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Activated Charcoal & Hangovers

Activated charcoal is marketed as a way to cure hangovers. The idea is to digest enough carbon through supplementation that the compound will soak up metabolites and toxins from the blood. The problem is it doesn’t work.

activated charcoal tablets

Activated charcoal is a type of carbon that has been processed into a form with a very large surface area (for a molecule). Physically, it is a fine, black powder with no taste or odor. It has a high degree of “micro” porosity. It is usually made from coal (using high temperature treatment) and sometimes it is impregnated with chemicals to alter or enhance its absorption properties. In the scientific study Adsorption Equilibrium and Kinetics of Gasoline Vapors onto Carbon-Based Adsorbents researchers measured the adsorption kinetics of ethanol on pitch-based activated carbon fibers (ACFs) at different adsorption temperatures ranging from 27 to 60 °C. The mass uptake of ethanol adsorbed on ACF was measured using a thermogravimetric analyzer and the concentration range observed was 0.1 and 0.5 grams of ethanol to gram of ACF; in other words, the adsorption rate is mainly controlled by surface diffusion.







I know… you probably didn’t come to this website for a science lesson… but basically, in short… the absorption isotherms are a function of absorption, contact time, and competition or cooperative (enhancing) effects from other substances. There are also other exchange rates that need to be considered, like the reverse reaction for the association constants that define formation, etc., etc. If you don’t feel like clicking through to the research provided, the summary of findings is that it would take a LOT of this stuff to absorb liquids that only bind modestly (liquids like ethanol/alcohol).

In medicine, carbon is sometimes used to treat overdoses following oral ingestion of complex molecules (e.g. morphine, strychnine, etc.). Charcoal works here because these compounds bind much “tighter” than alcohol. A dose is usually given at 1 gram/kg of body weight (for medical applications 60-90 grams [1 pound = 453.59237 grams], ~1/8 of a pound).

Certain patents have made the claim that charcoal can have a positive effect in reducing the sting from a hangover. However the science used here is now considered obsolete. New research, such as Activated charcoal in oral ethanol absorption: lack of effect in humans (done on humans) reports no significant difference in alcohol absorption in those observed. In this study, six healthy young adults drank a dose of ethanol designed to give a peak concentration of 125 mg/dl (0.12%) on two different days after overnight fasting. Each individual drank the same amount on both occasions; but on one of these days, the subjects drank an aqueous slurry of 60 grams of super active charcoal prior to ethanol ingestion… 60 GRAMS!!! They compared the pharmacokinetic profile of ethanol with and without activated charcoal treatment. The fraction of ethanol absorbed was similar on both protocols. The mean peak ethanol concentration after pretreatment with activated charcoal was 8% greater than ethanol alone (p = 0.08).

A follow up study, Does alcohol absorb to activated charcoal? , was done because of interest in various dog studies. The researchers wanted to study whether charcoal is of value in a clinical situation. A randomized cross-over study in two phases was conducted where each dog drank 88 gram of alcohol and 30 minutes after either got 20 grams of charcoal or were given water to drink. The study concludes there were no significant differences in plasma alcohol concentrations with or without charcoal.

In a later study — The effect of “superactive” charcoal and magnesium citrate solution on blood ethanol concentrations and area under the curve in humans — eleven healthy males between 21 and 37 were enrolled into a non-randomized crossover study comparing super-active charcoal (SAC) given after alcohol consumption. After receiving 0.6 gm/kg of ethanol their blood was sampled. “Area under the curve” (AUC) was calculated and the highest ethanol level was recorded. After a minimum of 1-week washout, the volunteers ingested an identical ethanol dose, but in addition received 60 grams of SAC and 300 ml of 5.8% magnesium citrate solution between 1 and 3 hours post ingestion. It was concluded that super activate charcoal in the dose used was not effective.

Based on studies, activated charcoal does not work to cure hangovers in humans. Additionally, there is a significant lack of proof that activated carbon is effective in minimizing alcohol intoxication.

Avoiding Hangovers

Most of us don’t give thought to avoiding hangovers until we are waking up to a throbbing headache, feeling shaky and housing a mouth drier than the Sahara. It is only then that the two extra shots that went down at last call don’t seem worth it. Some of us will find ourselves awake happily drunk only to realize we are about to embark on a journey through hangover hell as the day creeps on. Well, if you get ready to party with a hangover escape plan, you just may be able to avoid some of your anguish.

