by Debra Meiburg MW
Congratulations, apparently you’re semi-vertical and able to read. Even so, you might be suffering from what is known medically as veisalgia, which is an amalgamation of the Greek word algia (pain) and a Norwegian word (kveis) with too many consonants to pronounce this morning, which means “uneasiness following debauchery.”
The cure to alleviating “uneasiness” is as elusive as the Holy Grail and remedies run the gamut from crushed swallows’ beaks mixed with myrrh, tea made from rabbit droppings or raw egg concoctions, such as the ever-popular prairie oyster. Logon to university sites and the student solutions are endless. And then there’s the pharmaceutical industry, which touts Berroca (an Aussie favorite), Sob’r-K Hangover Stopper, Chaser and Uncle Rummie’s Hangover Helper to name a few.
The cure proves so elusive because a hangover is actually a cocktail of symptoms, which vary from person to person depending on the type, quantity and pace of alcohol drunk and the metabolism, health, weight, gender of the sorry drinker. And hangover symptoms include, well, I don’t need to tell you the symptoms, do I? But they are caused primarily by these five factors: alcohol breakdown, dehydration, nervous shock, nutrient depletion and stomach irritation.
Surprisingly, it is not alcohol that bangs us on the head, but the by-product of its breakdown, a devilish little substance called acetaldehyde (ass-it-all-duh-hide). A couple of sexy substances tucked away in our liver, glutathione and cysteine, find this nasty little toxin attractive and together they tame it into harmless vinegar. Unfortunately our stores of these playful substances quickly run out, leaving acetaldehyde hanging around in our system longer than it should.
By the time we start chortling at our own jokes, alcohol has suppressed the production of a vital hormone called vasopressin. Without vasopressin, our kidneys stop reabsorbing liquid into the body, sending it instead directly to the bladder which gives us a pressin’ need to visit the loo. Requiring fluids to function safely, our panicked organs ransack the body for water, ultimately pilfering it from our stupefied brains. With the loss of water, our brains contract, painfully pulling on the membrane attaching it to the skull.
While acetaldehyde is wreaking havoc with our brains, a host of depleted minerals are short-circuiting our nervous system. The loo visits expelled salts and potassium and vital nutrients needed for muscle and cellular function. Alcohol also breaks down our glycogen supply, shipping it faster than DHL out of our body. Without glucose we are weak, fatigued and lacking in the coordination needed to mix up a Bloody Mary.
Few good relationships end without the rebound effect. And in trying to recover from its brief courtship with alcohol, our body rebounds by producing too much glutamine, which is a natural stimulant. The result is sleeplessness and nervous shakes.
Alcohol also stimulates excessive acid production. And because alcohol is absorbed through our tummies, it doesn’t take long for our stomach linings to become irritated. Our exasperated stomachs adeptly signal the brain to induce nausea to get rid of the poison pronto!
The most effective hangover plan is to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, but your heads are screaming at me, “It’s too late, you fool. Just tell me how to fix it.” Begin the battle with eggs as they contain large amounts of cysteine, which helps mop up the toxic acetaldehyde. Bananas, sports drinks and kiwis (the fruit, not the people) replenish essential nutrients and help the body rehydrate. Fruit juices will restore energy and vitamins, but if your tummy is suffering, avoid acidic citrus-based drinks.
Athletic-types swear by morning-after-exercise as it revs up the metabolism, helping to move the poison out of the system. And while more alcohol only prolongs the problem, the “hair of the dog” brings temporary relief because the body processes the new alcohol, suspending its activity with the noxious acetaldehyde. There is a theory that greasy food and light alcohol consumption throughout the day delays the painful toxicity until one’s fast asleep. But I didn’t tell you that.