A hangover is the body's way of saying "I hate you." The spinning nausea. The pounding headache. The, er, "stomach issues." We hope last night was a blast, because today is going to suck.
Ever since the first overzealous Mesopotamian guzzled too much fermented barley meal, there have been hangovers. And for nearly as long, there have been scientifically questionable hangover preventions and "cures." Among the favorites, eating a bunch of greasy food to soak up the alcohol and settle your stomach. Drinking only beer or liquor on the same night, but never both. And of course the classic "hair of the dog," waking up to a shot of the stuff that nearly killed you.
You might even have a drinking buddy who jogs home from the bars every Friday night and swears that working up a good sweat is the best way to leach out the toxins that cause a hangover. Not only is your friend absolutely wrong, but he could be putting himself at risk of serious dehydration.
First, the source of the confusion. Like all good hangover myths, the "sweat it out" cure contains a grain of truth. The body flushes alcohol out of its system in two ways. The first is through urine, breath and sweat. So it would stand to reason that if you sweat more, the more alcohol you will flush out and faster.
But this conclusion completely ignores the second way that the body gets rid of alcohol, which is through a process called oxidation in the liver. Scientists believe that more than 90 percent of alcohol is oxidized by the liver and less than 10 percent is flushed out through water loss via urine, breath and sweat.
So even if it's technically true that you can sweat out a sip of your gin and tonic, it amounts to a very small sip. So that's strike one against the sweat cure. Strike two is that alcohol itself is not what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover. For that, we have to go back to our old friend the liver.
The oxidation of alcohol in the liver is a chemical process by which molecules of ethanol are first broken down and converted into acetic acid and ultimately into harmless carbon dioxide and water. But within that beneficial process is a nasty intermediate stage. When ethanol is first broken down, it's converted into an organic compound called acetaldehyde that's straight up toxic to the body.
If you drink slowly and in moderation, the liver can process the equivalent of one drink (0.5 ounces of alcohol) an hour without building up toxic levels of acetaldehyde in the blood. But if you drink too much alcohol too quickly, the concentration of toxic acetaldehyde in your system will trigger a number of unpleasant symptoms, including sweating, flushing of the facial skin, headaches, dry mouth and nausea.