hangovers head pic


Hangovers fall in the nothing good comes for free category of life. They are the unfortunate consequence of that epic night out with your friends that leads you to say “never again will I let one drop of alcohol touch my lips”. Unless you are for real about this (and good on you if you are) lets’ talk about some ways to minimize/prevent hangovers and some ways to make that superhuman-everlasting-unhidable from your boss hangover feel better quicker. Finally we will be busting some hangover cure myths and discover the truth behind some of those hangover cures your great uncle Ivan swears by.

+   Symptoms

If you are a newbie to the drinking scene or had never drunk this much before freshers week, this is what you can expect to come back at you after last night’s antics

  • Headache
  • Muscle aches, shakiness (like after a big weight session)
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Slugishness
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of dexterity and fine motor skills
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Lack of focus
  • Impaired judgment (less so than when still drunk but don’t make any big life decisions)

+   Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

If you or one of your friends has any of the below you need to seek emergency medical attention:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Slow/irregular breathing
  • Seizure
  • Blue tinged skin

+   What makes it worse?

Things to remember and consider before you start drinking as any of the below are guaranteed to make your hangover feel worse:

  • Empty stomach
  • Dehydration
    • Altitude
  • Medication (some medications you must not combine with alcohol)
  • Lack of sleep
  • Physical exertion such as dancing

+   Causes

This bit is a little sciencey, if you just need to get rid of that pounding in your head and want to know the best way to do it, skip to the myth and facts treatment section. If you want to know why your body hates you, read on:

  • Dehydration
    • Alcohol causes dehydration by inhibiting the effect on your kidneys of a hormone that prevents you from peeing (the anti-diuretic, vasopressin). It leads your kidneys to send water to the bladder directly rather than absorbing it into the blood stream.
    • Increase in urine volume, 250ml of alcohol = 800 – 1000 ml of water loss
    • Vomiting and diarrhea that causes fluid loss
  • Headaches
    • Dehydration
      • Other organs may steal water from your brain
    • Expansion of blood vessels
    • When alcohol is metabolized by the body it forms a fairly toxic substance called acetyldehyde which your body requires two enzymes to break down. With just a couple of drinks, your body undertakes this process quickly and acetyldehyde doesn’t stay in your system very long. However, your body can run out of the enzymes with heavier drinking which leads to acetyldehyde sticking around and doing more damage. Often ending in a headache and vomiting
  • Fatigue, mood disturbance, decreased concentration
    • Alcohol depletes the system of blood sugar. The decrease in blood glucose particularly affects the productiveness of the brain, causing these symptoms as well as shakiness
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
    • Alcohol irritates the stomachs lining and will increase the production of stomach acid, the stomach contents hurt the body encouraging you to vomit or causing diarrhea. This also causes a drop in sodium and potassium levels which will cause fatigue, nausea and a decrease in cell function
    • Alcohol will also delay the digestion/emptying of the stomachs content possibly leading to nausea
    • Though vomiting can be an unpleasant side effect it may lessen the effects of the hangovers by reducing the amount of alcohol and toxins in your body. But it may also increase dehydration
  • Poor sleep
    • Alcohol suppresses glutamine one of your body’s stimulants, making you feel sleepy. Your body responds by producing glutamine in overdrive, preventing you from sleeping well.
    • The outcome is fatigue, restlessness and anxiety

+   Cogeners

  • Cogeners are toxic chemicals in alcohol formed during fermentation and they are one of the causes of your headache
  • Some liquors have more cogeners than others
  • In general the darker the drink the more cogeners the worse the headache. In increasing number of cogeners
    • Vodka
    • Gin
    • Rum
    • Tequila
    • Scotch Whiskey
    • Bourbon
    • And white wine has less than red wine (and in general the cheaper the wine the more cogeners)
  • Mixing your drinks will probably make your hangover worse, as your body has to indentify more cogeners and neutralize them

+   Basic Treatment

  • Lots of fluids, water or sports drinks (to replace electrolytes lost)
    • Remember 250ml of alcohol = 800 – 1000 ml of water loss
    • So to make up for lost fluids you’re going to need to drink at least 2 to 4 times the amount of water as you drank in alcohol last night
  • Pain killers for headaches
    • Normal dosage of paracetemol or aspirin
    • If you have an unsettled stomach remember this could make it feel worse
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Something simple to eat

