According to the National Headache Foundation’s survey statistics, an overwhelming 92% of the population has experienced a hangover headache at some point in their lives.
Beer, wine, and liquor are all made of ethanol, or a chemical more commonly known as alcohol. Alcohol has been found to trigger headaches in several ways. It is a direct vasodilator and in some individuals vasodilatation, or enlargement of the blood vessels by a nerve or drug, may cause a headache. Alcohol is also a natural diuretic: it leads to the excretion of salt, vitamins, and minerals from the body through the kidneys. When consumed in excess, alcohol can cause dehydration or chemical imbalances in the body which can both trigger headache.
In addition to ethanol, alcoholic beverages contain other chemicals called congeners that create the specific flavors of each drink. These chemicals can often trigger headaches, alter chemicals in the body, and induce the hangover effect if consumed in excess.
The National Headache Foundation provides the following useful information for the prevention of hangover headaches:
- Drink alcohol in moderation: sip your drink slowly!
- Drink mixed drinks containing fruit or vegetable juices. Fructose, the naturally occurring sugar from fruits, helps return portions of the body’s chemical balance back to normal following alcohol consumption.
- Alternate between alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages to minimize alcohol consumption. For example, order a glass of water with your glass of wine at the dinner table.
- Eat two tablespoons of honey prior to drinking: honey also supplies fructose and is rich in vitamin B6, which can reduce hangover symptoms.
- Eat greasy food before drinking alcohol. Greasy foods help line the intestines which causes alcohol absorption to take longer.
And to relieve hangover headaches, the NHF gives the following advice:
- Drink tomato juice. It’s another good source of fructose and it helps the body process alcohol faster.
- Consume fluids and foods that contain minerals and salts. Liquids rich in minerals and salts such as bouillon offer relief from the dehydration caused by alcohol consumption.
- Drink sports drinks to replenish your body’s fluids.
- Drink coffee as soon as you wake up: Caffeine may provide some relief in alleviating the headache symptoms and decreasing the duration of pain. Caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor and eases the dilated blood vessels.
- Take ibuprofen: it is gentler on the stomach than aspirin and provides pain relief.