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Alcohol, Hangovers, & Science

This topic is bittersweet to me (no pun intended); for one I’m a trainer and secondly I haven’t drink much in the last 4 years since graduating from college. However, I do realize the cliche advice: abstain from drinking or only one drink per week has not worked well for many people. So I thought I would at least inform you on how to drink responsibly!

When we hear the words “drink responsibly,” we typically think of not having too much to drink or to chase your glass of wine, beer, or liquor with a glass of water. But, what typically ensues anyway is a hangover or waking up the next morning feeling restless, unmotivated, and for some full of regret. The truth is it goes much deeper than just dehydration. Before you learn how to drink responsibly let’s dive into some science looking at what alcohol does to your body.

Let’s start with the brain…

When you consume alcohol it plays on the pituitary gland of your brain causing you to produce less antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which explains if you’ve ever been out at the bar or club why there is a never ending line to use the potty. The downside to this is once your “buzz” has ended ADH spikes (rebound effect) leading to an increase in fluid retention causing things like swollen hands and feet, puffiness in the face and headaches from an increase blood pressure. In conjunction with that your kidneys will pump out more of a hormone called aldosterone and an enzyme called renin leading to an increase of another hormone called vasopressin meaning sodium is being retained while potassium is being pumped out causing an electrolyte imbalance and an increase in blood pressure. (Side Note: Those with cardiovascular problems are more prone to heart attacks when hung over due to this process)

Oh almost forgot about cortisol!

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs you know a thing or five about cortisol. In this situation though abnormal cortisol levels affect us in two ways:

  1. It works with w/ aldosterone to maintain electrolyte levels. When you drink alcohol electrolyte levels are not balanced due to the loss of potassium mentioned previously.

  2. Your blood sugar levels increase due to abnormal cortisol levels by converting your muscle tissue into glucose (gluconeogenesis) causing a spike in insulin levels adding stress to both the liver and pancreas. If you’re fairly lean and metabolically efficient you’ll most likely be able to recover without much difficulty. But, those who aren’t lean or metabolically efficient your wasting your precious muscle tissue (body’s fat burning machinery) and setting yourself up for a nice spare tire around your waist and plethora of other issues.

Before moving on, let's talk about sleep.

Alcohol is metabolized by the brain which is why you get a “buzz.” Depending on how much you drink it also causes you to not remember much and you will most likely wake up restless with brain fog. Alcohol has been shown to increase sleep latency (ability to fall asleep quickly) which is why those who are “tired and wired” tend to turn to wine before bed, but the downside is that it’ll cause you to not be able to enter into normal REM and NREM sleep cycles which is why you can wake up with not much memory of what happened and also feel like you got hit by a bus. The main reason behind this has to do with a compound called adenosine that builds up in our system throughout the day. Once a certain level is detected by the nervous system it sends a signal to our brain that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Caffeine has the ability to block these receptors hence why we get a charge and remain alert when we consume caffeine. Alcohol has the ability to produce adenosine artificially causing you to fall asleep much faster hitting the first stage of sleep, but a rebound effect (due sleep homeostasis) takes place here as well, as the body attempts to clean up production of adenosine causing you to not be able to fall into your normal REM and NREM cycles.

The L I V E R...

As alcohol is metabolized by the liver, ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde & acetate causing the increase of thromboxanes (blood vessel constrictors). This leads to things like blood platelets to stick (clots) and a decrease in your natural killer cells causing symptoms similar to viral infections (nausea, headaches, and diarrhea). Not to mention the high amounts of sugar that most drinks have the liver must process and if you’re already insulin resistant (due to consumption of high amounts of processed sugar and or chronic stress) the liver becomes even more stressed and overworked potentially leading to fatty liver disease as the liver becomes incapable of carrying out its normal processes. With that there’s another potent compound called...


Most alcohol beverages contain congeners (Dark Tequila, red wine, bourbon have some of the highest amounts) which play a significant role in the hangover symptoms you experience. Congeners contain free radicals which are positively charged molecules that impact the body’s acid-alkaline (pH) balance, and also causes damage to organs especially the thyroid and adrenal glands. As the body goes into survival mode to fight off these congeners you’ll get gastrointestinal issues (poppy pants, gassy ass, etc), nausea, headaches, sweatiness, or chills.

How do you drink responsibly?

  1. Replace wine before bed with smart supplements: Opt for teas (lemon balm or chamomile), Kava Kava, or Valerian, or 300-400 mg of Magnesium Chelate 1 hour before bed

  2. Stop drinking at least 3 hours before bed and have some fat and protein before going to sleep.

  3. Opt for clear liquor; add lime or lemon juice to blunt insulin release; add soda water (carbon dioxide bubbles act as a nonpolar solvent which helps extract alcohol from the drink and deliver it to your system faster)

  4. Add Electrolytes: instead of just drinking loads of water while your drinking or after, due to the loss of potassium from alcohol consumption add in an electrolyte tablet to your water or soda water (Nuuns or GU Brew)

What to do if you wake up with a hangover?

  1. Take 1-2 grams of curcumin or 1 cup golden milk (headache)

  2. Drink a cup of organic or homemade bone broth, fresh ginger tea, or add gelatin in hot, cold, or coconut water, or a smoothie (stomach ache)

If this article brought you any value please leave a comment/share with a friend.

Thank You!

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