Figuring out how to prevent a hangover while hungover is no fun. While there are plenty of folk remedies that people use to prevent a hangover — drinking through a straw, taking an aspirin, eating lots of bread to absorb the alcohol — a new study documents a hangover remedy that may actually work. In research to be published in the Journal of Food Science, Korean researchers found that extracts taken from the leaves and shoots of asparagus boosted levels of key enzymes that break down alcohol after heavy drinking. And if you don't usually keep asparagus extract on hand, the good news is eating asparagus before or after drinking can also serve as a hangover remedy, according to the study's lead author.
Heavy alcohol (ethanol) drinking leads to a number of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms, including fatigue, thirst, headache, nausea, vomiting and so on. In addition, ethanol itself and acetaldehyde, a metabolite produced in the course of ethanol breakdown, may induce a number of toxic results, especially in the liver. "The two key enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) quickly metabolize ethanol into the 'nontoxic' acetate," explains Deokbae Park, PhD, professor of medicine at Cheju National University School of Medicine in Korea. "Our study basically aimed to find any diet to promote the breakdown of ethanol by stimulating the two key enzymes," he says. By adding the extract to liver cells in the lab, they determined that asparagus is high in amino acids that stimulate those enzyme functions, accelerating the breakdown of alcohol. In an informal trial that wasn't part of the study, Park found that volunteers who drank a beverage containing the extract reported fewer hangover symptoms.
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Of course, the only 100 percent effective way to avoid a hangover is to not drink alcohol. But when you choose to imbibe, here are some natural remedies that can prevent a hangover, or help you feel better fast.
• Eat asparagus. While researchers used asparagus extract in the study, its hangover-fighters are present in the whole veggie, and remain stable even after being cooked at higher temperatures, such as steaming and boiling. So if you're planning on drinking, include asparagus in your lunch and/or dinner to help prevent a hangover, or eat it the day after if you're looking for good hangover food.
• Know what to avoid. No matter what, avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Alcohol will reach your brain faster if there's no food to absorb it. Your brain cells change when alcohol's present in your noggin, and when the alcohol clears out, you'll go through withdrawal and be more likely to suffer from a hangover. Stay away from drinks more likely to give you hangovers — like anything bubbly, such as champagne, or liquor drinks mixed with carbonated beverages. And no matter what you drink, to prevent a hangover, drink slowly and drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.
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• Use liquids to send a hangover packing. If you're experiencing a hangover, sip a warm sports drink like Gatorade to replenish your electrolytes. Mix half Gatorade and half water to start. Sip orange or tomato juice throughout the day; they help your body burn off any remaining alcohol faster.
• Eat good hangover food. Eggs, toast and bananas help replenish lost nutrients and set your body into toxin breakdown mode. Crackers with honey will also help flush out lingering alcohol. And it may not be too late for a little asparagus to help.