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Alcohol, Hangovers, and Your Body

Alcohol, Hangovers, and Your Body


Did you know that the body reacts to alcohol as it would to a poison? In other words, it works as hard to get it out as you work to get it in! What is happening inside the body after you enjoy some alcohol?

In a nutshell:

First, the liver changes alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance. This then turns into acetate, a harmless substance that is passed out of your body in your urine, and-more minutely-in your breath and sweat. This process is hard work, and it means that your liver is unable to focus on its other job, which is sending energizing glucose to other areas of your body. This is why people feel tired, weak, and disoriented following a booze binge.

More specifically:

Alcohol that is being consumed enters through the mouth and the esophagus into the stomach. A small amount is converted there. The rest of the alcohol is undigested, pure alcohol and is absorbed into the blood stream and spread throughout the body. Presence of food in the stomach at the moment of drinking delays the absorption of alcohol in the blood. This is why an alcoholic beverage has a quicker effect when the stomach is empty than when the drink is taken during or after a meal. Drinks that have an alcohol level of more than 20% stay longer in the stomach than drinks with a lower alcohol level. The quantity of alcohol in the blood is expressed in per mill. (A per mill of 0.5 means that 1 milliliter (cc) of blood contains half a milligram of pure alcohol). Someone who weighs a lot has more body fluids than someone who weighs less, so a lighter person notices more of the same number of glasses of alcohol than a heavier person. There is also a difference between men and women. The body of a woman contains on average less body fluids per pound than a man. So a woman will get a higher blood alcohol level faster than a man. Women also digest a smaller part of the alcohol in the body.

The liver will then proceed to break down the alcohol, after which it is eliminated through urine.

So you now have a bad hangover the next day.

What are some ways to ward off that hangover?

Let’s start before you even have a drink! Make sure you eat a good meal. In fact, have one that is full of grease! (Not the healthiest options here . . . but we are trying to prevent hangovers, not weight gain.) Actually, deep fried and most fatty foods cling onto the stomach lining, slowing alcohol's absorption, giving more time to process its byproducts.

As you drink, remember this rule: The clearer your drink, the clearer you’ll be!

White wine and gin come with less "why me" effects than do their darker cousins red wine and bourbon. A good rule of thumb is to alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water (or two)! And have a glass of water when you get home, before bed.

What to do to fix hangovers?

The reason a hangover exists is because the body has lost nutrients and electrolytes. To counteract the nauseous, headachy effects, those lost nutrients need to be replaced. Start by re-hydrating. Perhaps selecting different electrolyte infused sports drinks, real fruit juices, emergenc-e and water throughout the day. Steer clear of coffee, because it will dehydrate you further. Eat something light and nutritious, like an apple, banana or yogurt. After you have had something to eat and a (non-alcoholic) hydrating beverage to drink, get some gentle exercise. You may not feel like moving, but a brisk walk can be just the healing help you need.  Exercise increases blood flow and helps rid toxins that are left from your body's attempt to metabolize that alcohol.


Resources: MayoClinic.com, WebMD.com, MensHealth.com, HealthGuru.com

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