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Beer and Your Body: The Alcohol Hangover


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"I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the
morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day." ~Frank Sinatra
 
The purpose of a hangover is to drive a railroad spike into your brain so that you don't wake up thinking everything you did last night was OK.
 
The best cure for a hangover is to avoid getting one. The best way to avoid a hangover is to drink the first, sip the second slowly, then skip the third.
In your body, alcohol is broken down by a two-step process: alcohol is degraded to acetaldehyde, then acetaldehyde is degraded into acetate. Acetaldehyde is toxic and can react with proteins to form dangerous molecules known as adducts. It's these adducts that totally make your morning miserable.
 
DO NOT TAKE NSAID PAIN KILLERS (e.g. - aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) BEFORE, DURING, OR AFTER THE CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL. If you do, you create an adduct that literally kills your liver cells upon contact, which can ultimately lead to cirrhosis.
 
Hangovers are the result of a plethora of things, including:
  • dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • low blood sugar
  • GI tract disturbance
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • alcohol withdrawal
  • alcohol metabolism
  • personality type
Here is a wonderful article on hangovers.
 
While in graduate school at Purdue, I had not only experienced several hangovers, I also had the privilege of taking classes from Dr. Henry Weiner (1937-2010), who helped determine the structure of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is an enzyme responsible for that conversion of alcohol into acetaldehyde. Of all the classes I've barely passed in school, his were surely the most boring. He was a beautifully brilliant man, and conducted studies with awesome titles such as "Interaction of a spin-labeled analog of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide with alcohol dehydrogenase".

The other major alcohol-metabolizing enzyme is cytochrome P450 2E1, which also produces acetaldehyde, but creates other molecules called oxygen radicals, including hydroxyethyl radical (HER), which can totally wreak havoc on a cell. Oxygen radicals interact with lipids in a process known as lipid peroxidation, which makes more dangerous compounds including malondialdehyde (MDA) and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (HNE).

One trick to help avoid a hangover is to have a drink in the early afternoon before you go out on your binge. The introduction of a small quantity of alcohol into your blood stream triggers the production of the enzymes that breakdown and remove alcohol from your system, so when you're ready to start partying it up like Diddy, your metabolism has a head start. Also, eat something.
 
I also recommend starting the night fully hydrated, so drink plenty of water during the day. Drinking water between your alcohol drinks also helps because it forces you to slow down your consumption rate - but you still end up dehydrated if you are over-served.