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So, You Had Too Many Martinis Last Night?

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The medical term for a hangover is Veisalgia, from the Norwegian word for "uneasiness following debauchery" (kveis) and the Greek word for "pain" (algia). A hangover, aside from being one of the most miserable things you can suffer, is basically your body's reaction to the large amount of chemicals and toxins from the liquor you poured into it the night before. (P. S. don't you just love the word debauchery?)

There are a lot of chemicals in booze that are toxic. These toxic impurities are called Congeners. Some alcohols have greater amounts (wine) than others (vodka), but all of them have some. While pure alcohol or ethanol is supposedly toxin free that's not what you were drinking last night. Humans cannot consume "pure" ethanol.

If you were not drinking your booze "over" (a shot of a liquor over ice aka "on the rocks") then you were mixing it with something - juice, tonic, water, colas and even other types of alcohol. More toxins are introduced with each additional ingredient and you face the issue of chemical reactions between the ingredients. Your liver will be working overtime to get rid of these toxins by flushing them out and this leads to dehydration. Welcome to tomorrow morning, you are dehydrated!


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Alcohol can disrupt your brain function - it is a drug, after all! Therefore your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep can be badly affected and REM sleep is where you get your deepest rest. Yup, you are now dehydrated and sleep deprived.

Alcohol causes your blood vessels to expand, which can lead to headaches. So, you are dehydrated, sleep deprived and your head feels like it's going to do an "exorcist" and twist right off your neck.

Wondering why you have the shakes this morning? Contrary to popular thought, alcohol does not raise your blood sugar, it can actually lower your blood glucose. Alcohol inhibits the liver from making glucose, so if you haven't eaten, you run the risk of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Now, you're dehydrated, sleep deprived, have a headache and you've got tremors!

Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach, increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying. Great Ghost of a Guzzling Gatsby, you are now dehydrated, sleep deprived, have a splitting headache, you're shaking more than a fiver on the Richter scale and your burning tummy is threatening to jump completely out of your body. Good Morning (?). You have a hangover.
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It's actually too late now but if you thought you could stave off a hangover by pre-treating yourself, think again. Taking a pain killer before you go out to party will not stop a hangover. In fact, taking certain pain killers, acetaminophen in particular, can actually cause permanent liver damage! Relatively low doses of acetaminophen taken with large amounts of alcohol have been documented to have caused several deaths. Aspirin is a blood thinner and can cause additional stomach irritation. Remember that pain killers are drugs and alcohol is also a drug, mixing drugs is dangerous.

The British Medical Journal of 2005 concluded that other forms of hangover "pre-treatments", including taking fructose or dietary supplements (such as yeast based preparations) don't work either. Their conclusion: "No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover."

Eating before you go drinking will help to slow down the body's absorption of the alcohol but it will not stop it. A little food in your stomach if you're having a drink or two can alleviate stomach irritation. But no food will cure a hangover.

Sorry Charlie, unless you can hire Superman to turn back time so you can ABSTAIN or DRINK IN MODERATION, there is nothing that will prevent that hangover.
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What will and what won't make you feel better when you wake up with your head pounding, your mouth drier than the Sahara and your stomach threatening to erupt like Vesuvius?

HAIR OF THE DOG: The oldest known hangover "cure" is to mix yourself a Bloody Mary, drink a Beer, tipple a little brandy in the morning coffee. Okay, this actually does work a bit because the alcohol will numb you a bit to the misery. BUT, and that's a big BUT - drinking in the morning to ease the effects of drinking at night is kind of like throwing oil on a fire, doing this often is an indication you have a drinking problem. It's a short cut to becoming addicted. Your liver needs to detox from the effects of the demands you're making on it from the night before. Resist the temptation to use alcohol to cure alcohol induced pain!

OVER THE COUNTER HANGOVER CURES: Most "hangover cures" are simply a few vitamins and supplements with the directions to drink a full glass of water with each dose. As stated above, vitamins and supplements are not proven to help a hangover. It's the water that is most helpful as it serves to rehydrate your body.

FOOD CURES: You might not have any interest in any kind of food right now but some foods can help you feel better and some can make the situation worse.
  • Coffee is a vasoconstrictor and can temporarily improve your headache by decreasing the size of your blood vessels but it is a diuretic which will dehydrate you even more.
  • Eggs contain cysteine which is supposed to help the liver break down the toxin acetaldehye (one of those Cogeners we talked about) but that's not proven. Besides, have you ever been able to even look at an egg in the throws of a hangover?
  • Bananas, Kiwis, any foods rich in potassium can be helpful because you depleted that helpful body salt with your alcohol induced dehydration.
    Fruits and fruit juices aid in re-hydrating you.
  • No, Burnt Toast does not work. This fiction was based on the idea that activated charcoal is used to treat some forms of toxic poisonings. Unfortunately, that black piece of toast is not activated charcoal.
  • Fat, Grease and fried foods do not help you the "morning after" and might actually increase any stomach irritation, but if you eat something before you drink it does slow down the body's metabolizing of the alcohol a bit. Maybe Mexican food laced with hot sauce or a vat of lard might not be the best choices?
  • Water. Drink lots of it. You need to rehydrate and you need a vehicle to carry all those toxins out of your liver and body.
  • Gatorade - These potassium and sodium (and sometimes sugar) enriched drinks are best because they are mostly WATER, but it doesn't hurt they have some of the minerals you need to replace when dehydrated.
  • VITAMINS can't hurt you though I found no conclusive studies that they help except for one reference to vitamin C. According to Vincent Zannoni, PhD, professor of pharmacology at the University of Michigan, "In our tests, people who took vitamin C beforehand weren't as severely affected by alcohol as those who didn't take it," supposedly Vitamin C might help speed up the clearing of the toxins from your body. Like I said, can't hurt.
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IN CONCLUSION and Disillusion!

The best cure is simply suffer the indignity, hydrate and sleep it off. I look at a hangover as Mother Nature's warning not to abuse alcohol. Let's face it, feeling really crappy after you do something is a good deterrent to doing it again! Or it might be if you haven't killed all your brain cells by drinking too much.

All the above being said my favorite hangover cure is a sack full of "two for a buck" Jack in the Box Tacos, A large order of fries, Pepsi all day long then going back to bed and pretending I did not climb up on the bar the night before and pretend I could sing and dance the Macarena AND "Baby Got Back".

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The History of the Martini
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All About Hangovers - Cures, Facts, Myths & Causes.