I have a love-hate relationship with craft beer. I especially love a nice high-ABV double IPA, but I hate the hangover I get if I’ve had a few too many. So 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 it to see if I could enjoy beer without wanting to spend the next day in bed. Here’s a list of hangover causes and what you can do to prevent or relieve them.
Cause #1: Dehydration
Most people know alcohol is a diuretic. Have a little too much, and you risk dehydration and end up with a headache.
Prevention: Drink water between alcoholic drinks and/or before bed.
Have you ever downed a pint of water before going to bed in hopes of dodging a hangover? While this may help, it still doesn’t let you off the hook. That’s because dehydration is just one component of a hangover.
It turns out alcohol is surprisingly toxic to your body. Let’s examine how.
Cause #2: Acetaldehyde
As you’re sipping that drink, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, traveling through your body. By the time it reaches the brain, you’re feeling relaxed and uninhibited. That’s the fun part we all enjoy. However, that’s not the only place where alcohol leaves its mark.
When alcohol reaches the liver, it’s metabolized or broken down into different compounds to be eliminated from the body as waste.
The first step is to turn the alcohol into acetaldehyde. But when acetaldehyde is in your system, you feel nausea, headaches and vomiting. Sound familiar?
Prevention: Sorry, there is none.
You just have to wait for your liver to metabolize the acetaldehyde into its less harmful byproducts. So if you find yourself hugging the toilet as you hurl into the bowl, make yourself at home until it’s over.
As acetaldehyde is even more toxic than alcohol, moderation really is key.
PRO TIP: Chow down early and often.
Eating before or while drinking may be your best first line of defense against a hangover. That’s because food slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, giving your liver the time needed to break down the alcohol.
Just remember to eat before or while drinking, though. Eating after won’t help as much because the alcohol will have already been absorbed in your body.
Cause #3: Your body’s depleted of NAD+.
The metabolism of alcohol and acetaldehyde uses NAD+, a compound that’s also vital for the daily health of your cells. It helps convert water, oxygen and a compound called pyruvate into energy – but if the supply of NAD+ has been used for metabolizing alcohol, your cells must make more by converting pyruvate into lactate.
However, this process of turning pyruvate to lactate makes your liver less efficient at regulating your blood sugar levels. Ever had the desire to eat everything in your cupboards after a few drinks? That’s because your blood sugar is very low.
Prevention: Wait, and if possible, eat something.
When you’re body’s depleted of NAD+, you’ll just have to wait for your liver to do its magic to restore your body’s natural balance. As for the low blood sugar, assuming you’re not still hugging the potty, make sure to eat something.
PRO TIP: Choose foods rich in cysteine.
As your body recovers, your liver is working hard to detoxify itself with the help of a powerful antioxidant, glutathione. Because cysteine is an important building block of glutathione, you’ll want to reach for foods rich in this amino, such as eggs, chicken and oats.
Drink orange juice for vitamin C.
Like cysteine, vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that helps the liver metabolize alcohol. So pour yourself a glass of orange juice to go with your hangover breakfast.
Your Game Plan Against a Hangover
If you know you’ll be enjoying a night of drinking, remember to stay hydrated with plenty of water. And don’t forget to eat the right foods – rich in protein, carbs and healthy fats – before and while drinking. These steps, along with drinking in moderation, can help prevent a hangover.
If all fails, however, there’s always Plan B: Sunday Mornings Hangover Helper.