The business of hangovers

I have a number of Chinese female friends whose cheeks quite clearly colour when they have a glass of wine. This has always fascinated me. Certainly other people’s faces flush too but there seems to be a Sino- predisposition for this condition.

It’s all down to a lack of the body’s dehydrogenase enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Those who have the enzyme in abundance – don’t flush. Those who don’t have it …well their faces light up like brake lights with the slightest tipple.

When alcohol is in the liver acetaldehyde is created which is then degraded by the dehydrogenase enzyme. And the likelihood of a flushed face is even more likely in women who have a lower level of the enzyme in their stomach than men.

The Desmond Morris and Allan Pease types of this world who take great store in body language and non-linguistic physical signals could quite easily get mixed messages from what outwardly appears to be a coquettish blush.

But having a deficit of dehydrogenase can be the building block for a mother of all hangovers for those less endowed with the enzyme if they over indulge. Basically the chemical factory in your liver is only built to withstand and assimilate a certain level of alcohol before the wheels start falling off. Once glutathione, another remedial substance in the liver, is exhausted fighting the good fight during a binge – it all goes down hill from there.

Then it’s hangover time. What you are experiencing with a hangover is glutamine rebound. Glutamine, one of the body’s natural stimulants, is suppressed by alcohol. Turn off the alcohol and the glutamine factory works overtime to make up for lost production time. Bingo, a restless night as the brain is being stimulated when it should have shut down for a deep sleep. Anxiety, restlessness, elevated blood pressure and even the shakes can be some of the by-products.

Which brings us to the hangover cure myths… some of which are more a placebo than a panacea. When you feel that rotten you really want to believe that remedies like swallowing a live toad will ease the pain.

Hair of the dog is a myth. Having a drink the next day merely delays the process as you load up your liver again with toxins. Black coffee is not a good idea either. While it’s a stimulant that may give you a boost it is also a diuretic which will enhance your state of dehydration. The fatty food solution is better taken before the event rather than after. But eggs and even bananas and kiwi fruit get the nod as a reasonable post-punishment remedy. While eggs provide energy they also contain cysteine which breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde and bananas and kiwi fruit replenish lost electrolytes and specifically potassium, which has been expelled through the diuretic nature of the alcohol.

But then there is always the good old Aussie cure-all of a cup of tea, a Bex and good lie down.

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