Unlike food consumption, which requires digestion, alcohol is absorbed extremely quickly, as our bodies make enzymes that break down alcohol before it even hits the digestive tract. That’s why we can feel the effects fast. Once absorbed completely in the intestines, alcohol then travels via the bloodstream to the liver, activating primary detox enzyme pathways and cytochrome p450 enzymes, which prioritize getting the toxin (i.e., the alcohol) out of your body.
This can create stress on the liver, and if you don’t support this organ with the right nutrients and ample hydration, it will get taxed—thus impairing its ability to detoxify excess hormones and toxins, convert nutrients into forms that can be stored or used, and regulate blood sugar levels. Ever wake up in the middle of the night after a few too many with night sweats and a blood sugar crash? That’s because the liver was overworked and unable to properly manage glucose levels during sleep. If you are having these types of reactions, you either drank too much or you’re under-supporting your liver.
When your liver metabolizes alcohol, it requires glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in the body, demanded in both phases of detoxification—phase 1 of toxin activation in the liver and phase 2 of toxin excretion. Your genetics, especially genes involved with processes of detox, can hinder your ability to activate these processes, which creates more hangover symptoms in some people than others. But regardless of whether or not you have sluggish detox genes, you will benefit from optimizing hydration and glutathione levels and supporting your gut.
Alcohol also dehydrates you—it increases urination by interfering with antidiuretic hormones, telling the kidneys to send the liquid right to the bladder to bypass absorption. This can throw off water distribution throughout the body and drive electrolyte imbalance, which can result in headaches, brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, and dry mouth. Depending on the severity of dehydration and nutrient depletion, organs can start to essentially dry up and take moisture away from the brain. This can result in an epic hangover headache.
Additionally, certain alcohol additives such as preservatives, colorants, and chemicals as well as naturally occurring irritants such as histamines and yeast, can further distress the detox process and interfere with the gut microbiome.