Why does a hangover result in nausea, fatigue, poor concentration, and a bad headache? About 8-16 hours after consuming alcohol, symptoms of a hangover start to set in and can last up to 24 hours (1). Alcohol is actually toxic to our body. When our digestive system breaks down alcohol, it makes a toxic biproduct called acetaldehyde (2).
Our liver, which filters away the harmful chemicals we put into our bodies, goes into overload. Drinking excessively introduces too many toxins that it just can’t flush out fast enough. The body’s process of breaking down alcohol creates toxins even more harmful than the alcohol itself.
Did you know the type of alcohol you drink can effect how bad your hangover is the next day?
Congeners, produced during fermentation of alcohol, can make a hangover worse. Studies have shown that drinking beverages with higher toxic congener content result in a more severe hangover. These include: brandy, wine, tequila, whiskey and other dark liquors . Clear alcohols, like vodka, gin, and rum, have less congeners and tend to produce a less severe hangover (3).
Immune System Malfunction
Changes in the immune system function occur with alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that the concentration of cytokines significantly increases in the blood after drinking alcohol (4). This could then slow your body’s ability to produce more cytokines needed to battle disease caused by microbial invaders.
Drinking too much alcohol causes dehydration. Alcohol is considered a diuretic, and increases urination. This results in a loss of too much fluid that the body needs. Vomiting from drinking way too much alcohol can further increase fluid loss. Symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty, having a headache, having a dry mouth, and weakness. Taking an electrolyte hydration drink before and after consuming alcohol, plus plenty of water, can help reduce the effects.
Alcohol can Effect Your Circadian Rhythm
While alcohol has a sedative effect that causes tiredness, it can actually reduce sleep quality. Studies have shown it hampers with the hormones that balance your circadian rhythm and help you sleep. This can give drinkers a “jet lag” effect the morning after. Sleep tests have shown that alcohol consumption decreases sleep efficiency and rapid eye movement and increases a feeling of weakness and sleepiness the next day (5).
Drink fluids to reduce the effect of dehydration. Further, help balance electrolyte losses with an electrolyte sports drink.
Replenish vitamins and minerals.
B vitamins are water soluble and excessive amounts may be lost with the diuretic effect of alcohol. Plus, the B vitamins will help to boost your energy if you are feeling lethargic. In addition, a human study has shown that taking a vitamin B complex has helped people reduce the symptoms of a hangover (6).
Vitamin C can help boost immunity. With alcohol affecting immunity cells that fight infection, it is a good idea to get plenty of Vitamin C with a hangover, to help avoid catching a virus or bacterial infection. Plus, vitamin C helps to protect the liver (7).
Vitamin E and zinc can help detox the alcohol in the body (7).
Eat healthy foods to reduce your blood alcohol concentration level and normalize your blood sugar levels.
What NOT to do when you have a hangover…
Hair of the dog that bit you is a common urban phrase. It means: have more of what ails you to get rid of the ailment. In other words, some people believe in drinking more alcohol to get rid of a hangover. Bad idea. This can increase dehydration and overwhelm your liver even more (8). Don’t try this trick.
Stay away from the caffeine. Drinking coffee, tea, or caffeinated drinks may give you an energy boost. However, caffeine is a diuretic. It will make you lose more fluid at a time when you need to hydrate (8).
Do not take acetaminophen (tylenol) for a headache. Your liver is already working double time. This type of drug metabolizes in the liver. For a hangover, if needed, take nonsteroidal pills like aspirin or ibuprofen instead (8).
Bajaj, L., & Singh, R. (2018). Alcohol hangover-its effects on human body. Journal of Addiction and Clinical Research, 2(1).
Jayawardena, R., et al. (2017). Interventions for treatment and/or prevention of alcohol hangover: Systematic review. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental.
Rohsenow D., et al. Intoxication with bourbon versus vodka: Effects on hangover, sleep, and next‐day neurocognitive performance in young adults. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2010;34(3):509-18.
Kim D., et al. Effects of alcohol hangover on cytokine production in healthy subjects. Alcohol 2003;31(3):167-70.
Lantman M., Mackus M., & Versker J. Total sleep time, alcohol consumption and the duration and severity of alcohol hangover. Nat Sci Sleep 2017;9:181-86.