Sugar hangover? Really?
June 11, 2011 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Is the "sugar hangover" scientifically verified? I don't mean the kind of crash that happens when you eat too much candy, but an individual's reaction to any consumption of sugar whatsoever.

I have a good friend (and this is why it's anonymous, because she knows my screen name) who says that she cannot eat sugars or drink alcohol without suffering a headache and other symptoms of a hangover. (Agave syrup is all right; I don't remember what her position is on other "natural" sweeteners.) She is not a health-flake or hypochondriac, so I believe she's doing what seems best, but on the other hand I'm a skeptic by nature, and the webpages I find that mention it are pretty woo.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Alcohol affects different people differently. I believe there is some genetic component to how you react to booze. Sugar may be similar.
posted by dfriedman at 1:42 PM on June 11, 2011

Here's some info on booze and genes.

Of course it's also possible that your friend doesn't like booze (or sugar) and makes up a vague medical excuse to pass of questions of this nature.
posted by dfriedman at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2011

Anecdote: I noticed my headaches dropped off in frequency after I switched from sugar to splenda.
posted by luckynerd at 1:53 PM on June 11, 2011

She could be hypoglycemic.
posted by dipping_sauce at 2:43 PM on June 11, 2011

Agave syrup is all right

This is a major red flag. Agave syrup is basically the same thing as high fructose corn syrup. It's not really different from eating any other kind of sugar - and certain no better for you, either.

A lot of people have really bizarre ideas about what different kinds of food do to them. That doesn't make it true. All you can do is ignore it and try to let it go. Especially if it's something like this which doesn't seem to be harmful (if your friend avoids sweets because of this completely ridiculous reason, more power to her).
posted by Sara C. at 2:51 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I once gave up all processed sugar pretty much completely, and during that period if I did have a small amount of candy or something really sugar-concentrated, I got an immediate headache.

However, the agave thing is giving me pause in your friend's story. It really is just sugar, so it doesn't make sense that her body reacts differently to it.
posted by something something at 3:31 PM on June 11, 2011

I stopped eating sugar recently and my occasional "random" headaches have stopped entirely. n=1 is not science though. If any such studies have been done, you would likely find people talking about them in the Paleo corners of the web, where folks eschew sugar and geek out on scientific research. Try to start?
posted by sudama at 6:33 PM on June 11, 2011

High blood sugar can cause headaches. along with fatigue and blurred vision, etc. I think those would fall under hangover symptoms. If your blood sugar gets really high then you will also feel pretty crummy when it drops, as the hypoglycemic link that dipping_sauce referred to.

Agave nectar has a little bit different effect on the body than sugar. The glycemic index is lower which makes it popular. I've seen it recommended in place of sugar for that reason.
posted by aetg at 8:13 PM on June 11, 2011

As others have indicated, she may well be getting a headache, but what she isn't getting is a hangover.

Hangovers, as such, are caused exclusively by alcohol consumption, because they're basically symptoms of the body restarting its glucose metabolism. You drink enough alcohol and your body stops burning sugar and starts burning that instead. So when you run out of booze, things kind of come crashing to a halt, and it can take hours or even a couple of days to get things back to normal. Which is why you feel lousy after a bender. Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you're likely to be dehydrated too, which doesn't help.

Still, if she's sensitive to her blood sugar level--and some people really are--consumption of sugar or alcohol can have unpleasant side effects pretty quickly.

Agave nectar has a little bit different effect on the body than sugar.

No, it doesn't, because it is "sugar". Specifically, it's fructose and glucose. What it isn't is sucrose, which is table sugar. So it does indeed have a lower glycemic load/index than table sugar, but depending on how a particular food is sweetened, you could be looking at more of any one of those three kinds of sugar--fructose, glucose, sucrose. So the fact that this person claims she can consume agave syrup but not sugar is a bit puzzling, as agave syrup really is just sugar, but it's not entirely implausible either.

I think she should probably get herself checked out, because people this sensitive to their blood sugar level may have something else going on, either hypoglycemia or potentially even diabetes.
posted by valkyryn at 4:54 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hangover is technically the wrong word, but as a diabetic I can confirm that it can feel a lot like a hangover. It just tends to go away a lot easier.

In general I wouldn't go too far in characterizing someone's personal eating experiences and preferences as weird unless they are likely to be unhealthy. Sugar is something we know is closely connected to brain chemistry and almost all of us in the West consume far too much of it. If you engage in a reduced sugar diet for any reason, you actually can enhance your body's sensitivity to it.

As valkyryn notes, the glycemic load of various sweeteners can vary. Diabetics prefer low glycemic load foods because this means the body processes those carbs into blood glucose that much more slowly. At the same time, people are susceptible to confirmation bias and other negative features of subjectivity. She could be wrong about the agave, scientifically, but I wouldn't discount her other claims just because of that one thing.
posted by dhartung at 12:16 PM on June 12, 2011

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