Alcohol can affect the body in a number of behavioral and physiological ways and if you drink until the point of intoxication, you may experience what is often referred to as a hangover. Hangovers result in symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, exhaustion and dizziness. Most of these symptoms last for about 24 hours, or until the effects of alcohol in the body are reduced. Hangovers can range from mild discomfort for a few hours to frequent bouts that have a long-term effect on the bodys metabolism of alcohol. Surprisingly, hangovers have still not been scientifically investigated and treatments remain in the realm of home remedies and natural cures.
Symptoms of Hangover
While symptoms may vary from person to person depending on the ability to handle alcohol, the number of drinks consumed, and the type of alcohol consumed, classic hangover symptoms include:
- Headache and muscle pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Excessive thirst and dehydration
- Electrolyte imbalance manifested in form of dizziness and lightheadedness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain and inflammation of the stomach lining
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Inability to concentrate
- Decreased attention span
- Mood swings and depression
- Irritability and anxiety
- Tremors and elevated pulse rate
- High blood pressure
- Excessive urination
- Low blood sugar
- Disruption of normal biorhythms
- Dry mouth or bad taste in the mouth
- Memory lapse
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Generally, such symptoms set in a few hours after the drinking has stopped and can continue for up to 24 hours after that.
Causes of Hangover
Excessive consumption of alcohol is the main cause of a hangover. Alcohol can affect the body in different ways and this results in the different hangover symptoms experienced.
Apart from drinking too much, if you have drunk on an empty stomach or if you were dehydrated before drinking alcohol, the effects can be more intense. Drinking a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time or if you are not feeling well can also lead to a hangover.
Alcohol affects the body by increasing the production of urine. Because of this excessive urination, there is an increased tendency to get dehydrated leading to other hangover symptoms such as dry mouth, headaches, fatigue and dizziness. Another cause of a hangover is the effect alcohol has on the gastrointestinal system. Alcohol causes the lining of the stomach to get inflamed and over consumption can also lead to a fatty diseased liver. All this can result in stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Glucose production in the body is reduced when too much alcohol is consumed. This is why hangovers leave you feeling listless, weak and moody. In addition to the low blood sugar, a hangover can be exacerbated by lack of sleep or a restless sleep. Alcohol disturbs the bodys natural biorhythms and this leads to poor quality of sleep post a bingeing session. Alcohol intoxication leads to the dilation of blood vessels and this in turn causes the severe headaches symptomatic of a hangover.
If you are a heavy drinker, over time your central nervous system will be affected. When you stop drinking (even if its a matter of a few hours), your body undergoes a stage of alcohol withdrawal that can cause a hangover. Alcohol withdrawal manifests itself by way of tremors, a rapid heartbeat and spells of shivering and shakiness.
Some people may be more susceptible to hangovers than others. This is due to the presence of genetic variants of the aldehyde dehydrogenase [ALDH] enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol in the body. In such cases, alcohol is allowed to collect in the body and its toxic effects persist for much longer than normal. Other factors that contribute to the severity of a hangover are:
- Use of other drugs or tobacco in combination with alcohol consumption
- Type of alcohol consumed pure alcoholic drinks such as vodka and gin has fewer side effects than brandy, whisky or red wine. This is because the latter contain chemical compounds that result in higher levels of toxicity in the body
- Certain personality types are more predisposed to hangovers than others. People who are generally negative, angry, depressed or guilty suffer from more acute hangovers than others
- Your family history determines whether your hangover symptoms are more severe. If there is a history of alcoholism in your family, chances are that you drink more alcohol as well resulting in more frequent hangovers.
Remedies for Hangover
The best hangover treatment is time. As long as you do not consume any more alcohol, the body should revert to normal within 24 hours. However, there are some home remedies for hangovers that you can try out in case the symptoms are too unbearable. These include:
- Eat a meal of eggs the morning after binge drinking. The cysteine in eggs breaks down the alcohol in the body and reduces toxicity. Along with eggs, add a banana for an instant potassium kick. Potassium helps replace lost electrolytes and prevent dehydration.
- An excellent cure for hangover throwing up is to have a tablespoon of honey. The high levels of fructose in honey help metabolize the extra alcohol in the body and reduce hangover symptoms.
- Apply a cold compress to the head and face to relieve headache and dizziness.
- Make a strong cup of black coffee. To this add lemon juice but no sugar. According to some studies a chemical present in coffee can help combat headaches associated with a hangover.
- Boil a handful of crushed thyme leaves in a pot of water. Strain this infusion and drink the tea when still warm. This is one of the best hangover remedies for nausea.
Diet for Hangover
- When suffering from a hangover, the best thing you can do is to replenish the loss of liquids in your body. Aim to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water and opt for a clear soup as part of your meal. Ready mix electrolyte solutions are also good for replacing potassium and salt lost due to alcoholic intoxication. Increase your intake of citrus fruit juices such as orange and lime or drink a cup of peppermint or ginger tea to lessen hangover symptoms as well.
- Make yourself an easy-to-digest smoothie with fruit juice and a banana. This helps keeps your blood sugar stable and prevent mood swings and fatigue.
- Nibbling on ginger snaps or ginger candy can help alleviate feelings of nausea and vomiting. However, do not overdo the consumption of ginger as it can aggravate the already delicate stomach lining and cause further health problems.
- The apple cider vinegar cure for hangovers is especially popular. All you need to do is mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar along with a teaspoon of soda bicarbonate in a half glass of water. Drink this to reduce hangover symptoms and recover faster. The soda bi-carb replaces lost electrolytes and reduces dehydration while the apple cider vinegar balances out pH levels in the body, reduces toxicity and protects the liver from further damage.
- Keep your meals small and light when suffering from a hangover but make sure you eat as an empty stomach can lead to severe acidity and aggravated symptoms.
Suggestion for Hangover
- Always drink slowly. Remember, drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea either. If you are a small person, alcohol hits you harder and faster. Pace yourself when drinking.
- Drink in moderation. According to the recommended guidelines, women should have one unit of alcohol a day and men not more than two. A unit of alcohol is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
- If you do drink more than the recommended units of alcohol, drink one glass of water in between alcoholic drinks. This will keep you hydrated, help you drink less and reduce the symptoms of a hangover. Drink another liter of water before sleeping for the best results.
- Many people suggest eating a meal before drinking. A full stomach reduces the effect of alcohol in the body. Eating foods that are fatty and greasy also help line the stomach and prevent absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- Avoid taking painkillers such as Tylenol for a hangover. The acetaminophen such medications contain can cause long term damage to the liver if combined with alcohol.
- At the end of the day, the only thing that can really prevent a hangover is not to drink. In lieu of this, keep a track of how much alcohol you are consuming, keep hydrated, and stop before intoxication sets in.
- Is coffee the real cure for a hangover?, New Scientist, Volume 209, Issue 2795, 15 January 2011, Page 17, ISSN 0262-4079, 10.1016/S0262-4079(11)60082-1.
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