There’s a good chance you might be hungover tomorrow. Such is, as they say, life. The first thing I would recommend is not watching the above video while hungover — it blares Rihanna at you, and that can be extremely tough to deal with when under the alcohol umbrella of shame. Now, let’s talk about the obvious for a second. There are 17.4 million results on Google for “how to prevent a hangover.” I can narrow that down to 1 you should click: JustDon’tGetWrecked.com and/or SlowYourRollYouMess.gov. Not sure why that would be a dot-gov, but let’s move on. You can find hangover tips and ideas all over the web; some of my friends do stuff with bacon fat, some people like the ol’ fashioned coffee approach, some like hair of the dog (bars open around 11am on New Year’s Day often because of bowl games), etc, etc. Whatever your approach is, roll with it. I’m here to actually talk about something that’s included in about 1 out of every 6 Buzzfeed “Why Your 30s Sucks” lists: hangovers seem to get worse. Indeed. But why?
This is a tough topic because doctors don’t really completely understand the hangover as is anyway (odd that we’ve gotten cancer down to only a few types being essential death sentences, yet we can’t figure out exactly how drinking leads to a headache, no?). The basic breakdown is here, though: your liver takes the alcohol you’re drinking and breaks it down into acetaldehyde. Problem is, acetaldehyde is super toxic — up to 30 times more toxic than the alcohol itself — so the second part of the process is that your liver takes the acetaldehyde and breaks that down into acetate. Here’s the thing you always hear from more responsible people: 1 drink per hour, right? That’s because the process of your liver turning acetaldehyde —> acetate basically only happens at the equivalent of 1 drink consumed every hour. If you’re drinking 3 drinks per hour, those other 2 drinks aren’t getting broken down all the way. That means you have excess acetaldehyde in your system, and that’s going through your bloodstream. Congrats. You have something 30x more toxic than the G&T you initially pounded now coursing through your veins. The remnants of this is what creates the hangover.
At this point, it should be no surprise that hangover can literally be traced back to the Norwegian term for “uneasiness after debauchery.”
There weren’t a lot of studies on age and alcohol consumption — here’s one, although this is more about risk factors than hangovers — but now there’s one out of South Korea that looks at the process through aged lab rats. Here’s the essential takeaway:
“Many factors appear to be involved in worsening of hangover in old age. One is that the liver capacity to cope with the toxicity of acetaldehyde decreases as we get old,” Kim said in an email. Acetaldehyde is directly detoxified in the liver by an antioxidant called glutathione. “Our data indicated that, as age increases, glutathione generation capacity is decreased, so cells may not be recovered or repaired rapidly.”
Apparently this glutathione is a fairly large deal in terms of staying healthy, FYI. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, watercress and the like (sulfur-rich greens) are one of your best sources of it.
There are broader reasons for the age/hangover thing — for example, you might have kids and/or just generally drink less, so when you drink, it feels worse, or you might have a more demanding job than you did at 21/22, so retreating into the couch seems more permissible. But in terms of the science behind it, we have some understanding now. So as 11:20pm rolls around tonight and you’re thinking about how much you want to put back in the next 40 minutes and beyond, remember those South Korean lab animals and the lessons they’ve imparted. (And possibly consider buying some glutathione online, which is legal, on New Year’s morning.)