Herbs to help support you when you have a hangover
Here, we look at how Ayurveda views alcohol, what a hangover is, and explore some of the best natural hangover cures.
What does Ayurveda say about drinking alcohol?
Translated simply as ‘knowledge of life’, Ayurveda (a Sanskrit term: Ayur = life, Veda = knowledge) is an ancient Indian holistic philosophy that shows how to live a healthy, wholesome and more fulfilled life by balancing your mind, body and spirit. Ayurveda advises that intoxicating substances such as alcohol should never be used habitually. However, the ancient Ayurvedic texts state that if alcohol is taken in an appropriate manner, in the right ‘dose’, at an appropriate time, along with ‘wholesome food’ in accordance with one’s own strength and with a cheerful mind, it works like ambrosia (or nectar!). Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant affecting the central nervous system. It can help you feel less shy, give you a boost and make you feel relaxed. So, Ayurveda would say the occasional glass of good quality wine taken in good company may help unwind from the day for some.
However, it is not a long-term solution and Ayurveda would be in full agreement with the current advice to not to drink more than 14 units a week (NHS). Drinking heavily, over long time periods can increase anxiety rather than help us unwind and relax. So, occasionally unwinding with alcohol isn’t necessarily dangerous but tolerance builds to its de-stressing effects. Excessive amounts also have physical and mental consequences, such as leading to hangovers, and it’s easy for the harm to outweigh any benefits.
What causes a hangover?
Alcohol is broken down by the liver. When alcohol is broken down it produces a substance known as acetaldehyde, which is a toxic substance formed from ethanol metabolism. The first step to avoiding a hangover is to avoid those alcohols that contain higher levels of acetaldehyde which includes whiskey, cheap red wines, fruit brandy and dark spirits. If you are going to indulge, you are better to stick to clear spirits and good quality red wine with no sulphites added. If you choose organic, you are also guaranteed less sulphites and a better quality, more natural product which is easier for the liver to breakdown. Not that we need reminding, but the key signs of a hangover often include, dehydration, blood sugar variability (cravings), fatigue, nausea and a lowered immunity.
What happens when you drink alcohol?
When you drink alcohol, it passes quickly into your bloodstream and travels to every part of your body. Alcohol affects your brain first, then your kidneys, lungs and liver. The effect on your body depends on your age, gender, weight and the type of alcohol you’ve drunk. It takes about an hour for your liver to process one unit of alcohol. To put this in perspective, a pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine contains around three units. Firstly, alcohol is converted into a less toxic state by a group of enzymes which forms free radicals that in a healthy person can be targeted by antioxidants. However, if we have over-indulged slightly and our system is a little more toxic than intended, this task is more challenging for the liver. Secondly, alcohol is broken down into a less toxic state so that it can be safely excreted and not continuously circulated in the bloodstream.
You get drunk because you drink more than your body can process in time, which causes your blood alcohol concentration to rise. Once you stop drinking, it will take roughly one hour per unit you've consumed for all the alcohol to be out of your system. There's no way to speed this up. If the liver has to break down too much alcohol, its other key functions are negatively affected, and it can be damaged.
What can we do to reduce the amount of alcohol we drink?
One top tip is to stay hydrated by having a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks. This supports your liver as it does its work. Why not check out some of the delicious herbal mocktail recipes on our website such as our Turmeric Ginger Fizz mocktail.
Other helpful tips to help reduce the amount you drink include (Source: NHS):
Make a plan: Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you're going to drink.
Set a budget: Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol.
Let them know: If you let your friends and family know you're cutting down and it's important to you, you could get support from them.
Take it a day at a time: Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you do is a success.
Make it a smaller one: You can still enjoy a drink, but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
Have a lower-strength drink: Cut down the alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %). You'll find this information on the bottle.
Take a break: Have several drink-free days each week.
What can we do to naturally support the liver?
The following herbs can all be of support for when we have overindulged:
Ginger supports the digestive system and is known to calm an upset stomach. Increasing our digestive fire and digestive enzymes also supports our metabolism more generally. It is warming and protective, enhancing the flow of our circulation, leaving you feeling more positive and uplifted.
The health benefits of turmeric are vast and include helping to protect us from the effects of day-to-day life thanks to its very potent polyphenols, also known as antioxidants. Research also shows that turmeric supports functions associated with blood flow and blood quality through the liver which is very helpful here. Our Turmeric gold tea contains turmeric and green tea to keep you feeling energised and refreshed the day after a big night out.
Mint has been used for centuries to cool and soothe digestive upsets, helping both refresh you and settle digestion. Mint not only supports digestion but is also rich in aromatic menthol essential oils which ‘wake up’ the senses, improving clarity and concentration.
Fennel is traditionally used to support digestion helping with many common complaints such as bloating and discomfort. Beyond soothing the digestive system, fennel can help calm tension elsewhere in the body which is why it is found in our calming Relax blend.
Chamomile is great for calming and relaxing the mind and body in general. As a hangover cure, chamomile can also get to work on indigestion or a headache.
Recognised for its relaxing properties by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, Chamomile is probably the most widely used herbal tea for soothing stress and nervous tension. This is particularly helpful if you suffer with ‘the fear’ the morning after. Chamomile not only creates a sense of calm, but also relaxes digestive muscles, while its bitter compounds promote our digestive juices.
Vitamin C provides the immune system with that extra boost and also helps to prevent the onset of the colds and flu. Go natural though! Natural vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and dark green vegetables or in food supplements. Watch out for ascorbic acid and synthetic Vitamin C.
The power of greens
For the ultimate tonic, try Pukka Herbs’ Clean Greens containing 11 nutrient-dense plant foods (such as wheat grass juice, ginger, fennel, nettle, parsley, chlorella and kale sprouts) that have high antioxidant capacities. One of its ingredients, chlorella is a freshwater plant containing a very high level of chlorophyll and a unique component known as Chlorella Growth Factor. This has the ability to repair tissues within the body, including liver cells. Chlorella is also known for the removal of pollutants from the body, which includes alcohol.
Author: Jo Webber
Head of Herbal Education
As a BSc qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher, Jo is passionate about bringing these two ancient sciences together to help people feel empowered about their health. Jo has put her post-graduate certificate in education to good use, co-founding the Ayurveda academy to help others learn of the wonders of Ayurveda. Jo has also earned a Masters degree in human sciences from Oxford University and has taught in several schools
BSc qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher
Years of experience:
20 years as a Hatha yoga teacher/ayurvedic practitioner
Member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association