Light vs. Dark Liquors


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liquor_small[1].jpgAfter an eventful night, I woke up this morning wondering why I felt like a semi-truck had just ran over me a couple times. Thinking back to whatever I was downing last night, I remembered I had been drinking both vodka and whiskey. I then remembered how many times I was told not to mix light and dark liquors together. After feeling like a complete idiot, I found myself deeply wondering why mixing these two liquors isn't a good idea, and why it has given me such a nasty hangover.

Now, obviously, drinking in excess/binge drinking, whatever you prefer to call it, is bound to give you a hangover the next day. However, there has been a lot of research on whether these two types of liquors effect people differently the next day.

A study at Brown University was done to find what liquor gives a more severe hangover. Adults from ages 21 to 33 were given a choice of a drink made from caffeine-free cola mixed with bourbon, vodka, or tonic water. The participants' drinks were taken away when their breath-alcohol concentrations hit 0.11 and then attached to sleep monitors. After allowing the participants to sleep the booze off, they received a 7AM wake up call from researchers. They received no coffee or aspirin after being woken up, but were asked to rate the severity of their hangovers. The scales included things like headaches, nausea, and a loss of appetite and thirst. The bourbon drinkers reported feeling worse than the drinkers that had vodka the night before. The conclusion of the test was that the bourbon and drinkers slept poorly compared to the people who had only had tonic water. The participants who had had alcohol performed more poorly on cognitive tests, yet the researchers found that the type of alcohol didn't effect the performance.

Damaris Rohsehow, who had conducted the Brown University study, says that the bourbon drinkers may have reported having a worse hangover because of all the toxins in dark liquor. On average, bourbon contains 37 times more toxic compounds than vodka does. These compounds contain things like acetone, acetaldehyde, tannins and furfural. The clearer the liquor is, the less of these toxins they are bound to contain. One kind of impurity present in alcohol is congeners, a byproduct of fermentation.

Another kind of impurity that can have an effect on a hangover is a product of alcohol metabolism, called acetalhyde. Acetalhyde, which is created when alcohol in the liver is broken down by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. Alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down alcohols that are toxic in the liver. Another substance, acetalhyde dehydrogenase works together with a substance called glutathione to attack alcohol dehydrogenase. This process forms nontoxic acetate, and leaves the acetaldehyde a short amount of time to do its damage, if only a few drinks are consumed. The liver stores the glutathione, but runs out of the substance quickly when alcohol enters the system in large quantitites. The acetaldehyde then builds up in the body, while the liver is trying to keep up in creating glutathione, leaving the toxin in the body for a longer period of time. The toxicity of acetaldehyde results in headaches, nausea and vomiting.

 

While drinking any kind of alcohol in excess is going to give you a hangover, it's good to know why and how you get a hangover, what it does to your body, and how you can prevent them.  

2 Comments

This is a very good blog post. Often people know the rule to not mix various alcoholic beverages yet do not know why. I think that there are a couple more tests that scientists can do in order to take this a step further. I wonder if beers that are darker such as Guinness will make a hangover worse compared to a lighter colored beer such as Natural Light. When speaking of Natural Light, i also think that regardless of the color, drinking cheaper quality alcohol will in fact give you a worse hangover. I also wonder if scientists have studied whether or not darker liqueurs will affect men in different ways then women. Often due to body size and a variety of other factors men can drink larger amounts of alcohol. But does that still mean they won't get a worse hangover from a darker alcohol? These are all questions that i would love to see answered in a new blog post.

I thought your blog post was very thorough. I never knew about the differences in toxin levels between clear and dark liquors. I also thought the experiment was also interesting and well done because it appears to be a double-blind placebo experiment. However, I wonder how many people participated in the study. In order to eliminate confounding variables such as participant weight, alcohol tolerance, gender and amount they had eaten before drinking, the subjects would have had to have been randomly allocated.
In reading your blog, I also wonder what the difference in alcohol content in bourbon and vodka or if that was a negligible detail in the study. Also, I've heard that champagne gives people a worse hangover and I wonder if there's a scientific reason as to why that is.

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