What Causes Hangovers?

You already know what causes hangovers… it is the digestion of alcohol. You take a sip of your favorite drink and swallow it. The liquid goes down your esophagus and enters your stomach. So far you are probably pretty safe unless you are drinking Everclear or 151 straight up, in which case there is a good chance you have already irritated your throat. Now the fun begins…

Gastronomical Distress

When the alcohol hits your stomach it immediately begins to irritate the stomach lining. Alcohol also causes your stomach to secrete something called hydrochloric acid. If you fill your belly with too much booze this acid will trigger a message to your brain that you are harming yourself. This message comes in the form of feeling nauseous. Although puking is never that fun, it might be in your best interest if you have been drinking heavy because there will be less alcohol in your system to process.


If you do keep the liquor down it eventually enters your bloodstream, which triggers your pituitary gland to stop the creation of a chemical called vasopressin. I’ll spare you from the biology lesson here, but in short this chemical tells your body it is time to start releasing fluid. This loss of fluid is also what causes hangovers. This is what us drinkers call “breaking the seal”. Most of the liquid you consume from this point forward goes directly to the bladder instead of getting absorbed into your body… leading to dehydration.

Brain Shrinkage

Your body will now try to protect itself. In fact, it will try to let you know that you are getting dehydrated, often times in the form of a dry mouth. Unfortunately these signals usually cause you to drink more alcohol (instead of water). Your internal organs will attempt to replenish themselves by stealing water from your organs (including your brain). When your brain is robbed of fluid it shrinks and pulls on membranes which connect to your skull. Hello headache!

Electrolyte Loss

As you continue to piss the night away (pun intended) salt and minerals are also lost.

Loss of Glycogen

Furthermore, your continued consumption of alcohol begins to turn your body’s supply of glycogen into glucose and sends it (along with salt and minerals) out of your body in your pee. This loss of electrolytes and glycogen is also what causes hangovers, subsequently limiting your energy reserves in the morning.

Reduction of Glutamine

If you have really tied one on you probably will not get restful sleep. When alcohol enters your bloodstream it reduces a protein called glutamine. However, once you stop drinking your body will try to compensate for this reduction in glutamine by producing more. The surplus of glutamine created from this yo-yo effect now over-stimulates your brain and messes with your REM sleep (severe glutamine rebound can even cause tremors, anxiety, restlessness, and increased blood pressure in some people).


To put it bluntly, if you feel poisoned in the morning it’s because you have basically just poisoned yourself. Congeners, acetaldehyde and (in some instances) histamine are also what causes hangovers.

There is some truth in the claim that what causes hangovers is what type of alcohol you drink. Red wines and dark liquors such as brandy, scotch, tequila, bourbon and whiskey contain the greatest amounts of congeners. White wines and clear liquors such as gin, vodka, and clear rum will have fewer congeners comparatively. As a result some people will find that they feel worse the next day from consuming dark colored alcohols compared to lighter colored alcohols. Want to learn more about what causes hangovers regarding different types of alcohol? Click here.

As mentioned above, when alcohol is finally broken down in your liver you are left with a toxin called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is actually more toxic than the alcohol you’ve consumed, so it is quickly attacked in your body by two compounds (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase & glutathione) working together to form acetate. If you only drank a small amount of alcohol you’ll be okay… but you probably would not have read this far if you are a tea toddler and unfortunately for you, your liver only has a limited amount of glutathione. So guess what? At this point you and your liver are now enemies. You can learn a little more about alcohol metabolism here.

Lastly, histamines (which are found in the skins of grapes) will increase the severity of hangover symptoms in some people (if they are sensitive to histamines). Red wine will affect a histamine-sensitive drinker more than white wine because red wine has spent more time in contact with grape skins.

And that my friend is what causes hangovers.

The Side Effects of Alcohol

There are many side effects of alcohol, some are good and some are bad. Drinking is fast acting. Alcohol is ingested so quickly by your body it is almost akin to injecting an I.V. into your arm… in other words alcohol goes straight into your blood so some effects are acute and some happen over time after chronic use. The most well known side effect is that alcohol can create a sense of euphoria (i.e. it makes you feel good).

