Most civilisations have enjoyed their own particular celebratory brew. All you need is a rotted or fermented vegetable, grain or fruit to create alcohol. Not surprisingly, the body has evolved to cope with alcohol, with assorted enzymes and biochemical pathways. However, even in small amounts, alcohol is toxic to all cells, particularly nerve cells and the liver.

The liver treats alcohol as a VIP, metabolising it as quickly as possible, before it causes major destruction elsewhere in the body.

The first breakdown product is called acetaldehyde, and this is what creates a hangover. The liver can be overwhelmed if all its energies are taken up with dealing with this overbearing substance. As a consequence, all the other many duties the liver performs are postponed: this includes bundling up fatty acids to transport them elsewhere, which is why constant drinkers suffer from a ‘fatty liver’.

Why Me?

Most people know why they have a hangover even if they cannot remember exactly how they got it. However, if you are affected by alcohol very easily, then perhaps your liver needs some help. Follow some of the dietary suggestions in Liver Problems.

Your liver can cope with only so much, roughly one drink per hour, and you should limit intake to one or two drinks a day. The definition of a drink is any alcoholic beverage that delivers 14 mL of pure ethanol: 85-113 mL wine, 284 mL of wine cooler, 340 mL of beer, 28 mL of spirits such as vodka, rum or scotch.

What To Do


  • Eat before you drink. Since about 20 per cent of alcohol passes straight into the bloodstream from the stomach, the presence of food in the stomach will slow down the rate of absorption.
  • Avoid salty snacks like chips and nuts when drinking. Not only are they high in fat, they make you thirsty, and encourage you to drink more alcohol.
  • Drink two glasses of water for every glass of alcohol to dilute the acetaldehyde in the bloodstream.
  • Start the day with grapefruit juice or the juice of half a lemon in hot water. Lemon and grapefruit assist the liver.
  • If you crave bacon and eggs (God love you!) the next morning, eat them. Eating fatty food increases the production and excretion of bile. At least your liver still works.
  • Tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce is recommended as a hangover cure by some rugged individuals.

Herbs and Supplements

  • Drink herbal tisanes that help sort the liver with herbs such as dandelion.
  • Zinc helps alcohol dehydrogenase, one of the enzymes the liver uses to detoxify alcohol. Without zinc and its co-factors B6 and magnesium, the enzyme goes on strike. Unfortunately, in Australia many people are deficient in zinc as it is in short supply in the soil. Especially if you are a daily drinker, take a zinc tablet (22 mg) every day, preferably with cofactors vitamin B6 and magnesium.
  • Take 1 g of vitamin C and one vitamin B complex tablet before you go drinking, as well as each morning. These vitamins will hasten the detoxification and elimination of alcohol. B1 is especially important.
  • Before you start drinking, have a dose of St Mary’s thistle, which may protect the liver from some of the onslaught.
  • When suffering a hangover, sip herbal bitters in water throughout the day.
  • A frequently used homoeopathic remedy for hangovers is Nux vom 30C.

Other Steps

  • Try to avoid getting a hangover.
  • Take a dip in the surf, but not too much sun.

At a glance

Good food
Lemon, grapefruit, other liver foods.
Food to avoid
The ‘hair of the dog’.
Remedies to begin
Zinc, St Mary’s thistle, herbal bitters, B supplement.
Celebration or escape? Getting drunk for many is a way of blotting out emotional pain.