There are scientists dedicated for decades to studying hangovers: what thousands of binge drinking (analyzed) have ended after

Headache, pasty mouth, bad mood, nausea ... hangover is that evil that grips humanity, an epidemic associated with the holidays, whether to save or not. But what do we really know about her?

Even though a hangover costs millions worldwide, it is still one of the most "mysterious" ills. The world belongs to the bold, the saying goes. So some scientists have spent years dealing with the murky face of alcohol after a night of revelry. This is what they have made clear.

What causes hangover?

Hundreds of people will give you a lot of explanations about the causes of your hangover: what if dehydration, what if you mix it, what if sugar ... and they are probably wrong. The truth is that today we are not entirely clear what causes hangover.

After more than a decade of studies, the Alcohol Hangover Research Group (AHRG), one of the largest groups of researchers (of diverse affiliation) related to the study of hangover, has concluded that hangover is related to the response of the immune system.

Summarizing his studies very much, the immune system reacts to a series of substances called congeners. These arise from the distillation process, as secondary products: polyphenols, methanol, acetaldehyde or histamine, all components with biological activity. The congeners are more abundant, for example, in dark drinks than in white ones.

The results indicate that these could be the main culprits of the discomfort, since they activate the immune system triggering (very roughly) some processes similar to those that occur during a viral infection such as the flu. This would explain the process of discomfort, nausea, headache and other associated pain.

Still, according to the AHRG consensus, much remains to be investigated. It is necessary to understand the exact biomarkers produced by alcohol consumption. In this way we can know more exactly what it does in our body. Since we still don't fully understand it, as much as some may think so, we still have many doubts about what causes a hangover.

Hangover and its unforeseen consequences

What causes a hangover? We do not want to enter the symptoms that almost all people know: headache, clumsiness, desire to vomit ... no. When we talk about what causes a hangover we mean on a scientific level. After so many years investigating, some more results must have been obtained, right?

The truth is that yes. According to this systematic analysis that analyzes a large part of the scientific literature since 2016, alcohol has a long-term cognitive effect. That is, alcohol not only affects us at the level of attention, reaction capacity, etc., at an immediate level, while we are drunk or even during the subsequent hangover.

The study shows that the cognitive problem persists in the long term, and it gets worse and worse. Inaccuracy in acquiring long-term memories, responsiveness, and attention are affected over time. This, according to a study by the Society for the Study of Addiction, involves a series of unpredictable costs, which add to the million-dollar losses due to lack of work and accidents. Specifically, the study concludes that hangovers pose a significant attention deficit in daily tasks, such as driving or working, which, they estimate, can have serious consequences.

This is another of the big questions that can only be solved with decades of study. What socio-economic implications does hangover have for society? To get an idea, in the United States, researchers estimated in 2010 that the annual cost of ethyl binges (or binge drinking) amounted to $ 249 billion annually.

In South Korea, in 2006, alcohol and hangover costs among teens alone reached $ 343,429 million, with a strong impact on production and the cost of premature deaths. In Spain alone, alcohol produces more than 8,000 deaths a year and represents some 5.7 billion euros (estimated). In short, a hangover has a much, much higher cost than we can think from the sofa, on a Sunday morning.

How is a hangover 'solved'?

At the end of last year, the Canadian journalist Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall published a book with an impressive title: "Hangovers, the search for a man for a cure." In it he claims to have spent 10 years looking for the definitive solution to this evil. He did not find it, although he assures that frankincense, or olibanum, is the best of the remedies. Another thing he claims is that a hangover has to be treated ahead of time, and not afterwards.

In any case, it should be noted that this man is a journalist, and not an investigator. What he discloses in his books may well be real or simple fruit of the desire to sell. And it is that, if we know almost nothing about the causes of the hangover, it goes without saying that we know even less about the possible solutions. Yes, we can say that it cannot be eliminated, but palliate or prevent it.

For example, the best advice we can follow is not to drink. If this does not work for us, we had better avoid dark drinks and, of course, mix to avoid the maximum quantity and diversity of congeners. If Bishop-Stall was right about anything, it's that you have to act before and not during the hangover.

Thus, prostaglandin-inhibiting foods have been shown to be able to alleviate part of the symptoms, thanks to their modulation of the immune system, although always taken before drinking alcohol and with a medium-term view, and not directly. On the other hand, taking wonderful remedies doesn't work, just like vitamin B12 doesn't. It is also useless to continue drinking, a myth that is also widespread, since what is needed is to reduce toxic levels of alcohol.

It may help us a lot to drink water, the solution par excellence, but not due to dehydration, another of the great myths of hangovers. Alcohol, although a natural dehydrator and diuretic produces considerable fluid loss, is not related to dehydration markers in the human body, as has been observed on more than one occasion.

Another palliative option is to feed us very, very carefully. Yogurts and fruit will greatly help an upset stomach, while containing beneficial substances for the body that will help in the long run.In any case, we insist that, as much as science has tried to find evidence, we have not yet managed to find a satisfactory solution, so the only thing we can make it work 100% safe against discomfort, as we said, is not to drink.

Image | Unsplash

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