The Science of a Hangover

June 03, 2019

The Science of a Hangover

We've all experienced the not-so-pleasant consequences of a night out drinking with friends. Even those of us who are moderate drinkers have awoken to the extreme thirst, pounding headache, queasy stomach, overwhelming fatigue, and generally unwell sensations of a hangover.

It's natural to be curious about what causes this cascade of unpleasant symptoms in the body. Let's take a look at the science of hangovers — and how natural supplements can help you detox after a night of drinking.

The Science of Hangovers

According to the latest science of hangovers, there are a few different elements that contribute to the headache, fatigue, nausea, and general malaise of a hangover:

1. Dehydration

Drinking can leave you massively dehydrated. When this happens, your body naturally draws water from your brain and the surrounding structures (called meninges) — which can contribute to the painful headache many people experience from a hangover.

2. Acetaldehyde

Though your liver does its best to protect you from alcohol's harmful effects, it produces the toxic compound acetaldehyde as it's processing alcohol. This dangerous toxin can be present in high levels in the body following a night of drinking, and this is what's responsible for the accelerated heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and sweating associated with a hangover.

3. Low blood sugar

Your liver takes the brunt of processing the toxins from alcohol. While it's hard at work trying to process alcohol, this vital organ is unable to perform another of its key functions — producing glucose. Without glucose production in the body, it's common to experience low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. This contributes to the dizziness, anxiety, and exhaustion associated with a hangover.

4. Congeners

Ever notice that certain types or brands of alcohol give you a worse hangover than others? This could be due to the presence of various cogeners, or chemical compounds, that are found in different products. For example, artificial sweeteners and preservatives can worsen hangover symptoms. And the methanol contained in some alcoholic beverages can turn into formaldehyde in the body, triggering sweating, headaches, and dizziness.

Natural Support for Hangovers

Though there are plenty of preventative measures you can take, like drinking plenty of water, even moderate drinkers will now and then run across a hangover. When that happens, there are some exciting natural solutions backed up by solid clinical research. Let's look at a few:

1. DHM (Dihydromyricetin)

This plant extract, found in the hovenia dulcis plant (also known as the Japanese raisin tree) has been shown in clinical studies to have protective and therapeutic effects on the liver. Working on the cellular level, it can help support your liver's natural processes — which we know is important for recovering from the after-effects of a night of drinking.

In one study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers did animal studies to see how DHM could counteract some of the effects of alcohol use. They found that the use of DHM helped counteract extreme intoxication and withdrawal symptoms in rats.

2. NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)

NAC is an amino acid that works to reduce hangovers in two different ways:

  1. Boosts Glutathione. Our bodies use the antioxidant called glutathione to detox toxins. While drinking can deplete us of this antioxidant, NAC naturally helps boost glutathione in the body — making it easier for our bodies to get rid the toxins from drinking.
  2. Gets rid of Acetaldehyde. Remember that toxin, acetaldehyde, produced by our bodies in response to alcohol? NAC has been shown in studies to bind to acetaldehyde, helping to rid it from the body. In the same study, NAC was shown to decrease some of the negative effects (like hypertension) experienced by animal test subjects when exposed to alcohol.

3. Calcium-D Glucarate

As discussed, a healthy liver is necessary in order to support the body's ability to process the chemicals and toxins attributed to alcohol. That's where Calcium-D Glucarate comes in.

As a calcium salt, Calcium-D Glucarate can be found in many fruits and vegetables. It works to address hangovers by supporting the body's natural detoxification processes. Inside the body, Calcium-D Glucarate is converted into glucaric acid. From there, glucaric acid works to inhibit an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase — which, when present in excess, is known to interfere with the body's detoxification process and even contribute to different kinds of cancer.

Fighting Hangovers — with Science

When you know the science behind hangovers, it can help you boost your resilience to their head-pounding aftereffects. For example, knowledge of cogeners could help you avoid alcohol loaded with chemical preservatives, and you might be able to prevent the effects of dehydration by focusing on water intake. In addition, supporting your body's natural detoxification processes with supplements can also be a powerful ally in staving off the worst effects of a hangover.

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