Drinking & hangover cures – fact or fiction?

The party season will soon be upon us and many of us will overindulge, not least in the amount of alcohol we consume.

And many regular over-indulgers will have their own beliefs about the best way to get drunk and the best way to get rid of the resulting hangover.

A couple of years ago the New Scientist Christmas issue went to the trouble of checking out many of these ideas.

I think it’s worth re-posting and updating it in the interest of public health and safety so here we go:

Drinking coffee will sober you up faster?

False. Caffeine will make you more alert but won’t lower your blood alcohol levels. Drinking coffee might actually make it harder for you to realise you’re drunk or fool you into thinking you are sober.

Beer before wine, you’ll be fine?

Not true. It doesn’t matter what combination you have it’s the total amount of alcohol that matters.

Darker spirits give you a bigger hangover than clear spirits?

No clear evidence. Some research says yes but others no. So more research is needed!

Shaken not stirred?

True. James Bond was right. For some reason Martinis shaken not stirred are more effective. They also have a better taste in the mouth due to microscopic ice shards. Bond may have preferred his drink that way as it reduced the oily taste left by potato based vodka popular at the time.

A spoon suspended in the neck of a champagne bottle helps keep the fizz in the bottle?

No. A spoon has no effect at all. Champagne stays fizzier longer than people think.

Champagne gets you drunker than wine?

True. But no-one knows why. Perhaps the bubbles stimulate the stomach and increase the absorption of alcohol.

Different wines for different food?

True. In part. You don’t have to drink white wine with fish, red ones can be good too. It depends on the iron content of the wine as those with a high content can leave a fishy after-taste. So if you are eating scallops drink a low iron red wine.

Alcohol is good for your health.

In moderation. There is some evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may protect the heart but there are risks for cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, bowel and breasts the more you drink.

Absinthe is hallucinogenic?

False. The reputation of the “green fairy” for causing hallucinations, mental instability, and criminal behaviour is unfounded. A favourite drink of Hemingway, Van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde, it was banned in several European countries in the 1900s. Wormwood is the ingredient which contains thujone. It doesn’t have a cannabis-like effect but is toxic to nerve cells at high doses and can cause seizures. However experts now believe the results were down to either alcohol poisoning – it was 70% alcohol, twice the level of most other spirits –  or adulteration by methanol, common with cheap liquor.

You get drunk faster drinking through a straw?

False. Drinks that come with straws are often fruity flavours that mask the alcohol so you drink them faster. Also they are more likely to be drunk by women who are more susceptible to alcohol.

Drinking beer gives you a beer belly?

False. Although alcohol is high in calories – a litre of continental lager contains 350 kcal and a pint of British bitter about 170 kcal – a study of 2000 Czechs (who drink more beer than anyone else) found no connection with the amount of beer consumed and the size of the drinker’s stomach.

Don’t worry there are plenty of cures for hangovers?

Not true. A recent comprehensive review for the benefits of banana, aspirin, Vegemite (Marmite), fructose, glucose, artichoke, prickly pear as well as the drugs tropisetron and tolfenamic found that there was no scientific evidence of any cure or prevention for alcoholic hangovers.

And the hair of the dog only makes the hangover last longer. The good news is that one in four people are naturally resistant to hangovers probably due to genetic differences in the way they metabolise alcohol.

And Dr Mark in the Times (21/12/2010) also contributed to this debate.

Apparently many Danes believe you can get drunk by filling your wellington boots with alcohol.

Not true. After sitting for 3 hours with their feet in washing up bowls full of vodka volunteers were found to have no alcohol in their system.

Drinking water prevents hangovers?

People believe drinking alcohol causes dehydration. Weaker drinks like beer or spirits with mixers won’t cause dehydration although they may make your mouth feel dry because of the astringent effect of alcohol. Stronger ones like wine,port, sherry, liqueurs, and straight spirits cause significant water loss. As a guide Dr Mark suggests one glass of water for every two glasses of wine.

Beer is more fattening than wine?

Only the stronger beers. Alcohol accounts for most of the calories in drinks. A pint of average strength beer contains the same calories as a glass of wine or a double shot of spirits. But strong beers and ciders can contain double the calories.

Different drinks affect your mood in different ways?

Not true. It’s the strength of the drink and your underlying personality.  Alcohol is both a sedative and a disinhibitor. So some people will become the life and soul of the party, some will become withdrawn and tearful, while others will become aggressive or promiscuous.

What gets you drunk quicker?

Warm drinks between 10 and 20 percent alcohol are absorbed quickest which explains why mulled wine is a good way to start off a party. Stronger drinks and cold drinks slow gastric emptying and impair absorption as does a full stomach. So eating before you drink will slow the rate of absorption and gives your body time to deal with it.

A fry-up is the best way to get over your hangover?

No. As we know from the New Scientist article there are no certain cures for hangovers.

A more scientific approach is:

  • take paracetamol (not aspirin or ibuprofen as these can worsen indigestion or nausea)
  • to raise low blood pressure eat something sweet such as jam on toast or a doughnut
  • take caffeine in the form of coffee or strong tea
  • rehydrate but not with fruit juices as they can further irritate your stomach lining

There is some good news about drinking in moderation, especially for women

But there are downsides too. See:  Drinking limits

Cheers!

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3 thoughts on “Drinking & hangover cures – fact or fiction?

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  3. […] to popular belief it’s not going to do you much good as a hangover cure although it may make you feel more […]

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