The Hangover Hypothesis

With festival season well and truly upon us, the cider is flowing – and the hangovers demons are gearing up for another busy summer!

A greasy fry up? Hair of the dog? Or Irn Bru from a glass bottle?

There’s a multitude of methods for tackling that sair heid the morning after. But what’s the surest way of checking out of Hangover Hotel?  And why do we get hangovers in the first place? Does science hold the answer?

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The truth is, there’s a lot that scientists still don’t understand about hangovers.  Dr Joris Verster of Utrecht University remarks: “This lack of scientific interest is remarkable, since almost everybody is familiar with the unpleasant hangover effects that may arise the day after an evening of excessive drinking, and with the ways these symptoms may affect performance of planned activities”.

[Top tip: NEVER arrange to play a game of badminton on an Addlestones-induced hangover. Trust me.]

The most commonly held belief is that hangovers are caused by dehydration, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support this. An alternative and more compelling hypothesis is that hangovers result from the buildup of acetaldehyde. This toxic compound is produced when alcohol breaks down in the liver; it is estimated to be 10 to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself! Studies have linked it to a range of symptoms, from sweating to headaches and vomiting. Sound familiar?

The severity of a hangover is influenced by a range of factors, including the number of drinks (no sh*t!) and the type of alcohol consumed (as illustrated in the graph below, from Verster, 2008).

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Hangover severity relating to number of drinsks and type of alcohol consumed. Read the full paper at: http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/43/2/124.full

So what can you do to circumvent that hangover from hell?

Some symptoms may be actually related to sleep duration and quality, rather than the alcohol itself.  Getting a good night’s sleep after a heavy night might be a good first, preventative step.

Last year, Professor David Knutt hit the headlines when he identified a compound that could mimic the effects of alcohol but with a much lower toxicity. Is hangover-free booze the future? This research is still very much in its infancy and it may be some time before synthetic alcohol makes it to your pint glass.

Until then, Glasgow Science Festival is here to help. We’ve partnered up with our pals in the east, Edinburgh International Science Festival for a special event to stretch, slurp and scoff your hangover into submission.

The Hangover Hypothesis comes to DRAM! on Saturday 7th June. The £10 ticket price includes a full cooked breakfast (veggie option available), Bloody Mary cocktail and a healthy dose of science – bargain!  Bring your hangover along from 2-3.30pm. Book online.

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