Beer & Health Part 1 — How to look after your body at a beer festival!

Beer & Health Part 1 — How to look after your body at a beer festival!

I wrench open my bleary eyes to a painfully well lit hotel room. I push myself up from the bed that I’d been sleeping the wrong way across and peel my keycard from my cheek. I go to pour about 6 glasses of tap water down the arid landscape that is my throat and watch myself swaying in the mirror. It’s at this point that I clock I’m still fully clothed and booted from last night. I squint at this train-wreck of a human, wondering what evening-guy did to make me, morning-guy feel so awful. Damn you, evening-guy! You had way too much fun! What a confused mess you’ve left for poor, innocent morning-guy.

This was the first morning of a 4 day international beer festival...

Sound familiar? If you are like me, you’ll max out after 1 or 2 days of drinking. Beyond that, best place for you is lying on a sofa in a darkened room, no contact with anything or anyone apart from the food delivery guy...

Unfortunately, for those of us who work in the alcohol industry, it’s normal to be expected to keep going throughout a festival. All the while, supposedly maintaining our ability to be sociable to talk to those who are excited to meet us and discuss our shared passion.

I know, poor us!

It was from these experiences, I became interested in personal health - surely at this advanced stage of civilisation there are ways to minimise the effect of a hangover??

I began researching and experimenting with different things evening-guy could do to make morning-guy’s life as easy as possible.

Please note

All our physiologies are different. The techniques I have found that work for me may not work for you. I always recommend speaking to a healthcare professional before experimenting with your own solutions, particularly re: supplements.  

The Hangover Cure

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way; the most effective way to reduce the hangover is to not drink at all, or at least drink less. That, without doubt, is the best method.

But we’re talking about beer festivals here. No one goes to a beer festival without expecting to drink. So, with that in mind...

Before drinking

There are things we can do to help prepare our bodies for the onslaught of a beer festival.

Our goal is to be able to try lots of different beers without getting completely sozzled. There is one ancient technique handed down from generation to generation to help with this: eating.

foodPhoto Credit: Berry & Brie (ref)

Simply having something in your stomach can reduce the rate of alcohol absorption by slowing the stomach emptying rate can do wonders. Drinking on an empty stomach (ref) should be avoided at all costs! And stick to foods that break down slowly. Avoid sweets or fast food.

Another thing I do before setting off on a day’s worth of beer tasting is take is a vitamin B3 supplement called niacinamide, a precursor to NAD or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, along with some zinc.

It’s all to do with the metabolism of ethanol (ref). Our bodies break down 90% of alcohol in two stages (ref). The first happens in the liver and uses an enzyme called ADH which breaks ethanol down into aldehyde using zinc and NAD+ in the process. The next stage is to convert the toxic form of aldehyde into safe esters, again using NAD+ and zinc.

Taking these supplements effectively bolsters your alcohol clean-up resources, really helping to minimise the nasty stuff that’s left-over the following morning. It’ll help morning-guy feel at least a little fresher.


This one’s obvious but always bears repeating. Alcohol is diuretic, so drinking water or water with added minerals helps immensely. It also helps slow down drinking alcohol towards the end of the night, assuming evening-guy/girl doesn’t get too carried away...! Eating more food also helps! It's useful to note an average person breaks down 1 unit of alcohol per hour.

Before Bed

This is the most important time to take action!

As we know, alcohol has a flushing effect, washing out key minerals (ref), vitamins and fluids from the body. To address this directly, I take water with rehydration salts, the same stuff you’d take after an upset stomach or food poisoning. These sachets offer high levels of potassium, magnesium and sodium, replenishing your lost minerals and rehydrating your body better than plain water (ref) ever could. Saves morning-guy from a headache every time!