For the average person having more than three drinks in a night exponentially increases your odds of a hangover. Likelihood of a hangover is also increased when you consume these drinks quickly. Thus the classic night of drinking games can be a huge hangover culprit. Trying to stay hangover free? Space out your drinks and try to incorporate a nonalcoholic drink after each drink you have.

Hydration: Rehydrating with water is an important part in avoiding hangovers, if not the most important. Liquor is a diuretic, causing you to urinate more often than usual. Alcohol is also very drying within the body causing you to release more fluids than you take in. Remember to drink water throughout the night.

Moderation: If you can find a way to limit yourself to one drink an hour you may be home free. It is important to keep in mind that a 40 oz. of malt liquor does not equate to a drink. A twelve-ounce can of beer, five ounces of wine or a cocktail made with 1.5 ounces of liquor equals one drink. Attempt to drink slowly and opt to sip your drink instead of chugging it. Make yourself weaker drinks and when it comes to shots, try to pass. Also avoid drinking out of a straw, which allows you to suck down drinks faster.

There are great moves to make before calling it a night after a night of libation. Try to drink two or three glasses of water and if your stomach is cool with it, have a small meal or snack before going to bed. Having food in your stomach will help give you the energy needed to metabolize the alcohol. Taking ibuprofen before hitting the hay may also help, but be careful as it may upset the stomach and is tough on the body. Avoid the drug acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol) when drinking, as mixing this drug with booze is dangerous for your liver. You may also feel better the next morning if you keep yourself up until you feel somewhat sober and then hit the sheets.

Some believe that coffee helps hangover woes, and caffeine does give you a boost of energy, but be careful of caffeine’s diuretic effect. Some believe that exercise is a cure, there is no proof to suggest this is true but it is a distraction from the pain if you can stomach the exercise. Relief comes when the alcohol you drank has been fully metabolized in the body and your internal organs have recovered from the damage that was caused.

Important note: people who party with a lot of booze and do not get hangovers should be concerned as this could be a sign of alcoholism and treatment may be needed.

In short, the key to avoiding hangovers is to create a game plan of moderation and hydration. Have no more than three cocktails in a day and no more than one drink an hour and you should be home free.

Acetaldehyde

Acetaldehyde is an organic chemical compound that is commonly associated with hangovers. It is naturally prevalent in our environment. It can be found in coffee, fruit and other organic substances. It is inhaled from the air you breathe (especially when second hand tobacco smoke is present), ingested from alcohol, consumed through the consumption of food, and produced in the human body during the metabolism of alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol gets metabolized into various metabolites through a multi-step process. The first step in metabolizing alcohol is the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde. This toxin is approximately 30 times more noxious than alcohol, and as such plays a central role in the toxic effects of alcohol. The liver does its best to convert this substance into acetic acid. Unfortunately, the liver quickly reaches a saturation point (after the consumption of just a few drinks)and this toxin begins to escape into the blood stream.

When in excess, it exerts its toxic effects by inhibiting mitochondrial function. This weakens the body’s ability to break it down to acetic acid and can ultimately end up causing you liver damage (including hepatitis and cirrhosis).

When it reaches the brain it can restrain enzymes designed to convert certain nerve transmitters from aldehydes to acids. In turn, the nerve transmitters that can build up due to a lack of this conversion form compounds which are remarkably similar to certain morphine-type substances. This has led researchers to believe that this build up might be one of the reasons that alcohol is so addictive.

Research also indicates that this organic chemical plays a significant role in the development of certain types of cancers and as such is currently classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The Physical Effects of Alcohol

The physical effects of alcohol can transform a person from a well-mannered citizen, to a fun loving extrovert, to a bumbling idiot or in the worst case to a downright menace to society. Just ten minutes after you start drinking, alcohol will begin to affect you physically. While the alcohol-induced journey usually begins with pleasant feelings and laughter, it can end very differently.

Let’s start with lowered inhibitions. Having a drink or two brings about euphoric feelings. You become more animated than usual and may find yourself stumble a bit (or oblivious that you’re stumbling at all). In this state you’re also more likely to participate in activities that you wouldn’t do normally.

A few more drinks and you’re likely to experience slurred speech and weak coordination from reduced muscle control. More drinks and your memory becomes hazy. This happens because alcohol lowers mental control mechanisms. As the alcohol content in your blood rises, long periods of time are forgotten and blacking out can occur.

At this point, a couple more drinks and you begin to feel sick. These sick feelings can come from the dizziness caused by a lack of balance. Nausea also occurs when the body starts to fight back and, for protection, tries to get rid of the alcohol by throwing up.

