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Ask your Pharmacist: The myths about alcohol and hangovers

Monday, 13th January, 2014 9:25am
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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

This is a continuation of my article in the last week’s Westmeath Examiner. Alcohol is safe if drank in moderation. In this article I only discuss the short term effects of alcohol. There are also many long term health dangers of heavy drinking. I will discuss these long term health effects including addiction in more detail in the Westmeath Examiner in 2014.

Is there a cure for hangovers?

There is no cure for a hangover. Apart from drinking in moderation (or not drinking) there is no guaranteed way of preventing one. Hangover cures are generally a myth. Dehydration is the main culprit; three times as much fluid is lost than is taken in while drinking alcohol because of the diuretic effect alcohol has on the kidneys; this is because alcohol inhibits a hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). The symptoms of a hangover can be reduced by rehydrating with water before going to bed. The best way to deal with “the morning after” symptoms is to rehydrate by drinking plenty of fluids. You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the stomach such as still or sparkling water and isotonic drinks. Water also helps dilute the leftover byproducts of alcohol in the stomach. Adding salt and sugar to water helps replace the sodium and glucose lost the night before. Many believe that fatty or fried foods the next morning will ease the symptoms; however this is more likely to irritate an already delicate stomach. Over the counter painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps. Sugary foods may help reduce trembling. An antacid may ease an upset stomach. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol so it takes alcohol longer to reach your blood stream, thus reducing the risk of becoming intoxicated and your hangover may not be as bad. Lining the stomach with a glass of milk before drinking may slow down the absorption of alcohol very slightly. Replenishing vitamins and minerals lost may help as alcohol robs our body of many vitamins and minerals. Some people believe that taking a supplement such a vitamin C or B complex supplement can help.

Why do hangovers get worse as we get older?

Many of us have heard people saying (or said it ourselves) that hangovers get worse as you hit your 30’s or 40’s compared to when you were in your early 20’s. Is this just our imagination? There is truth in this and there is a scientific explanation. Our body uses the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase (ALDH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ADH) to break down alcohol. As we get older, these enzymes reduce in efficiency meaning that it takes longer for the body to get rid of the toxic byproducts of alcohol such as acetaldehyde which leads to longer and more unpleasant hangovers.

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

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