SATURDAY, Jan. 1 (HealthDay News) -- During this season of good
cheer and abundant holiday parties, hangovers are not uncommon. And
while folk remedies abound, the only things that are truly helpful
in curing the misery of a hangover the morning after are time and
fluid replacement, experts say.
Although the cause of a hangover -- drinking too much alcohol --
is obvious, the reason behind alcohol's ability to make you feel so
rotten the day after isn't as clear.
"Alcohol clearly causes hangovers, but why it causes hangovers isn't very well understood," said 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.
"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.
Dehydration is probably one of the more important reasons for a
hangover, said Dr. Brandon Browne, a staff physician in the
department of emergency medicine at Scott & White Healthcare in
Round Rock, Tex. "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."
The type of alcohol you drink can also 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," said Yacht.
Research backs this theory up. In a study published earlier this
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers found that when people drank enough to be intoxicated, drinking bourbon produced a more severe hangover than did drinking vodka.
That doesn't mean you can drink clear alcohol with impunity. "It
all comes down to volume," cautioned Yacht. No matter what the type
of alcohol, if you drink too much, you will get a hangover.
Hangover symptoms are usually unmistakable, but according to the
U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism they may
There are steps you can take to help lessen the chance of a
hangover the next morning, Yacht said. The first is to eat a meal
before you start drinking. "Food helps slow the metabolism of
alcohol," he said.
Also, try drinking water, juice or another non-caffeinated
beverage in between each alcoholic drink. Not only will this help
slow your alcohol consumption, but it will also help to replace
some of the lost fluids, he said.
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 said. (The
general rule of thumb is one drink an hour, since that is usually
all the alcohol your liver can effectively process in that
So what should you do if you've already overindulged and feel
like death warmed over?
Try to drink water, juice or sports beverages, such as Gatorade
or Powerade, recommend both experts. Browne said that sports drinks
may be especially helpful because they help replace lost
The next thing to do for a hangover, said Yacht, is to treat any
symptoms you have. If you have a headache or muscle aches, taking
aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help. If your stomach is
upset, an antacid may help calm it, he advised.
Yacht said that over-the-counter hangover remedies or cures
don't work, so save your money. And, taking drugs like aspirin,
ibuprofen or acetaminophen
before you drink won't help either, and could cause harm, he
In fact, combining alcohol with acetaminophen -- found in
Tylenol, among other products -- can seriously damage the liver.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also warns that if you
consume more than three alcoholic beverages every day, consult with
your doctor before taking acetaminophen at all.
If you can keep food down, Yacht said a good meal can help.
The one thing both experts agreed you should never do? Drink
more alcohol. "The worst thing you can do is drink more alcohol. It
doesn't help and it's only enhancing the existing toxicity and
making dehydration worse," said Yacht.
The good news is that time
will cure a hangover. Your symptoms will probably last
between eight and 24 hours, said Yacht.
"No matter what you do, a hangover will eventually get better," said Yacht.
Read more on hangover treatments from the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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