Veisalgi cephalagia sounds like a serious medical condition and, as researchers admit, there are more theories than studies, one with little hope.
Nevertheless, it is a commonly experienced condition that can easily be avoided and, although there is no known cure, it doesn’t normally last for very long. Veisalgi cepahalagia is no more, or less, than a hangover headache.
Studies have shown that alcohol induced headaches are usually more severe amongst migraine sufferers and are thought to be induced by acetate. Clinical research, using rats as subjects, does demonstrate possible links between this substance and headaches.
Ethanol, or drinking alcohol, is metabolized into acetaldehyde, which in turn is rapidly transformed into acetate, mainly in the liver, and observation shows that various symptoms, including headaches, occur after this process.
Scientists are aware that other factors may play a part in inducing hangover headaches, including impurities introduced into alcohol. Known as congeners, these compounds provide taste and smell, turning pure alcohol into the more familiar drink products found in any bar. Wine contains sulfites and tannins, for example, which are thought to cause hangover headache, whilst reports suggest that the after effects of drinking brandy are more severe than those of vodka, which has long been viewed by many drinkers as a cleaner drink.
Similarly dehydration is recognized as a trigger for migraine attacks. With little or no scientific evidence, many drinkers do consider water to be a hangover preventative.
Caffeine may also block the physical effects of acetate. Rats tested with caffeine were found to have reduced sensitivity to the effects of ethanol, so drinking coffee the morning after the night before may well have more scientific substance than simple folk wisdom suggests. Unfortunately once caffeine is metabolized, which happens quickly, sensitivity to alcohol induced after effects appears to return. A report in New Scientist suggests that the best time to take coffee is about four hours after drinking, although once again this was based on studies with rats which had had the equivalent of one drink.
Most previous studies of hangovers have been questionnaire based, which might be akin to the seasoned drinker asking the time honored question, “Why did I do it?” Interestingly the studies with rats seem to concur with studies that show that humans with a history of headaches are more susceptible to hangovers.
Whilst these experiments do suggest links with alcohol consumption and hangovers, they, sadly perhaps, offer no ready cures; those prone to headaches might be well advised to avoid drinking, and tried and trusted folk remedies will have to continue their role for the present. Drink plenty of water before bed, and start the following day with a strong jolt of caffeine.