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Experts explain the science behind the headache


August 6 marks International Hangover Day, and it’s no coincidence that it comes the day after International Beer Day.

Anyone who drinks alcohol would probably have had a time when they felt a little rough around the edges following the revelry the night before. To mark International Hangover Day, Newsweek asked scientists to explain the biological basis of a hangover.

“In a way, a hangover can best be described as a mini withdrawal syndrome in which the body responds to excessive alcohol consumption with opposite physiological responses,” said Dr. George F. Koob, director from the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. , said.

“As soon as alcohol enters the brain, the brain circuitry begins to adapt to minimize the disruption caused by alcohol and return the circuitry to baseline functioning levels. Due to this acute tolerance, when the alcohol dissipates, activity in circuits that were suppressed by alcohol now exceed baseline activity levels,” he added.

Two experts explained the science behind hangovers to Newsweek and why binge drinking makes you feel bad the next day. The image above shows a group of friends toasting with shots of alcohol.
Marcos Elihu/Castillo Ramirez/Getty

For example, alcohol initially slows activity in the brain’s amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions. This reduces feelings of anxiety, but rebound excitement in the amygdala the next day could contribute to increased anxiety and irritability during a hangover.

“Similarly, circuits initially activated by alcohol may be less active for a period of time as the alcohol wears off. While alcohol initially increases reward system activity in the brain, attenuated reward activity could contribute to malaise and anhedonia during a hangover,” Koob said. Newsweek.

There are many other ways alcohol can contribute to a hangover. For example, alcohol irritates the stomach lining and increases acid release, which could contribute to nausea and stomach discomfort during a hangover.

“Alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde, a toxic metabolite that triggers inflammation and damages DNA. The contribution of acetaldehyde to hangovers remains unclear. Although alcohol may reduce the time it takes to hangover fall asleep, it disrupts sleep architecture and reduces total sleep time, which could contribute to next-day fatigue,” Koob added.

Dr Sally Adams, associate professor of psychology specializing in alcohol and drug addiction at the University of Birmingham, said that when the amount of alcohol in the blood approaches zero, the body tries to metabolize it into waste products which can be eliminated from the body.

“To do this, the body synthesizes a toxic chemical that makes us feel bad, sick and nauseous,” she said. Newsweek. “Simultaneously, after consuming alcohol, we experience inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, dehydration, and an imbalance of electrolytes. Together, these effects can make us feel terrible.”

Adams said that to date there is “no compelling evidence” of a product that prevents or reduces hangovers.

“Probably because it has many complex effects on the body and brain and most remedies focus on just one, which is water for dehydration. The only way to avoid a hangover is to don’t drink or drink in moderation,” Adams added.

Koob said drinkers should avoid exceeding the alcohol amounts of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to all three, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or drink in moderation. Men should limit their consumption to two drinks or less per day, while women should limit their consumption to one drink or less per day.

An ounce of prevention is better than cure,” Koob said. “Spacing drinks and eating food throughout the evening could help reduce overall drinking and help protect the stomach from direct irritation. Although there are many hangover cures on the market, convincing evidence of their effectiveness remains elusive. Preferred strategies for coping with the discomfort of a hangover vary widely, but water, rest, and time seem to be common elements.”

Koob concludes that a hangover is not only miserable but dangerous. “During a hangover, attention, decision-making, memory, and muscle coordination can all be impaired. These effects make it harder to do things like drive cars, ride a bike, fly planes, or even perform surgeries. So while the alcohol may be gone, the ability to perform important tasks could still be impaired.”


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