St. Patrick's Day is almost here, which means the bars will be overflowing with green-clad revelers. The holiday is frequently celebrated through excessive drinking. However, there are dangers to binge drinking. Here Drexel gastroenterologist Neilanjan Nandi, MD, FACP, discusses everything from beer belly to hangover cures to help keep you safe and healthy for St. Patrick's Day and throughout the year. For those celebrating this weekend, he offers this simple piece of advice: "Be merry, not scary!"
How does binge drinking affect the body?
The body can tolerate alcohol in small quantities and some research suggests that a moderate intake may actually prevent coronary artery disease (blockages). However, there is alot of literature demonstrating that chronic, recurrent binge drinking can have very harmful effects on the body, such as changing the physical structure of the heart (cardiomyopathy), accelerating fatty liver (steatosis) which may lead to scarring in the liver (cirrhosis), and structural damage to the pancreas which produces digestive enzymes (acute and/or chronic pancreatitis). Some cancer risks are also increased by drinking alcohol such as esophageal, liver, throat and even breast cancer.
The increased calorie intake from binge drinking also results in conversion and deposition of adipose to your centripetal visceral fat stores, otherwise known as "beer belly." Binge drinking can also lead to nutritional shortages that can temporarily affect your cognition or ability to think clearly and if drinking is habitual, your cognition can be affected regularly.
Think again before binging, especially if it is a regular social activity. It will take a toll on your body.
What do you recommend to cure a hangover?
Eat: Definitely ensure you have eaten food before going out on the town. Drinking on an empty stomach only means the alcohol will hit you harder…and so will that pavement. Eating a solid meal will maintain your blood sugar and enable you to tolerate drinking better. Simple carbohydrates such as grains in the form of bread like toast or pasta are much easier to digest. Some people recommend greasy foods but this typically promotes more reflux, and if you plan on lying on the sofa to recover all day, then that resting position is only going to give you more reflux.
Hydrate: Hydration is key. If you do not hydrate, you will succumb to the dehydrating effects of alcohol faster. I recommend drinking water before you go out and drinking at least 1-2 glasses of water between alcoholic beverages. This will keep you full and hydrated, and it will space out your drinks so you can enjoy passing the time with friends rather than waking up with a hangover and not remembering anything at all. Apart from sports drinks, I recommend coconut water for its electrolyte replacing properties. It's delicious and will help ease that hangover in a jiff.
Sleep: Quality sleep is key and allows the body to detoxify alcohol, which ultimately is poisonous to our body in high quantities. Don't make big plans for the day after heavy drinking. You are unlikely to be productive and more likely to be miserable.
Home Remedies: Some home remedies consist of drinking a glass of orange juice and taking ibuprofen before going to bed. While this may help some people, I recommend eating some real food before taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach. Otherwise people can develop abdominal pain. Bananas are another great way to fill up and get some potassium as well. Ginger is helpful for nausea or an unsettled stomach, particularly in its dried form which is most potent and can be found in some grocery store aisles or Asian cuisine specialty stores.
Pace your drinking. It's not the Olympics of alcohol consumption. If you are going to go on a pub crawl, then at least drink a lot of water between adult beverages. Eat throughout the day and think about having a buddy system to keep track of each other's sobriety or clear headedness. Ultimately St. Patty's is a religious festival, and a rich part of this culture is the food that goes along with the drink. Perhaps this year indulge a bit more in the food, not just the drink! Be merry, not scary!