How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 1/5
Naturally Prevent and Manage A Hangover; Part 1/5: Symptoms and Causes
In this first article of a five-part hangover series, I explore symptoms and causes of hangovers. When you know more about the science of hangovers, you will be better equipped to prevent and manage them.
What is a hangover?
The term hangover refers to the unpleasant physical effects following heavy consumption of alcohol. As many of us know, hangover symptoms can range from mild to severe. To learn more, let’s look at the symptoms and causes of a hangover.
Symptoms of hangovers
Hangover symptoms can last from a few hours up to 24 hours.
Classic symptoms include:
- depressed mood
- dry mouth
- extreme thirst
- extreme hunger
- hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- increased blood pressure
- increased urination
- interrupted sleep
- irregular heartbeat
- mental fog
- muscle-aches and weakness
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light, sound and touch
Causes of hangovers
Most symptoms experienced during a hangover are caused by the direct effect of alcohol on the body’s organs and systems. Some causes include:
1. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
Alcohol is a diuretic. This means that it speeds up the loss of water from the body by causing you to urinate more frequently, a process called diuresis. When you drink heavily, you pee more, and as a result, you pee out water and electrolytes that are important for proper body function.
Sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium are just some of the electrolytes that are lost. Diuresis and electrolyte imbalance causes dehydration and negatively affects nerves and muscles. The water loss may also cause the brain to shrink and pull away from its lining, stretching pain-sensitive filaments that connect to the skull.
Enter the hangover. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance causes familiar hangover symptoms like dizziness, headaches, fatigue and thirst.
2. Toxic acetaldehyde build-up and decreased glutathione
Liver enzymes break down alcohols. Acetaldehyde is created when an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down ethanol in the liver. Acetaldehyde is not a good substance to have in the body because it is between 10 and 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself.
To break down the toxic acetaldehyde, the body releases acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and glutathione (pronounced “gloota-thigh-own”). When we drink too much alcohol, the liver often runs out of glutathione and when this happens, the breakdown of acetaldehyde is slowed. When the enzymes cannot keep up with the detoxification process, a massive pile-up of toxic acetaldehyde occurs within the body.
This is the point at which skull-crushing headaches and nausea begin to surface.
3. Inflammation of the stomach lining
Alcohol directly irritates the cells lining the stomach and intestines. This inflammation delays digestion and produces gastric acid and pancreatic secretions, all of which create abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
4. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Drinking alcohol inhibits glucose production in the body and depletes the glucose reserves that are stored in the liver. Hypoglycemia causes fatigue, weakness and mood disturbances.
The type of alcoholic drink you consume may dictate the severity of your hangover symptoms. For example, drinks with higher levels of congeners tend to create more severe hangover symptoms than libations with lower concentrations. Congeners are byproducts that are produced during the fermentation process of alcohol production. They are responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages. Congeners include acetone, tannins and acetaldehyde.
Darker liquors tend to contain high levels, while white and clear liquors have less. The chart below displays the congener levels in different types of alcohol.
Drinks with higher levels of congeners (create more severe hangover symptoms):
- red wine
Drinks with lower levels of congeners (create less severe hangover symptoms):
- white wine
Awareness of the symptoms and causes of a hangover can help you avoid and/or ease the pain associated with hangovers. Symptoms range from a mild headache to tremors and vomiting. Causes include electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, toxic acetaldehyde build-up, and gastric inflammation. The type of drink also impacts the severity of hangovers – the darker the liquor, the more congeners it contains, and the more sicker you may become. Identifying the symptoms and taking action as soon as possible will help mitigate a nasty hangover. Head over to part 2 of my hangover series to learn what you can do before you drink to prevent/lessen a hangover.
Share your thoughts
I want to hear from you!
- Did I miss any symptoms or causes of hangovers?
- Do you have any wild stories of a hangover that you wish to share with the BambooCore family?
Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments below this article. 🙂
To read any articles in my How To Prevent A Hangover Series, click on the corresponding link below:
- How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 1/5: Symptoms And Causes
- How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 2/5: Do This Before Drinking
- How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 3/5: Do This While Drinking
- How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 4/5: Do This After Drinking/When You Get Home
- How To Prevent And Manage A Hangover; Part 5/5: Do This The Next Day
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.