What to do throughout the “eat, drink, and be merry” holiday season

Try my go-to, natural hangover-prevention “cocktail”

Last month for Thanksgiving, I advised you to eat, drink, and be merry—with all of the benefits for your health and wellness that go along with it. We’re still fully in the holiday season, so the eating, drinking, and merriment continues!

But what happens when you get a little too merry? Fortunately, there are dietary supplements that block the toxic effects of excess alcohol—better known as “hangover cures.” Better yet, you can prevent a hangover from even happening.

I learned about these supplements from my friend and colleague, Dr. George Lundberg, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and founding editor of Medscape. Dr. Lundberg has always been a prominent proponent of scientific evidence in support of any form of healing.

As he wrote in the new edition of my medical textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary & Alternative Medicine, “What works is not complementary or alternative, it’s just good medicine.”

In fact, last month marked the 20th anniversary of his landmark issue of JAMA, which was devoted entirely to complementary and alternative medicine. For years, I had encouraged George to publish scientific evidence on natural approaches. And by 1997, there were so many research papers, that he put together an entire special issue of the journal.

He once came to see me at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which I nominally directed at the time, and visited our library to select a historical illustration for the cover of the special issue (which was fitting considering the long, time-tested history behind the issue’s featured natural remedies).

George has always firmly believed that medicine is both an art and a science, and living well is an important part of being well. He practices what he preaches and remains vitally engaged, long after “retirement.” (He even looks like a lean version of Father Christmas, sporting a beard that has recently grown longer and snowy white.)

The bottom line is that when George sends a recommendation about dietary supplements, I pay attention—and more importantly, so do thousands of other doctors.

In a moment, I’ll share the list of natural hangover cures George recommends this holiday season. But first, let’s look at why your body gets “hungover” after too many drinks—and also how the “nanny state” overreacts to completely reasonable levels of alcohol consumption.

What happens—both physically and politically—when you overindulge

According to the National Institutes of Health, among the 86 percent of American adults who drink alcohol, only about 6 percent (15 million) are considered to have clinical alcohol use disorder.1

And yet, as I have reported before, alcoholism experts typically try to discount their own data on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption for the more than 200 million American adult drinkers who don’t have a problem with addiction. Instead, these so-called experts recommend prohibition for everyone to try to prevent problems in the 15 million people prone to addiction.

These 15 million problem drinkers are also the primary cause of motor vehicle fatalities. But instead of focusing on this problem, politically correct politicians keep ratcheting down blood alcohol limits on moderate drinkers, to the point where you’re afraid to get behind the wheel after one or two drinks (otherwise recommended to improve health) in social settings. (At the same time, they liberalize marijuana use without any medical or law enforcement guidelines for driving while intoxicated, which has become a bigger problem in states where it’s legal.)

That said, this time of year, some may cross over once or twice from moderate to excessive consumption—hopefully under safe social circumstances.

Beyond the acute intoxication, why does excess alcohol have the widespread metabolic effects commonly known as “a hangover?”

It starts with the fact that “drinking alcohol” (like other forms of alcohol not suitable for consumption) is a carbohydrate. It’s metabolized in the liver into a natural chemical known as acetaldehyde—which is then metabolized into acetate, and then ultimately to carbon dioxide and water.

With other drugs and substances, the liver speeds up metabolism to match a higher concentration of the chemical in the blood. But with alcohol, metabolism occurs at a constant rate, regardless of how much you consume. So, that means if you have high blood alcohol levels, some of the acetaldehyde builds up and escapes from your liver back into the blood—where it acts as a metabolic toxin.

In fact, acetaldehyde is closely related to formaldehyde, which is used in the lab to literally “pickle” human tissues and organs. It’s also a carcinogen and an allergen.

Unless you have a genetic deficiency called alcohol dehydrogenase, typically found in East Asian populations, you can properly metabolize about one drink per hour, depending upon your body weight, stomach contents, and the state of your liver.

More than that amount, and toxic acetaldehyde will build up. And that produces hangover symptoms like anxiety, chest pains, flushing, heart palpitations, nausea, thirst (dehydration), and vertigo.

Better than a Bloody Mary: The nutrient “cocktail” that can reverse hangover symptoms

Dr. Lundberg says there are several natural compounds the body can use to neutralize and block much of the toxicity of acetaldehyde—making them useful in reducing hangover symptoms.

For ultimate effectiveness, take these supplements in conjunction with one another and be sure to take the combination before and after you drink. And if you really want to play it safe, take one of the “hangover reversal cocktails” during your merriment as well.

Look for high-quality supplements that contain the following ingredients:

  • L-cysteine. This amino acid helps break down acetaldehyde (the toxic byproduct your body creates from alcohol) into water and carbon dioxide, which is then eliminated through the urine and exhalation. For optimal hangover protection, it’s best to also take this amino acid (about 200 mg) along with each drink you consume, in addition to including it in your hangover prevention and reversal cocktail.
  • Vitamin C.  You may take 600 mg per drink consumed. (This is higher than my recommended dose of 250 mg twice a day, in light of the extra oxidative stress alcohol induces.) This amplifies the body’s ability to block the conversion of alcohol into aldehyde, the most hangover-causing metabolite. This increased dose also speeds up the metabolism of alcohol by the liver.
  • Vitamin B. Take a high-quality vitamin B supplement for every drink consumed. Alcohol depletes this vitamin in particular, which is essential for eliminating alcohol from your body. This vitamin will also help with digestive health and replenish important nutrients the alcohol flushed from your system.
  • Aspal (otherwise known as red bush or rooibos). Since dehydration is a big part of the problem with hangovers, aspal hydrates at a cellular level, and is available in a powdered extract you can put in any hot or cold beverage. I recommend 400 mg.
  • Dandelion supports liver and kidney function, which is essential for proper alcohol metabolism. Dandelion extract also goes great with an aspal infusion, which together with aspal can be found in my Core Vitality dietary supplement (just visit DrMicozzi.com via the “Shop” tab). I recommend 500 mg.

And finally, sleeping off the excess alcohol may—or may not—work. Frank Sinatra, who was known for his “extracurricular merriment,” used to tell a joke during his concerts in Las Vegas (appropriately enough): “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”

So during the festivities this season, put on Sinatra’s holiday classics, keep the merriment flowing, and make sure the right supplements are handy IF you happen to need them.