May 27, 2006


I’ve been doing a bit of ‘hands on’ research into hangovers recently so I thought I’d investigate the subject further. Why does alcohol make (some of) us feel so rough the following day? Even the Bible makes reference to the problems of the morning after! "Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink" (Isaiah 5:11)

A Hangover is also called a veisalgia - from the Norwegian word for ‘uneasiness following debauchery’ (kveis) and the Greek word for ‘pain’ (algia) and the term is used to describe the unpleasant side effects of too much alcohol or heavy consumption of drugs. The most common symptoms are dehydration, tiredness, nausea and a headache. Other symptoms of an alcohol-induced hangover are difficulty in concentrating, irritability, sensitivity to light and noise, and trouble sleeping.

Not that it’s news to any of us but alcohol causes more than one problem when it comes to hangovers. Ethanol (alcohol) has a dehydrating effect on the body, which causes the dry mouth, lethargy and headache. However one of the most disturbing factors in my opinion is why I get a headache. Apparently dehydration causes the brain to shrink away from the skull slightly – yuck! This is because the other organs in our bodies are trying to save themselves by drawing water from the brain. This triggers the pain sensors on the outside surface of your brain. A suggestion to help to avoid this is to drink plenty of water in between and directly after drinking alcohol (or maybe to just drink a little less alcohol). Just to add to the appeal alcohol is also a metabolic poison which impacts on your stomach lining and causes the nausea. Then just to round off the damage nicely your liver, assuming it still functions, turns alcohol into acetaldehyde and this metabolite is probably even more toxic to your body than the alcohol itself. So it’s really no surprise that you feel ill the morning after a heavy session is it?

One thing that I did find quite interesting, and a little worrying is that some of the nervous effects of a hangover are exaggerated by products of the alcohol fermentation process, such as methanol and fusel oils, which are also called congeners. However when it comes to distilled alcohol, in particular Vodka (a favourite of mine) this doesn’t happen - which is why I don’t feel so bad after a heavy night on the Vodka as I do after a red wine binge. Which prompts the obvious solution, drink more Vodka!

Other factors which are believed to worsen the effects of a hangover are sugar (Found in sweet cocktails alchopops etc), Nicotine poisoning (There is a tendency to smoke more when you’re drunk) and good old fashioned genetics – some people just don’t get hangovers. However if you’re one of those people, before you get smug about it, remember just because you don’t feel rough the morning after it doesn’t mean you’re doing yourself any less any harm when you drink to excess. Lastly there’s also a certain level of psychosomatics with a hangover – if you expect to get one, you will!

So… Suggested Cures/Prevention.

  • Drinking a sports drink (not an energy drink) such as powerade or Gatorade to rehydrate your body
  • Drinking a large amount of water before going to bed and during the night to rehydrate your body
  • Eating mineral rich foods such as pickles or fish
  • Drinking pickle juice, i.e. the juice that cucumbers eggs etc are pickled in, in the morning (apparently very popular in Poland)
  • Eating something substantial before going to bed to soak up the alcohol (kebabs, pizza etc)
  • Drinking coffee (although not too strong as caffeine itself can cause dehydration)
  • Drinking orange juice, which is rich in vitamin C
  • Eating cabbage leaves or drinking tomato juice
  • Cysteine, which is available as an over the counter supplement (N-acetycysteine (NAC)) assists is processing acetaldehyde and is best taken while already drinking and/or before going to bed. Egg yolk is also rich in cysteine, which may be why many traditional remedies contain eggs.
  • And finally - the most obvious of them all - don't get drunk!

So it would appear that the urge for a kebab after a heavy night is not so much that it’s the only time one tastes nice but a subconscious effort to prevent a hangover. My personal favourite is still the tried and tested remedy of drinking water before sleeping, works for me - if you can face it that is. Or alternatively just don’t get quite so drunk!


Pewari Naan said...

Interesting what you say about red wine... I seem to get an instant hangover with red wine now I'm older and daren't drink more than a glass of it in one night.

You only listed half my hangover cure though - glass of orange juice and a large fry up including bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes, hash browns, mushrooms, baked beans and toast :) Well okay, the orange juice is at least good for your body...

Cathy said...

Mmmm, I'd forgotten about a fry up, how did that slip my mind, although on a really bad day solid food is something I struggle with until I'm feeling a little better. :)

Pewari Naan said...

I always wondered if it was something to do with craving salt (from the bacon)... cos just a bacon sarnie will do if the rest of the fry up is unavailable or if I'm feeling too fragile.

Cathy said...

I read somewhere that salt helps to get your electrolytes back up (whatever they are?) which is apparently a good thing to do, so that might explain why a bacon sarnie works, preferably in a nice crusty baguette with loads of butter and a hot steaming cup of coffee.... works for me without a hangover as well :)