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.