Everything you ever wanted to know about hangovers( but were too queasy to ask)

The Romans treated hangovers with raw owl eggs; the Assyrians went for pulverized birds noses. Do any of the miracle cures really run?

Reflecting on life in 1920 s New York, F Scott Fitzgerald opined that the hangover became a part of the working day as well allowed-for as the Spanish siesta. But while 21 st-century boss may not be quite as accommodating as the Wall Street tycoons of the roaring 20 s, hangovers are certainly part of the Christmas party season.

Whether its how to avoid them in the first place or contradicting the suffering after the event, hangovers have been mulled over for millennia. In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder proclaimed it advisable to line the belly with a dinner of roasted sheeps intestines before making the drink, while centuries afterwards the English herbalist and botanist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that hangovers could be alleviated by stuffing the nasal passages with the juice of tree ivy. However, despite having socio-economic outcomes higher than many common diseases in terms of absenteeism and reduced work productivity, it is only relatively recently that hangovers have been considered are worth serious scientific study.

Why are they called hangovers ?

The hangover was first described more than 3,000 years ago in the Susruta Samhita, an Indian textbook on vedic drug. It was described as paramada , a post-drinking condition characterised by thirst, pain in the head and joints, and heaviness of the body, with no known cure.

But the word hangover has only become associated with alcohol in the past century. It first appeared in the English vocabulary in the 19 th century as an expression for describing unfinished business from sessions, but it was not until 1904 that the word began to crop up in reference to alcohol.

What causes them ?

Hangovers develop when blood-alcohol content returns to zero, leading to headaches, nausea, anxiety, dry mouth, sweating, gastro-intestinal complaints, concentration problems, dizziness, drowsiness and hyper-excitability. One of the causes is the way that the body metabolises the compounds found in alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks contain very small amounts of methanol( in addition to ethanol ), which the body breaks down into the toxins formaldehyde and formic acid about 10 hours after drinking, attaining you feel ill.

Another long-standing scientific hypothesi has been that hangover symptoms are down to dehydration, because alcohol lessens the production of an anti-diuretic hormone, something the body requires to reabsorb water. With less of it available, the body loses fluid through urination. Yet, while hormonal changes resulting from a dehydrated state do cause dry mouth and thirst, studies on the biological changes present the day after excessive drinking suggest it isnt quite that simple. Many of the cognitive alcohol hangover symptoms such as memory loss, mood changes and nervousnes appear to be down to the effects of immune system activating and its impact on the central nervous system. As the body tries to process the alcohol metabolites in the bloodstream, it creates tiny molecules called cytokines. Cytokine receptors are especially dense in the hippocampus, a brain structure essential to memory function, and some studies have shown that increased cerebral cytokine concentration can cause weakness, decreased appetite, sickness and inability to concentrate.

Why do some people not get them ?

It has been reported that 28% of drinkers say they never experience a hangover. The exact reasons why are little understood, as even when alcohol exposure is monitored under experimental conditions, there are considerable individual differences in terms of hangover reply. It is thought to be down to a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Two genotypes ADH1B and ALDH2 are associated with the flushing or blotching reply on the face or body following alcohol intake, and have been found to be related to heightened hangover susceptibility. Some surveys also show that heavy hangovers are more common in drinkers with a family history of alcoholism, with alcoholics get the worst hangovers of all.

Can consistent hangovers have long-term outcomes ?

Yes. The pathophysiology of why this occurs is not fully known but various analyzes of university students have found a link between frequent hangovers and adverse neurocognitive outcomes such as decreased white-matter integrity in the frontal part of the brain and the cerebellum, which plays an important role in motor control. It is thought that the former could lead to sustained impairments in memory and attention span.

Does a full English the next day truly help ?

Fried food can induce you feel better. Drinking alcohol lowers your blood-sugar levels and eating a carbohydrate-heavy meal can help restore these to normal.

Do they worsen with age ?

The common belief is that hangover symptoms become more severe with advancing age, possibly due to the body becoming less efficient at processing alcohol, but, from a scientific viewpoint, theres little proof to show that this is true. This is mainly because hangover research is almost entirely carried out on young adults, but the few analyzes that have been done comparing age groups find that post binge-drinking hangovers are worst in younger people.

Is there a miracle cure ?

The quest for a hangover cure is about as old as recorded history. The oldest known remedy is the hair of the dog, which does have a biological basis. If you continue drinking alcohol during the hangover phase, your body will stop metabolising methanol into toxins, and go back to processing ethanol, leaving the methanol for later.

But when it comes to dealing with the inevitable, various substances have been tried and tested over the centuries. The Romans recommended raw owls eggs, which may have had some beneficial effects, as eggs contain cysteine, an amino acid depleted by alcohol. The ancient Assyrians chose to eat a more dubious concoction of ground birds beaks and myrrh. In the era of Genghis Khan, Mongol warriors ate pickled sheep eyes, while in medieval Europe physicians recommended raw eels and bitter almonds.

More recently, a number of companies no doubt thinking of the vast commercial potential have tried to develop a valid hangover medication. But while various anti-inflammatories such as the migraine narcotic, tolfenamic acid, or herbs such as borage have shown some benefits, so far no treatments have received FDA approval as scientifically valid hangover cures.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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