We are told by many medical professionals that alcohol consumption, especially in excess is bad for us. However some people champion the health benefits of a glass of red wine a day, as is popular in much of Europe.
Information regarding alcohol consumption can be conflicting and confusing - for instance a 2010 study Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research quashes bad health claims by finding that people who drink moderately or heavily outlive those who abstain. Whatever the truth, many of us enjoy an occasional or regular drink!
Men and women have different recommendations for limiting alcohol intake. Recently guidelines on consumption have reduced from previous levels, suggesting we are generally drinking too much. But let's face it, when you're out catching up with friends, or simply relaxing with family after a long week, it's very easy to overdo it. The problem most of us have is then paying the price for overindulging the next morning.
What is a hangover?
A hangover is your body withdrawing from alcohol, the most common complaints include headache, nausea, and generally feeling bad all over. Some people claim to not suffer from hangovers, but those who do won't have any positive memories of them!
Can you prevent a hangover?
Firstly the only real cure for a hangover is to not drink.
There are numerous products you can find with an internet search which claim to be able to prevent hangovers, but do they actually work? There are actually a handful with scientific evidence backing them...
One little known product that scientists do recommend is starflower/borage oil. Starflower oil comes from the seeds of a plant native to Syria and is most commonly used to treat things like eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, and PMS. It has strong antioxidant properties and is a very rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).
Dr. Max Pittler, MD, PhD is a doctor who studies the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. He searched volumes of scientific studies in search of answers on the subject of hangover cures. He found that starflower oil showed significantly better results than a placebo in randomized, double blind studies (a highly respected and accurate format of study).
A group of scientists from Belarus found that starflower oil help improve liver function after drinking. In their report Reversal of experimental ethanol-induced liver steatosis by borage oil, they observed that the GLA in the plant extract helped reduce the effect of fatty liver on rats that been fed alcohol.
How does it work?
The symptoms of a hangover are believed to be partly driven by inflammation from prostaglandins which are hormone-like compounds in your body that are made from long chain Omega-3 fats EPA and DHA (found mainly in fish oils) and Omega-6 fat GLA (found in starflower/borage or evening primrose oil). Research from the early 1980s shows that when a person takes a drug that inhibits prostaglandin production, their hangover symptoms were all significantly reduced the next day.
In the absence of such a drug being commercially available, the next best alternative is to take a combination of starflower oil and fish oil. This combination works at the molecular level to block the production of inflammatory prostaglandins while increasing production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Should hangovers be cured?
Might a hangover actually work as a deterrent to heavy drinking? When suffering with a hangover often the last thing you can think of is having another alcoholic drink - it can even put some people off for many days! Would curing hangovers lead to an increase in heavy drinking? If you knew you wouldn't suffer a hangover would you potentially drink more the night before? Although it's not possible to get a definitive answer to this question - it's an interesting one to think about!