5 Theories On What Causes A Hangover

theories of what causes a hangover

Unwelcome hangovers arrive with a barrage of familiar symptoms – nausea, a throbbing headache, weakness, dry mouth, fatigue, and mental fog. Yet, researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint precisely what causes a hangover. Here are five of the most common theories on what makes us feel so darn lousy after overindulging in alcohol.

5 Theories On What Causes A Hangover


1. Dehydration

When you drink, the alcohol suppresses the release of the hormone vasopressin, which usually recycles water released by the kidneys back into the body. Without vasopressin, the water is promptly sent to the bladder and eliminated. You know this is happening because you’re running to the bathroom every 30 minutes once you “break the seal.” Alcohol also inflames the stomach lining, which causes diarrhea – and further dehydrates the body. “Dehydration is probably the most severe contributor to a hangover” says Dr. Gary Murray, program director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

2. Acetaldehyde Toxicity

When the body metabolizes alcohol, a group of enzymes breaks down the ethanol into a toxic carcinogenic substance called acetaldehyde. Another group of enzymes quickly metabolizes the toxin into acetate, a harmless vinegar-like substance. If the second group of enzymes is not on the ball, we suffer from a build-up of acetaldehyde toxicity, which causes sweating, rapid heart rate, skin flushing, and even vomiting.

3. Genetics

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that Asians, Asian-Americans and Native Americans have a gene that causes inactivity of the aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 enzyme needed to turn the acetaldehyde toxin into harmless acetate. Therefore, they are naturally more sensitive to acetaldehyde toxicity. Also, researchers from the University of California San Francisco assert that certain genes may influence how susceptible we are to cellular stress. C’est la vie!

4. Congeners

Byproducts in the distillation and fermentation process called congeners not only produce the full flavor of drinks like red wine, bourbon and rum, but they also are associated with nausea and pounding headaches the next day. One study found that people who drank Wild Turkey Bourbon had much more severe hangovers than people who drank comparable amounts of Absolute vodka, due to the fact that bourbon has 37x as many congeners as vodka (which is filtered to remove the impurities).

5. Electrolyte Imbalance & Vitamin Deficiency

Salty breakfast cravings and headaches are said to come from electrolyte imbalance, as well as depletion of sodium and potassium. For that reason, sports drinks coupled with aspirin or ibuprofen can be a drinker’s instinctive go-to resource the morning after drinking. Since alcohol is a diuretic, B and C vitamins are flushed out of the body as well adding to the theories of what causes a hangover. Taking vitamin supplements before and after drinking can help the brain and nervous system get back on task, says TIME Magazine.

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