With the lifting of most COVID lockdown rules across England from 19 July, our diaries might be filling up with plans for unrestricted parties with family and friends. Here, we share thoughts from Dr Yiannis Kallis, Consultant Hepatologist and Gastroenterologist, who recently spoke to The Telegraph to debunk hangover ‘cures’.
About Dr Yiannis Kallis
Dr Yiannis Kallis is a Consultant Hepatologist and Gastroenterologist specialising in liver, pancreas and bile ducts disease. He performs the FibroScan test, and endoscopy.
Alcohol will no doubt be a popular party guest at many social events this year. However, many of us may not be aware of the damage even casual drinking can cause.
While everything from greasy fry-ups to high-end spas might seem a welcome fix, they’re unlikely to undo what we’re inflicting on our bodies when we drink to excess.
First of all, if you’ve found yourself drinking more – or less – during lockdown, you’re not alone.
With anxiety and loneliness at an all-time high for many people, it’s understandable that our relationships with alcohol may have changed.
“Lockdown has polarised drinking habits. Some have taken stock and reduced their consumption; others have used alcohol to fill their time,” Dr Kallis says.
After nightclubs and large gatherings return this summer, Dr Kallis also expects to see further changes in alcohol consumption by those who prefer to drink when socialising.
“I think there’ll be a few weeks, after the release from lockdown, when the social drinkers will start to drink more,” he continues.
“There’s a pent-up demand for socialising, and drinking typically comes with that. It's unusual to drink a lot on your own unless your relationship with alcohol isn't that healthy, but it’s easier to have many drinks when out with others at a bar.”
So, what can those who are looking forward to a few glasses of wine at a wedding this summer, or a long-awaited night out on the town, do to curb the consequences of drinking?
Can we "sweat out" the alcohol?
In terms of preventing a hangover, Dr Kallis advises that lowering our overall intake of alcohol and staying well-hydrated is the best solution.
However, in case a hangover arises, cardiovascular exercise the morning after a night of drinking is one of the best solutions.
“It increases your metabolism. Part of what you’re doing during a hangover is metabolising some of the toxins in the alcohol – such as the acetaldehyde – so by increasing your physical activity you may increase your general metabolism,” Dr Kallis says.
“Also, exercise does make you feel better [in general]. If you go for a run or a cycle, you get a wave of energy, even when you’re just tired – and you get all the endorphins that make you feel good.”
On the other hand, the idea of “sweating out the alcohol” is an abstract idea, rather than a physiological one. While alcohol is indeed soluble, it won’t come out in your sweat.
“The alcohol isn’t being sweated out of your system,” Dr Kallis clarifies.
“I think you have to be careful with things that encourage you to sweat excessively, because hangovers make you dehydrated already.”
Hair of the dog
Although Dr Kallis recommends a hearty breakfast, and even coffee, after a heavy night of drinking, certain things are off the menu.
“Caffeine can give you a stimulus and make you feel better, but it won’t necessarily counteract the toxins that are circulating because of the alcohol, and it may dehydrate you further.”
Since the worst hangover symptoms occur when the amount of alcohol in our blood is very low, or nearly zero, Dr Kallis suggests “hair of the dog” devotees should think twice about their chosen tipple.
“Go for a Virgin Mary, not a Bloody Mary. Drinking alcohol to avoid a hangover may work, to a degree, but all it will do is temporarily ‘top up’ alcohol levels and push back the point of hangover.”
“Fundamentally, if you're drinking alcohol to cure a hangover, you will inevitably run into trouble later down the line,” he adds.
Instead, what are some beneficial things to eat and drink the next morning?
“Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Also take in some minerals – juice or clear soups are a good source – as you will often lose quite a lot of electrolytes when you become dehydrated,” Dr Kallis suggests.
Assessing the damage
It’s well-known that heavy alcohol consumption can do significant damage to our livers. Dr Kallis regularly works with patients who are concerned about how much they drink. In fact, much of his work involves looking after patients with alcohol-related disorders.
“I’m seeing an increase in the number of patients coming to me with alcohol-related liver disease a lot earlier in life than usually expected. The majority of people I’ve looked after are not alcoholics in a conventional sense – they are just people who regularly drink a bit too much, at social events or after work.”
“The idea that you have to be an alcoholic to get liver disease is a fallacy,” he concludes.
To help even casual drinkers understand if alcohol may be causing them harm, Dr Kallis recommends a FibroScan® at hospitals such as The London Clinic. This non-invasive and painless test can reveal any scarring or fatty change within the liver due to alcohol, providing patients with an opportunity to make lifestyle changes prior to any severe health impacts.
Any views expressed in this article are those of the featured specialist(s) and should not be considered to be the views or official policy of The London Clinic.