The Science Behind a Hangover and How to Cure It

Recent evaluations have estimated that the average Briton will have 726 hangovers in a lifetime, the equivalent of spending two years hung-over. For many of us , January was a time for the big detox after gorging ourselves on too much food and alcohol throughout the festive season. However, I’m sure many of you have noticed hangovers are getting worse and worse.

Long gone are the days of feeling fine after an evening of drinking WKD or cider in the park; now students can be found bed-ridden unable to formulate words due to that characteristic crippling headache. A dehydrated brain is the main result of a hangover; this is caused by alcohol blocking the production of vasopressin, a molecule which regulates water reabsorption. The kidneys send water to the bladder rather than reabsorbing it, making us dehydrated.

The body has to deal with a lot during a night of drinking, including toxins that build up the more we drink. Darker drinks are known to cause severer hangovers due to the presence of congeners, chemicals which are produced during the fermentation process. Furthermore, alcohol, when broken down by a series of enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenases, becomes acetylaldehyde which is toxic in large quantities. Consistent exposure, as alcoholics would encounter, can even induce cancers. The body produces enzymes such as the antioxidant glutathione in the liver, which mop up the toxins. However, these are in limited supply and a night of heavy drinking depletes the reserve and allows the toxins to build up, making you feel lethargic and ill the next morning. Unluckily for women, they have less glutathione, meaning the toxins hang around for longer while stores are slowly replenished. Additionally, girls have a higher fat content, which leads to higher alcohol levels in the bloodstream compared to a male who consumed the same amount of alcohol. Higher blood alcohol levels and lower quantities of enzymes may make for a worse hangover for the females of the population.

It isn’t only the alcohol that affects us; usually alcohol is drunk with highly sugar filled mixers and these give us a ‘sugar rush’. Once these have been metabolised the body has a sugar low, making you feel sluggish and tired, something usually experienced the morning after along with the hangover.

As we drink more, our alcohol tolerance increases. In other words, we need to drink more to attain the same cognitive effects, which leads to more dehydration and more toxins. Coupled with that, the older we get the less efficient the production of alcohol-combating enzymes becomes; toxins aren’t removed from the body as rapidly and hangovers get worse.

So is it worth ‘detoxing’? Alcohol evidently has a plethora of bad effects and giving your body time to rest and recuperate is always a good idea. However if a week’s detox is followed by a week of drunkenly celebrating said detox, it may be a bit pointless. Drinking night after night will invariably have damaging effects, so giving yourself 3-4 nights off drinking a week will help the body recuperate.

On a brighter note, you can try and combat the hangover before you’ve even started drinking. Eat a good meal in the early evening and drink lots of water to hydrate yourself throughout the night (the Government recommends making sure “every third drink is a soft one”). Take multivitamins too, as alcohol depletes vitamins which help to remove toxin build up. After a night in town, drink lots of water and take aspirin before you go to bed to try and relieve the headache as it begins. Breakfast should include eggs, which contain the amino acid cysteine to help break down the toxins, bananas and fruit juice to replace lost vitamins and sugar.

Obviously the best way to prevent a hangover is not to drink ? as most of us tend to hit it hard on a night out. Regardless, just remember to be kind to your body before the night out and the morning after; it has a lot of toxins to deal with!

Amberley Stephens

4 Comments on this post.
  • Cameron Borrett
    26 February 2012 at 15:08
    Leave a Reply

    I find the best cure is to throw up after 3 pints (but I cant drink much more than that anyway hehe). The best way is to not drink? is this some kind of sick joke?

  • Guy Tyler
    26 February 2012 at 15:29
    Leave a Reply

    I think my favourite hangover cure is to go for a full english and a cup of tea. #underrated

  • James Royce
    26 February 2012 at 15:37
    Leave a Reply

    I dont really drink that much but when I do I just cry and send mean texts to my friends. #anti-lad

  • Lawrence Samuel
    3 June 2012 at 16:40
    Leave a Reply

    I dont really like the taste of alcohol, but i do like to prance around in women’s underwear when my housemates go out ‘on the lash’

  • Leave a Reply