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Health

Why you shouldn't take paracetamol for a hangover – and what to take instead

November 26th 2018 / Jackie McCusker / 0 comment

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This particular painkiller won’t do your liver any favours in the long-run. A Registered Nutritionist explains why

Party season is in full flow, and with the fun and festivities that it brings, comes the inevitable slew of hangovers set to make Monday mornings that much more unbearable. If painkillers are your go-to cure, one word of advice - avoid paracetamol as it could be doing your body more harm than good.

This is because of the effect it has on the liver. The organ metabolises (breaks down) paracetamol by inducing enzymes, the by-products of which can be damaging to liver cells. Alcohol also needs to be broken down by the liver, but when combined with paracetamol too, this can cause it to become overwhelmed, resulting in damage, disrupting its ability to break down toxins effectively and making you feel that much more nauseous as well.

The other factor to bear in mind is how easy it can be to overdose on paracetamol, particularly in cold and flu season when the likelihood of inadvertently combining products containing the compound is higher than usual. Even a relatively small increase in the maximum recommended 24-hour dosage of paracetamol from 4g to 5g can cause liver complications.

So which painkiller can I take?

It largely depends upon each individual and whether they have any other health issues. For example, ibuprofen is an alternative, but only where there is no gastritis or stomach ulcer present as it can damage the stomach lining. As a protective buffer, I recommend taking it with something to eat. Timing is also key. It’s best to take it an hour before you have to function, rather than before going to bed as its pain-killing effects will largely have worn off by the time you need to get up.

What else could help my hangover?

Prevention is always the best medicine in my experience. However, there are also a number of other things that you can do as well to reduce a hangover if it’s too late.

  • Try not to drink on an empty stomach. Food acts as a buffer and slows down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

  • Alternate an alcoholic beverage with a glass of water. Not only does this reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, but it also helps stop you from becoming too dehydrated which is a key contributor towards the symptoms of a hangover.

  • Take milk thistle, a fantastic herb that has been shown to protect the liver cells from the damaging effects of alcohol. In fact, it has also been shown to help regenerate them too! I take it before I drink alcohol and before going to bed after a night out so that it can take effect when my liver detoxification pathways are working while I sleep. The one caveat here is to be careful taking it with certain medications as it may cause an interaction. It’s therefore always important to speak to your doctor before taking a herbal supplement and if you’re on medication.

  • My other top tip is to take a supplement containing electrolytes (i.e. sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate) in water before going to bed to prevent dehydration and a sore head. I like the Nuun Active and Ener-C effervescent ranges. Ener-C products also contain very good levels of vitamin C too.

  • Last but not least, have a well-balanced (i.e. protein, healthy fats and some complex carbohydrates) breakfast or brunch the day after to stabilise low blood sugar levels caused by alcohol consumption. Examples are scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with mushrooms, spinach, avocado and tomatoes, or a bowl of porridge with nuts and seeds and berries.

Jackie McCusker is a leading registered nutritionist (MBANT), nutritional therapist (CNHCReg), educator and speaker. nutrijack.com.

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