Side Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant, so a person’s hesitation, inhibition, self-doubt and restraint are subdued while drinking (giving alcohol its alias “liquid courage”). Furthermore alcohol can initially stimulate the heart, adrenal and skeletal systems which can make you feel temporarily active and energetic. There are a lot of negative aspects to consider when tying one on. The second most well known side effect of liquor comes in the form of a hangover. The rest of this site covers this topic in length, and a summary of hangover symptoms can be found here.

Moving beyond the hangover, alcohol can lead to weight gain. Unfortunately alcohol is high in calories (only fat has more calories per gram). Also, drinking too much at once can cause you to pass out and lose consciousness. This is the result of alcohol poisoning. Here, breathing slows dramatically with cold skin and a blue complexion. Beyond this is the possibility of heart or lung trauma that can lead to death so over doing it is just plain stupid.

Furthermore, a number of illnesses and problems can occur with chronic alcohol use. Over time alcohol can raise your blood pressure and lower immune resistance, making it more likely for you to get sick.

The possibility of cancer increases with chronic alcohol use. This is most common in the upper part of the body (mouth, throat, etc.) but is not limited to any one of your organs. People who drink more than double their chance of skin cancer and female drinkers are more likely to get breast cancer than ladies who do not drink.

Then there’s the liver, of which alcohol has a huge impact. A healthy liver can process one drink each hour. Repeatedly exceed this rule and you could end up with liver issues like hepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer.

Becoming an alcoholic is a condition in which you cannot control how much, when or whether or not you drink. Alcoholism can take ten years off your life and increases your chances of the health problems we’ve already discussed.

If you continue uncontrolled revelry you might end up with bodily deficiencies, lack of appetite, impotence issues, stomach problems, poor memory and nerve damage. In short, enjoy yourself and be a responsible drinker and you can avoid a lot of the negative side effects of alcohol.

Home Remedies for Hangovers

Looking for home remedies for hangovers that go beyond the common wisdom of hydrating with water? Here are some home remedies that might help ease some of your symptoms:

Thyme has been purported to provide hangover relief. Make some thyme tea by boiling five or six thyme leaves over a burner for five minutes. Remove the leaves and sip the tea.

Home Remedies for Hangovers | Thyme
Thyme tea is good for hangovers.

If you are looking for something more organic to soothe your pounding head other than aspirin try willow bark. Willow bark is a natural aspirin substitute that can be taken as a capsule, powder or extract to help with pain relief.

Some party people still enjoy playing bartender the morning after. If you feel like whipping up a wholesome morning cocktail to ease your pain, try serving up one teaspoon sugar and two teaspoons fresh lime juice in a glass of water. It won’t give you back your buzz, but when drank slowly, this mix has been known to provide relief in some.

Ginger root has also been known to help people recover. Get some in your system by drinking ginger ale or making some ginger tea. To make ginger tea, simply boil a few slices of fresh ginger in four cups of water for ten minutes. Afterwards, strain the liquid and add the juice of one lemon and one orange to it. The orange juice is high in vitamin C, which helps hangovers as well. Honey is also a great addition to this tea because the high fructose content of honey helps break down any remaining alcohol in your body.

Home Re, edies for Hangovers | Ginger
Ginger tea also works for hangovers.

A couple of activities to partake in for your hangover are a warm bath to calm your mind and if you are up for it and have a willing partner… SEX! During sexual intercourse endorphins are released that will give you a little hangover break and a chance to work off some of last night’s liquor. If sex is not an option, any exercise you can do will also help push out toxins and get your circulation going.

Some other home remedies for hangovers that people swear by are:

Click on the above links to learn more about these four purported cures.

Whether you’re eating off your hangover or working it off, these home remedies are an au naturale way of trying to find some relief.

No Brainer Home Remedies for Hangovers

This probably goes without saying, but the best thing to do to try to get rid of a hangover is sleep. When you’re in a resting state, your body can focus on ridding itself of alcohol’s toxins instead of other activities. You’ll probably feel like doing this anyway, as your body may be weak. Consider taking a sick day over forcing yourself into work, unless you enjoy naps on your keyboard.

