The hangover. Most of us have been there, and those that haven’t are dodging a bullet. For every vodka-flowing, VK-chugging night you have this week (I’m looking at you, EURFC), you’ll probably have to deal with the symptoms of the hideous hangover the following morning. With this in mind, surely it is only fair that you’re informed of what it actually going on inside your body whilst this happens and the best preventive methods for it?
So what exactly is a hangover? Scientifically named ‘veisalgia’, the common hangover is often a putrid mix of sweating, headaches, nausea, shaking, anxiety and depression brought on by the overconsumption of alcohol. Various biological factors, such as age and sex, influence the severity of a hangover but the type of alcohol we consume also has a direct impact. The number of impurities, or congeners, in various types of alcoholic beverage has a varying impact on water loss and the resulting symptoms. Typically, red alcohols have a more damaging effect on your physical wellbeing than white alcohols. So if you fancy a fresh Sunday morning then stay away from the Shiraz, okay? I’m looking at you Exeter Winesoc.
So let’s start at the top: the headache. We already know that one of the biggest issues with heavy drinking is dehydration. In fact, during a session of binge drinking you lose, on average, four times as much water as you put into your body. It’s unsurprising that ample replenishment of the H20 in your body is the most important preventative factor concerning veisalgia. Suddenly, your body becomes a battleground for water and, when your brain doesn’t get enough, it might start to shrink. A shrinking brain tugs on its outer membrane attaching it to the skull and the sensation is rather uncomfortable.
Arguably the worst symptom of a hangover is vomiting and nausea. Alcohol consumption promotes the synthesis of two dangerous chemicals: acetaldehyde and hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is found naturally in the stomach, but overproduction causes a backlash from stomach cells. It’s effectively your own body’s way of saying ‘you’re too drunk; get out of here’ before ejecting your innards into the toilet bowl, provided you make it there in time. Similarly, in moderate amounts, the liver deploys the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and an antioxidant called glutathione to catalyse the digestion of acetaldehyde. Unfortunately, in periods of alcohol overconsumption, the body runs out of glutathione and the only way is straight out of your oesophagus into the toilet bowl… again.
The only way to effectively deal with a hangover is to put everything back into your body that the alcohol forced out. As mentioned, water is fundamental, but you also urinate out a lot of key minerals when you drink heavily. Potassium and fructose are easily replaced by eating lots of fruit, particularly bananas. That said, there is no comprehensive cure for the dreaded hangover and the only definitive method for preventing one is not drinking at all. But, I’m not here to tell you what to do; I’m just here to let you know that ‘I told you so’.