Hangovers – Headaches

Hello Children, it’s time to learn about one of the many upsetting effects of alcohol. Okay, I know most of you are probably people actually going through a hangover and you want to know why this is happening to you… I mean, you’re a good person (probably). So why oh why is last night hurting you today?

What is a hangover?

Unlike the movie ‘The Hangover’, where the characters pretty much go on an adventure the day after a rowdy night with seemingly no physical repercussions other than a couple tattoos, a hangover would probably make you want to sleep for a whole day.

A hangover, formally called a veisalgia, is basically the umbrella term for the after effects of drinking. It includes headaches, body aches, tiredness, weakness, thirst, nausea (sometimes vomiting), general stomach pain, diarrhea, and a slew of other symptoms like depression, vertigo and decreased attention.

Of course, you won’t likely experience all of these symptoms at once! There are different hangovers and they depend on how much you drink and how well your body is at detoxifying the alcohol. If you drink a lot and your body detoxifies alcohol at a very slow rate, then you will likely have an extremely bad hangover (unless you take some precautions – which will be explored in a later post!).

Why do we get hangovers?

If you recall last week’s post, where we discussed the effects of alcohol on the body, alcohol inhibits a hormone. This hormone, the antidiuretic hormone, is responsible for the reabsorption of water by your body’s kidneys. Without the activity of this hormone, the water that would have been retained by your body goes straight to your bladder and is then excreted. This loss of water results in your body becoming dehydrated, which leads to you getting a hangover.

Headaches and Hangovers, oh my!

Even though you are consuming a form of liquid, the amount of alcohol consumed is not as much as the amount of water lost during urination. This dehydrated state is what causes your headache, as the organs in your body are trying to their best to retain as much water as possible – even if that means stealing water from your brain. This results in your brain shrinking in size, making the membranes that connect your brain to your skull stretch – thus your headache. Crazy, huh?

Next week, we’ll talk about the relationship between Electrolytes and Hangovers.

The Urinary System – Concentration and Dilution

Last time, we talked about how the urinary system allows for our bodies to selectively reabsorbs things that were filtered out of our circulatory system. One of the molecules that can be reabsorbed is water, which is an important molecule for several reasons. In terms of the urinary system, water is important for the concentration and dilution of our urine.

The concentration and the dilution of urine is regulated by 2 hormones: Anti-diuretic hormone and Aldosterone.

The anti-diuretic hormone is released if you’re dehydrated, and literally translates to “against the passing of urine”. In situations where you are dehydrated, your blood volume will be low due to the lack of a sufficient amount of water, resulting in a lower blood pressure. To counteract this, the anti-diuretic acts to reduce the amount of water lost by the body and minimizes how much urine you make and release. This will result in a more concentrated urine that has a less water than usual and is a deeper yellow due to the higher concentration of urea.

Aldosterone is also released when you’re dehydrated. This hormone is responsible for the increase in thirst while also helping your body retain water by increasing the amount of sodium in your body. The more solute there is in your body, the more likely water is to stay with the solute (rules of osmosis, hurray!).

These hormones exert their effects primarily on the distal tubule of the nephron (after the loop of Henle), so that is where the water is reabsorbed!

So when these hormones are released, your urine will be more concentrated because water is retained by your body! Amazing, right?

Next week: We will finally get to talking about the effect of Alcohol on Urine!

Is there something you’d like to learn about? Tell me about it here and I may just do a post about it 🙂

Electrolytes

Whenever you’re dehydrated, or experiencing the stomach flu or diarrhea, you hear people telling you the importance of restoring your body’s electrolytes. But what are electrolytes and where can you obtain them from?

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes, also known as minerals, are ions that occur in your body.

Okay… what’s an ion?

Chemistry time, folks!

Each chemical atom or molecule has a specific number of negatively charged particles, electrons, associated with it. When the number of electrons of the atom/molecule deviates from  its usual number, it becomes charged. It can either be charged positively by losing electrons, or negatively by gaining electrons. Any charged atom or molecule is known as an ion.

Examples of minerals that occur in our bodies are:

  • sodium (Na+)
  • potassium (K+)
  • chloride (Cl)
  • calcium (Ca2+)
  • magnesium (Mg2+)
  • bicarbonate (HCO3)
  • phosphate (PO42-)
  • sulfate (SO42-)**

Why do we need electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential for our motor skills as well as other nerve impulses and muscle contractions (including the beating of your heart!). They also affect how much water is in your body, and the acidity of your blood. They are important because they carry electric charges.

Replenishing electrolytes

Dehydration, which can result from the stomach flu, diarrhea and even profuse sweating, represents a state where a lot water has been lost. Electrolytes accompany this mass of water that leaves our systems, which is why we are told to replenish them. Without electrolytes, we are slower and weaker because they are so important to our biological processes.

People usually recommend drinking sports drinks to raise the level of electrolytes (and fluids) in your system when you are dehydrated, but this really does depend on why you are dehydrated! If you are dehydrated as a result of exercising, then a sports drink is fine. For cases where you are dehydrated as a result of the stomach flu or diarrhea, it’s suggested that you drink an oral electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® in place of a sports drink.

Sports drinks have a high concentration of sugars, which will irritate you when you have a stomach flu and worsen diarrhea as it will draw more water into your bowels. Pedialyte doesn’t use sucrose, which is the sugar found in all Gatorade® products and most Powerade® products. Gatorade is strictly a sports drink because of its sucrose levels, but I’m going to hand it to Powerade because they’ve introduced Powerade Zero which has no sugar whatsoever, which makes it a great candidate for an electrolyte replenisher.

All of these drinks typically focus on sodium and potassium as electrolytes. Why are these two electrolytes so important? That’s a story for another day.