There's an oft-quoted Frank Sinatra line in which the famous singer expresses pity toward teetotalers; their mornings, goes the quip, are "the best they're going to feel all day." But for New Orleanians, with our many warm-weather activities closely intertwined with celebratory libations (what's Jazz Fest without a beer in your feedbag? Or White Linen Night sans the red wine stains?), the upcoming weekends can all become muddled into a groggy, perpetual hangover. Overindulgence is rarely a good idea, but it's bound to happen sometimes. Fortunately, a number of minor adjustments to your party prep and practice can help stave off an unpleasant morning and ensure your ability to show up bright-eyed and ready for the next weekend's festivities.
Although it might sound ludicrous, making a calendar of scheduled drinking events can help revelers avoid hangovers. An excellent way to prevent post-party symptoms is to take pre-emptive measures to prepare your body, something that's easy to do when know at least a day in advance that you'll be drinking, says Molly Kimball, a dietitian for Ochsner's Elmwood Fitness Center. Prickly pear extract is one such measure. Available at health food stores, it packs a significant punch against the dreaded morning after.
"Taking 1600 IUs of prickly pear in the hours before you go out has been shown to significantly decrease effects of drinking generally associated with a hangover, like dry mouth, dehydration and nausea," she says. Vitamin B6 is another effective supplement. It can be taken in three separate doses of 400 milligrams — one before consuming alcohol, one during and one when the night is over. "This takes more discipline," Kimball says. "You need to remember to take the third dose, which can be difficult after drinking."
Kimball recommends eating during and after a long stretch of imbibing, so that food will help absorb and moderate alcohol's intoxicating effect. "Go with foods high in protein, like eggs, which also contain cysteine, an amino acid effective at breaking down alcohol's toxins," Kimball says. It's best to avoid white carbohydrates high in salt, since they help accelerate the considerable dehydration that accompanies heavy drinking.
Staying well-hydrated is key, especially in heavy sun and heat. An old rule advocates interspersing each drink with a glass of water, but Kimball notes that this can be more difficult than it sounds: "Some people have trouble with alternating glasses of water because it's a lot to remember, and you can feel like you're missing out on the fun." A conscientious approach to the bar can go a long way. "What you want to do is incorporate as much extra fluid as possible," she says. "Drink things that don't have as high an alcohol concentration. A beer, a shot and a glass of wine might have the same alcohol content, but the beer is going to have a lot more liquid, which will help you stay hydrated." If you're committed to liquor, it's helpful to add more mixers, keeping the drinks weaker and the fluid content higher. Go with lighter-colored options like vodka and gin, which contain less impurities from the distillation process, and combine the liquor with plenty of ice and sugar-free liquids like club soda. White wine is preferable to red, as the latter is thought to have higher quantities of tannins and sulfites. Kimball touts beer and white wine spritzers as the most sensible choices for the longer haul.
Hangover symptoms can vary, but mainly are characterized by headache, dry mouth, shakiness, nausea and an upset stomach. At this point, Kimball says, it's important to rehydrate and replenish lost vitamins with water, sugar-free juices or electrolyte-rich coconut water. Reach for the same protein and cysteine-rich foods mentioned earlier, as well as snacks like milk, fruit and Greek yogurt for quick jolts of calcium and potassium. Although it's likely the last thing that occurs to an aching brain, a little exercise — "even as little as a brisk walk around the block," Kimball says — can help direct oxygen toward parts of your body that are suffering and expedite the healing process. She advises consulting a pharmacist to find pain relief that's free of acetaminophen, which is found in over-the-counter tablets like Tylenol and Excedrin, which can be toxic to the liver when coupled with alcohol.