Alcohol, dehydration and hangovers

Every day we are bombarded with pro water and anti- alcohol campaigns, the question is why and why just water, what’s wrong with drinks such as Coke and tea? The science behind it proves drinks high in sugar such as Coke drastically increase blood sugar levels thus causing the body to give up vast amounts of water to flush out the sugar. Tea and coffee are high in caffeine; drinks high in this substance trigger stress responses resulting in diuretic effects leading to increased urination.
Strictly speaking, caffeine is therefore toxic for your body; in terms of hydration your body is sacrificing water to remove it. The removal of caffeine from the blood starves the cells of water causing cellular dehydration and temporary blood thinning. As mentioned earlier a similar process occurs in sugary drinks, the only difference being in a beverage like Coke, the hormones released by the stimulation of the adrenal gland give your brain the false impression this newly found vitality and energy was the result of that ‘tasty beverage’.
However, this area has been extensively researched and I can in fact confirm the myth that coffee and coke are toxic for your body’s water levels is false! The American college of sports medicine proved this with their findings. They found that while caffeine ingestion does have a mild diuretic effect it does not affect water replacement especially in regular coffee drinkers. Basically, if you’re used to it, your body doesn’t mind it.
Moving swiftly on to alcohol. Alcohol is normally 95% water and 5% alcohol so why and how does it cause dehydration? The 5% alcohol interferes with the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) which is responsible for the prevention of water loss. If your body believes it is dehydrated, a message is sent to the posterior pituitary gland, this results in ADH being pumped out, ADH stops you urinating. Alcohol stops the transmission of this hormone, therefore causing you to urinate regularly when you do not need to. Research has shown that you produce roughly 100ml of urine for every 10 grams of alcohol, 10 grams is about 330ml of a 4% alcoholic beverage.
What are the side effects of alcohol? According to Swift and Davidson there is definitely a link between alcohol-induced dehydration and a hangover, the electrolyte balance also contributing. This balance is essential, it is altered and lots of electrolytes lost through urine such as: potassium, sodium and chloride. How is the banging headache caused? Well, when you consume alcohol, your body works hard to metabolise it, this uses a lot of energy and steals glycogen. The liver is also trying to get rid of the alcohol and therefore cannot keep up with the demand for glycogen, this leaves you glycogen deficient, the same glycogen your brain runs on to work. As well as headaches, a loss of concentration, fatigue and mood disturbances will also occur.
The major contributor to feelings of nausea and the ‘I’m never drinking again speech’ is a substance found within alcohol- acetaldehyde. Up to 30 times more toxic than alcohol, acetaldehyde is processed by the liver. However, the liver is only able to do this in small amounts, researchers tend to agree on the figure of 7 grams of ethanol per hour. Roughly translated, a standard bud is 5%, so just fewer than one and a half of these can be processed per hour! If you drink copious amount of alcohol in a short space of time, the liver cannot remove this substance and it remains in your body for an extended amount of time. This alongside mass dehydration are two major contributors to a hangover, how can you avoid a hangover? Don’t drink so much, there is no medical cure and drinking 6 pints of water before you go to bed will do nothing.

Yours in sport,
- thesportscience


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