As the Christmas season is upon us, what better time to think about alcohol, aptly described by Homer Simpson as the “the cause and solution to all of life’s problems”.
The British Medical Journal has a wonderful article that tells you everything you wanted to know about alcohol (but were too drunk to ask) in one concise package.
It covers the effect of alcohol on the body and brain, and describes what affects how alcohol is absorbed into the body:
Rate of absorption of alcohol depends on several factors. It is quickest, for example, when alcohol is drunk on an empty stomach and the concentration of alcohol is 20-30%. Thus, sherry, with an alcohol concentration of about 20% increases the levels of alcohol in blood more rapidly than beer (3-8%), while spirits (40%) delay gastric emptying and inhibit absorption. Drinks aerated with carbon dioxide‚Äîfor example, whisky and soda, and champagne‚Äîget into the system quicker. Food, and particularly carbohydrate, retards absorption: blood concentrations may not reach a quarter of those achieved on an empty stomach. The pleasurable effects of alcohol are best achieved with a meal or when alcohol is drunk diluted, in the case of spirits.
It also notes that blood alcohol level is affected by stage of the menstrual cycle in women. Apparently, it is highest premenstrually and at ovulation (evolutionary psychologists, start your engines).
Different effect are compared to the amount of alcohol in the blood stream, so it’s a really handy summary.
The BMJ also published a systematic review of hangover cures and preventions later in the year, and found, rather sadly, that:
No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover. The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practise abstinence or moderation.