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Home / Journal / What Causes Hangover Nausea?

What Causes Hangover Nausea?

Be it a throbbing hangover headache or hangover nausea, the total exhaustion from excessive drinking can even make lying in bed and watching TV all day seem too difficult. We have previously discussed what causes hangover headaches, but what exactly causes the hangover nausea we feel the morning-after, and more importantly, how to cure it?

The effects of alcoholic beverages on your body depend on who you are, how much and how often you drink, and what you drink. There are many factors that influence how alcohol and hangovers affect you. Each person is different, but the overall symptoms are unmistakable: headache, body aches, nausea, and fatigue.

And we all know hangovers are common. Studies have shown that more than 75% of men and women have experienced a hangover at least once in their lives. Another 15% experience hangovers monthly [1].

Still not shocked? How about this: about 10% of adults in the US — 12 million workers — are hungover on the job, a 2006 study found out [2].

So, in order to figure out how to cure your hangover nausea, you have to understand what causes it in the first place.

First of all, alcohol is a direct irritant to the gastric mucosa in the stomach. This can result in nausea and that raw, empty feeling in your stomach when you wake up after a night of drinking.

Moreover, morning-after nausea is also caused by the effect alcohol has on your brain. More specifically, alcohol triggers a particular zone in the brain responsible for detecting poison in the bloodstream, called the chemoreceptor trigger zone (CTZ) [3]. That trigger zone can cue up nausea and vomiting in an effort to help your body eliminate toxins.

Causes of Hangover Nausea

Below we dive into the details of each cause. By understanding what causes hangover nausea, you can learn what steps any person can take to reduce or prevent it.

1. Acute Gastritis

As mentioned earlier, alcohol is actually an irritant and can upset your stomach. In fact, drinking too much alcohol can even lead to acute gastritis.

Gastritis is the inflammation of the stomach caused by damage to the mucosal lining due to irritation or erosion. The mucosa lining serves as the first line of defense against alcoholic gastritis. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the damage of the mucosa lining [4]. However, alcohol plays a great role. Excessive intake of alcohol neutralizes the bicarbonate ions which constitute the stomach’s mucous epithelial lining, thereby damaging the mucosa lining.

So, now you know: consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can cause acute gastritis. This may lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, which is why you feel the hangover nausea. Acute gastritis is often temporary and can result in stomach pain and nausea after drinking alcohol—however, the pain fades off with time.

Symptoms vary and, in addition to nausea, include indigestion, stomach pain, upset stomach, and vomiting.

2. Toxin build-up and your brain

When you drink an alcoholic beverage, it immediately begins to be absorbed into your bloodstream, partly from your stomach and more actively from your small intestine. Your body breaks down alcohol into other substances. In your liver, alcohol is converted first into acetaldehyde, which is up to 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself.

Keep in mind that we absorb alcohol much more quickly than food - alcohol gets to our bloodstream much faster. However, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol; approximately one standard drink of alcohol every hour.

Since your body can absorb alcohol faster than it can metabolize it, toxins can build up in your bloodstream. A build-up of acetaldehyde (the main byproduct of alcohol) can cause symptoms of nausea and headaches.

Because alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach, the cells that line the organ become irritated. Alcohol also promotes the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, eventually causing the nerves to send a message to the brain that the stomach's contents are hurting the body and must be expelled through vomiting.

This mechanism can actually lessen hangover symptoms in the long run because vomiting gets rid of the alcohol in the stomach and reduces the number of toxins the body has to deal with. In addition to the hangover nausea, the stomach's irritation may also be a factor in some of the other unpleasant symptoms of a hangover, such as diarrhea and lack of appetite.

How to eliminate your hangover nausea

So now you know: alcohol can cause inflammation of your stomach lining, leading to nausea and vomiting. It also stimulates your stomach to produce excess acid, further contributing to hangover symptoms.

We list here 4 tips to treat your hangover nausea:

Eat some ginger

For centuries, people have taken ginger to reduce nausea and vomiting. Try nibbling crystallized ginger in the aftermath of a night of drinking. Research shows that consuming a combination of ginger, tangerine pith, and brown sugar before drinking decreases hangover nausea and vomiting [5].

Take some antacid

If your stomach lining is upset from the effects of alcohol, an over-the-counter antacid like Tums or Pepto-Bismol might help settle the stomach upset.

Eat bland foods

Bananas, rice, applesauce, toast or crackers are easy for your stomach to tolerate.

Sleep it off

Sometimes your nausea is such that sleep is the best medicine. If your hangover nausea and upset stomach are so uncomfortable that you can’t ease them by rehydrating and eating, hit the sheets for a few more hours of sleep.

To avoid hangovers, the obvious answer is don’t drink to excess, and keep drinking water throughout the night. But, if you plan on partying too much, you could try taking hangover pills that work to prevent hangover symptoms.

Sources:

[1] The Alcohol Hangover

[2] Prevalence and distribution of alcohol use and impairment in the workplace: a U.S. national survey

[3] Chemoreceptor Trigger Zone

[4] Current clinical guidelines for the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and management of dyspepsia

[5] Clinical effectiveness of KSS formula, a traditional folk remedy for alcohol hangover symptoms

 

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