How to Handle Your Liquor After 40

Enjoying a cocktail (or three) is fun, but getting bombed can be painful, especially as you age. Here’s how to make sure your night out doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

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Why do hangovers get worse with age?

“You’re not imagining it!” says Soul Wellness Method Concierge Holistic Nutritionist and founder of the LA smoothie delivery service WellBalance Shauna Faulisi. Having a few drinks now — especially sweet cocktails or red wine — can be mind-numbingly, day-destroyingly brutal. The physiological changes that occur in our bodies with age make it harder to tolerate alcohol. For one, muscle mass decreases, giving way to more fat; and fat doesn’t absorb booze as well as muscle. The liver and stomach atrophy too—and can’t metabolize liquor as they once could. After 40, our blood cells hold less water, leaving us chronically dehydrated, which means alcohol — a diuretic itself — isn’t broken down as quickly. And high consumption creates low-grade inflammation, which compounds day-to-day inflammation created by poor diets, medications and other health issues, says Carillon Wellness Resort nutritionist Staci Shacter, MS RD LDN. 

Hangover prevention as you get older

But enough with the bad news: “There are lots of things you can do to improve liver detoxification, decrease inflammation, and potentially prevent hangovers,” says Shacter. For those nights you do want to have fun or enjoy vino without regretting it the next day, you’ll need to plan ahead. Not quite college, is it? Supplements are like liquid gold: taking Vitamin C before and after imbibing can help the liver metabolize alcohol — as can glutathione, a major antioxidant, says Faulisi. (Note: Be sure to chat with your doctor before starting any new supplements.) In addition to glutathione, Shacter advocates prickly pear (a study showed its extract decreased severity of hangovers by 62%), l-theanine (it modulates alcohol chemistry), silibinin (which supports liver detoxification) and Life Extensions’ all-in-one Anti-Alcohol Antioxidants supplement.  

You’ll also want to increase your water consumption before and while you indulge in your favorite drink. Consider sneaking in coconut water too as it replenishes electrolytes. Try to stick with on-the-rocks tequila or vodka-soda with squeezes of fresh citrus instead of sugary mixers. “Dark liquors are high in congeners, which have been shown to increase frequency and intensity of hangovers,” says Shacter. Vodka’s congener level is the lowest among common alcohol. If wine is your jam, “get snobby,” says Faulisi, adding that the European Union has the strictest laws when it comes to mold and additives, which means their cleaner vinos will not elicit such horrible hangovers. For domestic wines, look for single-origin winemakers. 

The next day? Treat your hangover with a low-sugar, high-protein green smoothie, sunshine, fresh air, rest and low-impact movement. However, having a burger after drinking is not  going to improve things tomorrow. “Eating a meal containing fat is only helpful before  you drink, not after,” says Shacter. Post-party, it’s all about foods high in antioxidants and amino acids that break down and neutralize toxins — think bone broth, eggs, leafy greens, chlorophyll and fresh fruits.

For the future, Faulisi is a proponent of taking a proactive approach to avoid feeling ill after drinking: “Continue to build muscle as you age to help with the effects of alcohol and, more importantly, to reap the benefits of increased cognitive function and overall hormonal health,” says the holistic nutritionist. 

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