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'Tis the season to be jolly, but merrymaking can come with a price if you overindulge in the Christmas "spirits", shall we say. Seasonal get-togethers inevitably have us toasting to each other's good health and happiness and somehow, a toast made with soda water just doesn't have the same zing. So, if you are going to partake of spirits this year, we'll supply you with a few details to remember before you lift your glass.
What is it about alcohol that actually causes a hangover? What happens in your body when too much alcohol is consumed? Are there any long-term consequences to binge drinking (drinking to excess only on occasion)? Are there any natural products that can assist your body in recovering from a hangover?
If you've ever had a hangover (a particularly nasty one is referred to as an "overhang"), you'll recognize the symptoms as being nauseous, fatigued, and after all you drank, still thirsty. There are best practices for dealing with these symptoms and a few myths we can bust for you too. I'm sure you've already heard a few of the sure-fire ways to beat a hangover but some of these options can actually leave you feeling worse. This article will do it's best to leave you feeling better so we invite you to read on!
HOW DOES ALCOHOL GET YOU INTO THIS PHYSICAL STATE?
~ Hangover Biology 101 ~
While drinking isn't necessarily bad, remember that alcohol is a drug. Your body attempts to protect itself by producing enzymes to metabolize and remove the toxins from your body. But when the toxin level exceeds your body's ability to metabolize them in an efficient manner, you experience the unpleasant and classic symptoms of a hangover. The excess toxins may irritate your stomach, cause you to vomit, and in general, make you feel ill.
So, is it possible to avoid them? It would be a great strategy, but the fact is, the exact origin of the toxins is unknown. They may be present in the alcoholic beverage itself, or they may be created by the body as a metabolic by-product.
Alcohol also acts as a diuretic, which means that it increases the release of urine from the body. This is because your kidneys and liver require water to dilute and process the toxins. When you drink alcohol, your body actually requires more water than usual in order to perform this function efficiently. If water and fluids are not readily available to aid in this detoxification process, the body redistributes whatever water is available. All parts of the body are affected by this redistribution of fluid, even the brain. And you wonder why your head hurts!
The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is responsible for breaking down the alcohol in the liver. The tolerance that habitual drinkers build to alcohol is due to increased levels of ADH. Some research suggests that men tend to have more of this enzyme than women, and as a result can usually drink more than women of equal weight.
The Toxins Involved in a Hangover
Ethanol (ethyl alcohol)
Produced naturally during fermentation (the making of alcohol).
By-products of metabolism
When the liver breaks down alcohol, enzymes produce a by-product called acetaldehyde. This highly toxic substance enters the system and can make you feel very ill.
Congeners are toxic substances created during the alcohol fermentation process. When you drink alcohol, these toxins are dispersed through your system as your liver breaks down the alcohol. While congeners are not the sole cause of a hangover, they do seem to contribute in some manner to the "quality" of the ensuing hangover.
Knowing something about the level of congeners in your chosen alcoholic beverage may help you determine how sick it can make you. In general, the fermentation and distillation processes determine the amount of congeners in the end product. Lower levels of congeners may mean a kinder, gentler hangover, if there is such a thing.
More expensive alcohol generally contains fewer congeners because it undergoes a more rigorous distillation process that filters out a higher percentage of the congeners. Darker colored drinks, such as whiskey, brandy and red wine have more congeners than lighter drinks such as vodka, gin and white wine.1
HOW LONG DOES ALCOHOL STAY IN YOUR SYSTEM?
After being absorbed into your bloodstream, alcohol leaves your body in two ways; the first is through breath, perspiration and/or urine, and the second is through metabolism.
The Technical Explanation
Alcohol is metabolized at the rate of .015 of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) every hour. Thus, a person with a very high BAC of .15 will have no measurable alcohol in the bloodstream after ten hours.
In Layman's Terms
For an individual with a healthy liver, one half pint of beer, or one "shot" (25ml), or 2/3's of a glass of wine (42ml) takes roughly one hour to be processed in your body.
Why is this Important?
If you know how long it takes a body to metabolize alcohol, you can quickly understand why operating any type of large machinery (like cars and airplanes) is unwise, even if you've stopped drinking. Alcohol can stay in your body for hours, affecting your abilities and judgment.
SYMPTOMS OF A HANGOVER
Hangovers are basically a mild and temporary version of what drug addicts suffer when they experience withdrawals. A hangover is nature's way of warning us that we're harming our body.
As awful as it feels, vomiting is actually good for you because it permits your body to quickly dispose of some of the alcohol in your system. Remember, though, to drink water to re-hydrate your body. If you feel that you're going to vomit, don't fight it. You will thank yourself in the morning.
Two common hangover symptoms are fatigue and drowsiness. When you go to sleep with a high amount of alcohol in your system, your brain is unable to enter the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep. Without the REM stage of sleep, your brain is unable to dream and achieve the relaxation it needs. So while you may end up sleeping the whole night and half the day away, your brain did not get the rest it so desperately needs.
Headaches are another common hangover symptom. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, so the more you drink, the more water your body will need to dilute the toxin. This water is then expelled from the body in the form of urine. The water needs to come from somewhere, so if you don't drink water while drinking alcohol, your body will start depriving other organs in your body from water, including your brain. The headaches you experience are a result of dehydration of the brain.
And since your brain is dehydrated, a number of other symptoms may also occur due to your brain's inability to function properly; these include dizziness and irritability.
If you're in the middle of a drinking session and you start experiencing any number of the symptoms listed above, your body's telling you this might be a good time to take a break. 3
HANGOVER MYTHS DEBUNKED
1. Take aspirin while you drink to avoid a headache later.
This is a big no-no. Aspirin, while you're drinking, can increase acid secretion in your stomach and won't help flush out alcohol from your body. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that aspirin can actually increase blood alcohol levels by approximately 25%.
2. Drinking beer before drinking hard liquor contributes to a bigger hangover.
This simply isn't true. There's nothing to support the fact that beer, combined with hard liquor, will make you sicker the next day.
3. Women don't get hangovers like men do.
False again. Alcohol is likely to leave a woman twice as tipsy as her male counterpart. The constitution of a woman's body, especially if she weighs less than her male drinking partner, makes her more susceptible to getting drunk.
4. Drinking relieves stress and helps you sleep.
A high blood alcohol level disallows you from entering the all-important REM (rapid eye movement) level of sleep that rejuvenates and relaxes the body and mind.
5. "Hair of the Dog"
Drinking more of the same the next morning will only delay recovery from your hangover. More alcohol boosts the existing toxicity in your body. Better choices would be straight water or a drink that will replace lost electrolytes in your body. And stay away from coffee! The only thing you get by drinking coffee after alcohol is a wide-awake hangover.
NATURAL AIDS FOR HANGOVERS
The best remedy for a hangover is time!
of the following suggestions, always discuss them
with your health care professional before using them.
Barring time, you might try the following to help relieve hangover symptoms:
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.