Do Electrolytes Really Cure Hangovers?
We all know that the worst part of a night of drinking is what always seems to come after: a hangover. While there is no magical cure to a hangover, there are a number of things you can do to help. First and foremost, drink lots of water and load up on electrolytes before you go to bed. Electrolytes and water will not prevent all hangovers, but they will help relieve its effects and, if you’re lucky, might stop a minor hangover from happening at all.
Why Does Alcohol Cause Hangovers?
Everyone knows that if you drink enough alcohol you’ll end up hungover in the morning, but not everyone knows why. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons to why alcohol causes hangovers.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes higher than normal levels of urination. Normally, our bodies naturally regulate the levels of fluid to keep it at a healthy level. With a diuretic, the excessive urination drains our bodies of fluid and dehydrates us. This leads to headaches, nausea, muscle aches, and dizziness.
Digestive Problems and Vomiting
According to a study by The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, alcoholic beverages cause acute gastritis. This means that alcohol upsets the stomach and intestines causing inflammation. It also causes the production of gastric acid and other secretions that can lead to nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.
While these are all symptoms of a hangover, vomiting actually compounds the problems by ridding your stomach of water and further dehydrating you.
Vomiting and excessive urination also cause your body to lose electrolytes. An electrolyte imbalance is one of the biggest causes of hangovers. Without electrolytes, our bodies are unable to properly balance hydration levels, maintain efficient muscle function, or balance pH levels. This contributes to headaches and muscle weakness.
Vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, is a direct result of dehydration and alcohol intoxication. This causes your brain to swell and results in a headache.
Even though alcohol makes you tired, it actually inhibits your body’s natural REM cycles and prevents quality sleep. This causes muscle weakness, drowsiness, and difficulty forming memories. Enough alcohol and your REM cycles may simply not happen, resulting in a “blackout”.
Low Blood Sugar
Alcohol inhibits the production of sugar (glucose) in the body and depletes the body’s glucose reserves. Glucose is the main source of energy in the brain and low blood sugar levels can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and mood swings.
What Exactly Do Electrolytes Do?
There are a number of electrolytes--such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium--that each serve one or more important functions within the body. Maintaining the correct electrolyte levels in your body is key to staying (and feeling) healthy and avoiding the worst effects of a hangover. (For a full guide on electrolytes click here)
This is what most people tend to think of when they think of electrolytes--and for good reason. Without electrolytes, your body would not be able to balance the levels of water between cells. When you work out, or simply engage in day-to-day life, different cells use more water than others. This naturally creates imbalances throughout the body.
Without getting too much into the science, water is able to correct these imbalances through osmosis. This is a process in which water naturally moves from areas with a lower concentration of molecules, to areas with a higher concentration of molecules within the water. Electrolytes serve as the molecule that allows water to move to areas with depleted water.
With an electrolyte imbalance, water molecules will not properly move to dehydrated areas.
Maintaining the Nervous System
Our brains are able to send messages and communicate with the rest of the body by using electrical signals caused by changes in the electric charge on the outside of nerve cells. Electrolytes are what make this possible.
Sodium and potassium, two important electrolytes, alternate within nerve cells to allow electrical signals to pass through them. Without enough electrolytes, these signals will slow down and make us feel groggy, slow, and weak.
Electrolytes in our muscles are what allow them to contract and relax. When triggered by the brain, a muscle will use calcium to contract and magnesium to relax. Without enough of these two electrolytes, muscle contractions may be slow and/or the muscles will lose much of their strength.
Managing pH Levels
Movement of muscles naturally creates lactic acid, which can be toxic to other cells. The electrolyte bicarbonate neutralizes the lactic acid and balances the body’s pH levels.
Can Electrolytes Cure Hangovers?
There is no such thing as a “hangover cure”--but electrolytes and water are by far the best thing you can use to help minimize hangover effects.
Drinking alcohol causes you to lose a lot of water and creates electrolyte imbalances. When parts of your body become dehydrated (like when you drink high amounts of alcohol), your body attempts to balance body fluids. It needs electrolytes to do this.
Normally, you would have an electrolyte imbalance from the alcohol, but if you make sure to hydrate and replenish your electrolytes while drinking or shortly after, you might be able to avoid the worst effects of dehydration.
Reloading your electrolytes also replenishes the electrolyte stores in your muscles, which can help prevent muscle fatigue and weakness.
Electrolytes can help remedy some of the worst effects of a hangover, but don’t count on them to cure every one. Even though water and electrolytes solve many of the negative effects of alcohol, there is no universal cure. Luckily, there are other things you can do to complement water and electrolytes that may stop a hangover--or at least remedy the more unpleasant effects.
What Are the Best Ways To Prevent a Hangover?
Water and Electrolytes
Consume plenty of water and electrolytes while you drink, after you drink, and when you wake up to continuously hydrate and replenish your electrolyte reserves. Some good sources of electrolytes include bananas, coconut water, and pickle juice. One of the best sources is sports drinks; an electrolyte hydration mix mixed into water can hydrate you and provide all the necessary electrolytes.
Drink in Moderation
You’ve definitely heard this plenty of times, but it really does help. Drinking a ton of alcohol can overload your body before it has a chance to recover. If you are set on drinking a lot, try to consume it over a longer period of time and drink lots of water. This can give your body a better chance to regain strength between drinks.
Avoid Drinks with Congeners
Congener is a toxic chemical byproduct created in some drinks during fermentation. It is known to worsen hangovers and prolong the negative effects. Drinks with little to no congeners are vodka, gin, and rum. Drinks with a lot of congeners are tequila, bourbon, whiskey, and cognac. A good rule of thumb is that darker beverages contain more congeners.
Eat A Lot
Some of the worst effects of alcohol are caused by low blood sugar. Eating hearty meals before and after you drink, as well as the following morning, can help your body replenish glucose levels and provide vitamins and minerals essential to a quick recovery.
Get Lots of Sleep
A lack of sleep itself does not cause a hangover, but it can worsen its effects. Sleeping puts your body in a prime state to recover, especially if you don’t drink too much right before going to bed. Consider drinking earlier in the day or night to allow your body to recover enough to get a good night’s rest.
"Hair of the Dog"
Having another drink the following morning does show some signs of easing the negative effects of alcohol. According to a study by PubMed Central, Alcohol can help slow the conversion in your body of methanol into formaldehyde, a toxic compound. However, this does not actually contribute to recovery and may form an unhealthy cycle.
ATAQ Electrolyte Hydration Mix
Here at ATAQ, our Electrolyte Hydration Mix gives you all the electrolytes you need with less than ⅓ of the sugar than other sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade. While Gatorade only includes sodium and potassium, our proprietary formula also includes calcium and magnesium, as well as 2x the potassium. We only use natural cane sugar in our products and our hydration mix includes betaine, a unique ingredient that actively metabolizes carbs and proteins. Our electrolyte hydration powder (mix) was formulated for athletes but can come in handy for a lot of other people and reasons too. #goontheATAQ