Who says fruit flies have all the fun in labs? Sure, for years they've been guzzling booze in experiments across the country so researchers could better understand alcoholism, but another pest recently got a chance to party.
Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia gave rats ethanol until the rats suffered from headaches—what most people might consider a telltale sign of a hangover. Then, Michael Oshinsky tried curing the rodents of said hangovers with coffee and aspirin.
Oshinsky let the rats consume enough ethanol—about one drink—for the skin around their eyes to become sensitive to touch, which is a sign of a headache. These particular rats suffered from migraines, so Oshinsky could induce negative side effects without getting the rats drunk (poor rodents get the hangover, but not the buzz).
While many people assume that dehydration causes hangovers, Oshinsky found that a build-up of acetate, produced when one consumes alcohol, causes the headaches. The coffee and aspirin blocked the negative effects of acetate.
He also debunked another mythical cause of hangovers. The liver oxidized ethanol into acetaldehyde, believed to contribute to the feelings of nausea, lethargy, headaches, dehydration, and generally feeling of blah following a night of drinking. However, Oshinsky blocked acetaldehyde production, indicating that other mechanisms might be behind the dreaded hangover.
What about hair of the dog, over-hydrating, a greasy breakfast or that weird raw-egg drink that people only seem to have in movies? All for naught, according to Oshinsky. But others hesitate to call these headaches hangovers. They argue that this research helps them understand the causes of headaches.