It’s been said that many things in life improve with age. Like a fine wine, for example. But drink too much of that fine wine and you’ll likely end up with a hangover. Unfortunately, that particular horror is not going to get any better. Hangovers get worse with age, so we all have that to look forward to! Or do we?
To tackle the question of why this worsening with age happens, John Mansour, pharmacist and founder of B4, explains that many variables contribute and how you can prepare for it in order to minimize adverse effects. “Alcohol is a toxin and your body sees it as a threat when it’s consumed. Typically, as you get older, your body can’t handle alcohol the way it could when you were younger,” he explains. One of the main factors is that over the years your liver (along with you, its owner) has aged. This means your liver doesn’t store or create as much of the antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, minerals and other essentials that you need to process alcohol. Mansour continues, “Drinking puts your body into overdrive as it tries to flush out the toxins.” Having less of these essentials in your body means the hangover-inducing compounds in alcohol have more time to do their damage, while your poor overworked liver is doing the best it can.
Then there is body composition. People tend to lose muscle and put on more fat as they age. It happens to the best of us. Unfortunately, though, your fat-to-muscle ratio determines your risk for dehydration. Anyone who has ever had a hangover knows, dehydration is a ginormous part of the agony. Not to mention that fat stores alcohol, increasing your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Muscle, on the other hand, helps process alcohol. And those post-partying snacks to soak up what’s in your stomach are not helping. Your liver dealing with a chimichanga takes away from its ability to process alcohol! “This isn’t something we like to hear, but it’s a piece of the puzzle,” explains Mansour. “Your liver is working harder to process alcohol and bar food, all while your body is not in perfect condition. And muscle tissue is about 75-percent water while fat is only 10 percent. Since alcohol in water is absorbed more quickly than in fat, it means a higher fat percentage leads to a higher risk of dehydration, which is another contributor to hangovers.”
“The body is a beautiful thing,” says Mansour. “When you’re drinking less frequently than you did when you were younger, your body doesn’t know to store the essentials it needs. And it’s less prepared for big nights. The body of a young adult who is drinking regularly prepares and adjusts in order to store more of the minerals, vitamins and the rest of what it needs to process alcohol.” Your body just isn’t used to it anymore and isn’t prepped to handle the onslaught of hangover-inducing chemicals. It really comes down to the fact that when you’re younger, your body and liver are healthier and rebound faster. It’s kind of like the tread on your car’s tires. How fast and often you drive, if you’re driving on highways or locally, the weather conditions, all of this goes into the wear-and-tear of the tire tread. Just like the effects of drinking on your body.
Lastly, stressors increase over time, too. You’re sleeping more and stressing less when you’re younger, which helps give your body a layer of protection. More candles on your birthday cake typically mean more responsibilities. Getting older usually means taking more medications, too, which increases the liver’s workload. Medications may also have interactions with alcohol, causing the body to process it differently.
There isn’t one set answer for why the older we get, the worse we may feel after drinking. Sorry! Instead, factors like lifestyle, body composition, amount of regular alcohol consumption, medication usage and stressors result in a strain on your body. And then hangovers may occur.
So what can we do about it? Stay hydrated. Rest. Eat something before drinking alcohol. Exercise. Protect your liver. Drink responsibly.