Since today is a celebration of St. Patrick, the religious figure who 'drove the snakes out of Ireland' (meaning Paganism), a whole lot of people got drunk last night.  

Yeah, Protestants getting drunk the night before before a Catholic religious festival makes as much sense as anything else about St. Patrick's Day. In addition, kids in California get something magical in their shoes, which puzzles me too. I never heard of that when I was a kid but the rural area I grew up in was a delightful mix of people descended from residents of Scotland and Eastern Europe so there weren't a lot of magical pots of gold lying around - if an Irishman came along asking about our shoes the reply was going to be sent at muzzle velocity. 

The 'green' thing is recent also, since the 1700s. St. Patrick's color was blue. And since it's Lent, what happens if St. Patrick's Day happens on a Friday? (Learn all the facts and fantasies about St. Patricks Day) Well, it doesn't matter. Since there are 9X as many Americans claiming to be Irish as there are actual people in Ireland, they aren't worried about religion on St. Patrick's Day. Basically, nothing about it makes any sense.

But what does make sense is the hangover afterward. 

If you watched Vice-President Al Gore and all environments lobbying for ethanol despite the science throughout the 1990s, you likely wondered if we were going to get the big hangover we have right now. You weren't wrong. A tiny molecule has been giving humans grief since grain first got wet (though we also got the first drinking song around the same time, which is nice) and it's no different today.  

30% of people don't get hangovers at all but for the rest of you, here's some science.

Yayyyy, science!

Does alcohol cause headaches?

Alcohol causes expansion of the blood vessels and has an effect on the effect of compounds in the central nervous system, which could cause headaches.  Otherwise, headaches remain a combination of lots of factors. I get them from anti-science activists who write thing things like 'prove GMO food is safe', for example - while using a computer emitting electromagnetic fields that anti-science people in Europe insist give them headaches or cancer.

Does sugar cure hangovers?

Like a lot of junk science, this started with a kernel of data. The nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+/NADH) ratio is important in metabolism and oxidative stress and a drop has been shown to cause hypoglycemia, which is associated with weakness and mood changes - and those are associated with hangovers. So naturally someone crafty came up with the idea to sell fructose tablets as a hangover cure. Fructose becomes glyceraldehyde, which is reduced by NADH to glycerin and produces NAD+. Presto, the ratio is restored!  Well, no. You'd have to eat 5 pounds of sugar to make a difference so fructose tablets were pulled from stores due to not doing much at all.  We allow claims about homeopathy, probiotics, that fracking causes cancer and even stickers claiming 'gluten-free' tomatoes, but apparently a sugar pill being sold to drunk people was too much of a placebo to let go. And so fructose tablets - sugar pills - cannot be sold as a hangover cure in sane places.

Why does alcohol make you pee more?

Alcohol is a diuretic.  Ethanol stunts release of vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone, and that reduces absorption of water in the kidneys. So you pee more.

Can you cure a hangover?  

Water, electrolytes - it mostly just involves time. If you have a headache really bothering you, try aspirin but avoid acetaminophen, like Tylenol. Alcohol and acetaminophen together is just begging for liver problems.

The folks at Bytesize Science have a video on the topic this year, though if you are hungover the last thing you want is people talking about you:


Klaus Roth, 'Chemistry of a Hangover — Alcohol and its Consequences Part 3', Chemie in unserer Zeit/Wiley-VCH, DOI: 10.1002/chemv.201000089