If you enjoy consuming alcohol frequently, you may be familiar with the headaches and other symptoms of hangovers. As you age, hangover symptoms appear more frequently and intensify.
You may no longer be able to consume the same amount you used to in your 20s without suffering ill effects. What you may not understand is why your tolerance for alcohol seems to decrease with age.
To understand the science behind worsening hangovers, you must acknowledge the consumption of too much alcohol can be poisonous. If ingested in large quantities, it will be detrimental to your health at any age. Years of alcohol consumption contribute to liver damage and other health problems. There are also many physiological changes that take place inside your body as you grow up. Those changes can easily amplify the effects of alcohol at the time of consumption, making hangovers longer lasting and more intense. Below are some of the factors that may make your hangovers worse when you are 30 years of age or older.
Your alcohol tolerance is your ability to drink a certain amount of alcohol without feeling sick. When you are young, you may have a high tolerance for alcohol consumption for many reasons, including:
As you get older, you may continue to drink a lot of alcohol on a regular basis, which means your alcohol tolerance technically remains high. However, drinking alcohol regularly affects brain function, coordination and organ health. As such, you can still experience harsher hangovers as you age than you would in your 20’s. Excessive alcohol consumption can also contribute to poor balance and put you at a higher risk of developing dementia.
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You may also fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, drinking less alcohol as you age. Perhaps you attended numerous college parties at a young age and as you get older, such occasions are few and far between. Drinking alcohol less frequently is good for your health, but it does not make you less susceptible to hangovers. In fact, your tolerance for alcohol decreases when you are not drinking it often. As a result, you are more likely to have frequent and intense hangovers when you do consume alcohol.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 24,000 people die from cirrhosis annually. Cirrhosis is the scarring of liver tissue, often caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Other liver ailments caused by alcohol consumption can include:
Illnesses like hepatitis and cirrhosis do not directly impact hangover length or intensity. However, when your liver cannot metabolize toxins as quickly as it used to, alcohol stays in your body for an extended period. This, in turn, makes it more difficult for you to recover from an evening of drinking. Additionally, since your body does not process alcohol at the same rate it used to, your alcohol tolerance changes. It takes fewer drinks for you to develop a hangover because alcohol does not move through your system as quickly.
One of the reasons your liver cannot process alcohol as quickly when you get older is due to liver enzyme efficiency. Your body composition changes over the years and one of the affected parts of your body is your liver enzymes. Their role is to process alcohol and other toxins from your body after consumption. Then, the toxins are expelled from your body through urination. As you get older, your liver has fewer enzymes. The remaining enzymes are often less efficient and thus must work harder to process the toxins.
Cellular changes, specifically in your DNA, can affect your alcohol tolerance. Your chromosomes have particular types of DNA at their ends called telomeres. Telomeres are protective pieces of DNA. They help keep your cellular structure intact. Telomeres also assist with recovery and repair processes that keep your body healthy.
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The cells in your body divide and regenerate all the time. However, as you age, certain cells reach a point at which they can no longer divide. When this happens, your telomeres become shorter. As a result, you eventually lose the ability to recover quickly from ailments and environmental influences. You also become more susceptible to the following:
Diuretics are substances that remove excess sodium and water from your body. Typically, they accomplish this by causing frequent urination. If your body is retaining too much fluid, consuming diuretic substances is beneficial. In fact, doctors often prescribe diuretic pills to patients with water retention issues.
Alcohol is a natural diuretic, which is why you urinate often when consuming it. If your body is already dehydrated, consuming a diuretic like alcohol can cause dangerous side effects. Some of those side effects are among the many hangover symptoms you experience. Among them are:
When you are young, your body is able to sense dehydration easier. It is also more capable of storing water to stave off dehydration and hangover symptoms. As you age, your senses change. You may not have a feeling of thirst to alert you to dehydration before more serious symptoms develop. Since your body is less capable of water conservation, it is also easier for you to become dehydrated under normal circumstances, such as when you spend too much time out in the sun on a hot day. At the same time, consuming alcohol amplifies dehydration symptoms and causes worse hangovers than you would experience as a young adult.
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