Why do we have headache after drinking some kinds of alcohol?

Lack of restraint in the consumption of alcohol may lead to negative consequences – everybody, who has ever overdosed ethanol, knows that. However, it's interesting that, according to everyday observations, as well as scientific studies, various drinks differ with the “hangover” potential. Where do these differences come from?

How do we know we have hangover?

Of course, the question above is rather jocular. Every person, who has ever experienced “the syndrome of the previous day”, wouldn't be able to confuse that with any other disease. Despite the fact, that the symptoms are not specific for this ailment, together they create a unique set easy to remember for life... I mean, such symptoms like:

  • strong, hard to fulfill thirst,

  • headache, dizziness,

  • hypersensitivity to light and noise,

  • problems with concentration,

  • general decrease of mental condition,

  • sometimes also nausea and vomiting.

The first symptoms connected with the so-called “syndrome of the previous day” usually appear few hours after drinking the last glass of alcohol. It's usually in the morning or at noon, when we want to sleep the whole-nigt party off.

Alcohol metabolism

When you want to understand the differences in the influence of particular kinds of drinks on the body, you should first know something about the metabolism of alcohol. This compound, after being absorbed from the digestive tract (it's worth adding that some amount of it is already absorbed by the mucous membrane), undergoes a cascade of biochemical changes leading to its neutralisation, because – independently from what its enthusiasts claim – it is treated like poison by the body. The metabolism of alcohol takes place mainly in the liver with the use of such special enzymes, like alcohol deydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Both enzymes work in close cooperation. The first one transforms ethanol into very toxic acetaldehyde, the latter allows to neutralise this compound into acetate, which is then oxidized into carbon dioxide and water. This way ethanol is decomposed into two neutral metabolites. It would be all fine, if not for the fact that during this conversion a highly reactive hydrogen peroxide is formed... This compound may take part in damaging the structure of various tissues.

However, the most important fact for us is that metabolism is simply much slower than the absorption from the diggestive tract, and that's why we feel both, the wanted and unwanted results and symptoms of drinking alcohol.

Ethanol is not the only one to be blamed

The problem with “the syndrome of the previous day” is not neccesarily connected with the metabolism of ethanol itself – this form of alcohol, even though it's not neutral for our health, may be harmless if it is consumed in small doses. Indeed, the acetaldehyde that is created out of it may be the source of various annoying problems, but also methanol is important here.

Methanol in popular drinks? Is it possible?

There's no doubt that methanol is a very toxic compound and consumption of its pure form often ends up with very painful death. This substance, thanks to metabolites, such as formic acid, damages nerve, liver, kidney and heart cells, what leads to serious disorder in functioning of many important inner organs, it may also lead to the total “elimination” of these organs. The result of it is obvious... It turns out that methanol also occurs in small doses in popular liquors, and the hangover experienced after drinking it is just a sample of the process described above. What's interesting, particular drinks differ among one another with the content of methanol. That's why after drinking some drinks “the syndrome of the previous day” is much more intense that after other ones...

Comment

The information mentioned above is not just an abstract curiosity. You can use this knowledge in practice during carnival or New Year's Eve party. Of course, you should not overestimate this knowledge, because lack of restraint, in case of each kind of drink, may lead to negative consequences. In my next article I will present the list of liquors in case of which the risk of having hangover is smallest, as well as those, in case of which even a small dose may cause headache.