Fixing a hangover

Sadly, hangover cures are a myth, there’s no chemical that will make your hangover disappear other than pain killers, water and rest. Understanding exactly what’s happening helps though.

The headache itself is because as your body struggles for water, so does your brain. The brain is around 75% water, so as the water goes, the brain shrinks. This causes it to temporarily pull away from the inside of the skull, causing the nerves to become irritated, causing the headache feeling.

  •  The brain is around 75% water, so as the water goes, the brain shrinks. This causes it to temporarily pull away from the inside of the skull, causing the nerves to become irritated, causing the headache feeling
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The way water is absorbed in the body is mainly via the gut, but it is regulated by sugar and salt. They ensure that the amount of water absorbed into your body is appropriate for your dietary intake, if there’s not enough salt and sugar in the gut, the water is simply urinated out.

I feel obliged to mention, don’t actually try and eat that much salt and sugar.

This is why Oral Rehydration solution is a mixture of salt, water and electrolytes (effectively other “salts”), and is given in emergencies but can also be used at home for this very reason.

  •  Oral rehydration solution that contains salts and sugars that will help your body absorb water from your digestive tract quickly
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The fragile/shaking effect is caused by a low blood sugar. While you sleep, your liver makes new sugars to prevent you from waking up without any usable energy in the morning.

Alcohol stops your liver from making new sugars, so you wake up feeling as awful. Eating simple sugars (white bread/sports drinks) will make you feel better short term, and more complex sugars (bananas) for the long term.

  •  Eating simple sugars (white bread/sports drinks) will make you feel better short term, and more complex sugars (bananas) for the long term
    Click on image for more info

Fizzy drinks actually speed up alcohol absorption, the gas causes your stomach to expand and empty quicker allowing the alcohol to get to the stomach walls quicker, where it is absorbed.

This is why carbonated “slow drinks” actually make you feel more drunk than shots initially, but we all know how dangerous the slow onset of a shot can be. The spike in blood alcohol caused by a shot is what intensifies the hangover in the morning, so slow and steady wins the race.

  •  You may be tempted to have huge carby meals, but in fact fats will slow the entry of the alcohol in the stomach even better!
    Click on image for more info

The same applies for “lining the stomach”, you may be tempted to have huge carby meals, but in fact fats will slow the entry of the alcohol in the stomach even better!

Like mum says, the best way to avoid feeling under the weather, is to put down the drink altogether.

References

Sam Fitzpatrick Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

Milad Rouf Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

Prat G, Adan A, Sánchez-Turet M (June 2009). "Alcohol hangover: a critical review of explanatory factors". Human Psychopharmacology. 24 (4): 259–67. PMID 19347842. doi:10.1002/hup.1023.

Siler, Scott Q., Richard A. Neese, Mark P. Christiansen, Marc K. Hellerstein , 1998. The inhibition of gluconeogenesis following alcohol in humans. Am. J. Physiol. 275 (Endocrinol. Metab. 38): E897–E907

Rohsenow DJ, Howland J (June 2010). "The role of beverage congeners in hangover and other residual effects of alcohol intoxication: a review". Current Drug Abuse Reviews. 3 (2): 76–9. PMID 20712591.

Roberts, C. and Robinson, S. 2007. Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: The effect on blood alcohol levels. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 14(7), pp. 398-405.