Okay, brain, I don’t like you and you don’t like me. Let’s just take this exam so I can get back to killing you with beer. - Homer J. Simpson
The fuzzy head, the aching liver, the nagging headache and the taste of stale vomit. The morning after the night before. Cursing, sweating and moaning, you crawl to the bathroom and while resting your head on the cold rim of the toilet bowl, you swear - between agonizing retches - that you will never, ever, ever drink again.
“It’s your own fault!” Although painful to hear, especially when you’re suffering from a massive hangover, you did bring this painful condition upon yourself. You’re the one that raised all those delicious brews to your lips. That one last snifter of World Wide Stout or Utopias seemed like the perfect idea at the time didn’t it?
So, we can all over-drink every now and then, but what actually happens inside your body to make you feel so sick?
<H3 align=center>TOXINS / POISONS</h3>
Don’t forget that the alcohol in beer is a drug. A hangover is the result of your body experiencing a mild reaction resulting from an overdose of alcohol and certain “toxins” associated with alcohol consumption. Your body tries to protect itself by producing enzymes to break down and remove the toxins from your body. However, the flushing is not rapid enough to prevent the effects of toxin ingestion.
This build up of toxins is believed to be a major cause of hangovers. When the toxin level exceeds your body’s ability to metabolize them in an efficient manner, you experience a hangover. The excess toxins may irritate your stomach, cause you to vomit, and in general, make you feel sick.
Now, pure ethanol is metabolically pretty clean. However, if you consider most alcoholic beverages are water, ethanol and a bunch of flavorings, then the identity of some of those flavorings can be quite scary. Red wines contain all sorts of interesting chemicals and impurities. Although many of these impurities, such as arsenic, are poisonous, they are usually present in such minute quantities as to be fairly harmless. However, if the wine is concentrated by distillation, then as well as increasing the alcohol content, you are also concentrating the poisons. This is the reason that port, brandy and cheap red wine can give you the most gruesome hangovers, as well as gout later in life. This is why people are often advised not to ‘mix their drinks’. Different styles of drink have different impurities and some of them can react with one another in strange and painful ways. Some common memory aids from English folklore are:
· Don’t mix the grape and the grain (keep wine/port/brandy separate from beer/whiskey.
· Beer then wine, I feel fine. Wine then beer, I feel queer.
<h3 align=center>LACK OF QUALITY SLEEP</h3>
This contributes to the overall grumpiness and fatigue you feel as part of a hangover. When you fall asleep (or pass-out, as the case may be) after a bout of heavy beer drinking, the high levels of alcohol in your system drug the brain and prevent it from performing some of its routine responsibilities, such as managing your sleep pattern. You are unable to enter the REM (Rapid Eye Movement), or dreaming stage of sleep, which is a critical element to a good night’s slumber. The next day, you feel fatigued and listless due, in part, to the lack of proper rest.
This is the most well-documented consequence of drinking. In addition to its intoxicating qualities, ethanol also has diuretic qualities, so you end up expelling more liquid than you drink. It acts on the brain’s pituitary gland and blocks production of a hormone called vasopressin, which usually directs your kidneys to reabsorb water that would otherwise end up in the bladder. Once this hormonal signal has been switched off, there is nothing to stop your bladder from filling up with all the water from the fluid that you drink. A supply of water is essential to the continuing functioning of your body. When your various organs discover their normal supply of water has been cut off, they steal it from anywhere they can, including the cells of your brain. Although there are no nerve endings inside your brain and your brain itself cannot feel pain, when it starts to shrink due to water loss, pain-sensitive filaments connecting the outside membranes to the inside of the skull become stretched, giving you the symptoms of a headache.
<h3 align=center>FREE RADICAL BUILD-UP</h3>
The liver’s job is to destroy poisons which are present in your body and when you start drinking it starts to work toward destroying the ethanol. However, this process generates destructively reactive chemicals called free radicals. These are usually mopped up by an enzyme called glutathione, but during a binge, reserves can run low, leaving the free radicals to run riot through your liver.
<h3 align=center>LOSS OF SALTS</h3>
Frequent trips to the toilet not only result in the loss of water, but also of the important salts dissolved in it. Potassium and sodium ions in particular are essential for the optimal functioning of your nerves and muscles. An imbalance outside a limited range can result in nausea, fatigue and headaches.
<h3 align=center>LOSS OF SUGAR</h3>
Alcohol attacks your body’s store of glycogen, an essential energy source kept in the liver. The glycogen is broken down to glucose and is then flushed out in your urine. Without this store of energy available the next morning, you are left feeling weak and lethargic.
Methanol is a simpler cousin of ethanol and is found as a contaminant in cheap red wines, whiskey and fruit brandy. This is the fuel alcohol that makes you blind if you drink too much of it. Your liver attacks it as the poison it is, but one of the by-products is formic acid, a nasty chemical ants use to spray at their attackers.
So there you go; all the physiological reasons I could dig up for the living hell that you know as a “hangover”. Next month, I will discuss the many alleged remedies for this awful condition. In the meantime, if you know of a “hangover helper” that you would like to see included in next months article, please beermail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay, back to my snifter of 120 Minute IPA. Until next month, as always …”everything in moderation, including moderation!”
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Cursing, sweating and moaning, you crawl to the bathroom and while resting your head on the cold rim of the toilet bowl, you swear - between agonizing retches - that you will never, ever, ever drink again.