'Let's live in the real world' – Dr Sumi Dunne explains to consume alcohol in a healthy way this festive season

As the Christmas party season wages on, so do the correlating hangovers.

For every night out comes the corresponding physical – and increasingly mental – dread the next day to remind you of your previous night’s indulgence: the hangover. Dr Sumi Dunne, a Laois-based GP who is the medical expert on RTE’s Operation Transformation, explained the science behind your hangover and ways to still enjoy yourself over Christmas, while staying safe.

“There are lots of reasons why you’re getting physical symptoms and quite possibly, the emotional aspect of it because a lot of people find they are quite irritable with a hangover,” she told Karly Henry on the Real Health Podcast. “The main reason this is happening: when you break down alcohol, alcohol is going to dehydrate you and when you’re dehydrated, you’re going to piddle more. When you piddle more, you lose water and when you lose water, you’re going to get dry and that’s going to contribute to a lot of the symptoms.

“Alcohol breaks down into quite a few toxic metabolites and that’s called acetaldehyde and that’s a really nasty substance…then the blood vessels open up, it gives a throb particularly around the head and that’s why you feel particularly bad,” she adds. “How can we prevent that? That’s hard to redirect because everyone is so different and what may affect one person with one glass of wine or pint of beer might affect someone who can actually drink a whole load more and not get those symptoms.

“It’s unique per person.”

Dr Dunne explained specifically what constitutes a unit of alcohol and reasonable parameters to consume drinks at the height of the party period. It’s recommended that women consume a maximum of 11 units over the course of the week and 17 units for men.

“It’s really hard if you’re pouring your own measure because we can be particularly generous! If we look at pub measurements, one beer equals two units. A half pint is one unit. One glass of standard wine is one unit and one shot of spirit is one unit,” she says.

“If we think about it at home, we probably are a little more over-generous in how much we pour. We need to be aware of that unless people are using measuring optics. You’ve had your unit of alcohol, you might have another – it’s very hard to have one half a pint or glass of wine per hour – we would be saying ideally it’s one unit per hour you should be taking.

“This is Christmas and life is for living, one glass of wine over an hour over the Christmas season? Let’s just live in the real world a bit.”

When it comes to recovery time, she recommends one hour per drink, which often means that drivers are over the legal limit the following morning.

“In order to excrete or get rid of that alcohol, you need one full hour after that unit. Those units add up and there’s a cumulative effect, you need an hour per unit to get rid of that alcohol from your body. If you are getting up for work at 7:00 in the morning, you might still be over the alcohol limit and you won’t be safe to drive,” she explains.

“To be safe, you need to wait for the last hour from which you had your last drink. That is a really important message. People are very aware of the fact that we shouldn’t drink and drive. It’s a message we’ve been hearing for a good many years and rightly so. Even more so now, the message is: what about the morning after?

“We need to be really aware and really safe around that. One hour per unit of alcohol drunk you need to get rid of it.”

For more episodes and information from the Real Health podcast you can also go to: https://www.independent.ie/podcasts/the-real-health-podcast/

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