The Science of Hangovers
From Cinco de Mayo margaritas to beers at the Labor Day cookout, summer is a time of late night parties — and for some of us, late night drinks. Sometimes it seems as though just one or two drinks can make us feel rough the next day. With weddings, summer festivals and beach trips coming up, here is the what, why and how-to-beat-it of the hangover.
What is happening to me?
If you go to the doctor convinced you’re dying of your hangover, they’ll call it veisalgia and assure you you’re not. The medical symptoms that qualify veisalgia are as follows: “headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, diarrhea, exhaustion, thirst and dysphoria.” Dysphoria, for those not in the know, is a condition of general malaise and dissatisfaction, the feeling that makes you lay on the couch and insist you’ll never drink again.
So what causes a hangover? The most well known cause is dehydration. From the first sip of your drink, alcohol begins to enter the bloodstream. Alcohol suppresses the production of vasopressin, the hormone that regulates fluid management in the body. Without vasopressin, water doesn’t go to the rest of your body. Rather, liquids are sent straight to the kidneys for processing — explaining the need to use the bathroom frequently while drinking. Because of this, even one drink can dehydrate us, especially if we’re already dehydrated previously.
The active ingredient in alcoholic drinks is called ethanol. Ethanol consumption requires a massive diversion of metabolic activity — in layman’s terms, just like you’ve set aside your night to party, so has your body! Producing glucose for the brain, creating enzymes for liver processes and handling the byproducts of ethanol production all get put on a hold for a night of processing alcohol. If you consume more alcohol than your body can keep up with, this can lead to depletion of salt, water and potassium, things we need to feel good.
Congeners and what to drink
What you drink also matters. Congeners are byproducts produced during the fermentation of alcohol that are responsible for the flavor and color of certain drinks. To put it in terms you’ve probably heard before — clear, flavorless liquors are less likely to make you feel hungover than things such a whiskey and red wine. It’s more than just college advice, there’s science behind it!
So great, you’re saying. Thanks for telling us about the beast, how do we stop it?
Prevention and cures
Drinking water before, during and after alcohol consumption can mitigate some of the dehydration effect. You will lose fluid with even one drink, but try drinking a 8 ounces of water for each alcoholic drink you consume.
Eating a full meal including carbohydrates and protein can keep the byproducts of ethanol (such as acetic acid — better known as vinegar!) from giving you a sour stomach and diarrhea the next day. Before and after you plan to drink, give your body the protein and potassium it needs. Sports drinks contain potassium and electrolytes that can help with the soreness and dehydration the next day.
Take your vitamins! The frequent urination of drinking causes your body to deplete itself of necessary vitamins. Not only will a multivitamin replenish and help your body get back on track, but a B vitamin complex can give you energy much better than caffeine, which will only dehydrate you further.
Hopefully these tips will make your summer a bit smoother as you go from party to wedding to beach, one day to the next. Take it easy, relax and above all — be safe!