oxidative stress, and the caffeine and L-theanine in the tea can give you a stable, slow-release of energy for a night of fun. You can certainly double up and make yourself a green tea cocktail that includes the oils, vitamin C, and collagen powder recommended above as well, which is far more effective than forking over ten bucks for an overpriced detox juice or anti-hangover supplement.
During The Party
-Drink only the highest-quality alcohol available and avoid high-fructose corn syrup, added sugars, and other nasty ingredients. If you're a wine drinker, you'll definitely want to read my article “Dark & Dirty Secrets Of The Wine Industry, Four Ways To Make Wine Healthier, and What Kind Of Wine Fit People Should Drink.” and reserve your free sport for Wine Revealed, a film that will open your eyes to what you’re drinking and allow you to really enjoy your wine.
-A few particularly good choices are gin or vodka mixed into sparkling water with bitters or a splash of fresh juice; organic or biodynamic wine; or a noncaloric soda such as Zevia mixed with wine and ice for a sparkling cooler.
-Unless you are drinking something like Dry Farm Wines, dilute wine and other spirits with sparkling mineral water to improve hydration. If people ask why you’re bastardizing the wine with water, inform them that you are making yourself a fancy French sparkler.
-Stay active to ensure you metabolize snacks and alcohol better. My own trick? I perform forty air squats every time I use the restroom at a long alcohol-fueled dinner or party, and I try to walk the room or dance as much as possible.
-Mix ½ teaspoon of sea salt, the juice from 1 lime or lemon, 1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, and 1½ cups of water (preferably mineral water or, despite the extra sugar content, coconut water, as long as you have been careful not to have too much sugar at the party). Ideally, drink this thirty to forty-five minutes before bed to give yourself enough time to pee before you fall asleep. A second, easier option is to drink sea salt mixed with water, or suck down a sachet of QuintEssential Hypertonic Elixir, which tastes more or less like seawater but works fantastically. You can also include up to 1500 mg of any vitamin C supplement with this water.
-Consume another 200 mg of magnesium, or a full 400 to 600 mg if you haven’t taken any magnesium yet.
-Take four capsules of activated charcoal to sop up any toxins in the gut. Contrary to popular belief, charcoal does not absorb alcohol, but it does absorb toxins, so this step is only truly necessary if you’re unsure of the purity of the compounds you’ve been consuming, or if you have gas and bloating from excess sugars or strange party foods.
-Take 3 to 10 mg of melatonin. Alcohol reduces melatonin secretion, which can contribute to annoying early awakenings when all you want to do is sleep in.
Morning After The Party
-Drink the same pre-bed drink from the night before (recipe above).
-Take four more capsules of activated charcoal or drink a large mason jar of 16 to -32 ounces of charcoal lemonade (Four Sigmatic makes a tasty one).
-Fast and go on a nice long aerobic sunshine walk in a fasted state, followed by a cold plunge, OR if social expectations or your own raging appetite dictate breakfast as non-optional, then at least consume a breakfast that includes eggs so that you can get more choline and/or consume a handful of desiccated liver capsules, or, better yet—although you’ll be hard-pressed to find pâté at Denny’s or a pancake house—eat a serving of organ meat.
-Exercise lightly (e.g., take a walk in the sunshine) or sit in a sauna. Do anything that gets you sweating (infrared sauna therapy is best due to the added detox effect). Afterward, take a cold plunge or a cold shower, or take a five-minute shower in which you alternate between twenty seconds of cold water and ten seconds of hot water.
-If you didn't pay attention to any of the tips above, and you’re truly hungover, try my ultimate hangover cure: combine all of the following ingredients in a blender until smooth.
- 1 cup coconut water
- ½ avocado
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 (1- to 2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 heaping teaspoon chlorella
- Pinch of sea salt
For added efficacy, include 2 to 3 tablespoons frozen broccoli sprouts, a handful of dandelion greens, and 200 to 300 mg of ginseng, which can accelerate the clearance of acetaldehyde.
Finally, if you can’t get into the sunshine because you’re, say, stuck in a maze of Vegas casinos or don’t have the energy to leave your hotel room, to jump-start your circadian rhythm, you can utilize the Human Charger, the ReTimer, or similar blue-light-producing devices in the morning (or, if you need to stay awake and phase-shift your circadian rhythm forward, before the actual party) and use the ultra-sexy blue-light-blocking glasses at night as much as possible.
First, I should mention that I don’t endorse drunkenness. I personally drink about one serving of alcohol each night, and—I suspect because I am never tempted to cheat on the weekends after abstaining every weekday—haven’t been drunk in over seven years.
But I also understand that having occasional bouts of partying tends to be a societal norm, so I decided I wanted to equip you with all the tools you need to combat the damage and keep a night or weekend of partying from destroying your productivity and happiness for days on end.
I know everything you just learned may seem like a lot to digest all at once, but if you spend some time gathering all of the ingredients and tools I mentioned above, this ritual will become second nature before you know it. I promise you that you and your liver will thank me.
How about you? Do you have questions, comments or feedback about natural hangover cures? Do you have your own natural hangover cures you'd like to add? Leave your thoughts below!
This is just a quick glimpse into the type of very practical tips and strategies you'll find in my new book “Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging”, so if you want to take an even deeper dive into performance, fat loss, digestion, sleep, recovery, hormone optimization, longevity and beyond, you can grab it here.