Alcohol has been around for thousands of years, and hangovers have existed just as long. Ever since the discovery of alcohol and its various forms, people have been interested in its effects and how to avoid them. It hasn’t been until recently in our era of modern medicine that we have begun to understand what a hangover is and how to get rid of one. In fact, hangovers are so complicated that there may be more than just one simple reason why they happen.
Explanation of Congeners
As most know, alcohol is produced through a process called fermentation. Simply, fermentation is a simple breakdown of sugar into ethanol. Ethanol is the main component of any alcoholic drink we consume. When we refer to alcohol, proof, or drinking, we are referencing ethanol. During the process of fermentation, while sugars are being broken down into alcohol, there are a few other byproducts fermentation also produces. One of these byproducts is referred to as congeners. Congeners are by and large very toxic compounds that are produced during the breakdown of sugar into alcohol. There are 11 common types of congeners that we are familiar with, though not all of them are found in every type of alcoholic drink.
In-Depth Look at One Type of Congener
One of the most common type of congener is called methanol, a highly poisonous substance that may be responsible for the most severe hangovers. In most alcohol, methanol exists only in trace amounts. If a drink is not distilled properly, however, methanol can become very concentrated. When the body breaks down methanol, it produces formaldehyde (the compound they use to keep dead bodies and dissected animals fresh) and formic acid (a preservative found in livestock feed), both of which have a very dramatic toll on the body and create terrible hangovers.
Methanol goes through the liver to be broken down, but because the liver is preoccupied breaking down ethanol when you are drinking, methanol is often excreted in urine or through your breath. Once ethanol has been broken down, it will then start to work on breaking down methanol as well. If you have ever wondered how or why a hangover doesn’t happen right when you are drinking, this could be the reason. Methanol is by and large excreted before it takes a toll on your body, but some residual methanol will end up affecting your system.
Congeners in Your Drinks
The substance from which alcohol is created greatly determines the types and concentration of congeners in your drink. For example, vodka, which is alcohol created from the sugar in potatoes, has very few congeners while a drink like brandy has the most. Darker liquors often contain more congeners, while clear liquors contain less. If you were to consume the same amount of alcohol in vodka as you would in a brandy, therefore, you would be more likely to feel a more severe hangover with brandy. The likelihood of getting a hangover from the following drinks is ranked lowest to highest (considering the alcohol content in each is entirely the same):
- Distilled ethanol diluted with fruit juice
- White wines
- Red wine
What does this mean for you? If you want to drink more with the least possible hangover effects, you should go for the fruity drinks or beer. Remember, however, that there are other factors that contribute to a hangover, such as acetaldehyde toxicity, dehydration, and other things. If you thought you have unlocked the key to getting drunk without consequences, you unfortunately have more to consider. Also remember to avoid overdrinking, as this can scar your liver or cause alcohol poisoning.
Now that you know all about congeners and how they can aid in hangovers, think about getting hangover relief. If you are hungover during your next Key West vacation, remember to call us. We come to you and will relieve your hangover in less than an hour.