London - Waking up with a pounding head, a delicate stomach and mouth as dry as a desert is an all-too-familiar scenario for many over the festive season.
Furthermore, a hangover could also make you a danger behind the wheel, suggests a recent study from the University of the West of England, which found that hung-over drivers made significantly more mistakes even once the alcohol had cleared their system.
Hangovers occur for several reasons. As alcohol is a diuretic (triggering the production of urine), it causes dehydration, which in turn leads to symptoms such as headache, dry mouth, reduced concentration and irritability.
Blood-sugar levels drop because the body produces too much insulin in response to the high sugar content of alcohol. This contributes to a throbbing head, as well as driving the rampant hunger that many drinkers experience. Alcohol also irritates the stomach and disrupts sleep, causing nausea and exhaustion the next day.
Many people have their theories about what causes hangovers, how to avoid them and how best to treat them. We talked to the experts to find out the truth behind the popular theories.
We all know someone who boasts “I never get hangovers” as they merrily sink pints. But are they kidding themselves?
“It’s true that some people are less prone to hangovers,” says Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP and medical adviser to the charity Drinkaware.
This is partly because some people are for some reason less prone to headaches when dehydrated. Others may be less susceptible to the effects of acetaldehyde, the toxic substance produced when alcohol is first metabolised in the liver.
“But that does not mean they are immune to the longer-term effects of alcohol,” warns Dr Jarvis.
“Ironically, they will probably come to more harm, because hangovers should reduce the likelihood of drinking to excess.”
Indeed, what’s perceived as a high tolerance may be a sign the body is already damaged by alcohol.
“The more alcohol your body processes, the more your tolerance to short-term effects increases,” says Dr Jarvis. “But long-term damage to the body depends on how much alcohol you have processed in your lifetime.”
The specific symptoms suffered during a hangover may vary for individuals, too.
“One person’s threshold for a headache trigger may be higher, but they might be more likely to suffer nausea or other symptoms,” explains Dr Andrew Dowson, director of headache services at King’s College Hospital, London.
It is also true that some ethnic groups suffer more after drinking because of their genetic make-up.
“We know East Asians have very low levels of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (an enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde), which can make them get drunk more quickly and contribute to hangovers,” says Jarvis.
We tend to expect young people to be better at coping with excess drinking, but new research suggests the reverse may be true.
In a study of 50 000 adults, researchers in Denmark found older people had less severe hangover symptoms after a heavy night – 21 percent of women aged 18 to 29 suffered nausea with a hangover, compared with three percent of women aged 60 and over. And 62 percent of men in the young age group had exhaustion when hung over, compared with 14 percent of those over 60.
This is partly because younger people binge drink more intensely (typically nine drinks in a session, compared with six drinks for older people). But another explanation is that older drinkers are more tolerant to short-term effects, having drunk more over their lifetime.
In a 2006 study of more than 1 200 students at the University of Missouri-Columbia, researchers found that not only do women get drunk faster, but their hangover symptoms were more severe, even though they drank the same amount as the men.
There is some evidence that bubbly drinks intoxicate you more quickly than flat drinks.
A study at the University of Surrey in 2001 found volunteers given two glasses of fizzy champagne had an average of 0.54mg of alcohol per millilitre of blood after five minutes, while those given the same amount of flat champagne had 0.39mg.
One theory is the carbon dioxide in bubbles speeds up the flow of alcohol into the intestine.
Indeed, turning your wine into a spritzer may not be the restrained option you think, as the researchers said mixing fizzy water with wine could have a similar effect.
The principle could apply to all carbonated drinks, including beer, adds Dr Emma Derbyshire, a senior lecturer in nutrition at Manchester Metropolitan University and independent adviser to the Natural Hydration Council.
Although this won’t necessarily increase the severity of your hangover, getting drunk faster may impair your judgement more quickly and spur you to drink more, Jarvis warns.
It’s true that certain drinks will result in a worse hangover, say experts. A hangover is due mainly to dehydration, and the effect of impurities and preservatives in the drinks. Derbyshire says: “Certain alcohols contain chemicals called congeners (produced during fermentation) that give them their flavours and colours.
“The darker the alcohol, then the higher the congener content — and these are thought to contribute to headaches and hangover symptoms, although it’s not clear why.”
So red wine or brandy could make your head throb more than gin.
Nursing a sore head with a Bloody Mary, experts say, only delays the onset of hangover symptoms. “If you drink more alcohol, you may not notice the hangover so much, as alcohol has a sedative effect and may distract you from the pain,’ says Jarvis.
Milk – a sure bet for a hangover
Experts agree drinking water before bed will help stave off some of the effects of dehydration, which contributes to a hangover. But migraine specialist Andy Dowson recommends milk instead.
“Drinking milk will combat many symptoms”, he says. “Hangovers are thought to be triggered by low blood sugar and dehydration, triggers for migraines, so if you can stomach it, drink milk before sleeping. This will give you the volume of fluid as well as help get your blood sugar levels back up.
“Milk is also an anti-diuretic (stops urine production).” Meaning fewer trips to the toilet and less sleep disruption.
Milk’s alkalinity may also counteract inflammation of the stomach caused by excess acidity. – Daily Mail