Feeling woozy?

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Had a drop too much?

Have you woken up with a dry mouth? A terrible headache? Severe nausea?

You’ve probably got no need to panic, and the likelihood is a coffee, a bacon sandwich and a couple of aspirin will sort you out. Chances are you had too good a night last night and you’re now doubting you’ll be able to leave the house without sunglasses. You don’t need to be a doctor to diagnosis this one – it’s a hangover, the worst of the weekend visitors.

Whether this affliction has followed you for years or if, as you get older, your fresh-faced, leap-out-of-bed attitude is finally catching up with you, most people who’ve had a drink have also had a hangover. And to use a phrase often mumbled from beneath the duvet, “What the hell happened last night?”

Well, aside from some possibly more personal answers, you must have taken in a fair amount of booze. And the effects you’re now feeling are all by-products of your body’s reaction to that alcohol.

Ethanol, the main form of alcohol in our usual tipples, is a diuretic – this means it increases urination, and therefore loss of water from your body. It also acts on the pituitary gland in the brain and prevents it from releasing a substance called vasopressin, a hormone that normally signals for the kidneys to re-absorb water. Without it your bladder gets more and more full and your urge to go to the toilet gets more and more intense (and, of course, the queue gets bigger and bigger). With one 250 ml glass of wine causing you to lose as much as 1 litre of liquid, it’s no surprise that you wake up with dry eyes and a furry mouth, but it’s not just water you’re losing – your urine takes with it vital salts like potassium as well. All of this can cause headaches and nausea, and there’s plenty of advice online about what to do next.

One of the biggest no-nos appears to be drinking coffee. Many recommend the patient steers well clear of caffeine because it’s likely to dehydrate you further. However, researchers from the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have found that it might actually help soothe a pounding head – in rats at least. Scientists ensured they weren’t dehydrated and gave them pure ethanol (hangovers are often blamed on the dodgy extras in our drinks… after all, there’s not many places you can order a straight ethanol on the rocks), but the animals still showed classic rodent headache symptoms (sensitive eyes). The authors have attributed this to a build up of acetate, created in the breakdown of alcohol. Previous evidence that both coffee and over-the-counter drugs block some of acetate’s effects suggests they could be just the ticket for a hangover headache.

As for the bacon butty? While some say the bread soaks up the alcohol and others propose the bacon replaces the vital substances you lost during the night, the fact is that science can’t explain everything just yet – often the ‘tried and tested’ methods are the best. And even the most killer of hangovers can’t keep me away from the smell of sizzling bacon in the morning.

Finally, If you’d like to get nice and sozzled in order to use some of the above tips to cure your hangover, but want to do it all under the guise of science head out to Science Brainwaves’ latest offering up in Sheffield… the Science of Cocktails!

Image from scottfeldstein‘s Flickr.

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