Have a Case of the Jim-Jams?

I’m going to start this post with one of the most adulting things I’ve ever said: the best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink so much that you get a hangover. Know your limits and drink responsibly. That being said, hangovers happen to best of us. And as I’ve unpleasantly found out, they get worse as you get older. Although I find several things about the realities of getting older to be disagreeable, hangovers rank right at the top, along with finding the music to be too damn loud sometimes and finding new gray hairs every day.

So let’s say you find self-diagnose yourself with vasalgia, which is the medical term for hangover. My favorite term for a hangover is the jim-jams. So let’s say you find yourself with the jim jams. What do you do? Like hiccups, most people have their own “cure” for a hangover. Here’s the deal: there is no cure or remedy for a hangover. The only remedy is time, i.e. your hangover is probably going to be your whole day. However, there are several things you can do to lessen the effects of your hangover.

Before that, though, let’s have a brief science lesson on how some of your hangover symptoms develop:

Many hangover effects come from dehydration, such as headaches, shakiness, and weakness. When you start ingesting alcohol, the presence of alcohol in your bloodstream increases, which leads your body to expel four times more water than you’re consuming (which explains what happens when you “break the seal”). When you’re dehydrated, your organs ask your brain for more water to function, which leads to your brain actually shrinking in size as it sends its water stores to other organs. When it shrinks, it pulls on the meninges, which are the membranes that connect your brain to your skull, and causes that awful hangover headache. Electrolytes, salt, potassium, and magnesium are also expelled in all that water your body is getting rid of, which is what leads to the shakiness and weakness you feel the next day.

That poor sleep you get when you’ve had too much to drink results from your glutamine, which is a natural stimulant, being blocked when you drink alcohol. When you go to sleep, your body goes into overdrive to produce more glutamine, which results in poor sleep.

Acetaldehyde production is another huge contributor to your jim-jams. When you ingest alcohol, your liver produces acetaldehyde, which is toxic, as a byproduct. The good news is that we have a natural mechanism for neutralizing it, which is called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. One aspect of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase is glutathione, which contains high levels of cysteine. Cysteine is attracted to acetaldehyde, so it neutralizes the acetaldehyde in your system. The bad news is that our bodies produce a limited amount of glutathione, so once our bodies use up that limited store, we are left with all that acetaldehyde running around in our blood, which leads to many hangover effects, such as upset stomach and headaches.

Now that we’re junior scientists who understand at least a little bit about what’s going on in our bodies during a hangover, let’s talk about some steps you can take to lessen the effects of a hangover as well as steps you can take to help with your recovery.

Everything you need to make your day a little easier

Everything you need to make your day a little easier

To help with the dehydration you’re experiencing, drinking a lot of water is the key. Alternating glasses of water between glasses of beer is one way to ensure you’re getting adequate hydration. In my experience, though, trying to do that is kind of a bummer. Not impossible, but not usually very realistic because you’re not really focused on making sure you feel okay tomorrow. What works for me is drinking three or four full glasses of water before I go to sleep. Getting into this habit can take a little work since you have to get Drunk You on board with doing Morning You a solid, but I can tell a huge difference when I do this before bed. Drink copious amounts of water throughout the next day to help rehydrate your body and make your head feel better. I also drink coconut water the next day because, besides tasting like cereal milk, it contains a ton of electrolytes. You can also drink Pedialyte or a sports drink like Gatorade, but I prefer coconut water because it doesn’t contain all the artificial stuff sports drinks have. Another bit of charity Drunk You can show Morning You is taking an aspirin or ibuprofen before bed. Doing so will help with the inflammation, i.e. headache, that comes from being dehydrated. Take two aspirin or ibuprofen (not acetaminophin) when you wake up in the morning to keep the anti-inflammatory train moving. Throw a multivitamin in, too, to help replace the vitamins and minerals you expelled while drinking.

Two of the best foods you can eat when you’re hungover are bananas and eggs. Bananas are loaded with potassium and electrolytes, so they will help replenish those in your body. Eggs contain cysteine, which as a junior scientist you know that cysteine is attracted to the acetaldehyde still lurking in your system, so adding extra cysteine to your body means that cysteine will neutralize the acetaldehyde. While most of us crave the greasiest and fattiest foods when we’re hungover, greasy and fatty foods don’t actually help with your hangover all that much, although they probably help replace all that salt you’re missing. They may be more helpful before you start drinking because the fat and oil can coat your stomach, which will make it slower for alcohol to absorb into your system.

Or maybe you’d like to go old-timey or international with your hangover remedies. You can try Pliny the Elder’s advice of eating raw owl’s eggs or frying up a canary. The Germans, showing once again that they have an awesome word for everything (see kummerspeck and treppenwitz), partake in Katerfruehstueck, which is a breakfast after a night a heavy drinking consisting of marinated herring, pickles, and goulash. If you’re truly daring, try the Prairie Oyster: raw egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Thirsty to know more about how hangovers work and the weird ways humans have tried to cure them? Check out this hangover episode from Stuff You Should Know and this one from Sawbones.