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The Chemistry of a Hangover

Most adults have experienced a hangover at least once in their lifetime; 70% of alcohol
consumers experience a hangover at least once per year, and 15% experienced the syndrome in
the previous month. The most common response for what causes a hangover is dehydration.
While alcohol can increase the retention of water in the kidneys, leads to increase of urination, it
is not the only cause of a bad hangover. Other possibilities include genetic factors like health,
age, and sleep.

Your immune system handles alcohol different from the person next to you and you
might receive a different hangover than someone who had the same drinks. Your immune system
breaks down alcohol by enzymes into acetaldehyde. It is then broken down into acetate.
Acetaldehyde is the compound that has been implicated in hangovers. It is broken down very
quickly by the enzymes into acetate. The enzyme that converts alcohol into acetaldehyde works
faster than the enzyme that converts it to acetate. Your body breaks down acetaldehyde into
acetate slower so you build up the acetaldehyde the more drinks you have. Within the first
swallow 10-20% of the alcohol is already absorbed in the stomach. The remainder of the alcohol
is being processed in the small intestine. Drinking one bottle of red wine is roughly 80 grams of
ethanol that is being absorbed into your body.

Acetaldehyde's effects on the body can include nausea, sweating, headache, and increased
heart rate. Although it plays a part in hangovers, studies have shown no significant correlation of
acetaldehyde in the blood causes hangovers.

Other studies believe a hangover is caused by the congeners, other chemical compounds
in alcohol, in the drink. Each drink has a different level of congeners. It is believed that the more
congeners in alcohol the more likely you are to experience a hangover.

Methanol is found in small quantities in alcoholic drinks, making it non- problematic

compared to large quantities. The enzymes that break down alcohol are the same to break down
methanol; however the enzymes choose the alcohol first. This causes the methanol to hang
around in the body longer which can cause hangover effects. Ethanol is able to penetrate all cell
membranes which make every organ in the body flood with diluted ethanol. Because your body
has to fight off the ethanol all over it causes the hangover to last longer.

Some direct effects on ethanol include: Dehydration, Gastrointestinal disturbances, Low

blood sugar (hypoglycemia), sleep and biological rhythm disturbances, Immune-related factors.
Ethanol has many side effects that people associate with hangovers. Dehydration is the most
common response for what causes a hangover. Gastrointestinal disturbances is what cause
nausea and vomiting, and low blood sugar causes your body to crash.

Although there are many suggested causes for hangovers we still do not know fully
understand. We do know that mixing drinks causes worse symptoms and drinking water and
eating can help eliminate some side effects of alcohol. (Links to an external site.)Links to an

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