A hangover -- the dreaded headache, nausea, cotton mouth, body aches and just feeling nasty -- occurs for different reasons in different people.
But there are some common things that happen to all of us that can also help us avoid the unpleasantness.
The science behind the aches
When we drink alcohol, it’s absorbed and immediately makes its way to our liver. When enzymes begin to break it down, it may produce a compound called acetaldehyde in some people, this is known to cause many of the aches and pains from drinking.
As we continue to drink, the alcohol makes it past the liver to our brains where it has its desired effect.
Unfortunately, there are other undesired effects.
Alcohol slows down our intestines and as it wears off we can experience additional queasiness and even diarrhea. Alcohol also changes the way glucose is stored and released in our body — resulting in low blood sugar.
When alcohol is produced through fermentation, other compounds can be produced. Those are more common in dark liquors like whiskey, cognac and tequila.
Many of these other compounds, called congeners, are thought to contribute to a hangover.
As if the toxic byproducts of metabolism, dehydration, changes in intestinal function, low blood sugar and other harmful contents aren’t enough to cause a hangover, there’s also the simple fact that your sleep is disrupted after drinking, contributing to even more discomfort the next morning.
So what can you do to combat these effects?
- Fight the dehydration with fluids, both while drinking and the next morning
- You can counter the low blood sugar with a balanced meal of protein and carbohydrates
- The headache and bodyaches may respond to Ibuprofen
- You should avoid acetaminophen since that just increases the toxicity to your liver
- Caffeine might help to perk you up after a night of poor sleep
The old saying about the hair of the dog that bit you, or having a drink in the morning to help a hangover, it bad advice. It is true that some of the feeling during a hangover might be related to mild alcohol withdrawal, but drinking again will still only delay the inevitable.
The best cure for a hangover is simply time.