The best way to prevent a hangover, of course, is to avoid drinking, or have only one or two cocktails at the most (but be aware that even a single drink can trigger a hangover in some people).
But let’s say you tend to get caught up in your celebrations and suspect you might have a few more than you normally do. There are some natural remedies that may help you to avoid hangover symptoms altogether, but the time to take action is now, before you drink.
What Causes a Hangover? 7 Major Biochemical Reactions to Alcohol
Alcohol, and too much of it specifically, triggers a cascade of reactions in your body that contribute to the symptoms known as a hangover. This includes:
1. Increased Urination
Alcohol inhibits the secretion of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that keeps you from urinating unintentionally. When this enzyme is suppressed, water is sent right to your bladder (along with electrolytes) to be excreted, causing you to urinate more often.
The increased urination can lead you to become quickly dehydrated, and as your body draws water from your brain to function, it may leave you feeling fatigued or dizzy.
3. Acetaldehyde Build-Up
When alcohol reaches your liver, an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase breaks it down into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is far more toxic than alcohol (by up to 30-fold!).
So your body again attempts to break it down with the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that is crucial for liver detoxification (glutathione contains high levels of cysteine, which is why taking this in supplement form may help prevent hangovers… more on this below).
Together, this powerful detox duo can break down the acetaldehyde into harmless acetate (which is similar to vinegar).
However, when you drink too much alcohol, your stores of glutathione become depleted, which allows acetaldehyde to build up in your body, causing the toxic hangover effect.
It should be noted that women have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione than men, which is why women may have a more severe reaction to drinking the same amount of alcohol as a man of similar weight.
Congeners are ingredients produced as byproducts of fermentation and distillation. They include acetone, acetaldehyde, tannins, and some flavorants in different alcoholic beverages.
Congeners are thought to make the effects of a hangover worse and are found in higher amounts in darker liquors (such as brandy, whiskey, and red wine) than clear liquors like vodka or gin.
5. Glutamine Rebound
Alcohol inhibits glutamine, a natural stimulant in your body. This is partly why alcohol has a depressive effect that may make you fall asleep easily… at first.
After you’ve stopped drinking, your body will work overtime increasing glutamine levels, which is why you’ll ultimately wake up more often and have a more fitful night’s sleep after you drink.
This glutamine rebound may contribute to the fatigue, tremors, anxiety, restlessness, and even increased blood pressure that are often felt during a hangover.
6. Disruptions to Your Stomach Lining, Blood Vessels, and Blood Sugar
Alcohol is irritating to your stomach lining and leads to an increased production of stomach acid. This can cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
Alcohol can also lead to dips in your blood sugar level, which can lead to shakiness, mood swings, fatigue, and seizures. Also, alcohol may cause your blood vessels to expand, which may trigger headaches.
7. Inflammatory Response
Finally, alcohol also provokes an inflammatory response in your body in which your immune system may trigger agents that provoke hangover symptoms including memory problems, decreased appetite, and trouble concentrating.