Blame it on Alcohol

Sophie-Rose Ekitok. 21 November, 2016.

Hangovers are the punishing consequence after a night out or booze fest. In the morning, you are greeted with headaches, nausea and a general sombre mood. You may wonder of how liquid courage can soon make you feel so fragile.

Alcohol is diuretic which means that it increases urine production by shrinking cells and causing organs to remove excess water. This causes the body to become dehydrated inducing headaches. To keep hydrated, drink a moderate amount of water whilst drinking alcohol.

Booze isn’t absorbed into the blood directly but through enzyme-controlled reactions. Firstly alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde catalysed by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). Acetaldehyde is then broken down by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). These reactions also require the presence of hydrogen-carrier NAD+ which is a coenzyme. NAD+ is in high demand since it is essential for respiration. Studies have shown that alcohol itself is not responsible for hangover effects but its intermediate acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is approximately 30 times more toxic than alcohol therefore the organic compound is directly linked to sweating and poor balance.

The body reacts to the increase of acetaldehyde by producing cytokines (signalling chemicals). Cytokines are produced as an immune response to infection and the body responds to too much alcohol as if it was a pathogen. Symptoms such as tiredness, muscle fatigue and cognitive effects (i.e. memory loss) are as a result of the body’s physiological response.

Distillation can have an effect on the intensity of a hangover. Distillation removes congeners which are by-products of fermentation. These impurities are responsible for flavour, colour and smell of alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, congeners are treated as poisons by the body therefore promoting vomiting and confusion. This is why clear spirits, gin, induce a less intense hangover compared to congener-rich alcohol such as red wine. Additionally, mixing liquor can result in higher intensity hangovers because many congeners are mixed together. In a nutshell: it may be worth it for look out for purer or colourless alcohol to reduce the severity of your hangover.

Sugary alcoholic drinks can affect your mood during a hangover because blood sugar levels fluctuate. Sugars from the drinks are absorbed by the blood and raise blood sugar level. The spike in blood sugar level forces the pancreas to release insulin: a hormone which moves sugar from the blood into liver and muscles for storage. Insulin decreases blood sugar levels rapidly which in turn causes a blood sugar crash; at this low level hypoglycemia is a risk to the body so glucagon, a hormone which converts and moves stored sugar back into the bloodstream, is released by pancreas. This see-saw effect causes your mood to change because the hormone and blood sugar level is frequently changing.


What Causes A Hangover? Everything You Need To Know The Morning After Drinking Alcohol

Why Everyone Needs to Understand “Sugar Hangover,” Including the Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Further Reading:

The Science Of The Hangover: Study Explains Why Some People Become Alcoholics

The Effects Of Alcohol In The Body

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