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My Beer Problem - The Hangover Headache


weinoo
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Well, it seems that I've reached a point in my life where if I have more than 2 beers in an evening, I'll have a headache the next day. Sometimes, even just 2.

I certainly can (and have) put away 2 cocktails without having any hangover issues. As a matter of fact, I may have, on one occasion, put away even more than 2 cocktails without the hangover.

What gives? Is one more hangover prone from beer than spirits?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Maybe this will help: http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/drugs-alcohol/hangover3.htm

Apparently it's those conjuners - do you have the same problem with red wine?

Ahhhh - that explains it. I have been pretty much a red wine drinker since my college days - never did develop a taste for beer. Since hitting my 40s, I have felt a noticable difference in the morning. Many of my friends of the same vintage have reported similar changes. At one friend's suggestion, I switched over to cocktails recently and no more hangovers! I still miss my wine and switch back on occasion but I'm having fun learning how to make some drinks now. I've learned to make a mean margarita and we are slowly buying more top shelf liquors as the old swill that we used for occasional mixers runs out.

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I can't help you with congeners. But I can tell you that a hangover is a mix of dehydration, toxins (those congeners) and a lack of vitamin B-12. Alcohol strips B-12 out of the body. Replace the water and pop one or two Brewer's Yeast tablets.

Best thing you can do is alternate each drink with a pint of water. You won't get as intoxicated and you won't be as dehydrated, but expect many trips to the bathroom over the course of the evening. Then take some brewer's yeast and another glass of water before retiring.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I researched hangovers many years ago and discovered many different theories, not all of which are valid. Most of them are wrong. But one point which most people agree on is that dehydration is a definite factor - drink water before you go to bed, drink more water the next day.

There are certainly vitamins and minerals that the body uses to digest/process alcohol, and along with vitamin B12 (I think) zinc plays a fairly major role too. But I wouldn't go as far as saying that taking vitamin tablets or zinc supplements will prevent a hangover.

Although I haven't heard the term 'congeners' before I can elaborate on what they are.

Basically - 'alcohol' is a term used to cover a family of chemicals. In common usage people use the generic term 'alcohol' when they're referring to the 'ethanol' in brewed drinks. But ethanol is only one type of alcohol. There's also methanol, propanol and butanol plus hundreds of others which aren't as common. I have a bottle of 'isopropyl' alcohol that I use to clean electronic equipment. But when it comes to drinking, it's ethanol that you want. The human body has developed the ability to metabolise ethanol cleanly, and this is done by the liver. The liver produces an enzyme called 'alcohol dehydrogenase' and it deals with ethanol quickly and efficiently.

The problem with creating alcohol by fermentation - which is how people have done it for thousands of years - is that ethanol is not the only alcohol that is produced. You also get a simpler type of alcohol called methanol (model airplane fuel), and possibly a bunch of other byproducts too depending on what you're fermenting. While the liver is pretty happy dealing with ethanol, methanol is very nasty indeed. The "alcohol dehydrogenase" that deals with ethanol efficiently actually turns methanol into formaldehyde (preserving fluid) and formic acid (wasp and ant venom). These are the two chemicals that give you a really bad headache- a hangover - until the body eventually breaks these compounds down too. Which takes longer...

Different fermented drinks contain different amounts of methanol in them, and thus they will give you differing levels of hangover. Vodka is generally a very clean spirit with little methanol in it, and so vodka is less likely to give you a hangover. Wines and beers contain much more methanol in them, and so they will give you a worse hangover.

There have been deaths caused by people making home-made spirits such as Grappa, and using methanol (wood spirit) instead of ethanol.

The way the liver works explains the old 'hair of the dog' tale. The liver will process and metabolise ethanol first, something it can do without producing harmful byproducts. So as long as there's ethanol in your system, the liver will deal with it effectively. When the ethanol is gone, it moves on to the methanol - producing the formaldehyde and formic acid byproducts that make you swear you will never drink again. So if you have a hangover it's a sign that your body has processed all of the ethanol in your bloodstream and it is now processing the methanol. But if you have another drink, you are 'refuelling' your body with ethanol again, and so your liver stops metabolising the methanol and resumes work on the ethanol. The formaldehyde and formic acid levels in your body will drop and you will feel better... in the short term...

But basically, to answer your original question, yes- you are more prone to a hangover from beer than from (high quality) spirits.

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Ahhhh - that explains it. I have been pretty much a red wine drinker since my college days - never did develop a taste for beer. Since hitting my 40s, I have felt a noticable difference in the morning. Many of my friends of the same vintage have reported similar changes. At one friend's suggestion, I switched over to cocktails recently and no more hangovers! I still miss my wine and switch back on occasion but I'm having fun learning how to make some drinks now. I've learned to make a mean margarita and we are slowly buying more top shelf liquors as the old swill that we used for occasional mixers runs out.

You see - getting older forces one to drink cocktails.

But basically, to answer your original question, yes- you are more prone to a hangover from beer than from (high quality) spirits.

Whew.... :smile:

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Right.

First off, generally, fermented grain beverages contain very little methanol, as it is mostly created by the breakdown of pectins in fruit.

So, if you got a massive hangover from drinking cider, it is likely the methanol. If you get a hangover from beer, it is probably something else.

Yes, distilled spirits are generally more "clean" than simple fermented beverages, there's a lot that goes away in the distillation process. The more you distill, the more that goes away. Most vodka is, more or less, ethanol and water, likely with some additives to give it flavor and character.

Of course, the caveat here is how well the spirit is distilled, and how much of the heads and tails are kept.

Distilled spirits are also more concentrated, so it takes X amount of beer to come up with a bottle of Whiskey or vodka.

So, in some ways, it is more likely to get a true dehydration hangover from spirits than beer. There's a lot of water in beer.

The rate at which you drink can also be a factor. You may be good at pacing yourself with cocktails, but after drinking straight spirits, beer can taste a lot like a soft drink. If you slam down that 22oz bomber of Arrogant Bastard, you're probably drinking the equivalent of 3 or 4 cocktails in a lot less time.

And yeah, a lot of modern craft beers are so strong that they mess with the 1 beer equals 1 cocktail ratio. The one beer equals one cocktail thing was probably based on a 12 oz beer at about 4% ABV.

So, lots of factors.

Personally, I have found I am sensitive to something in many unfiltered beers. I get an allergic-like reaction in my sinuses (and usually a sinus headache) from drinking home or true craft beers. This bums me out, because these are usually my favorite types of beer. But it doesn't stop me from drinking them.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Since a couple of beers isn't exactly boozing it up, you might want to keep in mind that liver function deteriorates over time (I don't mean 'down-the toilet' deteriorating, but it's just not as responsive), so it processes alcohols less efficiently, and the effects of breakdown products can be more pronounced.

(I learned about this when a pathologist I knew told me how, after doing his US residency--he's German--he tested positive for TB, but since he was was thirty-nine and the disease was inactive, it was not treated, since the drugs used to treat TB cause liver damage, which does not readily self-repair once you pass your mid-thirties.)

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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