Beyond resting, there are many hangover tips out there regarding what to eat and drink. Focus on rehydrating your body with plenty of water and fresh fruit/vegetable juices. As mentioned above, the Vitamin C found in orange juice can be helpful. However, be aware that acidity and an upset stomach do not mix well. Drinks like Gatorade and Coconut water are an excellent way to restock the electrolytes lost after heavy drinking. Use dehydrating substances like caffeine in moderation (if at all) and try to stick to high mineral foods like canned fish or pickles (if you can stomach it).

Some look to drinking again in the morning as a hangover remedy. The tomato juice and celery in a Bloody Mary will provide some vitamins and having new alcohol in the system distracts the mind from the damage done. However, it is a morning-after fallacy that the “hair of the dog” is a home remedy for hangovers. On the contrary, not recommended at all since you are just prolonging the inevitable.

You can try taking a shower and alternating from cold water to hot, which has been known to help. Alka Seltzer is another thing people go to for hangover relief.

Meds may seem like a good option for killing the pain, but in reality many of their side effects are amplified when alcohol is in your system and are best avoided. For example, alcohol and aspirin are both blood thinners, so mixing the two is not a wise choice. Acetaminophen, aka Tylenol, can cause liver damage when mixed with liquor. Ibuprofen can be taken if necessary, but even with this drug you have the chance of stomach bleeding so it is best to steer clear of all synthetic pain killers if possible.

Hangover Symptoms

Depending on the amount of fun you had the night before, your hangover symptoms can vary in type and in magnitude. The number and scale of symptoms one suffers usually depends on how much they have had to drink the previous night. From just feeling a bit queasy… to feeling like you got hit by a truck… to not even being able to get out of bed… the experience is never fun.

Acute symptoms can include all, one or some of the following:

  • Nausea, Acid Reflux, and/or Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Fatigue, trouble concentrating, and/or anxiety
  • Trembling (the “shakes”)
  • Increased heart rate and/or increased blood pressure
  • Decreased visual-spatial skill performance
  • Severe cases: Alcohol poisoning and death

There are also chronic hangover symptoms associated with the physical effects of alcohol. And like any drug, alcohol use can cause unwanted side effects as well. Furthermore, just because the party is over there could still be a substantial risk to your health despite returning your blood alcohol level back to normal. If any of the underlying symptoms of a hangover are too severe you might require serious medical attention.

But you don’t need a list of symptoms to let you know what hangovers are and what is ailing you, use the links on the left to get some advice that will help you alleviate these conditions.

How to Prevent Hangovers

You want to know how to prevent hangovers? Let’s start with the simplest answer: don’t drink. That is really the only way that you can assure yourself you won’t have a hangover.

How to Prevent Hangovers

If you are going to drink think: hydration. One of the major contributors to hangover symptoms is dehydration. Remember that consuming alcohol makes you have to go to the bathroom because of the effects of vasopressin. Drinking water or an electrolyte drink (such as Gatorade or Pedialyte) before, during, and/or after drinking alcohol might help reduce the severity of your hangover.

This type of hydration tactic helps hangovers in a few ways, the most important one being that there is a chance that staying hydrated (by drinking an non-alcoholic drink in between alcoholic drinks) will impede the volume of alcohol you would otherwise consume if you were only drinking alcohol. If you are able drink an electrolyte drink, using this method will also aid in maintaining electrolyte levels.

Along this same rational, drinking beverages with less alcohol concentration can help curtail hangovers as well… less alcohol going in means less alcohol in your system to add to the severity of your hangover.

Avoiding alcohol known to be high in congeners will lend a hand in reducing symptoms too, so drinking clear alcohol (instead of red wine or the dark stuff) can limit the amount of congeners you consume. Also some red wines are high in histamines, so you could be getting a mild allergic reaction when you drink and not even know it. The best call if you are going to drink is to consume light beer.