B vitamins are another important thing to top up before bed. They're also involved in the metabolism of alcohol but they’re depleted by the carbohydrates in beer. B vitamins come in many different forms. The synthetic versions found in most multivitamins are unfortunately not absorbed very well, but do add an impressive “high-vis” yellow to your urine. In a bizarre cyclical way, the best form of natural B vitamins, trace minerals and zinc come from the same thing that got us into this mess in the first place — the yeast! I take a deactivated form called nutritional yeast (ref). Go for the fortified version, with added B12 (ideally the natural version Methylcobalamin).

Oxidative pathways of alcohol metabolism. Alcohol is metabolized mainly in the cytosol by alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) to produce acetaldehyde. At high levels of alcohol consumption, an enzyme in the endoplasmic reticulum, cytochrome P450 IIE1 (CYP2E1), becomes involved in metabolizing alcohol to acetaldehyde; this enzyme also is induced by chronic drinking. A catalase-mediated reaction in the peroxisomes is considered a minor metabolic pathway of alcohol metabolism. Acetaldehyde is further metabolized to acetate in the mitochondria. Alcohol metabolism results in the formation of NADH and thus changes the redox state of hepatocytes (i.e., increases the ratio of NADH/NAD+). Both alcohol metabolism by CYP2E1 and the re-oxidation of NADH via the electron transport chain in the mitochondria results in the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS).

(Figure Ref)

Finally, I take betaine HCl. This supplement increases the acidity of your stomach and helps break down and absorb everything in there. As a side note, this stuff is great if you have eaten something questionable from a food truck! The lower stomach pH helps kill off any bacteria that might lead to illness. The main benefit I’ve found is a reduction in my acid reflux (ref). Lowering stomach pH also helps reduce this. Although acid reflux is a multifaceted problem with alcohol being one in a long list of factors. Long-term issues with this should be seen to by medical professionals.

Obviously, this only works if you remember to take them before bed. You can take them in the morning, but normally by that time you will already be feeling the effects of the hangover! If I m still feeling a bit rough, I will take more nutritional yeast and rehydration salts again in the morning.

The Following Day

So morning-guy survived a couple of rounds at a beer festival. It’s next-week-guy’s problem now. It’s his responsibility to aid the liver in it’s recovery, supporting its normal functioning to minimise the amount of damage done over the festival.

There are a couple of different things we can do to support our hard-working livers. Obviously keeping well-hydrated and eating properly are paramount. But outside of just doing what you should be doing anyway, I take milk thistle or choline. The first is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which helps the liver recover (ref), and choline is an essential nutrient (ref) fundamental for healthy liver function.

Nutritional yeast is also really useful here, as it contains glutathione (ref), one of the most powerful antioxidants around, along with Beta 1-3 glucans to mop up any free radicals.


A quick recap:

  • before: eat something to slow the absorption of alcohol! Also NAD and zinc help to metabolise alcohol
  • during: water, water, water. Eat some more, then more water
  • before bed: MORE WATER with some rehydration salts. Nutritional yeast with all its essential B vitamins and some HCl tablets to ease the heart-burn. If I m still feeling rough the next day, I will take more nutritional yeast and dehydration salts.
  • the following days: look after your liver - good clean food, plenty of water, some choline or milk thistle and nutritional yeast to keep your antioxidant levels high

It’s been tough on ol’ morning-guy, but there you have it. After some extensive self-experimentation, he’s a lot happier and able to enjoy the day after.

Not all of this will apply to everyone, and finding solutions that work for you is important. But the point is broader than that. Beer is beautiful, and can add so much richness and pleasure to our lives. But it can also take a toll on our bodies. It is a price we pay for exploring one of the most exciting, challenging and fast-evolving beverages out there.

It’s a price I know I am happy to pay.

But we must recognise the health-challenges that come along with it and constantly work on solutions that help us and our bodies cope. If we don’t, we run the risk of diminishing the rewards this brilliant beverage can bring. In the next chapter of this post, I will look at ways of coping with longevity in the industry. 

So keep exploring, beer lovers, but look after yourselves too! I look forward to raising a glass of beer (then a glass of water) with some of you at the FF&B festival this weekend.


Tom & Team BBNo