Can choosing high-quality liquor reduce the risk of hangover? How do we measure quality?
A “hangover" is a collection of physiological and psychological effects that often occur several hours after drinking alcohol. Among other things, it is characterized by headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, anxiety and sweating. A hangover usually occurs the morning after drinking, when symptoms of drunkenness fade, and it usually lasts about 24 hours.
The full picture for hangover causes is not entirely clear yet, but some of the factors known to cause it are dehydration, vasodilation, and changes in the immune and hormonal systems. Studies in recent years have shown the type of alcohol that is consumed and how it is produced are linked to the severity of the hangover.
The process of alcohol production involves two major steps: fermentation and distillation. As fermentation progresses, sugar molecules (e.g. glucose, fructose and sucrose) become molecules of alcohol and carbon dioxide. The next step is the distillation process, which aims to separate the different components in a mixture of liquids. This process brings the mixture to boiling point of one of the components in order to cause it to evaporate, and then the steam is condensed back into liquid in a separate container.
Distillation allows you to isolate the various fluids in the mixture and get rid of unwanted elements, such as by-products of the fermentation process (Congeners). These products include chemicals such as acetone and acetaldehyde (a chemical compound common in nature, used to create acetic acid) - such substances that in high concentrations may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches and even increase the risk of cancer.
Different alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of these residues, and it has been found that the darker the drink (e.g. whiskey or red wine), the greater the relative amount of debris, which is in accordance with the severity of the hangover incurred after drinking.
Researchers have shown for example that bourbon (American whiskey) contains 37 times more residual alcohol than vodka, and another study found that subjects who drank bourbon had a more severe hangover than subjects who consumed vodka. Another interesting finding was the more severe hangover did not lead to lower mental function: the subjects who drank bourbon felt worse the next morning, but their performance in a variety of tests measuring concentration and reaction time were not lower than the performance of the subjects who drank vodka. However, the performances of the two groups were lower when compared to subjects who did not drink alcohol at all.
The reason for high quality drinks causing less severe hangovers lies in the distilling process: beverages differ through their various distilling processes. A drink might not be considered high quality until it has undergone up to six cycles of distilling (or more), a drink of poor quality might go through only two cycles, or even just one. This results in a lower degree of separation of the desired components, such as ethanol, from the other residues in the alcoholic beverages that ultimately increase the intensity of the hangover.
However, the popular belief that mixing different types of alcohol worsens the hangover has no scientific basis. The alcohol itself that is the ethanol molecules are the same in any liquor, and it is not what causes the ill feeling. Perhaps the combination of different substances causes discomfort for some people, which is similar to personal taste for different combinations of foods that can cause subjective feelings. Another explanation for the origin of the myth of falsely attributing a hangover to mixing drinks might just be that there is an increase in beverage consumption, and so with it the increased risk of a hangover.
Davidson On-line provides scientific information only and should not serve as an alternatine to madical or nutritional advice.
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