Bananas Cure Hangovers

Can bananas cure hangovers, really? One thing is for sure, eating bananas is a tasty way to treat a hangover. Alcohol can suck the potassium right out of you, which makes you feel sick the next morning. By replenishing yourself with bananas, you are fortifying your diet with one of the best natural sources of potassium you could ever eat.

Bananas cure hangovers?

Bananas are also a good source of B6, a vitamin that can also help with hangovers. The fruit contains a lot of magnesium, which calms blood vessels and eases a throbbing head. Since bananas are also an antacid they help get rid of heartburn and upset stomachs, quite the multi-purpose fruit!

Have a banana or two before bed after a night of drinking and you may help your morning. If you wake up feeling crummy, try blending some bananas up to make a great tasting smoothie. You can even try boiling two banana peels in one cup of water, and drink the “banana tea” for soothing relief.

So it is not really true that bananas cure hangovers, but they do help… learn more about home remedies for hangovers here.

Rice Wine and its Effects on the Body

Rice wine is a traditional alcoholic beverage in many parts of Asia. It is produced by microbial fermentation of steamed rice with yeast and water. Different versions of this drink exist and they are locally known by different names; for instance: sake in Japan, makgeolli or takju in Korea and brem in Bali. Although rice wine has been introduced to many other countries through trade and globalization, research into its characteristics and health benefits is still predominantly conducted in the regions of its origin. Moreover, the results are not often published in international journals, which can make accurate knowledge about rice wine and its effects on the body less accessible.

Rice Wine and its Effects on the Body | Sake

Effects on the Body — The Good and the Bad

When compared to traditional wine (made from grapes or other fruits), as well as beer, wine made from rice contains more alcohol. Its alcohol content can be in the range of 18% to 25%. In comparison, regular wine usually contains 10% to 20% alcohol, where beer ranges 4% to 8% alcohol. Therefore, it is natural to assume that drinking too much of this wine — or any other alcoholic beverage for that matter — might not be beneficial for the body. Moreover, because of rice wine’s higher alcohol content, the familiar side effects of alcohol — such as nausea, blurry vision, lost balance, lost muscle control and a hangover — might be felt earlier than consuming a similar portion of drink with less alcohol content.

However, there are also many documented health benefits of drinking rice wine. Nutritional analysis of Korean makgeolli has shown that despite the alcohol rice wine is a highly nutritious beverage that contains an abundance of essential amino acids, sugars and organic acids, as well as vitamins and minerals (Yang & Eun, 2011). Since rice wine is a fermented product, it is not surprising that the drink also contains many strains of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which are often considered probiotic. A multidisciplinary group of researchers from Korea investigated 17 LABs that can be found in traditional Korean wine and assessed their probiotic potential. To be considered a ‘good’ probiotic, an organism needs to tolerate low stomach pH and bile acids, as well as be able to adhere to the intestines. Researchers identified one particular strain of LAB in rice wine that showed to be more resistant than others (Park et al., 2015). Their findings could potentially help the food industry produce higher quality beverages with true probiotic value.

Anti-cancer and Anti-bacterial Activity of Rice Wine

Scientists from the Korean Food Research Institute are also looking into the anti-cancer potential of makgeolli. They discovered that using dealcoholized rice wine could cause the death of gastric cancer cells in mice (AGS human gastric adenocarcinoma cells). Tumors in this study reduced in size and volume when animals were injected with a dosage of 500mg/kg of non-alcoholic makgeolli mixture for 7 weeks. This suggests that plant extracts used in the drink could have an anti-cancer effect, which needs to be examined further (Shin et al., 2015).

In China, research into the health benefits of rice wine also showed that this drink might have an antioxidant effect and help with the destruction of free radicals. Free radicals have previously been linked with the development of cancer and other health conditions. Moreover, scientists from the Jiangnan University suggested that polysaccharides found in Chinese rice wine could be connected with the beneficial activity of the immune system (Shen et al, 2014).

