Why we get sloshed.
What happen when we assault our body with too much booze? After you swig down your drink, the liquids first stop is the stomach. As it sloshed around, some alcohol get broken down and small amount passes through the stomach wall, into the bloodstream and on to the brain. Here neuropeptides, believed to control sensitivity to alcohol and mood, swing into action. Dependent on your state of mind, you may begin to feel more confident, relaxed or aggressive; i.e. intoxicated.
If you don’t have much food in your stomach, a ring-shaped muscle called the pyloric valve opens and your drinks pours into the small intestine. Due to its much greater surface area, the small intestine allows alcohol to be absorbed far more rapidly, leading to sudden and powerful intoxication.
Foods containing sugars and fats tend to keep the pyloric valve closed while the stomach digests them – hence the time-honored idea that a glass of milk will line your stomach. A high fat meal consumed with a bottle of wine will keep the pyloric valve shut for hours while the stomach digests the food. Your blood-alcohol level will rise relatively slowly.
The alcohol in booze is a mixture of ethanol and methanol, the wood alcohol found in anti-freeze and paint thinners. Methanol is found in some fruit based alcoholic drinks such as red wine, cognac or plum brandy, which can contain up to 2% methanol by volume. Spirits such as vodka contain least.
The liver breaks down alcohols in a strict order. First ethanol is processed at a nearly constant rate - about 15ml per hour – roughly the amount in a small glass of wine.
Enzymes convert ethanol initially into a poisonous substance called acetaldehyde, which leads to a queasy feeling and throbbing head, then into relatively harmless acetic acid. This is drained from the liver, via the kidneys, to the bladder.
When the liver gets around to clearing out the methanol, which is processed about 10 times more slowly, the by-products are extremely toxic formaldehyde (used in embalming fluid), and formic acid, which causes the most severe hangover symptoms.
Elsewhere around the body’s battered battleground, the alcohol breaks down reserves of energy-rich blood sugar – glycogen – into glucose, leading to hypo-glycaemia and the weak and wobbly effect of a hangover.
One of the worst symptoms of the hangover is caused by dehydration. Ethanol is a diuretic. It acts on the brain’s pituitary gland and blocks production of the hormone vasopressin, which directs the kidneys to reabsorb water that would otherwise end up in the bladder. Once this hormonal hydrostat is switched off, the line outside the restroom just gets longer and longer.
The body then suffers electrolyte loss: essential ions, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium – key to the way nerves and muscles work – are washed out of the body, causing headaches, nausea and fatigue.
Faced with drought, the body borrows water from other parts, including the brain, which shrinks temporarily. Though the brain cannot sense pain, it’s protective membrane shrivels, stretching pain-sensitive filaments connecting it to the skull and causing pounding headaches. So drink plenty of water before bed.
As if this is not enough, alcohol also upsets the flow of electrolyte ions through receptors in the brain cells, dulling the senses and giving that “foggy” morning-after feeling.
The alcohol in drinks is mostly ethanol, but methanol, poisonous wood alcohol, is also found in varying amounts of cheap wine, cognac, fruit brandies and whiskies contain most methanol – up to 2% by volume. Spirits such as vodka contain least.
Methanol: converted into formaldehyde and extremely toxic formic acid – causes worst hangover symptoms.
Brain cell: Alcohol upsets flow of electrolyte ions through GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptors, dulling senses and giving that “foggy”, morning after feeling.
Dehydration: Overall loss of essential ions, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium – key to the way nerves and muscle work – cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue.
Ref: The Star, Mon Dec 24th 2001
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