The Ultimate Guide to Understanding & Surviving a Hangover
Treating a hangover can come down to how well you look after your liver. Read this guide to understand the best things for a hangover with scientific research.
The UK is notorious for its pubs and boozy culture. So, it’s no surprise to learn that 24% of Brits drink above the low-risk guidelines and 27% occasionally binge drink on their heaviest drinking days.
However, the hangover is a widespread consequence dating back millions of years. In fact, the ancient Egyptians referred to it as bottle-ache or blue devils.
Yet, despite its old origins, curing it remains a mystery. While we can’t claim to know how to cure a hangover, we can offer useful insight into why we get them and how to survive them. Let’s explore.
What causes a hangover?
Definitions for a hangover will change from person to person, drink to drink. Say, someone who consumes beer may feel different to the next person drinking wine but drink too much and we’ll still define their suffering with the same dreaded eight-letter word – “hangover”.
Out of all the possible causes, the first contribution we should attribute to a hangover is dehydration.
Naturally, despite consuming liquids containing water, drinking alcohol causes us to become dehydrated because the ethanol effect within the alcohol works as a diuretic, making us urinate and release water.
So, this overconsumption of alcohol and underconsumption of water means we become dehydrated and feel hungover as a result. Classic dehydration symptoms include headaches, light-headedness and tiredness. All things we associate with a hangover.
Alcohol consumption also depletes our electrolytes. Ultralights, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, are electrically charged minerals found in our bodies. They help balance pH levels, move nutrients and keep us dehydrated. Being low on electrolytes can also cause muscle irritability, cramps and spasms.
Drinking alcohol increases gastric acid production in our stomach but delays our stomach emptying. This issue can cause irritation and digestive problems.
Plus, alcohol also produces intestinal and pancreatic secretions that inflame the stomach lining. Stomach irritation can cause indigestion and nausea we often suffer when hungover.
Low blood sugar (glucose)
Alcohol consumption prevents glucose production and depletes the glucose reserves in our liver. Combine this issue with a build of lactic acid in our body’s fluids caused by drinking alcohol and we further deplete our glucose production.
Glucose works as your blood sugar level and is vital as your body’s primary energy source. Having a depletion of blood sugar can cause the “haziness” or anxiety we can feel because our brain uses glucose to process information, record memories and generally think clearly.
Although drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can send us into what seems like a deep and heavy slumber, the quality of our sleep still suffers.
Because alcohol reduces our REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Without vital REM sleep, our minds will not dream, store memories or process emotions contributing to healthy brain development. Alcohol also distorts our circadian rhythm (sleep cycle), temperature and cortisol levels.
Immune activation and suppression
Bentham Science Publishers revealed a review of hangover research in 2010 that showed the effect on the immune system was the most significant severity and contribution to hangovers.
Other causes of hangovers can involve the following issues:
Acetaldehyde (Toxic compound)
Alcohol with higher levels of congeners
Why do some people get worse hangovers?
People can react differently to alcohol depending on their genetics and biology.
For example, people who metabolise alcohol more slowly are more likely to receive a more severe hangover than someone who metabolises alcohol faster. The extent of the severity is often down to increased oxidative stress and inflammation.
Often as we get older, people will suffer worse hangovers because the enzymes that work to break down acetaldehyde into non-toxics become slower as we age. Therefore, the toxic effects of acetaldehyde will sustain in the body and flow more fiercely through our bloodstream.
A report from NIH believes some people’s vulnerability to hangovers is part of genetics. However, the line between nature and nurture proves subjective in whether people are born with more alcohol/hangover vulnerability or how this is a wider issue involving alcoholism rather than hangover symptoms.
Can certain foods/drinks make your hangover worse?
Alcohol aside, the foods and drinks that make our hangovers worse include the following:
Salty foods (Dehydration)
Low-fat foods (Absorb alcohol faster)
Greasy foods (Stomach irritation)
“Hair of the Dog” (Another alcoholic drink)
While fatty foods help to absorb alcohol slower and salty foods can make you drink more, there are no specific foods that will make your hangover any worse.
Is it best to avoid eating on a hangover?
Naturally, alcohol depletes a broad range of vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, proteins and minerals. So, eating or drinking anything that can help restore these substances can help your hangover subside.
You can replenish your electrolytes with potassium-rich foods/drinks, such as bananas or coconut water. Plus, according to the Journal of Chemistry, eating eggs in the morning can help with hangovers due to the amino acid cysteine. Their report proves that cysteine found in eggs helps remove acetaldehyde from your system.
Whenever suffering a hangover, try to increase your blood sugar levels. Glucose will help clear your head and bring back some positive energy.
While eating greasy and unhealthy food is a go-to for most who’ve had one or two too many on the weekend, the fact is, it’s not necessarily going to help your hangover or be a good, healthy choice for your diet.
Eating a healthy combination of carbs, fats and proteins will help prevent your blood sugar levels from dropping. Natural sugars in fruits will potentially help you overcome hypoglycaemia and dehydration.
The best cures for a hangover
So, what are some of the best things for a hangover? In terms of food and drink suggestions, we recommend:
High-quality carbohydrates (aise blood sugar)
Fermented vegetables (Replenish probiotics)
Pink Himalayan salt (Boosts sodium)
Broccoli, sprouts, leafy green vegetables (B vitamins)
Citrus, tomatoes, white potatoes (C vitamins)
Ginger (Reduce sickness)
Other cures for treating a hangover can include taking a variety of supplements, such as:
Milk thistle (Silymarin)
Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) extract
While there is no absolute hangover cure, treating your hangover helps when you rehydrate and restore your blood sugar levels and essential minerals to at least repair what you’ve lost or damaged.
After that, getting some endorphins coursing through your body will help make you feel better, so try to exercise and be proactive with your day.
How to prepare for next time
To help you avoid making the same mistake again, before your next night out, consider the following steps:
Eat a meal with healthy fats before drinking
Take a liver-enhancing supplement
Pace yourself and drink a glass of water for every two drinks
Stick to one type of alcohol
Drink a glass of water before you go to sleep