To add to the list of benefits, a research group from Taiwan showed that rice wine has an anti-bacterial effect, too. The group studied commercial rice wine extracts and observed antibacterial activity against gram-positive bacteria, such as such as Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus, and gram-negative bacteria, such as Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Chang, Jang, Lin, & Duan, 2016).

Rice wine has also been shown to help improve the skin’s protective function. Experiments conducted in Korea showed that rice wine may be a potential protectant from UV-induced skin aging. When fibroblasts (cells of connective tissue) were treated with rice wine, the expression of procollagen increased (Seo et al., 2009). In addition, rice wine has also been linked to better blood circulation and enhanced body metabolism. Citric and lactic acids in rice wine help with food digestion. When food is properly digested, nutrients are better sorted out and transferred to the right body organs. Studies of Japanese rice wine, sake, also showed that the beverage might have an anti-colic effect. When sake was given orally to mice, they developed a protection against colitis (inflammation of the inner lining of the colon). This healing action has been connected with a certain peptide that is found in rice wine (Kiyono et al., 2016).

Negative Effects of Rice Wine Even for Some Non-drinkers

Although rice wine is purported to have many recognizable health benefits, medical experts also warn that using rice wine as a home remedy can sometimes have a detrimental effect. For instance, doctors from Chicago reported a case of a Korean woman who was brought to the hospital with skin burns. After discharge, her family poured rice wine over her wounds and the dressing, hoping that the wine made from rice would speed up her recovery. As a result, the woman suffered from infection and had to be re-admitted. Her skin was so damaged it had to be removed (Jorge, Kowal-Vern, Poulakidas, & Latenser, 2012).

Although traditional home remedies can often have a therapeutic value, this example shows that generalizations can be dangerous. Health benefits of rice wine should not be taken out of the context of scientific research. Uninformed applications can sometimes have a harmful effect, as seen in this example. Furthermore, and perhaps most important, many medical professionals believe that any potential benefits from the consumption of various alcoholic beverages is not worth the risks that are associated with ingesting ethanol.

Sources & further reading:

Chang, T., Jang, H., Lin, W., & Duan, P. (2016). Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of commercial rice wine extracts of Taiwanese Allium fistulosum. Food Chemistry, 190724-729. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.06.019

Jorge, J., Kowal-Vern, A., Poulakidas, S. J., & Latenser, B. A. (2012). Rice wine intoxication in a nondrinker. Journal of Burn Care & Research, 33(6), e315. doi:10.1097/BCR.0b013e31824a57af

Kiyono, T., Wada, S., Ohta, R., Wada, E., Takagi, T., Naito, Y., & … Sato, K. (2016). Identification of pyroglutamyl peptides with anti-colitic activity in Japanese rice wine, sake, by oral administration in a mouse model. Journal of Functional Foods, 27612-621. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2016.10.014

Park, Y., Kim, M., Jung, D., Seo, D., Jung, J., Park, J., & … Park, C. (2015). Probiotic properties of lactic acid bacteria isolated from Korean rice wine Makgeolli. Food Science & Biotechnology, 24(5), 1761. doi:10.1007/s10068-015-0229-2

Seo, M., Chung, S., Choi, W., Seo, Y., Jung, S., Park, J., & … Park, C. (2009). Anti-aging effect of rice wine in cultured human fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering, 107266-271. doi:10.1016/j.jbiosc.2008.11.016

Shen, C., Mao, J., Chen, Y., Meng, X., & Ji, Z. (2015). Extraction optimization of polysaccharides from Chinese rice wine from the Shaoxing region and evaluation of its immunity activities. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 95(10), 1991-1996.

Shin, E., Kim, S., Kim, J., Ha, J., & Hwang, J. (2015). Dealcoholized Korean Rice Wine (Makgeolli) Exerts Potent Anti-Tumor Effect in AGS Human Gastric Adenocarcinoma Cells and Tumor Xenograft Mice. Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, 25(9), 1485-1492.

Yang, H., & Eun, J. (2011). Fermentation and sensory characteristics of Korean traditional fermented liquor (Makgeolli) added with citron (Citrus junos SIEB ex TANAKA) juice. Korean Journal of Food Science and Technology, 43(4), 438-445.

