Man Lab: Why Do You Get Hangovers?

For once, the Man Lab is here to do some practical science stuff for you guys. Today, we take a look at the science of hangovers. At first glance, it seems as simple as drink too much and you get a pounding headache in the morning. But that first sip of alcohol starts you on a slippery slope that drags you toward a rough next morning.

So let’s take a look at why who you wake up to isn’t the only thing you regret after a night out.

Of the top, I said that the first sip starts you down a slippery slope. Well, you don’t actually realize it but 90 seconds after that first sip, the alcohol has already hit your brain. That starts the inhibition of your brain’s neurotransmitters which makes you talkative and self-confident.

By the time you get through your second drink, the stage is set for a hangover. By drink #2, you’ve consumed enough alcohol to stop the production of a chemical in your body called Vasopressin. This is the chemical your brain has produced to tell your kidneys how much water to absorb. With the vasopressin production shut off, your kidneys stop re-absorbing water. So everything you drink is channeled by your kidneys to your bladder. Now here’s the fun part: You’re now going to expel four times as much urine as drinks you take in.

Eventually, you’re going to sleep. Ever notice that you always have a restless night sleep after drinking? Well that’s because the alcohol also suppresses your body’s production of glutamine, one of the body’s natural stimulants. When you stop drinking, production restarts and kicks into high gear to make up for lost time. This leaves you spending the night tossing and turning.

Overnight, your liver has to process and remove the alcohol toxins. Because it and your body are dehydrated, it has to absorb water from anywhere it can get it. This results in the common morning dry mouth. Your liver also sucks water from your brain. This causes your brain to shrink which pulls on the membrane attaching it to your skull which results in your hangover headache.

Nausea is a result of a few things that have occurred overnight. The headache makes you feel sick. You also feel nauseous because your brain wants to expel any remaining alcohol from your stomach because it’s harming your body. And frequent urination is expelling salt and potassium from your body which causes your salt and potassium levels to drop resulting in nausea.

So how do you cure your hangover?

Well, a hangover can last up to 24 hours so if you can’t stomach some of the remedy solutions, you’re just going to have to spend a day regretting it.

The first answer is the most obvious. You’re dehydrated so drink lots of water. Avoid the trap of going with coffee because caffeine is a diuretic which means it dehydrates you even further.

A good breakfast is the other thing you want to get to fix you up. Eggs have cysteine which breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde so they’re basically cleaning up leftover toxins. Bananas and other potassium rich foods will help replenish your depleted potassium lost to frequent urination. And wash this all down with fruit juice. The fructose and vitamins will give you an energy boost and increase the speed at which your body metabolizes the alcohol toxins.

If you’d rather skip the eating part, look for a pain-killer that is caffeine-free and acetaminophen-free. These are prostaglandin inhibitors. High levels of prostaglandin are associated with more severe hangovers.


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