While humankind has suffered from what the French call a ‘hairache’ since some weirdo took a sip of mouldy fruit juice 10,000 years ago, we still don’t really know what a hangover is.
Yes, we’re certain that drinking to excess causes headache, nausea, shivers, thirst, anxiety, diarrhoea and existential horror, but the physiological reasons behind a hangover remain obscure. The cause of your suffering has something to do with the way your liver processes booze, which it does so in two stages.
Ethanol is dealt with first, after which it moves onto methanol – when things turn nasty. In order to break down the alcohol, your body releases its own cocktail of acetaldehyde and acetate, which will make you feel worse than than the alcohol itself (perhaps because they’re poisonous). Other research indicates that dehydration, low blood sugar, inflammation, withdrawal from alcohol and electrolyte depletion all play a part in creating an overarching atrociousness.
And, the colour of your liquor, not just its quantity, can also determine the shape of your hangover. Dark-coloured drinks have more impurities called congeners, which work to make you feel even worse. Thus, shiraz will make Sunday morning uglier than chardonnay.
In any case, there’s only one surefire way to cure a hangover: quit drinking so much, you lush. But it’s probably already too late for that, so any small mercy is a welcome relief. Here are a few of them.
Dehydration definitely plays a part in making you feel terrible. Alcohol decreases the body’s ability to absorb water by depleting an antidiuretic hormone; not to mention the fact that if you’re in a particularly bad way, you’ll lose fluids down the Big White Phone. So, ensuring you steadily replenish your water-levels will see your condition steadily improve. Sports drinks and products like Gastrolyte are particularly effective, given they also restore electrolyte salts you’ll have lost during your session.
Eat your eggs
The greasy breakfast has long been a traditional balm for generations. While it’s probably not great for you in the longer-term, some researchers believe that by stuffing your body with protein and fat distract it from being hungover, diverting it from dealing with alcohol to process food instead. This, however, is really only a short-term fix, because eventually you’ll need to metabolise the booze. Eggs, however, are good for your hungover self, as they’re high in cysteine, an amino acid that’s drained when you’re drinking.
Coffee, sadly is one of those double-edged swords. While it will undoubtedly perk you up (and avoid compounding your woes with a caffeine-withdrawal headache), as a diuretic, coffee will only lead to further dehydration. On the other hand, it’ll dilate your blood vessels, which helps your body deal with that inevitable headache. Plus, a recent study reported in the New Scientist suggests that a combination of caffeine and anti-inflammatories blocks the toxic effects of all that acetate in your system.
Numb the pain
Again, anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen or aspirin will definitely help sort you out. Paracetamol, however, isn’t a great idea, because it’s processed by the liver, which already has enough work to do – and in large doses, can actually be harmful when it interacts with alcohol. And, while there are a number of miraculous anti-hangover pills on the market, they are, as a general rule, useless.
Go back to bed
Consciousness is overrated. While drinking a bunch can send you to sleep in the most unlikely of places, it actually disturbs your sleep once the grog starts to wear off. So, a hangover is often compounded by being sleep deprived. If you’re not obliged to go into work or cook breakfast for the in-laws, heading back to the sack will let you catch-up on z’s while your body deals with what you’ve done to it.
On the other hand, you can avoid paying your debt to drinking simply by keeping the tab open. A Bloody Mary (tomato juice, lemon juice and vodka, a dash of Worcestershire, Tabasco Sauce, and a shake of salt and pepper), Suffering Bastard (gin, brandy, lime juice, bitters and ginger ale) and the Corpse Reviver (Pernod, champagne and lemon juice) will all make you feel infinitely better – for a moment. While your body starts metabolising the alcohol all over again, you’ll have that giddy drunken high – but your crippling hangover, which only begins once your blood alcohol drops to zero, is still certain to arrive sooner or later…