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With ‘dry January’ close to an end, and ‘virtue’ restored to its full glory after the slight misdemeanours over Christmas and New Year, many of us will be turning our attention to the resurrection of our social lives in February, and the re-appearance of a little 'tipple' or two in our cupboards and fridges.
So, what can we do to ensure that a return to drinking, doesn't necessarily mean a return to the dreaded Saturday morning hangover? Can probiotics, amongst other natural remedies, help to reduce the symptoms of a hangover?
As a nutritional therapist I generally wouldn't recommend over-indulging on alcohol to anyone. However as a person who occasionally likes a fun evening as much as anyone else, I do know that even with the best of intentions, sometimes an evening ends up being just a little bit more ‘boozy’ than was intended. In this situation, a back-up plan seems like a good idea, something to limit the chances that you will be crawling out of bed the following morning with a headache, nausea and that overwhelming sense of fatigue that we all know too well. But, can a hang-over be avoided, and what actually causes the symptoms? According to recent research by Russian scientists, probiotics could be an effective part of any 'hangover prevention' plan.
There are a number of reasons that people feel bad after a couple of drinks too many:
The first stage of the conversion of alcohol (or ethanol) involves its breakdown in the liver to acetaldehyde. This is then later broken down further to acetate. Acetate is completely non-toxic, however the intermediate break down product (acetaldehyde), is known to cause many of the symptoms associated with that ‘morning after’ feeling.
Dependent on your liver function, some people metabolize acetaldehyde more quickly than others, which partially explains why some people suffer more than others for their ‘indulgences’!
Aswell as its systemic effects, alcohol is also known to impact the digestive tract in various ways:
A Russian study1 showed that study participants that drank alcohol regularly had lower levels of three types of gut bacteria, namely: Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli and Enterococci. Within 5 days of supplementing probiotics, their levels of both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli had significantly increased.
However, more interestingly, the study participants liver enzymes which had previously been elevated, had decreased to within normal levels after the probiotic supplementation. Elevated liver enzymes in a drinker, are usually a sign of liver inflammation from alcohol exposure. The fact that these enzymes dropped following probiotic supplementation, means that there was some sort of improvement in liver inflammation as a direct result of the probiotic treatment.
Bifidobacteria are also known to help break down and detoxify acetaldehyde. By preventing the accumulation of this toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism, Bifidobacteria are thought to help prevent symptoms of a hangover. Naturopaths often recommend taking Bifidobacterium bifidus before going to bed, and again the following morning to reduce the severity of a hangover.
People with a healthy, balanced gut, and good levels of friendly bacteria may therefore have the capacity to better deal with over-indulgences, than those people that have depleted probiotic colonies. This may explain why some people seem to ‘bounce back’ faster after any dietary, or alcohol-related, ‘faux pas’ than others, presenting us with yet another compelling reason to look after our gut flora!
As you can see there are lots of simple steps that you can take to reduce the effects of drinking too much alcohol. The simplest of course, is not to over-do it in the first place, but if that doesn't sound like much fun, at least you know you can rely on a few natural remedies to help put the spring back in your step.
How our gut health impacts on our general health is a fascinating topic. If you would like to read more on related topics, see: Gut Health - all you need to know or All about the microbiome.
For more about the effects of the occasional 'tipple' you might like to read this fun article: Is wine a probiotic?.