Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Know your enemy: The hangover and the mutt

"Conan! What is best in life?"
"To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."
"That is good! That is good."
Thank you Conan the Barbarian. Though I do feel inclined to disagree and say that which is best in life is an aged rum, and an attractive woman. Although the crushing your enemies part. That IS good. And what is every drinkers enemy? The hangover.

Anyone who knows me personally will know that I always attempt to make friends with my hangovers, they are akin to invited guests. Albeit guests who outstay their welcome come the end of festivities.  Something I see a lot is along the lines of "I'm totally hanging, anyone got any tips?" Well, yes, if you really don't want to be friends.
What two things define a hangover more than anything else? Headache and sickness. Headache, well anecdotal evidence says that a cold can of coke and an painkiller works wonders the morning after, and a pint of water and a vitamin tablet before sleep always helps me. (When I'm not so drunk I completely forget of course.) Alcohol dehydrates you and robs you of vital vitamins, the brain especially doesn't like that so its important to get more liquids flowing up to your noggin and replace those missing Vitamins. Fluids people! You need them to live, get that water in you quick and your headache will lessen.

The sickness is where it gets fun and interesting and inevitably hair of the dog comes up. I always figured that hair of the dog was something that alcoholics used to justify their cracking open of the vodka bottle as soon as they opened their eyes. However, as it turns out, there's science* backing this up. (There's always science, unless your dealing with wizards.)

The alcohol that we hurl down our throats when we drink is largely made up of two elements. Ethanol, the purest form of drinking alcohol, and fusel alcohols. Which are alcohols, but not the drinking kind. (Fun fact, fusel is a German word meaning 'bad liquor'.) One is good, and one is an unfortunate by-product caused by fermentation. If brewing and distilling were a movie it would be Twins. Ethanol is Arnie, and the fusel alcohols are Danny DeVito.

When we drink, our body breaks down the enzymes it contains. Ethanol is easy to break down so our livers focus on that first. Once the ethanol is consumed our bodies switch to breaking down the fusel alcohols. Unfortunately when fusel alcohols are broken down they're broken down into acetaldehyde, which makes us feel sick. (nothing good for you EVER ends with 'dehyde'.) Give the body more ethanol to break down,  and our livers switch back to that. It'll also provide you chance to expel the remaining fusel alcohols in your breath, sweat, and via other bodily functions. (hopefully not including vomiting.)

Go easy on the Bloody Marys! (via Sensory Overload)

If you're going to take heed of this advice and have a drink to try to stay off the sickness, be sure to have a drink that is low in fusel alcohols. Whiskey, real ales, and ciders are expected to have high levels of fusel alcohols. Spirits like vodka that have been triple distilled, or more, will have less and would make a better mixer for your Bloody Mary.

That's todays science lesson over, there will not be a test at the end of the week so feel free to spend the study time drinking. But not too much eh? Hangovers exist for a reason, your liver is sending a message.

*Incredibly, no one has actually been given grant money to study this for definite in humans, but the science does make sense when sounded out. You just wont find it in any peer reviewed journals. Scientists are too busy with other matters.


  1. I hate you blogger, and your unfriendly HTML editor

  2. I read something about dark-coloured drinks having more hangover inducing bad stuff in them, in addition to the distillation thingy you said.

  3. You are correct, you are refering to congeners, which is just a way to describe related chemicals. Which would in this case include fusel alcohols under that name. Bourbon for example has over 30x the congeners that vodka has.

    There is actually science for that, the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University did a study last year. Confirmed, bourbon hangovers are worse than vodka hangovers!

    I just need to get myself onto a study comparing rum to sambucca and I'm set.