Today is St. Patrick's Day, which means some people will undoubtedly be celebrating by hitting the green beer or imbibing other alcoholic beverages.
While you already know it's not wise to drink to excess, we have a couple of videos for you that will explain why. Diane Bunce, professor of chemistry at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and editor for chemical education research for the American Chemical Society's Journal of Chemical Education, recently gave an alcohol-soaked lecture. And by that we mean she imparted a lot of knowledge about alcohol, explaining things like why we get hangovers. Well, why you get hangovers.
The first part of the lecture covers a brief history of alcohol, why alcohol content in bottled liquor is called "proof" (it has to do with the British navy), what determines blood alcohol levels, and what happens at various stages of blood alcohol concentration, from silly behavior to coma and death.
In Part 2, Bunce focuses on the hangover, the unfortunate combination of headache, nausea and fatigue that comes the day after drinking too much. Headaches, she said, may be due to a number of things, including low blood sugar, dehydration, or an allergic reaction to the cogeners, or impurities, in alcohol. Dehydration is a byproduct of drinking, she said, because alcohol interferes with the release of a hormone that causes the kidneys to conserve water. So the more you drink, the more you urinate, the more dehydrated you become, and the worse that headache is.
The nausea comes from the alcohol irritating the mucous lining of the stomach. Drink on an empty stomach and those queasy feelings can be even worse.
The lecture also includes a demonstration of how a Breathalyzer works, and an explanation of what can cause false positives on a Breathalyzer test.
Bunce, if you recall, also gave a lecture last fall on the science of Thanksgiving dinner, including how pop-up meat thermometers work, and why muffins rise. We're not sure if the new stuff will be on the midterm, but you should pay attention just in case.
-- Jeannine Stein