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Drinking alcohol to excess causes ‘bottle flu’ symptoms

BY DAVID ZIZZO Published: December 30, 2008
Too much alcohol can make you feel as if you swallowed dog hair and embalming fluid, which, by the way, are part of the lore and science of the hangover.

Many things unrelated to dogs and embalming happen when the body has to absorb too much of the complex compounds found in alcoholic beverages, said Dr. Stephen Prescott, physician, medical researcher and president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. "It’s complicated.”

Some effects result from a "direct toxic effect” of alcohol, Prescott said. The general over-imbibing malaise sometimes called "bottle flu” produces compounds in the blood similar to those produced by flu, such as cytokines and certain prostaglandins. The results are aches including headaches, nausea and inflammation, symptoms that, Prescott says, "are a lot like the flu.”

Another consequence is dehydration, which leaves you with low blood volume, which leads to dizziness, increased heart rate and low blood pressure. If that’s not complicated enough, "there’s a really complicated part that has to do with how our bodies get rid of alcohol,” Prescott said.

That brings us to embalming fluid. The liver turns compounds from alcoholic beverages into various "downstream products,” some of which can be toxic, such as acetyladehyde. One product found at low levels in alcoholic beverages is methanol. "When methanol is metabolized,” Prescott said, "it makes formaldehyde.