Hangovers worse? Maybe Covid is the cause

Can’t handle your booze like you used to? Covid-19 might be to blame.

An article recently published by researchers at Stanford University’s Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome Clinic presented evidence of a possible relationship between SARS-CoV-2 infection and increased alcohol sensitivity. Specifically, a number of patients at Stanford’s clinic reported feeling significantly worse symptoms of fatigue, headaches and hangovers after drinking — with one woman claiming she “couldn’t move” after a glass of wine.

The authors were quick to note that no definitive link between Covid and alcohol sensitivity can be established without further study, but such a relationship wouldn’t be unheard of, according to the researchers.

“There have been reported cases already, on how prevalent this is in patients with chronic fatigue,” said Dr. Hector Bonilla, an administrator at Stanford’s Post-Acute COVID-19 Clinic.

Patients with chronic fatigue, or myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), often experience similar symptoms to those experiencing the effects of long Covid, Stanford’s article noted. Increased sensitivity to alcohol has also been observed in patients with chronic fatigue, at least anecdotally, since the mid-19th century, U.K. researchers wrote in a 2004 article cited by Stanford.

While the causes of chronic fatigue are largely unknown, patients with it later experienced worsening symptoms after being infected by Covid. And these symptoms can often include increased sensitivity to alcohol.

However, in the four case studies presented by Stanford, some patients had no history of chronic fatigue, and one patient had no previous medical issues at all. That patient, a 60-year-old man, reported several long Covid symptoms following infection, including what he believed to be alcohol-induced headaches “characterized by a squeezing sensation at the top and back of the head” — when before, he never had an issue drinking alcohol. Another woman, 40, said she could previously drink seven cocktails in one night with no serious repercussions, but post-Covid, she experiences “terrible” effects after just one drink, including worsened hangovers and long Covid symptoms.

Viruses like Covid can weaken the blood-brain barrier — a lining of cells in the brain’s blood vessels that helps keep pathogens out — making it more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

“When the brain barrier is exposed, it means the brain is more susceptible to things happening in the body,” Bonilla said. “So any inflammatory responses can amplify.”

That’s just one possibility, of course. Researchers have also learned that Covid can cause imbalances with a patient’s gut microbiomes, which may interfere with a number of important functions, and possibly how the body processes alcohol. But Dr. Robert Groysman, of the COVID Institute in Irving, Texas, said that he believes increased alcohol sensitivity stems from damage to the body’s energy-producing mitochondria in the liver.

“I believe it’s just that the liver is not capable of processing the alcohol the same way as it did before,” Groysman said. “These toxins are not metabolizing properly.”

Mitochondria, which are responsible for providing cells with their energy, can take a serious hit during — and long after — a Covid infection, as noted by the National Institutes of Health. And if the liver’s enzymes can’t rely on mitochondria to fuel the organ’s important processes, the ability to metabolize toxins is inhibited.

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