+   Prevention

  • Drink alcohol on a full stomach
    • It will slow down the absorption rate of alcohol into your blood stream
    • It will also help reduce the amount you feel like drinking
  • Drink a glass of water before you start drinking, to make sure you are not dehydrated before you start.
  • Drink water and other non-alcoholic drinks alongside the alcoholic ones. This will help reduce the severity of you dehydration.
  • Stick to one type of drink
    • Mixing alcohol just gives your body more toxins to deal with
  • Lighter alcohols are better
    • See Cogeners
  • Beer before Liquor never been sicker is true!
    • Carbonation in beer and champagne will increase the absorption rate of alcohol into your blood stream
    • If you drink a carbonated drink before liquor it increases the delivery of alcohol through your system and cause you to become drunk faster

+   Treating a Hangover

Myths and Facts

  • Hair of the dog in other words more alcohol

  • One of the more common contenders for the best hangover cure, but it loses the battle
    • Alcohol the next morning may help temporarily help to relive symptoms by causing a mild overdose of a depressant, however all you are really doing is delaying the inevitable
    • More alcohol just means more toxins for your body to break down and may increase the effects of dehydration
    • If you are dead set on the hair of the dog tradition then go for a Bloody Mary or Screw driver. The fruit/vegetable juices in these drinks provide some of the vitamins and salts that will help your body recover from the hangover faster.
  • Coffee

    Another widely vouched for cure. Coffee gets and even bigger thumbs down than alcohol unfortunately

    • The caffeine in coffee will most likely dehydrate you further as it’s a diuretic (makes you pee) and therefore worsen the symptoms of your hangover
    • It can be mildly effective against your headache as it’s a vasoconstrictor (decrease the size of the blood vessels in your brain). However, regular pain killers are just if not more effective.
    • Avoid other caffeinated drinks also such as tea and fizzy drinks
    • If you’re still drunk it may help you sober up a little as its diuretic effect will cause you to flush out some of the alcohol through your pee. But drink water at the same time to reduce potential dehydration.
  • Fruit juice

    Gets the thumbs up and its healthy

    • Contain key vitamins (such as B and C) the body lost the night before
    • The fructose (fruit sugar) will help replace some of your depleted glucose (blood sugar) stores and give you a little more energy
    • Studies have shown fruit juice may increase the rate at which your body gets rid of toxins left by alcohol
  • Fried or Fatty Food

    Your go to big fry up the next morning may not be the solution to your revolting stomach but stopping at a kebab shop or shoving in a bacon butty before you go out may help reduce some of your symptoms the next day

    • Fatty foods the morning after is most likely just to irritate your stomach further
    • Eating fatty food before you eat can help as it sticks to your stomach lining and slows down the absorption of alcohol giving the body more time to process the alcohol and its byproducts
    • In some places in the Mediterranean they even swallow a spoonful of olive oil before drinking
  • Eggs

    Though a full English may not be the cure a couple eggs any way you like will certainly help wipe out some of the toxins. Don’t worry though you don’t need to add them raw and blend them broccoli and orange juice like Uncle Ivan does.

    • Eggs contain large amounts of cysteine, the substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde. Eating them cooked is advised to avoid salmonella poisoning.
    • Cysteine can be found in a couple of other high protein foods such as poultry, yoghurt and oats. As well as in garlic, onions and broccoli.
  • Spicy Food

      You have some leftover curry in the fridge that you fancy?

    • Many cultures around the world swear by sweating it out. And it may help get rid of some of your toxins but it’s also likely to irritate your stomach and make that diarrhea worse.
    • If you want to go this way try something which also has a bunch of ginger and liquid in it like a spicy Thai soup. The ginger will help to ease you stomach and the salt and water in the broth will help combat your dehydration.
  • Bananas

      Not such a well heard of cure but one that certainly effective, cheap and easy

    • Drinking will take a heavy toll on your potassium levels, and you’ll lose a bunch of it through peeing and any vomiting. Bananas have a massive dose of 467 mg of potassium.
    • Other potassium rich foods/drinks include kiwis and sports drinks

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