The Science of Hangovers in exactly 500 words

Sometimes, they're worth it.

Drinking alcohol today is like borrowing happiness from tomorrow.

And as they say - payback’s a bitch.

There are three main reasons you feel terrible after a night of debauchery:

  1. Dehydration

  2. Toxins in your blood

  3. Regret

The third is pretty simple, so I’ll focus on the first two.

1. Dehydration

Your brain produces a hormone called Vasopressin that tells your kidneys to reabsorb water into your body instead of sending it to your bladder to be expelled. Think of it as a brake pedal for the water in your body. When you drink alcohol, it inhibits the production of Vasopressin. This results in repeated visits to the nearest washroom (or garden).

For every glass of alcohol you consume, your body loses four times as much water.

After a few hours, the lack of water in your organs causes them to steal water from your brain. This ends up temporarily shrinking your brain, and it pulls against the membranes that connect it to your skull. In other words - you get a headache.

2. Toxins in your blood

As implied by the word in-’toxic’-ated, the relationship between alcohol and your body is not one to write home about.

Alcohol is absorbed in your stomach and then processed in your liver before entering your bloodstream. Your liver is like a quality control center. It looks at everything coming in, allows the good stuff to pass through, and disposes of the bad stuff.

When your liver breaks down alcohol, it converts it into an even more toxic compound called Acetaldehyde.

Then, it converts Acetaldehyde into Acetate, which is easy to dispose of.

However, when you stand on top of a bar counter and have three shots of Tequila, your liver fails to keep up with your enthusiastic personality. 

Some of the Acetaldehyde does not get converted into Acetate and enters your bloodstream directly.

Unsurprisingly, this is not good news.

The Hangover Minimization Cheat Sheet

Dehydration and toxins in your blood can make you feel like a nauseous kid with a headache being forced to sit on a roller coaster.

Here are some tips to make the journey slightly less painful.

Before drinking

  • Eat carbs or fat-heavy foods. This slows down alcohol absorption.

While drinking

  • Don’t start with beer and move to hard liquor. The carbonation in beer speeds up the absorption of alcohol.

  • Avoid shots. You might feel 18, but your liver doesn’t. Cut it some slack.

  • Have a glass of water after every drink to rehydrate your body. Chug a bottle of water before bed. You'd rather wake up to pee than feel like a zombie the next day.

The next morning

  • Drink fruit juice, water, and Gatorade to rehydrate.

  • Eat eggs and bananas. They help clear out leftover toxins and replenish electrolytes and potassium.

  • Go for a run if you can. It sounds ridiculous, but cardio helps flush out toxins.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid a hangover is to avoid alcohol.

But as you probably know - some hangovers are worth it.

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