Susceptibility To Hangovers

What Causes Hangovers?

Hangovers can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'very minor' to 'needs attention'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose hangovers, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "hangovers" as a symptom.  Here are five possibilities:
  • Dehydration
  • Magnesium Need
  • Vitamin B1 Need
  • Lack Of Sleep
  • Liver Congestion

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
cigarette smoke sensitivity
regular postprandial somnolence
occasional confusion/disorientation
discontinued non-human estrogen use
much recent breastfeeding
diminished perspiration
moderate alcohol consumption
frequent 'chills'
undigested fat in stools
occasional nightmares
bags under eyes
having trouble concentrating
... and more than 90 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of hangovers:
Cause Probability Status
Magnesium Need 93% Confirm
Lack Of Sleep 28% Unlikely
Vitamin B1 Need 5% Ruled out
Liver Congestion 2% Ruled out
Dehydration 2% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

If you indicate alcohol consumption, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
When you get hangovers from drinking alcohol, how severe are they generally?
Possible responses:
→ Not applicable / don't know
→ Very mild - almost nothing
→ Usually mild, sometimes quite bad
→ Usually quite bad, sometimes awful
→ Awful - I'm a complete wreck
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate mild hangovers, moderate hangovers or severe hangovers, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:
Dehydration

The most obvious source of headaches due to hangovers is dehydration caused when alcohol suppresses anti-diuretic hormone.  This hormone normally orders the body to conserve water, but alcohol dulls the command, causing people to lose far more water to urination than they take in with the alcohol.

The body reacts to the open floodgates by borrowing water from other organs, such as the brain.  As a result, the brain shrinks.  While that may not cause pain by itself, the brain has a covering called the dura that is connected to the skull by pain-sensitive filaments.  Deformation of the dura can cause the headaches that come with a hangover.

Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep increases susceptibility to hangovers.

Liver Detoxification / Support Requirement

Acetaldehyde is a toxic substance produced in the body from alcohol and is one of the impurities found in cheap wine and 'moonshine' spirits.  Some researchers believe that an acetaldehyde buildup is the cause of hangovers.  If the liver's detoxification pathways are impaired, aldehydes can, instead of being converted to the next intermediate product, build up to harmful levels and cause damage since they are often more toxic than the original substances from which they are derived.

It is probably the metabolism of methanol to formaldehyde and formic acid that causes hangover symptoms.  Quick methanol metabolizers suffer more.  This is reinforced by the fact that the types of drinks associated with more severe hangovers contain higher levels of methanol. [Hangovers: Not The Ethanol, Perhaps The Methanol, British Medical Journal, January 4, 1997;14: pp.2-3]

All types of alcoholic drinks contain some methanol, a substance blamed for the worst hangovers.  Whiskey, cheap red wine, fruit brandy and other dark spirits contain the most methanol, sometimes as much as 2% by volume.  Vodka and other clear drinks contain the least.  In the liver, methanol takes 10 times longer than ethanol to break down.

Magnesium Requirement

It is possible that some of the hangover symptoms related to alcohol are in part due to magnesium depletion.

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