It’s Friday… and many Americans will be going out to enjoy a few beverages this evening. Of this massive number of socialites who will be hitting the bars, at least a good portion of them may be hitting the floor also… that’s right, not everyone can be convinced that excess isn’t always best! This being the case, the unpleasant after effects of drinking too much can rear their ugly heads in the form of a hangover.
A hangover (the technical name for which is veisalgia) is the combination of ailments that follow the heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. Most commonly reported characteristics of hangovers include nausea, headaches, sensitivity to light and noise, thirst resulting from dehydration, and even mood swings that often favor sadness and displeasure. No doubt, since man first discovered spirits and their uplifting, intoxicating effects, he has similarly sought to find a remedy for the unpleasant mornings that follow any such evening of drunken euphoria.
Ideally, the best remedy is prevention; thus, learning how to drink properly seems to be the key. First of all, one should be advised not to take the consumption of alcohol to such ridiculous extremes, and learn to enjoy a long, lingering buzz from the slow, steady consumption of fewer beverages over time (right, like it’s that easy, you say). Of course, much like drinking coffee, chewing gum, or even cigarette smoking in the early stages prior to true, clinical addiction, often the act of drinking a beverage is more compulsive than it is an underlying desire. In other words, rather than there being some deep-rooted need to drink quickly with intent of “getting drunk” in every instance where an alcoholic beverage is placed before us, there is more likely a tendency to merely enjoy the physical act of drinking. Many are the times I’ve asked people why they would purchase a 12-pack of weak beer (5% by volume or less), as opposed to saving money and buying one or two single “high gravity” beers instead. In nearly every instance, the reply is “quantity over quality” (not that I can wholeheartedly agree with the use of “quality” in describing inexpensive high gravity beers).
Indeed, people who drink regularly like to drink, and the further down the road of inebriation that one goes, the less they are likely to use sound moderation in their decision whether or not to pry the cap off the next bottle. In the long run such activity, of course, can lead to unhealthy practices regarding alcohol consumption altogether, but the factors that lead to alcoholism and unhealthy lifestyles—though particularly important topics worthy of further probing and discussion—are not our present focal point. Instead, God-willing the evil hangover does occur, it is our hope to figure out how best to eliminate it. Ideally, a hangover is best fixed through the consumption of lots fluids, in addition to staying in bed and sleeping if possible. Juices work great at helping hydrate, but nothing cures dehydration quite like nature’s nectar, that is, good old H20.
However, though what I’ve outlined above is arguably the best healthy way to manage a hangover, many of us keep searching for that “magic bullet” in the form of a pill they can pop, or anything else that will act fast, and completely cure the damned pain and throbbing. Though there are a variety of over-the-counter remedies available today that claim to do just that, there also exists an interesting history of alternative methods used to combat the deadly morning after.
The first notion worthy of describing here is probably the time tested “hair of the dog” by which so many swear. Indeed, some claim that drinking a bit of the same liquor that caused the hangover the night before (hence the expression “hair of the dog that bit me”) is a surefire way to get back on your feet. This is supposed to work by introducing more alcohol into your system, and once your body begins to deal with the sudden presence of more of the substance it was fighting off (in addition to the mild buzz that may occur), the pain and sickness will tend to lift away, at least a little. However, if there is little of anything with regard to “hair of the dog”, it is likely to be how little evidence actually exists as to its benefits for anyone suffering from a hangover. Editors of Maxim Magazine in an article dedicated to hangover cures cited it as only a temporary fix, which inevitably comes back to haunt you as the new alcohol begins to work its way through the body. If any beverage might be an exception, it is the Bloody Mary, with its copious use of tomato juice, which would have much the same effect in replenishing vitamins as drinking mere juices alone.
That being said, at this point it might be worth actually discussing what is understood to cause a hangover. At its simplest, alcohol’s worst effect on the human body in large amounts is dehydration, caused by increased urine production. This is what leads to the headaches, dry mouth, and other painful headaches or draining symptoms. Dehydration also causes fluids in the brain to become less plentiful, although drinking water or sports drinks (which are rich in electrolytes) after or during consumption of alcohol can prevent this to some degree. Alcohol’s effect on the stomach lining can account for sickness that afflicts many drinkers the day after, and the breakdown of alcohol in the body by liver enzymes ultimately leads to the production of acetic acid by the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which is as much as thirty-times more toxic than alcohol itself, according to a study published in an April, 1974 issue of the journal Inflammation Research.
Over-consumption of alcohol may also cause vitamin B12 deficiency as well. Curt Arledge, director of the independent film Beer Ya’ll (2009) pointed out to me recently that he and his brother Will (both of whom are accomplished home-brewers) don’t filter any of the beers they make. This has to do with the notion that many of the wholesome elements of a naturally brewed beer (including the presence of B-12 vitamins) are stripped from the beverage at the time of filtration. Along these same lines, many who enjoy naturally-brewed beers, especially wheat beers and others of the unfiltered variety, sometimes complain of fewer nasty effects the day after a late-night drinking session. Could this be mere coincidence, or could it indeed be that the presence of B-12 vitamins in a naturally brewed, unfiltered beer may help prevent a hangover from ever occurring (or at least from being too devastating)? One must wonder what other health benefits may be incurred from drinking such brews.
Of course, as a final anecdote, I’ll point out that the Irish used to believe that burying the afflicted individual up to their neck in river sand would also cure a hangover. However, if you’ve ever stood in cold, wet Irish river sand before (which I haven’t, though I have a good idea what the weather tends to be like in that part of the world), I think I’d just as soon stick with Hair of the Dog instead. Thus, I can’t advocate enough the practice of moderation… prevention is arguably the best cure, and to lay the old saying to rest, excess is NEVER best.