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Shortcuts: How to beat a hangover

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(CNN) -- Planning to over-indulge this weekend? Here's how to avoid the worst of it.

Know your enemy: The cause of a hangover is always the same, yet each can be plotted uniquely somewhere along a wide spectrum of physiological and psychological pain. In basic non-medical terms, a hangover is your body's revenge on you for trying to poison it as it gets on with the grim job of cleaning up the mess and preventing your major organs going into toxic shock. Regular symptoms include the sensation of your brain scratching against the inside of you skull, the sort of nausea akin to that felt by John Hurt shortly before the eponymous alien burst out of his chest in Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror classic, and worse shakes than McDonald's. Less tangible symptoms may include a nagging feeling of embarrassment, episodic memory loss and an inexplicable urge to apologize to friends no longer returning your phone calls.

Pre-emptive action: The hardened drinker ought to prepare for a big night out with the same intensity as a professional athlete -- there, fortunately, the comparison ends. For starters, to give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding the hangover from hell, you should aim to go out, like Napoleon's armies, on a full stomach. Carbohydrates are your fatty foot soldiers, helping slow down the body's absorption of alcohol and giving it more time to process the toxins -- which means (if you are British at least) you should probably turn tradition on its head by having a kebab at the start of the night instead of the end. On the other hand, American Indians believe that eating six raw almonds before drinking prevents intoxication.

While you're drinking: Obvious as it may seem, you should stick doggedly to the same poison, resisting the drinker's temptation to move through the gearbox from beer to wine to spirits to oblivion. To visualize just what effect three pints of lager, the odd glass of red wine and a flaming sambuca washed down with a couple of shots of tequila might be having on your state of health, just imagine pouring them all into the same glass before drinking them. That's the appetizing prospect that awaits your stomach. Beer of course is ideal for the longer, slower-paced session while clear spirits -- vodka, gin and rum -- and white wine tend to do less harm than colored spirits and red wine due to their more interesting chemical composition. It's also recommended that you should drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume to counter the effects of dehydration. One compromise solution could be to develop a taste for the Turkish aniseed-based spirit Raki, which, being mixed with water, advocates claim never leaves drinkers with a hangover. Unfortunately another consequence of drinking Raki -- as anyone who has ever spent a night on the tiles in Istanbul can probably testify -- is memory loss to the point of barely remembering your own name.

The aftermath: Beyond the self-loathing and inevitable vowing never to touch another drop of drink as long as you live ever, there are a few practical steps you can take to minimize the physical suffering. Re-hydration is the key to recovery and drinking lots of water (see above) before you go to bed could spare you a lot of pain in the morning. If you do wake up feeling like an extra in a George Romero film, then drink as much water, sports drinks or other sugary fluids as you can stomach. On the other hand, tea or coffee will only dehydrate you further -- even if the initial caffeine hit makes you feel better. A good breakfast will also help -- eggs are particularly recommended as they contain cysteine, an acid that breaks down the toxins caused by alcohol. Lots of vitamins C and B will further assist the body's recovery so binge on smoothies and fruit juice or, alternatively, Hunter S. Thompson's post-excess favorite, grapefruit. Fresh air and exercise can help kick-start the body back to life, although if you've woken up in a bus shelter an indeterminate distance from home that may not be voluntarily.

Postpone the inevitable: If nothing else works you could always have another drink. The Bloody Mary is synonymous with hangovers and, in the short term at least, it should at least suppress the worst of the pain, while some good quality tomato juice may even contain some vitamins that will do some good. On the other hand if you wake up and fancy a tipple from that bottle of cheap brandy that's been collecting dust in the drinks cabinet since 1996, it may be time to start re-thinking your lifestyle choices ...


story.oktoberfest.gi.jpg

Revelers at this year's Oktoberfest in reflective mood.

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