It’s a common sentiment when hungover to want to never feel like that again - and why would you want to repeat that? Feeling nauseous, fatigued, dizzy, thirsty - possibly vomiting and suffering a monstrous headache - that’s enough of a collection of symptoms to make anyone promise the world to be rid of. And knowing your limits helps when drinking, but sometimes you just can’t expect to be hungover. And then there you are! This article will explain how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help aid you in your distress, and even relieve you of your hangover woes.
In TCM, alcohol is Damp and Hot in nature (note that some words here will be capitalized to differentiate them from their scientifically-defined counterparts). Damp-Heat has a profound effect on our bodies: the Dampness slows things down and makes parts of your body feel heavy and congested, while the Heat consumes your energy and fluids. Together they create painful blockage and disrupt the natural flow of energy in your body. In small amounts, alcohol can be tolerated because your body can withstand and recover from the toxic characteristics, but in larger quantities alcohol can have a disastrous systemic effect.
When you drink alcohol, it enters your Stomach and is digested by your Spleen and Stomach organ systems. Thus the nutrients that can be derived from it are processed, and the remaining elements excreted as waste. But because of the volatile Damp-Hot nature of booze, when you drink too much of it your ability to process the volatility becomes corrupted. When this happens, the Damp-Heat persists, and a few things can happen:
1. Blockage occurs in your Stomach, interrupting the flow of energy which is naturally downwards in the front of your body. The blockage can cause the energy to want to rise instead, making you feel nauseous, hiccup, or even cause you to vomit.
2. Because Heat likes to rise and Dampness likes to sink, one can drag the other along with it in the direction it likes to go. For example, Heat can bring Dampness upwards, giving you a dull, throbbing headache that makes your head seem so heavy it feels like it might even fall off! Or the other way around, Dampness can drag Heat downwards, giving you diarrhea or at least unpleasant stool that leaves behind an uncomfortable burning sensation.
3. The damage to your Spleen, which in TCM transforms nutrients into usable energy and body fluids, can leave you feeling extremely fatigued because you haven’t been able to make the required energy.
4. The Heat dries up your body fluids leaving you feeling very thirsty.
5. The Dampness rising with the Heat can cause you to feel dizzy, and even irritable and cranky.
How exactly does acupuncture and TCM help? Well, as with anything in Chinese medicine, it is the right combination of points on your body and the right herbs chosen by a proper pulse diagnosis that determine how to best treat you. Thus getting treated by a Registered TCM Practitioner is the best way to ensure you’ll be receiving the right course of treatment. With that said, there are some stock points and herbs that along with the right basic treatment can help tremendously. Note that you’ll probably still want a nap after treatment since, like all holistic medicines, TCM helps your body heal itself.
One commonly used pair of points that help with blockage in your abdomen is PC6 and SP4, which are often used together. PC6 is a very calming point that encourages a smoother flow of energy in your body, while SP4 is a Spleen point that helps relieve your body of Dampness and strengthens your Spleen’s ability to perform its basic functions. PC6 is two thumb-widths from the crease formed by your wrist, on the palm side of your forearm. SP4 is on the inner arch of your foot just below the proximal end of your first metatarsal bone.
Another commonly used pair of points with hangovers is LI4 and LR3. LI4 is a Large Intestine point on your hand between your thumb and index finger. The Large Intestine meridian runs from the tip of your index finger into your head, where it connects with the Stomach meridian, and is a powerful point for opening up the channels in your body. Thus it can help with headaches, and potentially also some digestive discomfort you may be feeling. LR3, on the top of your foot between the first and second metatarsal bones, also can open up the channels in your body (together LI4 and LR3 are called “The Four Gates”). This Liver point helps soothe the flow of energy throughout your body, and can also help resolve Damp-Heat.
In terms of herbs, some commonly used formulas for hangovers include Ge Hua Jie Cheng San and Lian Po Yin. The first contains herbs such as kudzu, ginseng and tangerine peel, which together help remove blockage from your digestive system, relieve headaches, and boost your energy. Lian Po Yin more directly resolves Damp-Heat from your system with herbs such as coptis rhizome, magnolia bark, and acorus.
Once again it's good advice to seek the proper diagnosis of a TCM practitioner, as taking the wrong herbs or using the wrong acupuncture points for your own personal pattern could lead to you feeling even worse. And when you're hungover, that's not an option!
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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