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Well … you probably drink more alcohol than people who don’t get a hangover, and you drink more than you can handle at the time – to state the obvious.
(Why ‘at the time’? Because when you’re tired or stressed your body’s reaction to alcohol may differ from when you’re in good energy and relaxed. The same applies as you get older.)
Alcohol is classified as a poison in Chinese medicine and too much of it overwhelms your system.
How your liver metabolises the alcohol relates to your health. Your health relates to your lifestyle, history of disease (including drinking alcohol) and inherited (genetic) makeup.
The result of over-stretching your liver is usually diagnosed in Chinese medicine as a form of heat.
‘Heat’ as a kind of disease is common and may become more so if global warming affects you. Click here to find out more.
This causes what is called ‘Liver qi stagnation’. The symptoms of this include irritability, moodiness, and tension in the head or shoulders. It also causes ‘Liver Yang rising’ – thumping headache, tinnitus, sensitivity to light and strong odours.
The Liver is said to ‘invade’ the Stomach giving ‘rebellious Stomach Qi’ – symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, burning, bowel disturbances and abdominal distension.
Long-term heat in the liver causes cirrhosis – destruction of the liver. The liver has regenerative powers but heavy drinkers overwhelm them. Abstinence and ‘healthy’ living for long periods might be necessary to give even mild damage time to heal.
Gross damage is hard to heal.
Any constitution can be overwhelmed by excess alcohol taken too often, but previously very healthy people (good lifestyle, good genes) have to work harder at it! It helps if they develop poor self-discipline and poor self-awareness. It can also help if they have narcissistic tendencies and self-image problems, or if their judgement is clouded by taking other drugs.
People with poor genes and lifestyle either get ill and succumb faster. Or they learn not to indulge so much by controlling their intake. If they learn this they may outlive their healthier but rasher colleagues!
Don’t assume that continued bouts of alcohol-drinking leading to what seem like milder hangover symptoms are a sign of increasing resilience. Healthy people and people unaccustomed to alcohol usually produce strong symptoms: years of determined drinking weaken the liver’s ability to react.
At this point (to get a bit technical) the depth in the body where the disease process manifests has gone deeper, is more serious and will take longer to cure.
It’s like how some asthmatics who take inhalers don’t appear to catch colds. With these asthmatics, the disease process has ceased to be available at the exterior level of the nose, the throat, cough, sneeze etc and has lodged deeper: harder to cure and requires continued medication to palliate.
Alcoholics often don’t have hangovers, because they keep drinking: it’s when they stop that their problems begin.
For more click on Disease Process.
However, of course as you grow up, your liver organ increases in size so can tolerate more alcohol than that of a child. But a child’s liver is comparatively innocent and fresh and reacts vigorously to the poison. That’s actually a healthy reaction!
Symptoms vary from person to person. However, if the diagnosis of ‘heat’ causing Liver Qi stagnation, Liver Yang excess and rebellious Stomach Qi is appropriate, then Chinese medicine can help. That’s because these are all signs of what is called ‘excess’ in Chinese medicine, (ie a kind of ‘Yang Excess’), so anything which reduces Yang, or makes it move around and, to a lesser extent balances it with ‘Yin’ – will help.
(If all this Yin and Yang stuff is a bit perplexing, try reading the page on Yin and Yang.)
For rebellious Stomach Qi, anything swallowed (including food, painkillers and herbs) should normally not be taken with cold or iced water, but with warm water with a slice of ginger in it.
If you’ve followed this explanation of what happens in terms of Chinese medicine,when you get a hangover, the following will make more sense:
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Avoid coffee and caffeine because they tend to send energy upwards, further draining your Yin reserves. So coffee is particularly bad for Liver Yang rising headaches. (For very short periods, it may make you feel more positive, but this nearly always fools you, because it doesn’t last. Then you feel worse, and probably nauseous too, as it stimulates your Liver to ‘attack’ your Stomach, producing nausea. Sorry.)
Avoid strong spices because they make you sweat; also they heat you up temporarily. Although alcohol has made you hot, sweating heavily cools you too fast. Spices are particular examples of hot foods. Avoid them.
People who often gets hangovers (and some people who have a constitutional tendency to them) may suffer from what in Chinese Medicine is called ‘Damp-Heat’: breath and stools smell foul, pain is burning, secretions are yellow or dark, athlete’s foot is worse, tongue has dirty yellow coating, head feels heavy: you feel weary and stiff.
You could also have a urinary infection or damp sores in ‘concealed’ areas. To treat this requires rather specialised treatment if using herbs. (Such herbs are commonly bitter, astringent and cold in nature. They don’t take nice!) Acupuncture is often good too.
There are herbs that work. But people needing them often don’t persist for long enough. (We’ve been spoiled by fast-acting painkillers.)
Why does acupuncture work?
Well, let’s be straight! Nobody knows for certain, though I can assure you that it’s a question people are racing to find an answer for.
Traditional acupuncture relies on a knowledge of acupuncture pathways, channels or meridians. Understanding where these go, both on the surface of your body and inside it, and how each pathway reacts with the other pathways, gives an experienced acupuncturist what can seem like miraculous powers.
Well they aren’t miraculous nor is there a special power. There is, however, knowledge of theory and practice and the ability to discover which channels are active and where to find the active points on the channel in question.
The active point may or may not be a traditional acupuncture point, described in textbooks. And it may need to be treated in a very particular way to get the best effect.
For research purposes this can make it hard to replicate over hundreds of cases, when even if the acupuncture point is the same for all of them (extremely unlikely) how you needle it, the direction, depth and stimulus may be different for everyone participating.
In other words, needling the point in the ‘ordinary’ way, might have little effect, or at least much less effect than if needled right – for that patient.
If you have sensitivity to foods containing tyramine or phenylalanine, don’t take them. These include:
In addition, if you read the ideas above about Heat, avoid Heating foods, such as spicy food, fat food, rich food, and roasted food. Many forms of meat are also heating, including beef and lamb. Chicken is less heating, as is fish.
Perhaps you should read my book on Qi Stagnation which talks about better ways to deal with stress and how to manage your life.
Dry Skin – how to understand it with yin and yang. It takes healthy Blood to make healthy skin, and a way to get that healthy blood where it’s needed!