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OK, it's that time of year again

By neilb@uk ·
Those of you who have read my bio know that I was once a biochemist. This is something that I put together way back then. For the foreigners among us - that's most of you - Paracetamol=Tylenol and Boots is a drugstore. Other than that, post a request for any translations.

Happy Christmas!

OK, the Simple Science of the Hangover. The main symptoms of your hangover are caused by the toxic by-products of alcohol breakdown, by dehydration and by the poison that you are drinking. I'm not going to discuss the psychological changes, I'll leave THAT to those who remained sober to break it gently to us the following day. I did WHAT?

One of the main by-products is a substance called acetaldehyde. This is a poison that is released into your bloodstream from the liver during the breakdown of alcohol and results in rapid pulse, sweating, skin flushing, nausea and vomiting. Acetaldehyde is produced until the alcohol is all gone and then - and only then - does the liver start to get rid of the acetaldehyde. As an aside, since the natural oxidation product of ethanol is acetaldehyde, finishing off a three-day old already open bottle of wine will provide you with acetaldehyde so you don't have to wait for your liver to make it in order to have a hangover. This is worth knowing if entertaining people you don't like as the taste is not obviously changed. Do remember to top your own glass up from another bottle, though!

Dehydration is caused by the alcohol suppressing the body's ability to manage fluid levels so you pee too much and get a headache when the brain dehydrates. The headache is worsened by the widening of the brain's blood vessel as alcohol dilates blood vessels. That's also why you get flushed and your nose goes red.

The breakdown of alcohol and acetaldehyde to harmless by-products depletes the liver of Vitamin A, B and C all of which you need to function properly.

The liver's normal functions are upset by the (literally) vital necessity to break down alcohol and you end up with low blood sugar. This also generates all sorts of nasty fatty by-products that we won't go into here other than to say that you CAN get rid of these but only if you stop drinking for a few days.

Ladies, your liver isn't nearly as good as a bloke's liver in breaking down the alcohol so, if you want my advice, don't match your fella drink for drink. He's got a genetic advantage. We European blokes have been quaffing the stuff for millennia so we now have an inbred tolerance. Those of you who are of East Asian extraction might like to know that you, also, are genetically short-changed with regards to the production of the enzymes used to break alcohol down, some of you very much more than others. If you're Asian and drinking and your face starts to get red after a couple of bevvies, STOP.

Alcohol irritates the pancreas and stomach lining so more digestive juices are produced to add to your nausea.

Because alcohol is a sedative, the body counteracts this by suppressing the normal sleep mechanism so the eight hours unconsciousness that you had following the party was probably only about two hours sleep.

In addition, impurities called congeners poison you. I'll use the common names. Ethyl alcohol gets you up on the Karaoke stage, amyl, butyl, methyl, propyl and isopropyl alcohols, found in most drinks to varying degrees, don't do anything good at all. The concentration of congeners will go a long way to determining the severity of the hangover. The darker the drink - the worse the hangover is an old wives' tale but is also true. Vodka is good! Well, relatively speaking, anyway.

For the cure - as many of these as you can cope with. Most of them are good to do BEFORE, as well.

One of the very best is cures simply to sleep it off!

What you're trying to do is put back stuff that you took out and get rid of stuff that you put in. The most important of these is water. Drink water or soft drinks before, during and after. Or instead of?

The liver, your body's chemical factory, took most of the hit and it will do most of the work getting rid of last night's booze so it would like some sugar, fructose (fruit sugar) if possible, please. A big, big glass of fruit juice is best. Coca Cola or other fizzy drink - but NOT diet is also good: fizzy so it will help settle the nausea, water for the dehydration, sugar to raise your low blood sugar level and help the liver and a caffeine hit from Coke. Coffee or Tea are fine - no bubbles to help ease the nausea but is liquid and caffeine. Sweeten them or preferably drink them laced with honey - even if you don't usually take sugar - as honey is fructose and is absorbed quicker than normal sugar.

OK, now for the vitamins. Vitamin B6. you haven't got any? Get some! Berocca (made by Bayer and sold at Boots) which puts the vitamin B back in. It's drunk in a big glass of water which is also good for the dehydration. It is BRILLIANT! Vitamin C is something to put back in as soon as possible. Chug a litre of orange or tomato juice or take a 1000mg Vitamin C tablet, just get it down. As an aside, 2000mg of Vitamin C will turn your pee bright yellow!

Have a have a meal before you drink and then...Breakfast! Something in your stomach is good, and salty is even better AND you get a Vitamin top up. Fruit is good (for the fructose). Best of all, bananas as these have sugar in the form of fructose, very high potassium (you peed a lot of that away last night), natural antacid to settle the nausea and high magnesium which can help relax your blood vessels and ease the headache.

Apparently the best sandwich hangover cure is peanut butter, honey or jam and banana on white bread. I have to ask whether, if you can eat that, do you really have a proper hangover! Personally, I favour a bacon sandwich on white bread washed down by sweetened strong tea. A perfect balance of carbohydrates, fat, protein, salt and fluid with a caffeine hit. Tastes good, too.

Painkillers help the headache. Do NOT take aspirin before going to bed. Paracetamol or Ibuprofen are good but not both together. Paracetamol generally has fewer side-effects but Ibuprofen has a longer effective dosing interval so is better at night.

A very hot bath - even better, a sauna - will sweat out the toxins that are causing all the problems. You may feel woozy at first but stick with it and you'll feel better afterwards. Exercise, of any sort, helps as well. So they say, anyway, but I wouldn't know about that one.

Neil :)

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by CharlieSpencer In reply to OK, it's that time of yea ...

you could just not drink to excess in the first place.

I'm just sayin'.

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I don't drink much myself these days

by neilb@uk In reply to Or

but I don't wish aditional pain on those who do. Well, not TOO much, anyway...

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Oh, be reasonable

by DelbertPGH In reply to Or

Utterly unrealistic advice, like "don't drink," isn't going to help anybody. What, you going to tell me next to lose weight?

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Ah, but I didn't say "don't drink",

by CharlieSpencer In reply to Oh, be reasonable

at least, only if you quote me out of context. I said, "Don't drink to excess".

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A strategy of indulgent moderation is best

by DelbertPGH In reply to Ah, but I didn't say "don ...

I quite agree, it's bad to drink to excess. One should aim for a point a little short of that line.

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Ah, but

by santeewelding In reply to A strategy of indulgent m ...

Having imbibed to that point, debilitated, how should one know where the point is?

Like drunk driving: Your Honor, my client was incapable of forming the intent necessary to convict him of the crime.

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Thats been my course of action

by JamesRL In reply to Or

Not saying I've always been an angel, in fact it was an incident of alcohol poisoning about 20 years ago that put me on the straight and narrow.

This summer, I went to a friends out of town wedding and we had a motel room. We left the car at the motel and taxied to the event so we could taxi home. From the time the bar opened (8:30) to the time we left (12:30) I had three drinks.

I've long ago gotten in the habit of drinking a glass of water after drinking and before going to bed. So I was bright eyed at the brunch the next morning.


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Or, part 2

by GSG In reply to Or

Don't drink at all.

I don't drink. It's not from a moral standpoint, it's just that I have quite a few alcoholics in my extended family, and I detest beer, and think that most wine tastes like pee smells.

I do love watching all the drunks make fools of themselves, though.

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Me neither...

by Jellimonsta In reply to Or, part 2

Gave up drinking when I was 19. Much like yourself, I do not like the taste. Nor do I like the cost or side effects.

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Alas, I like the taste

by neilb@uk In reply to Me neither...

Oh, yes...


Well, not American beer, mind!

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