There’s one aspect of growing older that does not age like a fine wine: Hangovers.
If you’ve ever been on the wrong side of a long night out after, say, age 29, you don’t need to be told. You feel both baffled about and nostalgic for a time, just a few years ago, when you could have one too many and wake up early, bright eyed and ready for spin class. What gives?
While the science of the phenomenon ― and how to make it better ― is still difficult for researchers to pin down, experts have some theories as to why your body just can’t handle sharing a pitcher of margaritas anymore:
Theory 1: Your have fewer liver enzymes.
Let’s start: Alcohol is a toxicant, so when you drink it, your body has to break down and shed the toxic compound of ethanol. Enzymes in your liver are responsible for this process, turning the adult beverage you’ve consumed into a compound called acetaldehyde. An enzyme ― called aldehyde dehydrogenase ― is responsible for morphing acetaldehyde into a substance called acetate, which then turns into properties like carbon dioxide and water.
For every serving of alcohol ― a glass of wine, a rum and coke, etc. ― it takes approximately one hour for your liver to do this.
As Science of Us pointed out, this process works fairly efficiently when you’re younger, but, as you get older, your body’s enzyme levels decrease. This could allow acetaldehyde (AKA the bad toxin) to linger in your system longer, leading to those nasty hangover symptoms like nausea and headaches.
Theory 2: Your body’s recovery process is weaker.
A really fun (read: terrible) fact about aging is that it takes your body more time to recuperate from any sort of trauma, from a cold virus to a tough workout to, yes, drinking too much.
“As one gets older metabolism changes; also neuroplasticity ― the ability of neuronal function to bounce back ― is thought to slow,” George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told HuffPost.
This could also be due in part to your body’s ability to fight off inflammation or cell damage, Time Health explains:
The National Institute on Aging refers to this as “immunosenescence,” or the gradual weakening of your immune system as you age. It’s not that your body doesn’t heal; in many cases, it just doesn’t heal quite as quickly, research suggests.
Theory 3: Your lifestyle demands you to be functional.
The more birthdays you log, the more responsibilities you seemingly add to your plate. Project proposals and kids’ playdates start to replace eating a bagel in your bed all day. Simply put: You don’t have time to nurse that hangover ― and that can make it a real pain.
Theory 4: You’re taking medication that interferes with alcohol.
More years on this earth means more time to get on medication. Chronic illnesses, mental health conditions and other disorders that require pharmaceutical intervention can come later in life. And many meds don’t mix so well with those gin and tonics.
Alcohol combined with antidepressants, blood pressure medication, diabetes therapy and even allergy medication can all have different effects on your system, some of them dangerous. It’s important to check with a doctor to see what you can and can’t take with alcohol.
Theory 5: You’re trying to defy biology.
Data suggests that those in their late twenties are basically trying to run away from aging. A survey conducted in the U.K. by Redemption, a company focused on promoting alcohol-free bars, found that people around the age of 29 were at the most risk for bad hangovers because they’re more likely to engage in the same alcohol habits as their younger years. And since you’re physiologically not the same as when you first became legal (see all the above), this may mean the day after drinking may be next-level nasty.
And, in a very literal sense, your body composition plays a role on how you metabolize alcohol, too. If you’re gaining or losing weight as you age, that can factor into how you process the beverages, Science of Us reported.
Simply put, your body just ― sadly ― isn’t used to a 21-year-old’s lifestyle anymore.
But that’s OK! After all, a vodka soda is hardly a magical elixir when it comes to your health. In fact, here are a few ways your body changes when you cut back on drinking.
Imbibe wisely, friends.