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What Causes Hangover Headaches?

hangover headaches cause

For many people, the worst part of partying all night is the throbbing headache the next morning. Hangover headaches can be so severe Advil is rendered useless and leaving bed in the morning seems like an impossible task. Luckily it is entirely possible to prevent such headaches.

The truth is this, hangover headaches are caused by multiple biological processes caused by excess drinking. By understanding these processes, and targeting them, hangover headaches can be severely lessened and many times eliminated completely. Why subject yourself to painful and unproductive mornings if you don’t have to?

There are two main factors which contribute to hangover headaches:

  1. Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance
  2. Acetaldehyde Build-up

Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance

Alcohol is a diuretic (A substance which promotes the body’s production of urine). Simply put, the more alcohol you drink, the more you bathroom trips you are going to be making throughout the night. The average person will lose an additional 10ml of urine for each gram of alcohol they consume. This works out to 1 beer or shot causing you to excrete 3.3 oz of additional urine.

A heavy night of drinking (7 drinks) can cause you to lose an additional 24 ounces (two beer cans) worth of urine. This may cause mild dehydration and electrolyte imbalance which can lead to extreme thirst, dry mouth, and headaches.

Preventing Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance

By following the next two steps, you can ensure that you will always wake up hydrated in the morning:

Drink two bottles of water before bed. Unless you drink more than 10 alcohol drinks in one night, you won’t produce more than an additional 32oz of urine which can be recuperated by two average sized bottle of water (16.9oz). It is best to drink the water before you go to bed, NOT after you wake up. This ensures your body has the water while you are sleeping and will prevent you from waking up dehydrated.

Take an electrolyte supplement before bed. Drinking water will keep you hydrated, but it won’t replenish all of you electrolytes. Taking an electrolyte supplement can make sure your levels aren't depleted.

Acetaldehyde Buildup

Fighting dehydration and electrolyte imbalance may lessen hangover headaches, but it won’t eliminate them completely. Combating the buildup of acetaldehyde is also necessary.

After alcohol reaches your body it is absorbed into your digestive tract and quickly reaches your liver. From there, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is then broken down into acetic acid by a different enzyme (ADLH). Eventually the acetic acid is broken down into carbon dioxide and water and leaves your body through your breath and urine.

Fighting Acetaldehyde Buildup

However, it takes your body time to break down acetaldehyde, causing it to build-up in your system after heavy alcohol consumption. And research shows acetaldehyde is up to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself [1]. When excess acetaldehyde builds up in your system, nausea, intense headaches, vomiting, and sensitivity to light occur. If you experience sensitivity to light and intense headache in the morning, acetaldehyde build-up is the likely culprit.

Luckily there are ways to prevent acetaldehyde from building up in your system. By targeting the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase) you can speed up the rate at which your body breaks it down into acetic acid.

One supplement which is commonly used to speed up the breakdown of acetaldehyde is Dihydromyricetin (DHM) Research has shown that DHM promotes the conversion of acetaldehyde into acetic acid by promoting activity of the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde. [1][2]

By staying hydrated, replenishing your electrolytes, and limiting build-up of acetaldehyde in your system, you can dramatically lessen the severity of your hangover headaches in the morning.

My Personal Experience With Hangover Headaches

What I am about to say is not based on scientific evidence, only personal experience. From personal experience, I believe hangover headaches to be 75% caused by acetaldehyde and 25% caused by dehydration. My headaches are definitely more severe if I haven’t drunken much water throughout the day. However, even when I stay hydrated, if I have too much, I always have a pounding headache. But I have found taking DHM and L-Cyestine before bed leaves me headache free and feeling quite clear the morning after a heavy night of drinking (7-10 drinks).

Of course, everyone’s body is different. Dehydration may be the root cause of hangover headaches for some. It is always best to stay hydrated, take electrolyte tablets, AND supplement with DHM.

Cited Studies

  1. Protection Against Acetaldehyde Toxicity
  2. Dihydromyricetin As A Novel Anti-Alcohol Intoxication Medication

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