#235 Holiday Hangover
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Actually it only takes me one drink to get drunk. The trouble is I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or fourteenth.

George Burns

Hungover for the Holidays

By Denis Faye

Woe to those who rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; who stay late into the night, until wine inflames them!—Isaiah 5:11

Poets have waxed about it, scientists have studied it, and dictators have made massive tactical mistakes under its influence. The hangover. In a word, yuck! But what causes a hangover—and how do you get rid of it? Let's dig a little deeper into the science of the morning after and try to offer a few solutions to this red-eyed, head-pounding monster.

What causes a hangover?

The short answer is, obviously, alcohol, which is poison to the human body. Kind of like the diet version of polonium-210, only your hair doesn't fall out and it takes much longer to kill you.

The long answer to what causes a hangover is a little more complex.

First, there's dehydration. Ethanol, the alcohol in alcohol, is a diuretic. When you drink it, it tells your brain to tell your kidneys to dump water instead of reabsorbing it. As the urine leaves your body, it takes vitamins, minerals, and blood sugar with it.

Dehydration gives you dry mouth and contributes to the fatigue, vomiting, and headache. According to a study published by the International Journal of Sports Medicine, dehydration actually causes your brain to shrink away from your skull slightly. Ouch.

Ethanol causes capillaries, including those in your noggin, to dilate. This makes your headache even worse and explains why some people flush red when on the hooch.

The fatigue occurs not only because of the aforementioned tapped blood sugar, but also due to lack of quality sleep. As we all know, you do indeed sleep after a night of heavy boozing, but it's not complete sleep. You tend to skip the rapid eye movement, or dream, phase of the cycle, which is crucial to both physical and emotional functions.

Other instruments in the hangover symphony of pain are the congeners—byproducts of the fermentation process such as methanol. Basically, they're additional poisons. Red wine, in particular, is rife with congeners, which explains why it has such a reputation as a skull-buster. Conversely, vodka and gin tend to be purer, which has earned them a reputation for just the opposite.

For more about which alcoholic beverages will cause you the most and least pain, check out Steve Edwards' 5 Best and 5 Worst Cocktails.

There are many, many other theories about what causes hangovers, but I've tried to keep it simple because how hangovers, are caused isn't the most important topic here. The most important topic is . . .

How to get rid of a hangover

The answer is this: you can't. There are, of course, steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms, but ultimately you just need to wait it out. Drink water to fight dehydration. Eat nutrient-rich foods to restore vitamins, minerals, and blood sugar. Sleep helps with fatigue. Take an aspirin for a headache—but avoid acetaminophen, or Tylenol, which can be tough on the liver. Alcohol disrupts acetaminophen metabolism, thus aggravating the situation.

There are quite a few B-12 supplements out there that supposedly fight hangovers, but B-12 depletion is just a minor part of a larger nutrient depletion problem, so they don't really help that much. You're better off with some fresh fruit, so you're getting nutrients that can be more easily absorbed and you're fighting blood sugar depletion and dehydration at the same time. As for the old hair of the dog, you're not really fixing the problem; you're just putting it off.

Prevention is the best medicine

Before you drink, eat a solid meal. Any food will slow the absorption of alcohol into your system, although fatty foods take longer to digest, so they stick around to do the job longer. Once you start drinking, pace yourself. A great way to do this is to alternate water/cocktail/water/cocktail, slowing down alcohol intake and maintaining hydration at the same time. When the evening is through, finish off with another glass of H20.

But before putting these plans into effect, ask yourself one thing. Do you need to drink this much? Do you think you can still have fun if you settle for just a couple glasses of Beaujolais? And for those of you trying to lose weight, is knocking back two days' worth of calories in a couple hours really worth it?

Sure, there are times where drunkenness sneaks up on you, but for the most part, it's a question of asking whether the night's jubilations warrant the morning's pain.

For more about imbibing and why water's more than just a mixer, check out our Bottoms Up! issue with "10 Reasons Why You Need to Drink Water" and "Wine or Beer: Which Is Better for You?"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter.

Check out Steve's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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5 Ways to Pamper Yourself in the New Year

By Joe Wilkes

It's the New Year. Time for new beginnings, and time for the resolutions that THIS year, we're going to keep. Less junk food! Less alcohol! No smoking! More exercise! Portion control! We're back on the road to recovery after a major holiday detour. But life can't be all about depriving yourself. There are still a lot of ways you can have a good time without putting something in your mouth. Here are some ideas for treating yourself that won't set your resolutions back a year.

  1. Meditation. Tired? Tense? Instead of lying on the couch face down in a pile of Cheetos, why not try something a little more transcendental? By turning your mind inward, you can reach true inner peace as opposed to the peace found in a caloric bottle of chardonnay. Spiritual refreshment rather than refreshing spirits, if you will. And if you add a little yoga to your meditation time, it can add to your physical fitness. If you've never meditated before, or want to try out some new meditations, check out the Yoga Booty Ballet® Guided Meditation CD.

  2. Massage. This is a great way to pamper yourself after a hard day at the office or as a great reward for a well-done workout. There are all kinds of professional massages available, including deep tissue, shiatsu, Swedish, Thai, and many more. Use some of that money you're saving by not eating out or boozing it up to treat yourself to some hands-on relaxation. If you're uneasy about going to a pro, enlist the help of a significant other—who knows, it could lead to other stress-relieving activities. Or, you could always give yourself a relaxing massage—at least the parts you can reach. And for the parts that you can't, there are any number of mechanical implements widely available that will help you vibrate, knead, and pound your troubles away. Check out this article from the Beachbody archives for more on massage.

  3. Baths. Years ago, a friend of mine found a horrible detox diet in a fashion magazine that she insisted we try. It consisted of eating mainly millet (which I found out later is the main component in birdseed), flaxseed oil, and steamed cauliflower. After three days of nothing but birdseed and veggies, neither of us was able to venture more than 50 yards from the nearest bathroom. The diet was awful, but it had one good thing—baths. Every day we were supposed to use a body brush to brush our skin and then settle into a hot bath with lavender and chamomile oils. It was pure heaven. (Unfortunately, the terrible irony was the bathtub was in the same room as the toilet.) After the diet blissfully ended, bath time remained. More of a shower person? Read Steve Edwards' tip on getting the most out of your shower.

  4. A nice cup of tea. Giving up that glass of wine or two (or ten) in the evening is a resolution that a lot of people have trouble keeping. Why not begin exploring the world of tea? It's not just that soggy bag of Lipton anymore. Tea shops are popping up all over the place. And the ceremony of making a cup or pot of tea can be as relaxing as the beverage itself. Try out different flavors and types of tea: black, green, or herbal. Most of them have some health benefits, and some may even have medicinal value. Click here to read more about herbal teas.

  5. Retail therapy. Often, we get used to rewarding ourselves for a job well done with some sort of food or beverage. But when it comes to rewarding yourself for diet and exercise, this kind of reward system can be pretty self-defeating. Instead of using food, how about getting yourself something new to wear. Especially if you've been sticking to your diet and workout schedule, you can start rocking some smaller sizes. And even if you haven't reached the weight where you're ready to start building your "skinny" wardrobe yet, you can still reward yourself with accessories like jewelry, hats, or some nonwearable item like a music CD. A friend of mine quit smoking by treating himself to three new CDs every week, since he figured that was the amount he was saving on cigarettes. Before long he'd kicked the habit and built an extensive music collection! Read more about buying clothes for your new figure here.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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