Headaches and hangovers begin to set in a few hours after heavy drinking ends. This is from the hydration loss that comes with drinking booze. Extreme amounts of alcohol (i.e. blood alcohol concentration of 0.40 and above) and you can go into a stupor. In this state, confusion is so high you cannot function. Even more liquor and the physical effects of alcohol include falling into a coma, having paralysis in the respiratory system or in the worst case… you cease to exist.

Hangover Remedies

When it comes to getting back in the game, there are many hangover remedies out there. Hydration is a key starting point in improving your hangover. Be sure to drink plenty of water to replace what was lost the night before. Replenishing lost electrolytes will also help you out. Drinks like Gatorade and coconut water are filled with electrolytes and are a great way to kick recovery and rehydration up a notch.

There are a number of over the counter drugs you can take for pain relief. Painkillers like ibuprofen will help ease your aches as long as you don’t over use them. Going overboard on pain killers can be taxing on your stomach and liver. Periodic use of Tylenol or Excedrin should be done with extreme caution — be sure to follow all instructions — as the acetaminophen found in these drugs can be tough on the liver and kidneys when used in excess. Casual use of over the counter medication, accompanied with plenty of water, is great for a quick fix.

Stomach aides like Alka-Seltzer and Tums will help mellow the extra acid you’ve got going on in your stomach. This extra stomach acid is one of the causes of nausea. These products are also a source of bicarbonates, which are some of the electrolytes you lose when dehydrated from alcohol. As both these medicines are a good way to get bicarbonates and settle the stomach, these hangover aides can provide some relief.

The above remedies can all be conveniently found at your nearest grocery/drug store. If you are looking for a more holistic approach, there are also many hangover remedies out there involving different foods, supplements and physical activity which can be read about here.

If all else fails, there are a couple of fringe remedies you could try. An old Irish remedy entails being buried up to your neck in river sand. Or you could try drinking pickle juice like the Polish do for their hangovers… on second thought, maybe just stick with hydration and rest.

What is Gastritis?

Gastritis is a nasty stomach ailment that usually stems from heavy drinking. When alcohol related, this condition occurs because the consumption of too much alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach. Frequent irritation of the stomach through continual drinking binges ends up eventually causing swelling of the stomach, ulceration and can even lead to internal bleeding. Gastrointestinal issues could develop as one, some or all of the following symptoms: pain, burning, vomiting, gas, bloating and little desire to eat.

A social drinker is not likely to suffer from this, though some medications like ibuprofen and aspirin can help cause it (so you should heed caution when using these pain killers to relieve hangover symptoms). If you have succumbed to any of these symptoms because of drinking, the only true cure is to cut booze out completely. If a person drinks a lot and has stomach issues then they could be suffering from this condition. Even though some or all of these problems will clear up once they quit drinking (and the stomach walls will heal over time) it would still behoove this person to see a doctor.

If the need to stop drinking cannot be met, poor health will persist and support for substance abuse may be needed.

If you are worried about Gastritis, you can learn more about it via WebMD by clicking here.

Why does alcohol cause dehydration?

At the bar you are taking in a lot of fluid but dehydration still occurs and the inside of your body feels parched… so what gives? Alcohol is a diuretic so it triggers your body to release fluid and causes you to urinate more. In short, alcohol dries everything up — it sucks up fluids from whatever tissues or membranes it touches.

Your body also has to use fluids to flush alcohol out of the body because alcohol is so toxic. It depletes vitamins and minerals in the body (like potassium) which leaves you feeling thirsty, dizzy and faint. The body has a defense system to prevent you from desiccation but drinking alcohol shuts this system down. Alcohol even reduces the fluid in your brain cells, which leads to headaches.

Many times, you confuse your simple need for water with wanting another drink, which further creates problems. The best way to combat this effect of alcohol is to start out with a glass of water (before you start drinking) and continue with another glass of water per each glass of liquor that you consume. End a night of drinking with a few more glasses and you most likely will feel better in the morning than you would have otherwise.

If you are worried about dehydration, you can learn more about it via WebMD by clicking here.

Getting Rid of a Hangover

Is there anything that can be done about getting rid of a hangover? There are many steps you can take to relieve yourself of unwanted hangover symptoms. Exploring what happens to the body after a lot of drinking has shown that although hangover relief can be attained, there is no true way to get rid of a hangover completely. Have no fear though; this is not a hangover death sentence. There are plenty of preventive tips and hangover remedies out there. Nevertheless, for the sake of full disclosure, the only thing that will truly absolve a hangover once you have one is time.

