Very few of us have never overindulged on a Saturday night, only to wake up in misery on Sunday morning. You probably are familiar with the symptoms of hangovers and possible ways to avoid them altogether, but if you do an internet search, you may end up with a great deal of misinformation, so-called “common knowledge.” Instead, we went to the medical professionals at a trusted source ― the Mayo Clinic.
So, the what, why and why not of hangovers. Depending on its severity, having a hangover can be similar to the flu. You may experience fatigue, weakness, head and muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, irritability . . . one, several, all or some combination of these symptoms are hallmarks of a hangover. And curiously, they don’t occur at the height of a drinking spree; instead, they usually emerge the following day, when your blood alcohol level is at or close to zero.
There are a host of reasons that alcohol can cause a hangover. Overproduction of urine equals dehydration; the immune system may decide your body’s under attack and respond via inflammation; an increase in stomach acid can cause pain, nausea or vomiting; expansion of blood vessels will bring on a splitting headache. Some of this is caused by congeners, which add flavour to many types of alcoholic beverages but can produce a hangover or make it more severe.
There are differences in the chances and severity of hangovers based on what you drink. On a happy note, if you’re a beer drinker, compared to shots, mixed drinks or wine, downing a six-pack is much less likely to leave you sick in the morning. One exception is what’s known as an IPA, a pale ale with a much higher alcohol and hops content.
What about wine? Its effect is somewhat dependent on its colour, with red wine the dubious winner of a hangover competition. There are several elements that contribute to this; the first, of course, is alcohol content. In the case of red wines, that would be between 12 to 15 percent, with white wines being slightly lower, at 10 to 14 percent. Another issue is histamines, which, as every allergy sufferer knows, can cause debilitating headaches and which are found in much higher levels in red wines. The last concern is tannins, which are capable of interfering with serotonin levels; your hangover might not actually be worse, but your mood will definitely suffer.
And rum, brandy, whisky and bourbon? We’ve already mentioned congeners, which are by-products of fermentation that provide that dark, rich colour and some of rum, brandy, whisky and bourbon’s flavour.
Don’t want to wake up wishing you didn’t have to? Besides practicing moderation, try sticking to light-coloured forms of alcohol like gin or vodka if you want to have a great Saturday night out with friends and still enjoy Sunday brunch. Gin is described as a “pure, clear spirit” . . . which makes it seem positively virtuous. However, it gets its flavour from juniper berries. Remember what we said about dehydration? A juniper berry is a diuretic so gin will make more trips to the men’s (or ladies’) room necessary, which will make you thirstier, which will make you drink more . . . and on and on.
And, of course, also in the light-coloured beverage department, there’s vodka. That coloration means it has fewer of those nasty congeners. In addition, the top-shelf varieties are comparatively unlikely to contain impurities that can amplify hangover symptoms. These include both grain- and potato-based vodkas. Since there’s less of a tendency to combine the more expensive vodkas (or really, any form of alcohol) with fruit juice or other mixers, taste becomes much more important. That being the case, those that arose from the humble potato to become a truly wonderful beverage, such as Nero Vodka and Chopin, are creamier and, to some, sweeter than their grain-based counterparts. Also, with all that flavour, savouring rather than swilling is the rule and if you’re trying to avoid a hangover, the latter is certainly preferable. All of this is interesting and, we hope, helpful. Of course, the emphasis when it comes to less severe (or, better yet, no) hangovers will always be first, on moderation, and second, quality as opposed to quantity. Keep those elements in mind, as well as the rest of this information, the next time you venture out with friends. And let’s toast to a great night and an even better morning! Salut!