Types of Tequila

Types of Tequila

If you are a tequila drinker, you might wonder what types of tequila will give you a hangover? There are literally hundreds of tequila brands, and the quality of a given tequila actually depends on the type and brand. Tequila isn’t really meant to be shot. If you get the right tequila type, you should be able to sip it just like a good bourbon. However, for most party goers cheap tequila is often served in a shot glass, with some salt and a lime, to hide the taste.

Really good tequilas are made from the agave plant commonly referred to as blue agave, mezcal or maguey. There are two main types of Tequila: 1) 100% agave, which is made entirely of Blue Weber Agave — richer with bold flavors; and 2) mixtos. Rule of thumb, if “100% de Agave” is not on the label, it’s probably mixtos. Mixtos fermentation generally constitutes alcohol production from ~51% agave sugars (or more), with the rest coming from fructose and glucose sugar.

Tequilas can be classified further according to their aging process and bottled in five categories:

  • Blanco/Plata/White/Silver Tequila – This type of tequila is average variety and most likely what you can expect from a bar. It has been aged for 60 days or less and is bottled immediately after it has been distilled.
  • Joven/Gold Tequila – These are silver tequilas that are left to age with colorants and flavorings like sweet caramel, sugar syrup or glycerin. They have a smooth, subtle woody flavor and because of the flavorings, have a golden hue.
  • Reposado Tequila – These type of tequilas are more top shelf. They have a smooth, sweet and smoky taste and are richer and more complex than the taste of Blancos. They are aged in oak wood barrels for at least 2 to 12 months. As they age, their color becomes tan.
  • Anejo or Vintaged Tequila – This type of tequila has been aged in oak barrels for a period of one to two years. Anejo means vintage, it has a very dark amber color from the oak. This type of tequila is definitely not used for mixing. It is more sophisticated and more subtle than reposado tequilas.
  • Extra Anejo or ultra-aged tequila – These tequilas are aged more than three years in oak barrels. Batches must not contain more than 600 liters and are usually smaller than 200 liters. It is richer in flavor with hints of smoke, wood and caramel and a very dark color. These are the best tequilas you can get.

So which among the types of tequila actually gives the worst hangover? For one, if you plan on working the next day or you just want to drink a lot, you should look for types of tequila with 100% agave. It is believed that the use of cheap sugars in mixtos type tequilas lead to worse hangovers. Blancos are not aged and most likely would be a mixtos blend, and are well known anecdotally for giving the worst hangovers. Joven or the Gold tequilas aren’t much better. In fact, depending on the recipe they can be worse depending on the additives.

There are over 901 registered tequila brands with 128 producers registered (as of 2008). You are pretty safe with a Reposado, these are rested tequilas which usually means a 100% agave. If in doubt ask the waiter or waitress about the best types of tequila they have. The Anejo and Extra Anejo are always the way to go (if you can afford them) for several reasons: 1) You sip them, so you slow down alcohol consumption (the best accepted way for avoiding hangovers); 2) No need for sugary mixers which can negatively affect some people’s hangover; and 3) They most likely will be thoroughly distilled and filtered reducing congeners.

What are Congeners?

In alcoholic beverages there are impurities called congeners produced during fermentation, which are responsible for some of the taste, aroma, and color of what you drink. These impurities are not the sole cause of a hangover, yet they do seem to contribute in some manner to the severity. Not everything you drink is created equal when it comes to the concentration of these impurities. “Top Shelf” bottles generally contain fewer impurities than the type of booze you find in plastic bottles. This is because expensive liquor usually undergoes a more rigorous distillation process.

Darker colored drinks, such as whiskey, brandy, bourbon and red wine have higher concentrations than lighter drinks such as vodka, gin and white wine. In general, the fermentation and distillation processes determine the concentration in the end product. The problem with congenerics is that there are so many different types of them that not much research has been carried out to test what their exact effect is on intoxication and hangovers. However, what we do know is that for the most part our body does not like them.

Congener Levels in Different Types of Alcohol