It’s pretty safe to say that no one likes being hungover. That head-pulsing combo of exhaustion and nausea is the worst way to follow-up a fun date night or a GNO. But why exactly do hangovers feel *so* terrible? We talked to two docs who explained what’s actually happening in your body when you have a hangover, what you can do to prevent them in general, and how to feel better ASAP if you get stuck with one.
why hangovers suck so much
The reason hangovers feel ultra-awful, according to Keri Peterson, MD, an internist working with Zocdoc, is because of an imbalance in blood-alcohol levels. When you drink, your blood-alcohol level rises. Once you stop, that level begins to fall, and that’s when your hangover starts to set in. Oof. “The worst symptoms begin when the levels drop to zero,” she explains. Your body is a little confused about what’s happening in there. “The main cause of a hangover is ethanol — the alcohol in your drinks. It’s a toxic chemical that works as a diuretic in your body, causing you to lose fluids that maintain your level of electrolytes.”
That’s a pretty big deal, since electrolytes help your body maintain the correct blood pH, and regulate your muscle function and the amount of water in your body. When you lose fluids because of your body’s attempt to process ethanol, you get dehydrated. “This dehydration is a major contributor to the headaches, dry mouth, and general lethargic feeling that accompany a hangover,” says Peterson.
Some kinds of alcohol are worse than others
Craig Koniver, MD, and founder of FastVitaminIV, says, “Certain types of clear liquor (tequila, vodka, gin) are the best for preventing hangovers, and dark liquors (whiskey, rum, brandy) seem to cause worse ones.” That being said, sticking with tequila instead of whiskey will by no means guarantee you won’t get a hangover if you drink too much. He also suggests choosing organic, preservative-free wines, since they have fewer additives. Substances like sulfites and nitrates, which are more prevalent in non-organic wines, can actually lead to worse hangovers. Another drink to avoid? Champagne. “The bubbles found in your ‘bubbly’ help absorb the alcohol faster, leading to higher blood-alcohol levels,” Peterson says.
While some types of alcohol might be “better” than others, Peterson cautions that the most important factor in getting a hangover is how much alcohol you drink, not what kind of alcohol you’re drinking. She also advises that you skip sugary mixers like juice and soda. They “can lead to bloating, which causes your stomach to empty faster, and alcohol to absorb at a faster rate, amplifying your dehydration and hangover,” she says. Mixing different types of alcohol can also make it harder to keep track of how much you’re drinking, so try sticking to one type of alcohol, be it a certain liquor, wine, or beer.
You definitely can prevent a hangover if you try
One of the best ways to ensure you don’t get a hangover isn’t a secret: Drink water. Though most people know they’re supposed to do this, not everyone does. “The tough part is that once people drink enough alcohol to feel buzzed, their ability to make good decisions decreases,” says Koniver. When your judgment is impaired, it’s less likely that you’ll remember to reach for water instead of forging ahead and ordering another drink. A good way to get around this is to set a reminder in your phone that’ll alert you to drink a glass of water once every hour.
Another way to make sure you don’t have that foggy feeling the next morning? Space out those drinks. “Generally, after one drink, an adult female’s organs are exposed to higher levels of alcohol for longer periods of time than adult men. This is due to a naturally lower amount of water in females’ bodies,” Peterson explains. She recommends sticking to one drink per hour and no more than three drinks in one sitting in order to avoid a hangover. You can also fight that hangover before you start drinking by eating a hearty snack that has fat in it. “While all foods slow your body’s digestion and absorption of alcohol, eating fats will cause alcohol to be delivered to your bloodstream more slowly, giving it less of a chance to reach high levels,” she says. If you ever needed a reason to load up on guac, here it is.
If you get stuck with a hangover (ugh!), there’s still hope
While most people know you should drink some water when you wake up, there are other nutrients out there, like certain amino acids, magnesium, and B vitamins, that’ll help you feel better faster. “I generally recommend Emergen-C packets, which have a good electrolyte profile and much less sugar than Gatorade, combined with whey protein for the array of amino acids,” Koniver says. You can also get some of these hangover-combatting substances directly from regular foods, like asparagus and eggs. “Researchers found that extracts taken from the leaves and shoots of asparagus can help boost your levels of key enzymes that break down alcohol after heavy drinking. Eggs contain cysteine, which may help the liver break down one of the toxic metabolites of alcohol,” explains Peterson. Hello, eggs Benedict.
It’s also a good idea to get moving, according to Peterson. “Rather than lounging around and prolonging the pain, some gentle exercise will flood cells with oxygen and release mood-boosting endorphins.” Looks like your friend who always goes for a run after a night of drinking isn’t that crazy after all. Lastly, don’t go for the “hair of the dog” under any circumstances. “Consuming alcohol the next morning simply postpones the hangover until later in the day!” she says. The last thing you want is an even *worse* hangover to deal with.
How do you deal with hangovers? Any tricks we didn’t mention? Share them with us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)