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The Dreaded Hangover!!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 The Dreaded Hangover!!

Kate Wighton of the Times (20 12 08) Gives a very interesting account of the science of the hangover. We all know that as the festive season gets nearer and the more parties, then the likelihood of that dreaded hangover looms.

We have all experienced the banging head, dry mouth, bleary eyes, patchy memory - the hangover fug is familiar to many. The question really is what is it about alcohol and it’s effects that make us feel so dreadful?

Even though human beings have long suffered from hangovers for thousands of years, we’re still largely in the dark as to exactly why they happen, and how to cure them. Researchers this week revealed that many hangover cures simply don’t work. The only certainty is not to get drunk and you will not need a cure.

It will now be pertinent to look and identify the origins of the alcoholic headache. It has been suggested that the throbbing headache is due to a number of factors and these include probably the most important - dehydration. Alcohol prevents the release of a hormone responsible for retaining water in the body. As a result, the kidneys no longer conserve water and more fluid is excreted as urine. Moreover, alcohol widens the blood vessels in the head, adding to the pain.

In terms of concentration, it has been inplied not to tackle anything which requires half a brain. Studies suggest that hangover misery interferes with both short-term memory and concentration.

One study of military pilots revealed that flying ability was still impaired eight to 14 hours after drinking, especially in older pilots. Some studies suggest that dehydration might be to blame, while others believe that acetaldehyde, a product of alcohol breakdown, may have an impact, along with sleep deprivation. Despite alcohol sending us to sleep, it worsens the quality of our shuteye, leaving people incredibly tired in the morning.

A strong indicator of a heavy night lies with the eyes, as they generally become very puffy and bloodshot. The alcohol causes blood vessels in the eyes to dilate and dehydration leaves them feeling dry.

Generally, you will wake-up with a very dry mouth. This is most certainly dehydration and the effects are compounded if the person also smokes.

With reference to the nervous system, one has to recognise that alcohol is indeed a sedative. However, to make sure that we don’t slip into unconsciousness, our nervous system steps up a gear and becomes more alert. When the alcohol leaves our body, however, the nervous system remains in a hyperactive state, leading to sweating, shaking and sensitivity to light, sound and touch. Further, sleep deprivation can aggravate these symptoms.

The heart rate may accelerate and this is generally because the nervous system has been effected. Moreover, it has been suggested that long-term misuse of alcohol can lead to cardiomyopathy - damage to the heart muscle.

In relation to the liver, there are very serious considerations to ab addressed. Alcohol cannot be stored in the body and so is broken down in the liver. In this two-step process, alcohol is turned into acetaldehyde, which then becomes acetate. This is a slow process, only one alcohol unit being metabolised every hour.

Another factor to be considered is that acetaldehyde may contribute to the misery of the hangover, as accumulation in the blood causes rapid pulse, sweating, skin flushing, nausea and vomiting. Some people lack a molecule that breaks down this compound and become ill soon after drinking. Further, alcohol metabolism leads to an accumulation of fatty compounds in the liver and lactic acid in the body fluids. These inhibit glucose production, leading to low blood sugar.

Alcohol can also interfere with your 24 hour body-clock and can quite often leave you feeling very hot. With regards to the effects on the stomach, excess alcohol can irritate the stomach lining causing both nausea and vomiting.

Muscles are also unsteadied by excess alcohol. Everything is an effort when you have a hangover. Muscle weakness and general fatigue are a result of low blood sugar and dehydration. The latter, together with an accumulation of lactic acid from alcohol metabolism, can cause foot and leg cramp.

Try to be sensible, whilst drinking alcohol, try and drink water on a regular basis so as to counteract the effects of dehydration.

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