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Ask your Pharmacist: The myths about alcohol and hangovers

Monday, 6th January, 2014 10:59am
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Ask your Pharmacist: The myths about alcohol and hangovers
Ask your Pharmacist: The myths about alcohol and hangovers

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to info@whelehans.ie

With Christmas and New Year’s party season well and truly underway I thought it would be a good time to discuss facts about alcohol and dispel some of the myths we have about alcohol. Alcohol is safe if drank in moderation. Alcohol releases endorphins in the brain which is why it makes us feel good (and why it is so addictive); it also affects the area of the brain that causes inhibition which is why it makes us talk more and feel more relaxed. In this article I only discuss the short term effects of drink. There are also many long term health dangers of heavy drinking. According to Dr Conor Farren, a consultant who deals with alcohol addiction in St Patrick’s hospital in Dublin, abuse of alcohol can cause 63 different diseases to our body. I will discuss these long term health effects including addiction in more detail in the Westmeath Examiner in 2014.

What causes a hangover?

The unpleasant symptoms experienced during a hangover are mainly caused by three factors.(1) The diuretic effect of alcohol that causes the drinker to pass more urine and thus become dehydrated. (2) The toxic effects of by-product of alcohol metabolism (acetaldehyde) (3) Depletion of vitamin A, vitamin C, the B vitamins (especially vitamin B6), magnesium, potassium and calcium. Co-geners are another cause of hangovers. These are impurities created during the fermentation of some types of alcohol. Low quality wines and dark drinks tend to have high levels of co-geners. A general rule of thumb is the darker your drink, the worse the hangover. Certain chemicals added to some drinks such as preservatives and sweeteners also make the hangover worse.

The symptoms of hangovers

Symptoms of hangovers can include some or all of the following class of symptoms:

Constitutional: Fatigue, weakness, and thirst. Pain: Headache and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal: Nausea, vomiting, and stomach ache. Sleep and Biological Rhythms: Decreased sleep including decreased deep sleep which means the sleep you do get does not leave you refreshed. Sensory: Dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound. Cognitive: Decreased attention and concentration. Mood: Depression, anxiety, and irritability. Sympathetic Hyperactivity: Tremor, sweating, and increased pulse and blood pressure.

How long will a hangover last?

Hangover symptoms usually begin within a few hours of the drinking session ending when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to fall. The symptoms usually peak at the time when the person’s BAC returns to zero. Hangover symptoms can last from a few hours to up to 24 hours. Some binge drinkers develop a tolerance for alcohol which means they do not get hangovers, however their performance at work or other areas of their life will be affected.

To be continued in next week’s Westmeath Examiner.

Happy Christmas and New Year to all Examiner readers from all at Whelehans Pharmacy, 38 Pearse St, Mullingar.

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