If three glasses of wine cause you wake up the next morning feeling hazy, yet you remember the days of doing rail shots all night long and still making it to work for 9 a.m. bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, chances are you’re no longer in your 20s. That’s because, much like many other debaucherous after effects, hangovers get worse with age.
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Although there’s undoubtedly loads of anecdotal evidence of this, there isn’t much from the field of science to explain it. Experts chalk it up to a number of natural changes that occur in the body as we age, as well as a propensity to alter our lifestyle and the frequency with which we consume alcohol.
You lack liver enzymes
The liver undergoes a two-step process when metabolizing alcohol: first enzymes break it down into acetaldehyde (a toxic substance) and then another enzyme breaks it down into acetate (a non-toxic substance), which then exits the body as carbon dioxide and water.
But since the liver can only metabolize one drink per hour, if you’re drinking more than that, it can’t keep up the demand of breaking down the acetaldehyde, leaving you with toxins in your body and bloodstream.
“This toxin is probably the reason for a lot of the gross feelings that come with a hangover,” Dr. Rachel Vreeman, assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said to NBC News.
Add to this the fact that we create fewer liver enzymes as we age, and that alone could serve to explain the raging headache and persistent nausea we feel after a night of tying-one-on in our 30s and 40s.
In addition, our bodies, which have been subjected to decades of illness and general wear-and-tear that they’ve had to fight off, are slower to recover.
You’ve lost muscle mass
But there are other factors that come into play. Namely, our body composition changes. Whether we get fatter or slimmer, as the body ages it loses muscle mass, and muscles are more adept at absorbing alcohol than fat. What ends up happening is the alcohol stays in the system longer and as we continue to drink, it increases the chances of accumulating more acetaldehyde.
“When one’s body weight has increased, blood alcohol level decreases because of its wide distribution into body mass and fat, which leads one to drink extra glasses without realizing it,” toxicology researcher Young Chul Kim said.
You don’t do it as often
Of course, all this could just as easily be explained by a lack of practice, in a manner of speaking. Those of us who were more prone to carrying on in our younger years have simply grown out of the habit of drinking excessively as we’ve aged and become more responsible — or at least less inclined to get drunk every weekend.
“Age may be a proxy for regularity of drinking,” Dr. Lara Ray, a professor of clinical psychology at UCLA who researches alcoholism, said to the New York Times. “If you haven’t gone to a party for two to three weeks, it might be less about being 40 and more about your drinking history.”
At least we seem to get wiser as we get older.
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