Why We Get Hangovers and How Eating Can Help (Plus Recipes)
Many of us enjoy a summer cocktail or two, sharing a bottle of wine over dinner, a few beers while watching the game. No one — at least no one I know — enjoys the hangover that often follows. But what is causing all those miserable symptoms the morning after? Why, exactly, do we get hangovers? And what, if anything, can you do about them?
The Atlantic magazine recently published an interview with Richard Stephens, a psychology professor at Keele University in the U.K. and a member of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, a group of scientists who study hangovers that convened this past weekend. He offered some insight that may prove useful before you head out to those Fourth of July barbecues and wake up the next day with fireworks going off in your head.
The Cause: Richard says it has a lot to do with how our bodies metabolize alcohol. The first thing in alcohol that our bodies break down into metabolites is the ethanol, which helps us feel sober again. But after the ethanol has been metabolized, the body pivots to cope with other compounds in alcoholic drinks, like methanol. As our bodies metabolize methanol, it turns into formaldehyde and formic acid. These are the toxins that make us feel sick. Richard says they "sort of poison you a little bit." This happens about 10 hours after we drink alcohol — for many of us, right about the time we rouse ourselves after trying to sleep it off. And you know that "puffy feeling" you get the next day? Richard says that may be an immune response to alcohol.
The Cures: Startlingly, Richard says there's actually some scientific basis for that "hair of the dog that bit you" thing. Because your body breaks down ethanol before methanol, and it's the latter that produces hangover symptoms, drinking another alcoholic beverage may alleviate those symptoms. Another drink causes your body to turn its attention away from the toxin-producing process of metabolizing methanol in order to return to the relatively benign process of metabolizing ethanol. Of course, the delay is only temporary. And, Richard warns, this may be a reason why "hangover might be a risk factor for alcoholism."
Anti-inflammatory drugs — like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve) and aspirin — have been found to reduce hangover symptoms, which may have something to do with the immunosuppression aspect of hangovers. But the most-effective hangover cures may be those that boost our blood sugar levels, like "a big fried breakfast — fried eggs, sausages, baked beans, and all the rest," Richard told The Atlantic, adding that all those carbs "will restore depleted sugar levels."
Recipes for Recovery: So it sounds like we should all keep a few breakfast recipes on hand to aid our recovery in case we overindulge. Some suggestions:
Baked Beans: So many ways to make baked beans, so little time. You can make Ree Drummond's Perfect Baked Beans to serve at your Fourth of July picnic — and then eat them to recover the next day. A total twofer!