Thursday, March 5, 2015

Can't Hang With Hangovers

By: Erin Wojan

If you’re like most people then you’ve had some rough mornings due to a little too much alcohol and fun the night before.  You probably have then tried to reduce the self-inflicted injury that happens the next morning by using a myriad of options like trying to stay hydrated, consume hangover cure-all vitamins when you get home, or whatever other crazy tactic you’re thinking of right now.

We start off with our wild and fun party stages where we stay up all night and sleep all day.  Unfortunately, as we get older and have more responsibilities, lying in bed until 2 the next day is extremely unrealistic.  Let’s be honest, those fun-filled nights still exist but the mornings after have gotten increasingly worse.  Recently while in the midst of enjoying a beer and writing, let’s say, an osmoregulation paper, the correlation of hangovers and age was brought up.   Now it seems most people agree with this phenomenon except the new 21 year olds whose response is, “HA, that’ll never be me.”  So this begs the question, do hangovers actually get worse as we age and if so, why?

To start off, we need to figure out what the cause of a hangover is and why our bodies hate us so much when we just want to have a little extra fun.

 For people who consume a moderate amount of alcohol, it is usually broken down in the liver by alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which is found in the cytosol of cells.  ADH converts alcohol (ethanol) to acetaldehyde which is extremely toxic to our bodies (Lieber 2003).  Acetaldehyde is then broken down further into acetate by aldehyde dehydrogenase and an antioxidant, glutathione.  If you are not following the one drink per hour rule, you’re drinking faster than the acetaldehyde can be broken down.  Some of the acetaldehyde gets released into the blood stream and then BAM! - you’ve got yourself a killer hangover anxiously awaiting you tomorrow morning.   

On top of this, it is hypothesized that alcohol dehydrates our bodies by inhibiting a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone or ADH.  This hormone is released from the posterior pituitary gland and keeps us from losing too much water in our urine.  Alcohol lowers the levels of ADH, causing us to pee more.   Dehydration itself can result in symptoms like nausea, headaches, and dizziness causing the next morning to be even worse.

So now we know why hangovers happen, but why do they get worse as we get older? 

It’s no surprise that as we get older our bodies slow down.  Unfortunately not many human alcohol breakdown studies have been performed, but according to a toxicology researcher, Young Chul Kim, the liver’s capacity to cope with the toxicity of acetaldehyde decreases.  Specifically in rats, Kim and his team found that the ability to generate glutathione decreases with age.  This then decreases the rate acetaldehyde is broken down, increasing the chances of it being released into the blood.

Now remember those responsibilities we all have?  Well those can also be to blame because people tend to stop drinking as much as they get older.  Furthermore, weight fluctuations in either direction can have a pretty hefty impact as well.  Young Chul Kim also stated that when body weight increases, the blood alcohol level decreases because it is distributed into a larger area, leading people to drink and build up more acetaldehyde without realizing it.  On the other hand, people who have lost weight and still drink an amount they’re used to consuming are subject to increased intoxication effects.

So since this problem seems to be inevitable for all of us, remember to stay hydrated, eat well, and watch your limits if you choose to have a drink!

And if this information doesn’t help your hangovers or you choose to ignore it, grab yourself a Bloody Mary because it’s time for some hair of the dog!



Dahl, M. "Hangovers Really Do Get Worse As We Get Older, And Here's Why." NBC News. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Kim, S. K., S. Y. Kim and Y. C. Kim. 1998.  Effect of betaine administration on metabolism of hepatic glutathione in rats. Archives of Parmacal Research 21: 790-792.

Lieber, C. S. 2003. Relationships between nutrition, alcohol use, and liver disease.  Alcohol Research & Health 27: 220-231.

Roberts, K. E. 1963. Mechanism of dehydration following alcohol ingestion.  Archives of Internal Medicine 112: 154-157.



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