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Brew Flu: What Happens to Your Body When You Have a Hangover

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The Brew Flu. Hugging The Porcelain Throne. Struggle City. Whatever you call it, a hangover is never fun.

You know that a night of heavy drinking can cause problems the next day. But do you know why?

Four Major Symptoms of Brew Flu

Here’s what happens to your body when you have a hangover, and the science behind four of the major symptoms of brew flu.

Dehydration

Some people say that the key to avoiding a hangover is to just keep drinking alcohol. That’s not exactly true—you’re just prolonging the inevitable. However, there is one thing you do want to keep drinking: water.

Alcohol is known to cause dehydration. It blocks your body’s release of an antidiuretic hormone, which is usually used to help your kidneys conserve water. Without this hormone, your kidneys can’t save the water the way they’re supposed to, causing increased urine production.

This doesn’t just explain why you constantly feel the need to urinate while intoxicated—it also explains thirst. Urinating too frequently causes your body to lose fluid, leading to dehydration.

There are other factors at play, too. Vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea can all cause dehydration, and these are typical symptoms of hangovers.

Also read, How Much Water Do You Need Each Day?

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Fatigue

Many people swear by having a glass of wine before bed. But while alcohol might lull you to sleep, it’s actually more disruptive than helpful.

Alcohol can impair your sleep in a number of ways:

  • It increases the production of adenosine. This is a chemical that helps you fall asleep quickly. However, the adenosine also subsides quickly, which can make you wake up before you’re fully rested.
  • It disrupts REM sleep—the most restorative type of sleep. When you don’t get enough REM sleep, you might wake up feeling groggy.
  • It turns on a sleep pattern called alpha activity, which puts your body in a state of rest rather than into the deep sleep it needs.
  • Alcohol might also cause you to get out of bed more often than usual to use the bathroom.

Vomiting

Vomiting is one of the most well-known parts of a hangover. For some people it may be dreaded, but for others, it may be a welcome relief.

There are a few theories for why alcohol can cause nausea and vomiting. One is that when your body processes alcohol, acetaldehyde is the first byproduct. Acetaldehyde is a toxic compound that’s known to cause symptoms like sweating, nausea, and vomiting.

Cytokines—small proteins used by the immune system to fight infection—might also be partially to blame. Alcohol can provoke a cytokine release in the body, which can cause symptoms like nausea.

Headache

Alcohol stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, two of your neurotransmitters—the body’s chemical messengers. While these neurotransmitters can cause feelings of euphoria at first, they might be your body’s downfall the next morning.

Altered levels of serotonin and dopamine are known to cause headaches, and can even trigger migraines in people who are already prone to them. Your headache might also come from dehydration , another effect of alcohol.

So you might say that too many drinks can create the perfect storm...in your head. And in your body, for that matter. It’s another reason to take it easy when you’re kicking it up with friends. No matter how tasty those cocktails are, your body will thank you for taking it easy later.

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