We might only be two days into 2024, but thanks to New Year’s festivities, there’s probably some people out there who are experiencing the worst hangover they’ll have this year. They may well be clinging to the possibility that a heavy, sweaty gym session will be the cure, lest they turn up at work with a dark pair of sunglasses and a sickly complexion. Sadly though, attempting to sweat the alcohol out of their system is unlikely to help.
Whilst it is indeed possible for your body to sweat out alcohol, the more detailed reality of that fact is that it’s only a small amount – less than 10 percent of alcohol in the body is excreted via sweat, breath, and urine. The rest is broken down in the liver, a process that can only be waited out, as it happens at a constant rate that can’t be increased.
Although a spot of exercise might help to reduce hangxiety in the meantime, part of the reason hangovers can make us feel so rubbish in the first place is dehydration. One glass of wine too many can zap us of our moisture in two main ways, one of which is a change in our toilet habits.
“Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it stimulates our need to pass water,” Luke Worthington, sports scientist and personal trainer, explained to Vogue. “So even though we’re drinking more fluid on a night out, we are actually losing more than we take in.”
Alcohol can also make us lose fluids by, coincidentally enough, making us sweat more. When the liver breaks down the ethanol in an alcoholic product, it produces a compound called acetaldehyde, which has some less-than-pleasant side effects, including nausea, dizziness, and increased sweating.
In this case, getting even more sweaty, and thus dehydrated, is not exactly the best idea if you want to feel better. There will still be some people who swear by exercise to cure their hangovers (although there’s no magic remedy), but this has less to do with sweat and more with the “happy chemicals” we get from exercising.
"The real reason some people claim to feel better after a hungover workout is because of the endorphins, not the actual sweating," said sports medicine specialist Naresh Rao, speaking to Shape.
If you’re hungover and in need of that endorphin hit, it’s probably best to take it easy and make sure to drink plenty (preferably non-alcoholic drinks) beforehand. "If you do choose to work out, limit it to light cardio and ensure adequate hydration to keep up with the loss of water that occurs," advised Rao.
And if you’d rather just wallow in bed (no judgment here), you can wallow in the knowledge that maybe one day soon, there might even be a way to have all the nice parts of alcohol without the grim side effects.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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