The Truth Of The Hangover
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 00:03
Given the current state of mind of many of our readers this morning, I thought it’d be appropriate to address the science behind hangovers. St. Patrick’s Day weekend celebrates the predominant presence of not only Irish students on campus, but also of Irish drinks like Guinness. Whether or not you participated in St. Patrick’s Day festitivities, understanding what exactly the human mind and body goes through the "morning after" may help you be better prepared for Marathon Monday and other "big weekends" on BC’s campus. You may be surprised about how little you really knew about what’s in your red Solo cup.
You already know that alcohol doesn’t have any health benefits (ok, we’ll give you that red wine has antioxidants in it), but this column isn’t meant to address the downsides of alcohol, rather to simply explain why exactly you might wake up with a pounding headache or dehydration. A hangover and any negative symptoms are not solely based on how many drinks you have, but what types and in what combination.
Believe it or not, it can actually be better for you to have straight-up vodka instead of red wine. Darker alcoholic beverages like red wine, tequila, whiskey, and brandy have a higher concentration of toxins called congeners than clear liquors like vodka, gin, rum, and white whine do. The higher the concentration of congeners, chemicals produced during fermentation of alcohol, the more severe the hangover. One study had a group of people drink a certain amount of vodka while the another drank the same amount of bourbon. While only 3 percent of the vodka drinkers reported a hangover, 33 percent of the bourbon drinkers woke up with headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
Mixing different types of alcohols is an extremely poor decision because combining drinks of substantially different concentrations of congeners results in severe hangover symptoms. Mixing beer with various liquors is an especially bad idea because beer is extremely carbonated and therefore increases the rate of alcohol absorption. Thus, your body doesn’t get as much time to process the toxins from alcohol, and your hangover may be fiercely worse than usual. Ever notice that people tend to make frequent trips to the restroom after they start drinking? Consuming alcohol leads to the prevention of the creation of an antidiuretic hormone called vasopressin, and thus disallows water to be reabsorbed from the body and instead be sent directly to the kidneys. Because your body can’t reabsorb the water and you’re expelling it instead, studies show that a typical drinker loses at least four times as much liquid than gained, causing the diuretic effect: the reason why you may feel dehydrated in the morning. And because your body’s organs are so desperate for water after a night of heavy drinking, they steal water from the brain. This lack of water from the brain causes the grey matter in the brain to temporarily shrink, causing pain and thus a headache.
Aside from dehydration, another reason why many wake up fatigued after a heavy night of drinking is because they probably did not reach the deepest stage of sleep, REM. Glutamine, a natural stimulant produced in the body, is immediately inhibited by alcohol—thus, when the drinker stops consuming alcohol, the body is desperately trying to regain its glutamine concentration and produce more. Because glutamine is a brain stimulant and is reproduced after the drinker has stopped drinking (most often, when he or she is asleep), the brain cannot reach the deepest levels of sleep. Thus, because the drinker was not able to reach the most restorative stages of a full night’s sleep, they may wake up tired, restless, and anxious.
Body weight, age, and tolerance have a large effect on the severity of a hangover, but another reason why women tend to wake up in more pain is because they have less of an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione. These two enzymes help break down alcohol in the liver. Thus, having a smaller concentration of the enzymes makes it harder for one’s body to break down alcohol, and because women have much less, they should not try to keep up drink-for-drink with men.
When Marathon Monday is looming around the corner and you start making plans to drink, be smart about your drinking decisions and plan your night accordingly. You may not be helping your liver, but if you feel the need to drink anyway, then you might as well do so wisely.