If you’re someone who enjoys a good drink, chances are that you’ve been part of the large portion of adults who have experienced and become familiar with the symptoms of veisalgia, which is essentially the medical term for the alcoholic hangover. However, many people do not realise the larger consequences of this familiar illness. This misery typically appears at least once in every adults life, and while it can have many symptoms, from vomiting to lethargy to headaches that feel like an army tap-dancing in your skull, the pain typically subsides after a few hours. In saying that, the common hangover can also affect your stomach health in ways that you might not expect, and it doesn’t just have to do with nausea.
“Typically, a hangover begins within several hours after the cessation of drinking, when a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is falling,” the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism wrote. “Symptoms usually peak about the time BAC is zero and may continue for up to 24 hours thereafter,” When you’re drinking alcohol, the composition of your gut microbes changes, adapting to what’s coming into the body. This process is called dysbiosis, and it does some intriguing things.
A number of studies in the past have looked into the overall effects of alcohol on an individuals microbiome and general health, and it was then discovered that some moderate drinking of alcohol — specifically red wine, which usually contains polyphenol, is actually helpful to stomach bacteria, although excessive consumption of the drink can harm it.
An individuals stomach changes during drinking and it appears to be part of what can essentially be the cause (and misery) of hangovers. According to Professor Tim Spector, writing in the Guardian in 2015, microbial changes on a night out on the town can cause stomach microbes to ‘leak’ toxins called LPS. A study of 25 non-heavy drinkers, he explained, found that those with the worst hangover symptoms also had the highest levels of LPS and a spike in microbes that attack invading cells. The attacking microbes set off an immune response, “stimulating the immune system as if it were under attack and contributing to the general sick-feeling so typical of hangovers.”
“increased abundance of pro-inflammatory bacteria and decrease in anti-inflammatory bacteria,” according to the proceedings of the 8th Alcohol Hangover Research Meeting, can also lead to something more serious than hangovers — “disruption of intestinal barrier integrity,” or leaky gut syndrome, which allows bacteria and other microbes to leave your stomach and get into your bloodstream. It’s reported to be behind a lot of immune conditions and inflammation-linked health problems, to say the least.
The Alcohol Research Group also had another theory on how exactly stomach microbes might affect an individuals hangover — and it has to do with your circadian rhythms. In the theory, they explained that when mice were given alcohol and had their circadian rhythms disrupted, they were more likely to experience dysbiosis and leakiness. What are Circadian rhythms? They are essentially the body’s 24-hour clock, its pattern of sleeping and waking. It’s regulated by the brain but backed up by numerous other systems — and the stomachs microbiome has a big role in helping keeping it working in a regular fashion. Alcohol is known to disrupt circadian rhythms, and sticking to a 24-hour clock and has been shown to help cure hangover symptoms. Stomach microbiome research about alcohol is often focused on the long-term; for instance, alcohol abuse over time causes changes in the stomach microbiome that can increase the likelihood of liver disease, according to research reported in Scientific American in 2016.
However, if you just want a short-term solution to the “hangover” feeling you get every time you drink a little too much, the answer may simply just be in your microbiome. A probiotic company announced in 2018 that it was formulating a probiotic “hangover cure” that could help beat hangover symptoms by boosting various microbes in the stomach, though it still needs to undergo numerous testing before it’s released to the public. For now, keeping hydrated and monitoring your alcohol intake seems to do the trick.