Science of a hangover

27 December 2012

Pounding sore head, dizziness, dry mouth, feeling a wee bit sick? Many of us will wake up on the 1st of January a little bit worse for wear as the effects of Hogmanay celebrations start to take its toll. Approximately 75 percent of us who drink alcohol to intoxication will experience a hangover. Scientists at Glasgow Science Centre have been doing some research to help us kick off 2013 hangover free.

So what happens to your body when you drink alcohol? After you take your first sip, it takes approximately 90 seconds for the alcohol to hit your brain and affect your neurotransmitters.

Dr Robin Hoyle, Director of Science at Glasgow Science Centre explains:

“An antidiuretic hormone called vasopressin normally sends a signal to your kidneys to reabsorb water into your body, without it most of the water is channelled to your bladder and for every drink you consume you expel up to 4 times the amount in urine- explains all those trips to the bathroom. When you stop drinking, your body sends you a SOS signal to replenish its water supply- resulting in a dry mouth.

Your dehydrated liver needs to process the toxins from the alcohol and so takes water from your brain. The brain then shrinks and pulls on the membranes attached to the skull, causing a sore head. All those trips to the bathroom have also affected the levels of salts and potassium in your body which are essential for nerve and muscle function. When these levels get too low, it can cause nausea and fatigue.”

These feelings of tiredness and sickness can also be triggered by other reactions in the body. Alcohol promotes the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which causes the nerves to send a message to the brain that the contents of the stomach are hurting the body and to expel them through vomiting- not the dodgy kebab after all! 

When you drink, the body’s natural stimulant glutamine is suppressed, when you stop the body goes into overdrive and produces more than you need which stops you from going into a deep sleep.

So what are the Science Centre’s top 5 tips to help avoid a hangover this New Year:
1. First and foremost, drink responsibly and don’t drink to excess.
2. Eat – drinking on a full stomach slows down the absorption of alcohol giving the body more time to process the toxins.
3. Drink water- replenishing the body’s water will help fight dehydration and dilute the toxins in the stomach. Ensure you drink plenty before you go to bed.
4. Choose wisely- dark drinks such as brandy, tequila and red wine contain more toxins that your body will need to break down. Drinks like white wine and clear spirits – rum, gin and vodka- have fewer toxins.
5. Don’t mix- combining different types of alcoholic beverages will result in different types of toxins being absorbed into the body.

There is no miracle cure to a hangover but if you follow our top tips it help lessen any symptoms. Everyone has their own tried and tested hangover remedies, some have scientific merit and others don’t.

Dr Robin continues:

“Hair of the dog, burnt toast and black coffee are some home remedies people use to get rid of a hangover none of which have any real benefits. If you are unfortunate to feel adverse effects of alcohol, have a breakfast of eggs, banana and a sports drink. Eggs contain cysteine, banana for potassium and the sports drink will replenish the lost salts and electrolytes. Have this and your body will be fast on the road to recovery.”

Glasgow Science Centre would like to wish everyone a happy New Year and good luck to everyone in 2013.

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