Experts explain the science behind headaches

Experts explain the science behind headaches

6 August marks International Hangover Day, and it is no coincidence that it comes the day after International Beer Day.

Anyone who drinks alcohol would probably have experienced a time when they have felt a little rough around the edges as a result of the previous night’s fun. To mark International Hangover Day, Newsweek asked researchers to explain the biological basis of hangovers.

“In some ways, a hangover can best be described as a mini-withdrawal syndrome in which the body responds to heavy drinking with opposite physiological responses,” Dr. George F. Koob, director of the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said.

“As soon as alcohol enters the brain, brain circuits begin to adapt to minimize the disruption caused by alcohol and return the circuits to baseline levels of function. As a result of this acute tolerance, when the alcohol wears off, activity in circuits that were suppressed by alcohol now exceed baseline levels of activity,” he added.

The science behind hangovers
Two experts explained the science behind hangovers to Newsweek and why binge drinking makes you feel terrible the next day. The picture above shows a group of friends toasting alcohol.
Marcos Elihu/Castillo Ramirez/Getty

For example, alcohol first slows down activity in the brain’s amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions. This reduces feelings of anxiety, but rebound excitation in the amygdala the next day can contribute to the increase in anxiety and irritability during a hangover.

“Similarly, circuits that were initially activated by alcohol may be less active for a while as alcohol wears off. While alcohol initially increases reward system activity in the brain, dampened reward activity may contribute to discomfort and anhedonia during hangovers,” Koob told Newsweek.

There are many other ways alcohol can contribute to a hangover. For example, alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and increases acid release, which can contribute to nausea and stomach discomfort during a hangover.

“Alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde, a toxic metabolite that triggers inflammation and damages DNA. The contribution of acetaldehyde to hangovers is still uncertain. Although alcohol can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, it disrupts sleep architecture and reduces total sleep time, which can contribute to fatigue the next day,” Koob added.

Dr Sally Adams, an associate professor of psychology who specializes in alcohol and addiction at the University of Birmingham, said that when the amount of alcohol in the blood approaches zero, the body tries to metabolize it into waste products that can be removed from the body.

“To do this, the body synthesizes a toxic chemical that makes us feel unwell, sick and nauseous,” she told Newsweek. “At the same time, after consuming alcohol, we see inflammation in the stomach and small intestine, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Together, these effects can make us feel pretty awful.”

Adams said that to date there is “no convincing evidence” of any product preventing or reducing hangovers.

“Probably because it has many complex effects on the body and brain, and most remedies focus on just one, ie water for dehydration. The only way to avoid a hangover is to not drink or drink in moderation,” Adams added.

Koob said people who drink should avoid exceeding the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture amounts for alcohol. According to the three, adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink or to drink in moderation. Men should limit their intake to two drinks or less per day, while women should limit themselves to one drink or less in a day.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Koob said. “Separating drinks and eating food throughout the evening can help reduce overall consumption and help protect the stomach from direct irritation. Although there are many purported hangover remedies on the market, convincing evidence of effectiveness remains elusive. Preferred strategies for coping with hangover discomfort vary considerably, but water, rest and time seem to be common components.”

Koob concludes that hangovers are not only miserable, but dangerous. “During a hangover, attention, decision-making, memory and muscle coordination can be impaired. These effects make it more difficult to do things like drive a car, ride a bike, fly or even perform surgery. So even though the alcohol may be gone, the ability to perform important tasks may still be impaired.”

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