A window into my life: This past month has gone down in the record books for my husband and me. There has simply been an excess in celebratory events….and booze! If we back up to November, there was Thanksgiving (on the 27th) and my birthday (November 30th), both must-have wine holidays. We got married on Saturday, December 14th and let me tell you, that entire joyous weekend was flowing with cocktails. From Cosmos and Mojitos, to beer, bourbon and brandy, everyone certainly enjoyed the spirits. Tuesday after wedding day, we hopped a plane to New Orleans, to take part in one of our country’s richest culinary hot spots…and needless to say I did not skip the libations. By Christmas, I could not see, nor smell one more cocktail or glass of wine…but bring on New Year’s!
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I certainly do not hit the sauce on a regular basis. I often go weeks without the smallest sip of an adult beverage. I am a Registered Dietitian, for goodness sake! I know better. I will explain to you the process that our body goes through in order to metabolize the alcohol that we so happily guzzle, but first let me preface this with the fact that I never deprive myself of anything if the moment is worthy.
The Metabolic Pathway of Ethanol:
(or in other words, what happens to our body as we hit the hooch)
As we drink alcohol, our body’s first response is to quickly rid this toxic substance from our system. A series of enzymatic reactions occur to breakdown one alcohol molecule. With each reaction the molecule becomes less and less toxic, and eventually will result in carbon dioxide and water. Harmless enough, right? Wrong! In this process of enzymatic breakdown a scary carcinogen, known as acetaldehyde, is created. This terrifying molecule wrecks havoc on the organs that it comes in contact with (our poor livers, our pancreas, and even our brain). Fortunately, acetaldehyde does not remain in this nasty state for long, as it is quickly broken down. Depending on the individual’s size and genetics, alcohol will be metabolized at different rates and damaging effects will vary. Regular consumption of alcohol puts us at risk for liver disease, pancreatitis, the death of presumably important brain cells, cancer and other maladies. Not to mention, the risk for making poor decisions while under the influence, and I am not just talking about drunk-dialing. Alcohol is loaded with calories and is an easy culprit of weight gain. Therefore, I only support the consumption of alcohol when responsibly ingested, in moderation, and NEVER when you are going to be getting behind the wheel. As far as the benefits of alcohol, such as Resveratrol found in red wine, and what we should do to help our bodies bounce back from the effects of alcohol…that is for another post.
What I can offer, however, are some simple guidelines to follow to avoid the dreaded hangover:
- Know your limit! Sounds over simplified, but this is probably the most important rule of thumb. Have you ever had a hangover after just one glass of wine or one cocktail? Pretty unlikely. So control yourself! Sheesh!
- Electrolyte infused beverages, preferably coconut water. Electrolytes help to keep the water that we drink in our cells, rather than passing straight through us. This keeps us hydrated, thus staving off the ugly headache.
- Water, water, and more water! If coconut water is nowhere to be found, water is perfect. Think one glass of water after every alcoholic beverage you drink. I know, it definitely takes the fun out of those beer funnels that the guys were doing in college, but it will keep the room from spinning for the next 24-48 hours.
Final Tip: As you now know, the idea of damaging precious cells with every sip of shine is certainly a turn off. Therefore, I like to both order and create cocktails with antioxidant rich fruit blended in to offset the nasty effects. These include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mango. Although there is no scientific research supporting my theory that these good fruits will lessen the damage, it certainly can’t hurt. Antioxidants in general are wonder workers that eradicate evil doers in our bodies. So when it comes to fruit and veg, the more the merrier!
Happy New Year! Cheers!
Bryee Shepard, M.S., R.D.