Science Questions

Why don't some people get hangovers?

Tue, 12th Jan 2016

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John Hockenhull asked:

In your Christmas broadcast, you covered the subject of hangovers. But why is it that some people do not get hangovers? I have two sisters. Myself and one sister never get hangovers, yet my other sister does. Why is this?


Kat Arney put this question to Chris Smith...Alcoholism

Chris -   Well I did a little bit of practical experimentation myself over Christmas and I must admit, I did have one or two.

Kat - I've got a terrible one today.

Chris - And Kat is confessing that she is currently suffering.

John - You see I've got two sisters.  Myself and one sister never, ever get hangovers and my other sister does.

Chris - I suppose in answering this question John, one has to consider - well what is a hangover?  A hangover is a combination of dehydration because alcohol is a diuretic and it encourages you body to lose water, and this means that the salt balance of your body goes off kilter, which contributes to you feeling not very well.  The other thing that alcohol is, it's ethyl alcohol, and this is a metabolic precursor for acetaldehyde, which is about one carbon atom and a few hydrogen atoms different from the same stuff we use to embalm bodies in a mortuary - that's formaldehyde.  And when you break down alcohol, one of the intermediates in the breakdown process is acetaldehyde and that then goes round your body fixing your tissues and also contributes to some of the nasty symptoms. Now, why is it that some people get these symptoms and others don't?  Well there was a big study done in Australia, actually.  They looked at 4,000 people on the twin registry.  They found about 40-45% of the hangover effect is down to genes, the other half probably down to behaviour, and body size, and so on.  In other words - what will genes be doing?  Well, they'll be affecting your ability to handle the levels of acetaldehyde;  they'll be affecting those levels of those enzymes in your body that break down alcohol and, therefore, eliminate those toxic intermediates from you body.  And, therefore, how your metabolism handles alcohol is going to be at least half of the situation.  So, if you are prone to hangovers, you're probably not going to improve through training very much.  A little bit of training can improve things by increasing the levels of the enzymes your liver makes, but not very much so, it's probably better as they say to steer clear.

Kat - So basically I've pickled myself today?

Chris - Yes basically - sorry.



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obviously some people are more prone to hangovers than others but there is also the factor of what you drink. We are told anecdotally not to mix the grain and the grape but that might not be the whole story. Some years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week in the Haut Medoc region of France on a wine holiday. Every day I visited different chateaus ( including many of the great ones) sampling wine. All without the hint of a hangover, which was not my normal situation. It was explained to me that this was because good wine is refined by filtering with egg white which removes impurities, and it these impurities that reduce your tolerance to hang overs. I have also found unfortunately that tolerance reduces with age and I am now on just a small one. dhjdhj, Thu, 14th Jan 2016

I think it also depends what you eat before a heavy drinking session.

High amounts of protein will have a negative effect, I assume because of the kidneys having to work harder.

Also never underestimate how many bs about not getting hangovers when they take a sachet or two of dioralyte and some NSAIDs before dropping off to sleep! daveco, Sun, 7th Feb 2016

My guess would be more efficient liver function. I know in my university days, it was rare for a hangover to last past 10 am.  There's also been some recent studies suggesting that some of the hang over effects are an inflammatory reaction which may be more vigorous in some people than others. Folk remedies include taking an aspirin or ibuprofin before you go to sleep (although aspirin can irritate the stomach) rather than waiting until you wake up. cheryl j, Mon, 8th Feb 2016

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