What happens when I have a hangover?
A not-so-subtle reminder we’ve overdone it on the booze front, hangovers are down to a mixture of factors, all directly linked to drinking above safe limits. Dehydration is the major offender, and occurs because of the diuretic effects of ethanol (the alcohol in… er, alcohol), which makes us urinate more.
‘Also implicated is the increased level of acetaldehyde, which is produced as the body breaks down ethanol, and is up to 30 times more toxic than ethanol itself,’ explains Professor Paul Wallace, chief medical adviser to alcohol education charity, Drinkaware. ‘This is the chemical responsible for nausea, flushing and a rapid heartbeat.’
He continues, ‘Typically, a hangover begins several hours after you stop drinking alcohol, as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) falls.
‘Symptoms usually peak about the time BAC is zero and may continue for up to 24 hours. This suppresses the production of glucose (the body’s main source of energy), which is what makes you feel weak, shaky, and emotional. If things get so bad you’re vomiting, sweating and have diarrhoea, you’ll lose more fluids and electrolytes, leading to a dry mouth, thirst and dizziness.’
And you’ll have to wait it out. ‘Depending on your weight, it takes about an hour for a healthy liver to process one unit of alcohol,’ says Professor Wallace. ‘Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, such as water,’ he adds.
‘And eat fruit like kiwis or bananas for a potassium boost, which is depleted by alcohol. Eggs provide protein to help stabilise blood sugar and the cysteine in the protein helps to break down toxins. But avoid hair of the dog remedies – it only delays recovery.
‘If you really need it, take a painkiller and an antacid to settle your stomach. Rehydration sachets can help as they replace lost minerals and salt,’ says Professor Wallace.
So go easy on paracetamol and avoid aspirin. ‘But remember, the only true way to avoid a hangover is either not to drink or to moderate your drinking.’ Use Drinkaware’s app to keep track of your drinks – free from the App Store or Google Play.
What’s your best hangover cure – or even better, prevention – tip? Tweet and tell us @healthymag