Hangover Headaches

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A hangover headache is a throbbing, pounding misery. A character in Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim" described the feeling this way: "A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night and then as its mausoleum." Indeed, a hangover is aptly named.

What's going on inside? Take a look at some facts that may surprise you.

  • A hangover is caused largely from acute alcohol withdrawal and dehydration, and the accompanying pounding head results from dilated blood vessels in the brain, lowered blood glucose, and substances in the alcohol that dilate the blood vessels.
  • The best preventive is to not drink at all. If you must drink, do so in moderation. That means no more than 1 glass of alcohol daily for women and no more than two drinks for men. If you are beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol, it's time to switch to a soft drink or water.
  • Rehydration is the key to avoiding a hangover headache. Drink plenty of water-at least a pint of seltzer water, broth or a sports drink before going to bed.
  • Combat low blood glucose with fructose (honey or tomato juice). According to Dr. Merle Diamond of the National Headache Foundation, the fructose competes for the metabolism of alcohol, preventing the sudden drop in alcohol levels that triggers the "morning after" headache.
  • Coffee is not a cure for a hangover headache. In fact, it is a diuretic, which causes you to become even more dehydrated because it tends to increase the flow of urine.
  • Congeners, chemical substances in alcohol drinks that darken the color, have been implicated in hangover headaches. The darker the color of the drink, the more likely it is to cause a hangover.
  • Eating food while drinking helps to reduce the negative effects of alcohol. High-fat foods are particularly good in absorbing alcohol, which spreads the release of the alcohol into the blood stream over a longer period of time.
  • Taking two aspirins before bed is not a cure for a hangover headache. In fact, aspirin and ibuprofen (Motrin), can irritate the stomach lining by inhibiting protective prostaglandins that maintain normal blood flow to the lining of the stomach. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause severe liver problems when mixed with alcohol.

The National Headache Foundation suggests the "Champagne Fooler" to guarantee a hangover-free holiday season:

  • 1-1/3 cups apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 12 ounces club soda

Chill four glasses. Mix together apple juice and lemon juice. Add club soda and stir gently. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.