Some experts view a hangover as subtle withdrawal symptoms that happen when a person stops drinking alcohol. This explains why the morning after can be rough. Time has gone by since the last drink and your body is yearning for more alcohol. You can imagine that there is really no cure for this as drinking more alcohol simply prolongs the inevitable: a hangover even worse on the horizon.

There are other incurable after-effects of alcohol that must be waited out. Your liver turns alcohol into the substance acetaldehyde, which causes many symptoms similar to a hangover. Although the acetaldehyde is out of your system once you’ve sobered up, the aftermath leaves you feeling ill. Furthermore, the effects of congeners in your system also contribute to your hangover. Unfortunately, there is no cure in existence to rid the body of either of these two toxic substances (other than the time it takes for them to exit the system) at which point getting rid of a hangover is just a matter of waiting it out.

Beyond this, a few of the ailments that are caused by too much alcohol can be mitigated. Thinking ahead by eating before you party and incorporating as much water as possible into the night will dilute a lot of what will cause you problems later. As a last resort, greasy food, ibuprofen and electrolyte-enhanced beverages can be helpful aides during the morning after.

Drinking smart, hydrating and sticking within your limits is the safest way to avoid a hangover. If that isn’t possible, then the next best thing may be to go back to bed and simply wait it out.

What drinks cause hangovers?

If you are wondering what drinks cause hangovers, we are sorry to report there’s no magical type of alcohol that will leave you hangover free. Drinking too much alcohol, no matter what kind, will probably make you ill the next morning. On the brighter side, it’s nice to know that some types of alcohol will cause less severe hangovers than others.

Congener Levels in Different Types of Alcohol

There are many reasons why some drinks make you sicker than others. Usually you get what you pay for, and this holds true with less expensive booze. Cheaper alcohols are rarely made as well (or filtered as well) as top shelf brands and that can add to your hangover. Even more important is the amount of congeners in a type of alcohol. Congeners are found in greater concentration in darker liquors and seem to play a huge part in how severe your hangover is going to be.

A study done in Britain discussing what drinks cause hangovers has brandy and red wine at the top of their list for causing the worst hangovers. Last on their list is vodka, causing the fewest symptoms. So it is not just the heavy stuff… different types of wine make for varying types of hangovers. Believe it or not, in some cases wine from countries with a bad weather season can cause a worse hangover. Cheap red wines are infamous for giving people headaches and the “red wine headache” is an ailment that effects certain people no matter where a wine is from (or its price) due to an allergic reaction to histamine.

So what drinks cause hangovers? All of them! There’s no “get out of hangover free” card, but by becoming aware of some of the worst hangover culprits you may be able to ease some future pain.

Tips: Hangover

Need some good advice and tips to get hangover recovery going in the right direction? Here are some of our tried and true hangover tips to help you get back on your feet:

  • Eat before you drink. Nothing fuels a hangover more than drinking on an empty stomach. Having a substantial snack or light meal prior to drinking will start you off on the right foot in hangover prevention.
  • Keep a proper mindset. Going into the night with the intent to get drunk practically guarantees a hangover. Begin the night with the intention to drink responsibly and you’re less likely to go crazy with the drinks.
  • Substitute nonalcoholic drinks in between alcoholic ones. Alternating between water and alcoholic drinks will help you stay hydrated and will lower your chances of consuming too much liquor.
  • Rehydrate. After a night of drinking you’re left dehydrated, which makes for some painful hangover symptoms. Replenish fluids with plenty of water, fresh juices and electrolyte packed drinks like Gatorade or Coconut Water.
  • Rest up. Your body will need a break to prompt a swift recovery. Being that alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, it is also likely that you’ll be in need of some extra rest. Stay in bed until you start to feel better.
  • Seek over the counter relief. Drugs like Ibuprofen are a quick pain fix when used as instructed. Be sure not to over use these pain relievers as excessive use can be damaging to the stomach, liver and kidneys. Also try a little Alka-Seltzer. This drug store cure will help lower stomach acid and relieve nausea.
  • You can eat a greasy meal if you are feeling queasy. The fatty acids in greasy foods will coat your stomach and could provide relief. Watch out for spicy foods however as these could have the opposite effect.
  • Work it out. If you have the energy to get moving, a little exercise has been known to keep hangovers at bay. Physical activity may also distract you from your hangover symptoms until you start to feel better.

If you have any tips for hangovers not included in this list, please leave them in the comments section below.