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The Science Behind Hangovers: How Your Body Is Affected

By HERWriter
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The Science Behind Hangovers: How Is Your Body Affected? Tristan Ben Mahjoub/PhotoSpin

The scientific name for a hangover is veisalgia. As many people can attest, the most common symptoms are dehydration, fatigue and headache.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol affects our hormones, blood chemistry, sleep-wake cycle, and inflammatory chemicals and lead to the thoroughly crummy feeling known as a hangover, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Smithsonian Magazine said that drinking alcohol causes dehydration, because it acts as a diuretic, which in turn increases urine production.

Vasopressin, also known as the antidiuretic hormone, is responsible for helping the body reabsorb water. When alcohol enters a person’s bloodstream, the brain blocks the release of this hormone. This causes the kidneys to send too much water to the bladder, which is why when we drink alcohol we need to urinate more often.

What should be happening instead? The body should be reabsorbing that water to prevent dehydration.

The liver is also affected when a person drinks alcohol. As alcohol in the blood stream reaches the liver, it breaks down glycogen and turns it into glucose. Needed glucose then leaves the body through urination.

Glucose isn’t the only thing being sent from the body. Electrolytes like potassium and magnesium are also forced out. The problem is that all of these chemicals are needed to stay in your body to promote proper cell function.

As the body works to process the alcohol, it creates acetaldehyde as a byproduct.  Acetaldehyde builds up in the blood as the liver breaks down the alcohol into a form that can be removed from the body.

That is not good. Acetaldehyde is worse for our bodies than alcohol. It is estimated to be 10-30 times more toxic, and causes symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

The liver is also responsible for building stores of glutathione. Glutathione is a natural stimulant in the body. When someone drinks a large amount of alcohol, glutathione is used up and starts to run out.

Toxic acetaldehyde can build up as the liver starts working overtime to create more glutathione, leaving the body more vulnerable to acetaldehyde. 

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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