Biology of a Hangover
I admit it. I have overindulged from time to time. There's nothing wrong with tying one on once in a while. As long as you don't drive home (or to an ex-girlfriends house). Cleaning out the pipes, with a bunch of drinks can be "therapeutic." But as we all know sooner or later you will pay the price with a hangover. Today I thought we would look at the biology of a hangover, so we can understand what is happening to our bodies when we have a few too many.
1) Vasopressin Inhibition
When alcohol enters the bloodstream it causes the pituitary gland to block the creation of vasopression (also known as ADH). This causes the kidneys to send water directly to the bladder, instead of reabsorbing it into the body. This diuretic effect causes your body to become dehydrated. Headaches result from this dehydration because the body's organs make up for their own water loss by stealing water from the brain, causing the brain to shrink, in turn pulling on connective membranes causing pain. Another result of the lack of vasopressin is the loss of salt and potassium in those frequent bathroom breaks. Alcohol also breaks down glycogen in the liver, converting it to glucose which is then flushed out into the urinal (our whiz sure does have some good stuff in it). Those compounds are necessary for proper nerve, and muscle function, meaning you probably aren't getting any better at pool or darts and if you try to pick up those girls at the bar you will probably end up tripping and spilling your drink on them.
Distillers know about these: Congeners = flavor. But to us: Congeners = Pain. Congeners are byproducts of fermentation, yet they are treated as toxins in the body. Drinks with high levels of congeners (bourbon, tequila, red wine) take longer for the body to process out than those with fewer congeners (vodka, beer, white wine)
Alright, stay with me here, this is just biology101, these are just compounds and enzymes breaking them down, so lets go. A product of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde is created in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase and is actually more toxic than alcohol itself. Acetaldehyde is then broken down by another enzyme, acetaldeyde dehydrogenase, and another substance called glutathione. Together these two break down the acetaldehyde into the non-toxic acetate. Unfortunately, the liver's stores of glutathione run out when larger amounts of alcohol enter the system, leaving more of the toxic acetaldehyde in the body for longer periods of time. Too much of this toxin can negatively affect brain function to the point where the only remaining brain functions will be those controlling heartbeat, respiration and possibly those responsible for craving pizza and sex. Basically you become Al Gore.
4) Glutamine Rebound
A large contributor to the fatigue felt with a hangover is that the drinker will not sleep as soundly as normal. This results from the body rebounding from alcohol's depressive effects. Alcohol inhibits glutamine, one of the body's natural stimulants. When we stop drinking, our bodies make up for lost time by producing more glutamine than needed. The increased glutamine level stimulates the brain during sleep, preventing us from reaching the deepest, most healing levels of slumbers.
Pretty thick stuff I know, but interesting none the less. I think I'll celebrate the hangover with a few beers.
Nine Foreign Terms for "Hangover"
1) katzenjammer -- German for "the wailing of cats"
2) stonato -- Italian for "out of tune"
3) la gueule de bois -- French for "wooden throat"
4) resaca -- Spanish for "surf of the sea"
5) jeg har tommermen -- Norwegian for "carpenters in my head"
6) hont i haret -- Swedish for "pain in the roots of my hair"
7) ire Rasta coco ganja -- Jamaican for "stoned Rastafarian trying to split my coconut"
8) so to gi ko-ho! -- Vietnamese for "water buffalo plowing inside my head"
9) byt v druhom stave -- Slovak for "to be in a second state"
never trust The Sober Brewer