A hangover is probably the most common side effect associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Although this unpleasant condition is often thought to be caused by dehydration, it is actually a much more complex phenomenon that involves inflammatory processes that ultimately damage the heart.
The “hangover”, known in medicine as “veisalgia”, affects at least once a year 75% of people who consume alcohol, 15% of drinkers even go so far as to experience this condition once per month. Veisalgia usually begins six to eight hours after the end of alcohol consumption, that is to say when the level of alcohol in the blood decreases, and reaches a maximum when the last traces of alcohol are eliminated Traffic. Symptoms of veisalgia can vary from person to person. It is not uncommon for these discomforts to persist for more than 24 hours after the end of the festivities.
Dry mouth: this impression of “hangover”
Excessive alcohol consumption causes metabolic acidosis (reduction in blood pH due to increased lactate and free fatty acids) as well as several changes in the levels of hormones involved in the control of body fluid volume. The combination of these factors leads to a state of dehydration characterized by a dry mouth (hence the expression “hangover”!) and a more pronounced thirst than normal. However, several factors can cause similar dehydration without causing the discomforts associated with veisalgia. It is therefore probable that other mechanisms are at work in the development of this phenomenon.
Alcohol abuse leads to an inflammatory reaction
Alcohol causes an increase in several inflammatory molecules (interleukin-12, interferon gamma, prostaglandins, etc.) and studies have shown that the severity of veisalgia is correlated with blood levels of certain markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein. The factors responsible for this inflammatory effect could be due to the alcohol itself as well as to the presence of “impurities” called “congeners” in alcoholic beverages. These congeners (amines, amides, histamine, polyphenols) are produced during the fermentation process and are largely responsible for the undesirable effects of these drinks.
Some liquors worse than others
It is well established that drinks with the most congeners (whisky, cognac, tequila, red wine) cause greater veisalgia than drinks with fewer additives, such as vodka and gin. For example, one study reported that 33% of volunteers who consumed a significant amount of whiskey (1.5 g/kg) developed veisalgia, compared to only 3% of those who consumed the same amount of alcohol in the form of vodka.
Rise in diseases of heart
When it occurs only occasionally, a hangover is an unpleasant state, but one that does not lead to major health consequences. On the other hand, studies have shown that when they occur repeatedly, these veisalgias are correlated with an increase in mortality due to heart disease, an effect likely related to the pro-inflammatory effect caused by the abuse of ‘alcohol. Another good iteration of the benefits of drinking moderately!
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Prat et al. Alcohol hangover: a critical review of explanatory factors. Human Psychopharm, 2009;24:259-67.
Kauhanen et al. Frequent hangovers and cardiovascular mortality in middle-aged men. Epidemiology;8:310-14.