Don’t you kick yourself when you wake up with a headache after drinking? I do. I hate headaches. Once upon a time, I could drink a lot more than I do now and as long as I drank a litre of so of water before bed, I wouldn’t have a headache. Now the body is ageing a little and sometimes even one drink – that’s right, just one drink – can cause a headache.
So… what actually makes our head hurt when we drink alcohol?
Headaches are a symptom of a hangover and may be caused by:
- Dehydration – as alcohol causes your body to produce more urine,
- Dilation of blood vessels – the blood vessels in your body expand when you drink alcohol (you know, you get pink in the face and have warm hands and feet), and
- Chemicals in your drink – alcoholic drinks are a complex mix of many chemicals produced during fermentation which contribute to the flavour and aroma of the drink. These chemicals include congeners, especially in dark liquors like brandy and whiskey – which may include methanol, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins and aldehydes, and amino acids, histamines, polyphenols, other complex organic molecules and sulphites, used as a preservative in many wines, beers and ciders.
…experts usually put the blame… on alcohol…
A lot of people blame tannins or preservatives and choose low tannin or preservative free drinks but experts usually put the blame fairly and squarely on the alcohol content and dehydration. Everyone is different, everyone processes alcohol at similar but different rates, perhaps due to your age, liver function or body mass; you might be taking medication which slows down your body’s metabolising of the alcohol (check if you should be drinking with your medication) or you might have a genetic predisposition to metabolising it more slowly.
So… how do we reduce the headache or hangover from alcohol?
- First of all, drink less alcohol and drink it more slowly. Slow down your drinking by choosing reduced alcohol beer or wine, adding more mixer to your spirits (or less spirit to your mixer) and alternating an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink. If you are at home, use a smaller glass and don’t top up your drink. Eating while you drink helps to slow the rate of absorption of alcohol, too.
- Hydrate! Drink more water, soda water or anything which doesn’t contain alcohol or caffeine (that means energy and cola drinks are out).
- Choose pale coloured drinks such as vodka rather than whiskey or white wine rather than red wine.
And remember, how loud was the music at the venue where you drank?! And how late did you stay up? Yes, I can even get a headache from staying up to late, but that’s a different story…