December 31, 2010

Experts Shed Light On Hangover Myths

Experts have compiled a list of facts about the myths of hangovers.

The reason behind alcohol's ability to make someone feel "hungover" the next day are not as clear as the culprit behind the blood shot eyes to begin with.

"Alcohol clearly causes hangovers, but why it causes hangovers isn't very well understood," Dr. Andrew Yacht, director of the division of general medicine and vice chair of medicine for education at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay News.

"Part of the suspected cause is dehydration and an electrolyte and hormonal imbalance. Some of the symptoms may be caused by low blood sugar. Or, it may be that the direct toxic effects of alcohol are causing the symptoms," he explained.

Dr. Brandon Brown, a staff physician in the department of emergency medicine at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas, told HealthDay that dehydration is probably one of the main reasons for a hangover.

 "Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it helps the body get rid of fluids. When you have a severe hangover, you're often severely dehydrated, and the body can't get rid of the byproducts of metabolizing alcohol (metabolites). And those metabolites are irritating."

Yacht also explained that the type of alcohol someone drinks can make a difference.

"The darker the alcohol, the more potential there is for a hangover. The theory is that the congeners -- a byproduct of distillation that imparts color, taste and aroma -- found in rum, red wine, brandy and whisky make a hangover more likely than if you drink clearer alcohol, such as vodka, white wine or gin," he told HealthDay's Serena Gordon.

Researchers wrote in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research earlier this year that when people drink enough to be intoxicated, drinking bourbon produced a more severe hangover than drinking vodka.

According to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, symptoms of a hangover include fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle aches, irritability, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness, sensitivity to light and a decreased ability to concentrate or focus.

Yacht told Gordon that the first step to lessen the chance of a hangover the next morning is to eat a meal before you start drinking.

"Food helps slow the metabolism of alcohol," he said.

He also said to try drinking water, juice or another non-caffeinated beverage between each alcoholic drink.

Browne also recommended pacing yourself. "Don't drink large amounts of alcohol quickly. If you do, the liver gets slammed with alcohol and the alcohol gets absorbed more rapidly," he told HealthDay.

Dr. Keri Peterson wrote to MSNBC's Today in order to help establish fact from fiction from hangover myths.

She said that someone should not start drinking a beverage with a higher alcohol content because inhibition decreases with alcohol, which leads a person to drink more.

She also called bluff on the myth that women can drink as much as men.

"No way! Women will always get more intoxicated on a smaller dose than men even if you weigh the same," she said.  "That's because men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, which dilutes the alcohol."

She said that taking acetaminophen before bed is potentially very dangerous and that someone should instead take ibuprofen.

"It not only helps with the headache but treats inflammation. You should take two before bed and two in the morning," Peterson told Today.

One of her tips to preventing a hangover was to eat eggs for breakfast because they contain cysteine, which helps the liver break down toxic metabolites of alcohol.


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