Bear with a sore head? A hangover is our body’s way of telling us it needs some repair work. But what causes hangovers and how can we avoid them?

Many of us will recognise feeling a little worse for wear after a party or celebration that involved too many drinks. Hangovers vary from person to person but are typically caused by imbalances in our electrolyte and fluid levels.

Alcohol has a diuretic effect leading to changes in our osmotic balance (i.e. transfer of liquids) that’s made worse due the build-up of by-products as our body processes alcohol. As fluid and electrolytes become more unbalanced, our bodies find it harder to function.

– why can it cause such crushing hangovers?

The bad hangover we can experience after drinking wine is caused by a number of naturally occurring compounds that form during the fermentation process. These include:

Tannins (found in red wine)
These provide the deep colour found in red wines but are also known to cause migraines and headaches.

Tyramine can cause our blood vessels to restrict, which in turn increases our blood pressure. For some of us this can lead to headaches.

Histamines can trigger an inflammatory or allergic reaction in our bodies. They’re particularly high in red wine and are known to trigger headaches and to impair sleep.

Adding sulphur dioxide to wine prevents the growth of bacteria and helps stabilise the drink. This process produces sulphites. These can increase your risk of allergic or asthmatic-like symptoms.

– the morning after

Your body takes a certain amount of time to process any alcohol you drink. A healthy liver takes one hour to process one unit of alcohol (a single 25ml shot of 40% spirits or a small glass of 12% wine). But a damaged liver may take much longer to process the same amount of alcohol. If you drank a substantial amount the night before, you may still be under the influence of alcohol ‘the morning after’.

Food and water may help to ease the symptoms of a hangover but showers, greasy fry-ups and coffee can’t sober you up. The only thing that will is time.

Tips for avoiding hangovers

Line your stomach
A full stomach can help slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your blood stream. This can give your body a better chance of dealing with the increasing level of the by-products of metabolism.

Drink plenty of water
Alternating between alcoholic drinks and water can help control the amount of alcohol you consume, whilst counter-balancing alcohol’s diuretic effect.

Try not to exceed daily unit limits
Drinking more than the recommended daily limits increases stress placed on our livers.  This reduces our body’s efficiency at removing those nasty by-products of metabolizing alcohol.

Choose light over dark
Clearer drinks such as vodka and gin go through a distillation process that removes many of the impurities linked to hangovers.

Avoid sugary mixers
Sugar can hide the taste of alcohol encouraging us to consume more. Alcohol on its own can heighten emotional reactions and we are likely to experience mood swings when alcohol is coupled with sugary mixers. What’s more, since alcohol depresses your central nervous system, your body will be less able to deal with any increasing sugar levels. The result of this is that you’re likely to suffer from hypoglycemic side-effects, which will heighten any hangover.

Say no to salt
Salt-laced cocktails will make you thirsty and so encourage you to drink more as you try to quench your thirst.

next...Tips for cutting down