Hangovers: All you need to know
17th December 2019 / Health
Hangovers: All you need to know
Hangovers, a frequent visitor at this time of year with the endless festivities. Well, we’re here to bust a few myths about the dreaded h-word, and let you know what’s really happening when we drink alcohol and why we feel the way we do after one too many! Before we jump in, let’s look at alcohol consumption from a pathophysiological perspective - what happens to our bodies when we actually drink alcohol. In short, lots is happening, some of which we can physically feel, others that we might not realise! So let’s get to it.
How does our body process alcohol?
Alcohol is a diuretic. This may sound fancy, but all it really means is that it promotes urine production. This is why when you’ve had alcohol to drink, you may need to dash to the loo more. Alcohol also inhibits the secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which results in the secretion of essential salts and sugars, these are called electrolytes. This throws off our electrolyte balance, which is responsible for the symptoms of the typical hangover!
We’re continuously amazed at how efficient our bodies are! The moment we glug down our favourite beverage, our bodies get straight to the task at hand, which involves breaking it down and eliminating it from the body. Alcohol is broken down by alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes. These enzymes are most abundant in our liver cells (also known as hepatocytes) where alcohol is processed, but it is understood that they have a detoxifying role alongside their primary oxidation role.
We know that the alcohol dehydrogenases are a big family of important enzymes that aid the breakdown (or oxidation) of alcohols and aldehydes. There are two separate processes involved in the breakdown of alcohol. Firstly, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde and then another enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate. Our body then breaks down the acetate into carbon dioxide and water ready for elimination.
What really is a hangover?
Hangovers are completely different in all of us, so there’s really no one size fits all when it comes to hangover symptoms. But what really is a hangover? Well, essentially one of the main causes of the classic hangover symptoms is dehydration.
Alcohol is metabolised mostly by our liver. Our liver is able to process one standard drink per hour (yes, that’s it!). After this, the additional alcohol starts to accumulate in our blood and body tissues, which is why the effects of alcohol often last several hours. That being said, we all process alcohol at different rates. This is due to a number of different physiological factors which include our body sizes, the amount of both water and fat stored in our body tissues, hormone levels also play a key role.
As we know, we all experience hangovers differently but the most commonly reported symptoms include:
- Headaches Tiredness
- Light sensitivity
Link Nutrition’s top tips to avoid the hangover
What we eat to beat the hangover
Eggs - Eggs are the number one food that we call upon after we’ve been drinking! And it’s for good reason. Eggs contain a high level of a particular amino acid called cysteine. Cysteine helps to break down some of the by-products of alcohol metabolism that we mentioned earlier! Cysteine is essential for the breakdown of acetate into carbon dioxide and water, so eggs the morning after is really beneficial.
Bananas - These are one of our go-to foods because they contain the essential minerals potassium and magnesium that are depleted when we drink, so they help our bodies to combat the hangover. They’re easy for our body to digest, and potassium can also help to reduce the feelings of nausea and fatigue that we can experience when we have a hangover.
Blueberries - Blueberries are rich in antioxidants so not only are they great for immunity, but they may just help fight that hangover too. Drinking alcohol can raise the levels of inflammation slightly within the body. Blueberries have been shown to fight this, so are the ideal hangover partner!
Kombucha - We drink kombucha when we’re partied a bit hard the night before. Why? Well, it’s naturally rich in something called gluconic acid, which helps to support electrolyte balance which is really important when you’ve got a hangover. It’s also a fluid so will keep you hydrated, plus it’s really refreshing!
Prioritise protein: Protein is so important both in the build up to drinking and the day after. Eating a meal rich in protein will help your body to recover more quickly. Partner your protein with some healthy fats, like avocado and you're good to go.
We often get asked if the old fashioned ‘hair of the dog’ really does help a hangover. Well, it’s the biggest hangover myth of them all, and one which we wouldn’t advise as it will only prolong or worsen the symptoms of a hangover. Your best bet is sticking the party prep plans and adding in some hangover friendly foods the following day!
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