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Effects of a Hangover

Consumer Conscious

Did you ever wonder exactly what is going on in your body when you're feeling the morning-after effects of too much alcohol the night before? A hangover can be miserable -- even more so when you learn just what you're putting your body through. If you have a serious drinking problem, please do consider getting help. There are many choices out there, including a hotline for problem drinkers.


A heavy bout of drinking affects nearly every system of the body for up to 24 hours. Let's take a look at the body's reaction to a large dose of alcohol:

What Did That Alcohol Do To Me?!

  • Liver builds up fatty and lactic acids, impairing the body's ability to metabolize sugar. The resulting low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause weakness and mood disturbances.
  • Stomach lining becomes inflamed, delaying digestion; excess gastric acid contributes to nausea.
  • Throat and mouth feel dry and scratchy due to dehydration.
  • Muscles become weak from dehydration and low blood sugar levels.
  • Brain's blood vessels dilate, causing a throbbing headache. Dehydration can cause the brain to pull from its lining, intensifying the pain.
  • Pituitary gland releases improper amounts of several hormones, disrupting the brain's circadian rhythm (which makes sleep feel less restful) and interfering with normal kidney function.
  • Central nervous system becomes chemically overexcited, causing sweating, tremors and sensitivity to light, sound and touch.
  • Heart can become inflamed, start beating with an abnormal rhythm, or even stop beating.
  • Pancreas increases production of digestive chemicals, causing pain, nausea and vomiting.
  • Kidneys fail to reabsorb water, causing increased urination and dehydration.

Drinking and Germs?

More than a glass or two of alcohol a day can suppress a reflex that protects your airway when you swallow. When the reflex is blunted, particles from your mouth can get into the airway along with all the germs they carry. Booze also expands blood vessels, making congestion worse and increasing the risk of secondary infections.

Of course, the best way to prevent all these destructive effects of alcohol is to avoid over-indulgence completely. In fact, the best hangover prevention is abstinence. However, we are only human and from time to time "things happen" as they say.

Many people believe in the practice commonly known as "hair of the dog" -- i.e., have another drink to cure your hangover ills. However, in the end this can only make matters worse. Time is probably the best cure. Treating a hangover is similar to treating the flu -- liquids, rest, nutrients, aspirin, etc.


In addition, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that an extract of prickly pear cactus can alleviate hangover symptoms. They claim it reduced three of nine hangover symptoms -- nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite -- and halved the risk of a severe hangover. Participants in the study were given two capsules of prickly pear extract before imbibing.

Hangover tidbit: In a 2000 journal article, a term for an alcohol hangover was coined: Veisalgia. The word stems from the Norwegian word kveis, meaning "uneasiness following debauchery", and algia, Greek for pain.

Did you know? Try eating some peanut butter before drinking to stave off a hangover. This practice is most commonly found in Africa.

Tea for a Hangover?

Tea's detoxification potential counteracts the effects of alcohol, which is why drinking tea has been regarded as a traditional antidote for hangovers. The moderate stimulation provided by the caffeine settles the mind and helps the body recover from fatigue, and vitamin C helps the function of caffeine. Two or three cups of the first serving of gyokuro or sencha tea will be best because they both contain a lot of both caffeine and vitamin C.

Chia Seed for a Hangover?

There are several underground reports that chia seed is used to prevent hangovers, or as a way to lessen the effect of a full-blown hangover. While we don't know anyone personally who tried this, it makes sense: Chia contains high levels of vitamins A, B complex, C, and E, as well as ferulates and many phytonutrients - all of which help the body get rid of unwanted toxins, and all of which are depleted by alcohol. Furthermore, chia is hydrating, so it can prevent and treat the dehydration caused by alcohol. To try this yourself, after a night of hitting the town, stir 1 tablespoon of chia into a glass of water before going to bed. Repeat upon waking if needed.

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