Health experts dispel hangover myths

They are one of the great mysteries of college life, the seemingly unavoidable result of a night of drinking: hangovers. Everyone offers a remedy--from coffee to multivitamins--but no one has found a cure. Although there is no proven antidote, there are steps people can take before, during and after drinking to help lessen their morning-after pain.

Before students begin to imbibe, they need to put food in their stomachs, said Cynthia Kuhn, professor of pharmacology.

"If you eat before you drink, your peak blood alcohol level will be slowed because the food slows absorption," she said.

Another key prevention method is drinking water.

"It is important to be well hydrated before you start drinking, and to continue hydrating yourself while you drink," said Jeff Kulley, coordinator of alcohol and substance abuse services, who recommends alternating water or sports drinks with alcoholic beverages.

Experts agreed that the selection of drinks also factors into the severity of a hangover. Certain liquors known as distilled spirits contain congeners-- higher-order alcohols that can be toxic to the brain and add to the effects of a hangover, said Dr. Bill Christmas, director of Student Health Services.

According to an online report by the Washington University Medical School-based MadSci Network, brandy causes the most severe hangovers, followed by red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin and vodka. Student Health officials also listed bourbon and single malt scotches as congener-laden liquors.

In addition, scientific advisors from recommend that people avoid carbonated beverages like champagne or soda because bubbles carry alcohol into the bloodstream more rapidly. And using food-based mixers may actually help slow alcohol absorption, Kulley said.

Before heading to bed, Kuhn advised, people should avoid acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, because it can damage the liver. "Taking medicines such as ibuprofen or aspirin before bed can add to stomach irritation," she added.

Most importantly, students should continue to drink water before sleeping. Drinking coffee is a long-standing myth that will provide only temporary relief, Kulley said. "Caffeine might help to get you going, but there is a crash afterwards, and it can be an irritant to the stomach, which adds to nausea," he said.

Another myth is that taking multivitamins cures hangovers. Although Kuhn said no studies have shown this to be true, she noted a study indicating some benefit in taking vitamin B6.

There are a slew of morning-after products marketed to relieve hangovers, ranging from all-natural remedies, such as ginger and Wu morning tea, to drugs like Alka-Seltzer and Nurofen. Although several products exist, Kuhn said she was wary of their claims of effectiveness.

"If what they're selling is a natural product, there is no requirement that it be proven safe or proven to work by the Food and Drug Administration. This is why you see so many things on the market," she said.

Kulley attributed the relief of Alka-Seltzer to its large amounts of acetaminophen and caffeine and said such quick remedies distract from the most direct prevention of hangover symptoms. "Any [remedy] that does not focus on the quantity of alcohol and how fast you drink it is basically a myth because it misleads you from the two most important variables that will affect your health," he said.

Mornings are the best time to take pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin, and Student Health officials recommend eating foods that are easy on the stomach, especially carbohydrates, since they replace sugars lost in dehydration.

But what's the absolute cure for a hangover?

"Don't overindulge in the first place," Kuhn said.


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