Health Corner: Why Does My Head Hurt?

August 27, 2021

You have a hangover. That’s why your head hurts. How do I know it’s not due to karmic justice or Newton’s Third Law? Oh, it’s due to those things too. But your head hurts because you drank too much last night. Also the night before.

Don’t worry, everything is going to be ok. I’m here to tell you how you can fix it. First, let’s take a moment to understand how you got here.

You got here from drinking. You’re welcome. When you consume alcohol, your body breaks it down in the liver into acetaldehyde via a group of enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases (ALDH), then further metabolizes it into acetate through oxidation. While the exact mechanism of hangovers is not fully understood, there is evidence that alcohol metabolites cause hormonal fluctuations, cytokine dysregulation and provoke immune system responses.

Family history, use of other drugs, and even personality also affect severity of hangover symptoms. In addition, alcohol is an antidiuretic hormone antagonist that prevents reabsorption of water by your kidneys. That’s why you had to pee so badly last night, and why you’re dehydrated today. Science!

“What are the symptoms of hangovers, Kevin?” you ask. Ha…** SYMBOLS CLASHING!!!** Headache for one. We all know that alcohol impairs performance in various functions such as balance, coordination, memory, and judgment. Your recent calls list is evidence of this.

But hangovers themselves result in many of the same symptoms. Your cognitive deficits today likely include short and long-term memory reduction, selective and divided attention, reduced productivity, nausea and driving impairment.

The average worker loses $2,000 per year in productivity due to hangovers. Were you planning on going to the gym or football practice today? Alcohol itself inhibits calcium transport in skeletal muscle tissue, reducing the strength of muscle contractions. It also reduces the amount of glucose available to your muscles during exercise. I hope today wasn’t max out day.

Were you planning on participating in an academic study today for some beer money? Hangovers actually pose threats to the internal validity of scientific studies. I suppose it’s the researchers’ fault for holding it on a Thursday. Oh yeah, Wednesday is the most popular drinking night among U.S. college students. America!

But fear not thou noble drunkard! We are going to fix thee up with a multitude of exotic elixirs. The first thing you need to do is drink something. No not that! It’s recovery time, not rally time.

Drink water and/or Gatorade (No, I don’t own stock) to replenish your intravascular volume. Eating something with potassium like tomatoes or bananas will help with the cramps.

Next, let’s get you some antioxidants to eliminate all those free radicals causing you so much oxidative stress. Studies have shown red ginseng works well, and there are likely teas with this ingredient at the local store.

Next, let’s fix your memory. Cytokine dysregulation affecting the hippocampus is likely contributing to your fogginess. Acanthopanax senticosus is a Chinese herb known for immunomodulatory effects on B-lymphocytes and macrophages. It also has anticancer and stress-relief properties. This may be harder to find. Ask your roomie to go look at a local Asian market. Avoid this one if you have high blood pressure.

Next up is Korean pear juice. Why? Well, it sound delicious for one, but it also significantly reduces hangovers in people with ALDH2*1/*1 and ALDH2*1/*2 genotypes. If you have ALDH2*2/*2, you’re out of luck. Do you have these genotypes? I don’t know. But at least you’re not thirsty anymore.

By the way, I may have buried the lede a little by not mentioning until now that none of these are likely to help you today. They are more helpful if you take them before you start drinking.

Congratulations on reading an entire two pages while hung over. You did great. I hope this explanation of the science behind and remedies for your current condition was helpful. If not, I’ll just chalk it up to your impaired judgment. At least you now know why it’s impaired. Have fun, be safe, and please whatever you do, don’t forget to **SYMBOLS CLASHING!!!**

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