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:
  • Magnesium Need
  • Liver Congestion
  • Lack Of Sleep
  • Vitamin B1 Need
  • Dehydration

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:
occasional confusion/disorientation
frequent sleep paralysis
indoor allergies
having a CFS diagnosis
occasional runny nose
much recent breastfeeding
anal itching
frequent unexplained nausea
dry eyes
mild diesel exhaust exposure
fatty food intolerance
... 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
Lack Of Sleep 92% Confirm
Liver Congestion 20% Unlikely
Dehydration 3% Ruled out
Vitamin B1 Need 2% Ruled out
Magnesium Need 0% 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:

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.

Vitamin B1 Requirement

A deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) makes it harder for your body to break down alcohol.  Interestingly, beer contains a good amount of thiamine, but as vitamin B1 oxidizes the alcohol out of the blood in the liver, thiamine is used up and must be replaced.

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