I have a love hate relationship with craft beer. I love some nice high ABV Double IPA’s but I hate the hangovers from drinking too much beer.That’s at least the way it seems the morning after. But why does alcohol make you feel so bad the morning after and can the dreaded hangover be avoided? I decided to look into the science behind a hangover and see whether I can enjoy a glass of beer without wanting to spend the next day in bed.
Cause number 1: Dehydration
Most people are aware of the fact alcohol is diuretic, which means it makes you wee more. The result is that the next morning you run the risk of dehydration along with a dry mouth and headache. Lovely stuff.
Prevention: Try to drink water between alcoholic drinks and/or drink water before you go to bed.
If you’ve ever tried the approach of downing a pint of water before you go to bed after a heavy night on booze you’ll be aware of the fact that, although it may help, it doesn’t mean you get away hangover free. So there must be more to a hangover than just the dehydration… In fact, it turns out alcohol is pretty poisonous and not just in the “what’s your poison?” sense, more in a surprisingly toxic way.
Cause number 2: Acetaldehyde
When we drink alcohol it is absorbed into our blood stream and works its way around our body. When it reaches the brain it makes you feel relaxed an uninhibited, which is the part we all enjoy, however this is not the only place alcohol leaves its mark. In the liver alcohol is metabolised (broken down) into different compounds which can then be removed from the body as waste. This process requires several steps before the final non-toxic products of water and carbon dioxide are made.
The first step is to turn the alcohol into acetaldehyde using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The side effects of having acetaldehyde in your system include nausea, headaches and vomiting – sound familiar?
Prevention: There is none. You just have to wait for your body to metabolise the acetaldehyde into its less harmful by-products. So unfortunately if you spend the morning having an unwanted date hugging the toilet you just have to wait it out. As acetaldehyde is even more toxic than alcohol moderation is probably the key.
Chow Down Early And Often
Eating something before, or during drinking might your trusted first line of defense against a hangover, and you probably know how this is supposed to help. Food is supposed to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and this is key — remember how important it is to give your liver time to breakdown the alcohol? Your body is pretty quick to absorb alcohol though, so eating after will help a lot less than eating before or while you’re drinking:
Cause number 3: NAD+ depletion
The metabolism of alcohol and acetaldehyde use a compound called NAD+. This NAD+ is also vital for the day to day health of your cells. It helps converts water, oxygen and a compound called pyruvate into energy. If the NAD+ has been used up metabolising alcohol, your cells need to make more. The cells convert pyruvate into lactate and this reaction produces more NAD+. The second consequence is that when pyruvate is converted to lactate, your liver becomes less efficient at regulating your blood sugar levels and blood sugar can become very low. Ever had the desire to eat the entire contents of your cupboards post pinot? That’ll be the low blood sugar.
Prevention; There’s not a lot you can do about the depleted NAD+ other than wait for your liver to do its magic (otherwise known as metabolism) and restore the natural balance. As for the low blood sugar, based on the assumption you’re not still hugging the potty, it’s a good idea to make sure you eat. That’s a free pass for a one way ticket to pasta-ville in my eyes.
Prevention: Eat food rich in cysteine post alcohol which includes eggs, chicken and oats. Cysteine is an important building block of glutathione, so making sure you get more into your body gives your cells a fighting chance at making more glutathione. Have a glass of vitamin C rich orange juice. Vitamin C is powerful anti-oxidant, meaning it can interact with the reactive oxygen species, preventing them from reacting with protein and DNA in your cells.
If you’re going to have a heavy night of drinking, prepare and have the mindset for the drinking the same way an athlete would for a competition or game. Preparation is vital and eating the right foods rich in protein, carbs and healthier fats is the first step. Make sure you’re hydrated before a night out drinking. Drink water in between drinks and some electrolytes after a night out with proper hydration is essential to minimizing any negative effects of drinking. Personally I like to have some electrolyte solution, a bit of green tea and a morning workout to get over a heavy night of drinking. With the right mindset you can enjoy day drinking or nights out and not worry as much about having a hangover the next day.