As many individuals that have spent a night of drinking can attest – a hangover is rather unpleasant, and generally something most people wish to avoid or treat at any cost.
One among the supposed methods of curing the negative effects of a hangover is that of coffee, a psychoactive compound consumed throughout the world and likely readily available in practically any kitchen pantry.
However, despite the purported hangover treating effects of coffee, research has shown that it may only have a marginal effect on individuals experiencing such symptoms – and only towards certain characteristics of a hangover, instead of the entire condition itself.
What Causes a Hangover?
For the most part, the acute symptoms experienced by an individual suffering from a hangover are due to a loss of electrolytes and fluids as the body filters out ethanol alcohol from its various organs, a condition that is otherwise known as being dehydrated.
Bright Future Recovery, an alcohol detox center says that dehydration is a primary effect of alcohol due to the diuretic effect alcohol imparts when consumed in large volumes, especially at the higher percentage concentrations without the addition of diluents or mixer ingredients that can help replace some of the fluid lost from drinking alcohol.
Other factors native to alcohol consumption that may be responsible for inducing a hangover in an individual are certain chemical components of alcoholic beverages as well as alcohol’s natural inflammatory effects on the body by causing a release of cytokines from the hepatic system.
What is a Diuretic?
A diuretic is a compound that induces diuresis in the body; that is to say, causes the body to excrete sodium and water at a faster pace and in larger volumes that it normally would through its normal homeostatic function.
As one can infer from this, diuretic substances can cause dehydration in an individual when used in a manner that causes the body to lose fluids and electrolytes without subsequent replacement of said fluids and electrolytes.
One among the many kinds of diuretic substances is alcohol, whose diuretic effect is the primary reason behind its ability to induce a hangover in individuals that consume it in large volumes.
However, alongside alcohol’s diuretic effect is also that of caffeine, which shares a similar though admittedly weaker capacity to cause diuresis in the drinker.
Can Coffee Make the Symptoms of a Hangover Worse?
Whether or not coffee can make the symptoms of a hangover worse will depend on what particular symptoms one’s hangover has found to be most prominent, and whether or not they are treating the hangover with other remedies.
Generally, caffeine from coffee is considered a minor diuretic and may intensify dehydration that is a direct consequence of excessive alcohol consumption, and as such can worsen a headache or nausea from a hangover to some degree.
However, this does not always apply, as caffeine has also been shown to be effective at treating a certain few symptoms that come bundled into the acute set of effects that hangovers are known for causing in individuals.
Choosing to treat a hangover with caffeine is best combined alongside a restoration of the body’s electrolyte and fluid supply so as to avoid or cancel out the minor diuresis incurred from drinking coffee – as well as the addition of other hangover treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and proper nutrition.
Can Coffee Treat a Headache and Other Symptoms Related to Hangovers?
While caffeine is often touted as an excellent cure to the many symptoms one experiences after a night of drinking, the medical literature behind these claims is sparse and only tangentially related at best, with what little that is available providing mixed results on whether coffee can treat said symptoms.
Generally, caffeine utilized in a clinical setting to combat nausea (in a postoperative or ordinary capacity) was found to either be ineffective or a factor in the subsequent worsening of the test subjects’ nausea.
In the case of nausea experienced from a hangover, caffeine may in fact worsen not only the perceived sense of malaise the hangover sufferer may be experiencing by increasing blood pressure but also by causing a nervousness or anxiety that is a characteristic of many central nervous system acting stimulants.
This is, of course, in extension of the gastrointestinal symptoms that are also experienced after a night of drinking, with soft stool and an upset or acidic stomach only being intensified by the low pH and lower intestine contracting side effects of coffee itself.
Caffeine’s primary mechanism of action is in its ability to block or otherwise alter the function of adenosine receptors found in the brain – of which are, through a rather complicated biochemical process, related to an individual’s perception of exhaustion and fatigue.
Though it may depend on a case by case basis and between different individuals, fatigue is often a major symptom of a hangover, and as such the subsequent alteration of the cerebral adenosine pathway by blocking the receptors can often result in an improvement or alleviation of said fatigue and exhaustion symptoms.
A major mechanism of alcohol metabolism is the subsequent release of an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase, of which alters and breaks the molecular bonds found in alcohol compounds so as to oxidize said compound into aldehyde, of which is further broken down into another compound known as acetate.
This acetate is generally found in the bloodstream at elevated levels once the hepatic system has fully metabolized alcohol, with one among the primary effects of high acetate levels in an individual’s bloodstream being that of a headache.
As such, one can infer that one of the main mechanisms behind a hangover and its acute symptomatic headache is due to this release of acetate following the enzymatic breakdown of ethanol alcohol.
In a study not directly related to hangover symptom treatment but to headache treatment itself, coffee and its active ingredient caffeine were found to directly affect the perceived pain and sensitivity experienced during a hangover by way of blocking the acetate’s presence in the brain.
Can Coffee be Combined with Analgesics for Hangovers?
Unlike the other applications of caffeine in relation to the symptoms of a hangover, a direct interaction between caffeine and the use of analgesic medications has been thoroughly studied in many medical literature articles.
At a standard dosage equivalent to one cup of standard concentration coffee combined with analgesic medications such as ibuprofen or acetylsalicylic acid was found to greatly improve the research subject’s perception of pain relief.
While this drug-drug interaction was not specifically investigated within the context of headache and soreness experienced during a hangover, the findings were similar enough in scope and acute symptomatic characterization to substantiate some sort of possible effect in hangover sufferers.
In Conclusion, Does Coffee Help a Hangover?
With all the aforementioned information being said, we come to the conclusion that the relationship between coffee and hangovers is a rather complex one – and that the intake of caffeine to cure the symptoms of a hangover will result in a mixed bag of effects.
Caffeine from coffee may worsen the gastrointestinal effects and perceived nausea many hangover sufferers experience, especially within the first few hours of waking up after a night of drinking.
However, this is in opposition to the benefits of drinking coffee with a hangover, as it has been shown to reduce the symptoms of a headache as well as any perceived fatigue the individual may be experiencing, all the more so if it is used in combination with certain over the counter medications.
Regardless of whether the individual chooses to drink coffee in order to treat their hangover, it is important for them to intake a sufficient quantity of fluids and electrolytes so as to compensate for the loss of such bodily requirements by way of drinking alcohol.
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