Gettin' Your Drink On, From A TCM Perspective

I will be spending the second half of this beautiful day at a craft beer fest in Boston. In honor of the hangover I will inevitably be suffering tomorrow, I bring you this article about getting drunk from the perspective of Chinese medicine. In our medicine, every food and beverage has certain qualities that can either help or harm the body and digestion. Remember how we talked about Heat and Cold, and Damp and Dryness within the body a few articles ago? The key here is balance. If you are a Yang (Hot) person, cooling foods will balance you out, such as cucumbers and watermelon. If you are a Yin (Cold) type, you will probably crave hot foods such as cooked meats, spicy foods, and coffee-these balance the cold in your system.

You know how the first few sips of alcohol leave you feeling warm and tingly and just...well, good inside? This is why: alcohol is an extremely "hot" substance. It also moves the blood and qi of the body, which will initially make you feel pretty good. If the blood and qi are stagnant, you may experience pain, tightness, or crankiness. Get all that blood and qi flowing, and the pain will disperse, that sense of crankiness will dissipate, and you will get all loosened up. And isn't this exactly what it feels like with that first glass of wine? Any pains you might have start to fade, you get warm from the Heat of the drink, and you start to feel happy and more limber.

After a while, the effects of all this extra Heat you are putting into your body really start to kick in. This Heat can rise to your Heart, and when there is Heart Heat, things can get crazy. This is when you get the incessant mindless babbling of that annoying guy at the bar. Don't blame him; it's the Heart Heat. That Heart Heat will also give you a sense of exhilaration and joy, followed by a rapid crash into depression or anxiety. If the Liver is affected by this Heat, you get your typical angry drunk, who wants to fight everyone standing.

All of this racing blood and qi and Heat in the body can't last forever, so eventually the qi becomes exhausted, and so do you. The fatigue you experience after a night of imbibing is the qi becoming deficient. Time for bed!

The morning will bring more symptoms of Heat and Deficiency. After having that Heart fire blazing all night, the qi of the Heart will be deficient, so you might have symptoms of tiredness, a pale face, the sweats, or palpitations. The excess Heat still in your system might lead to a raging headache or irritability if it goes to your Liver; if it heads toward your Gallbladder or Stomach, you can look forward to nausea, vomiting, or heartburn. And of course, that extra Heat in your body might also end up in your Intestines, leading to hot and burning diarrhea. Fun!

So what is the lesson for today? Moderation. A little alcohol can actually be good for you (in some cases); the point is to stop drinking while you still feel good. And if you don't...well, my office is conveniently located in Wayland. And I don't judge!