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Video: 7 hangover mythbusters

  1. Transcript of: 7 hangover mythbusters

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , hangover myths. A lot of people will celebrate the new year with a few cocktails, maybe more than a few cocktails. And that means they're probably try a few ways to ward off that postparty headache. Here to set the record straight about what works and what doesn't is Dr. Keri Peterson , a contributor to Women's Health and Men's Health magazines. Dr. Peterson , good morning. Good to see you.

    Dr. KERI PETERSON (Contributor, Women's Health and Men's Health Magazines): Good morning, Lester .

    Dr. PETERSON: You know, there are a lot of myths out there about what works and what doesn't work.

    HOLT: There are.

    Dr. PETERSON: And we're going to walk right through them. The first one -- you've probably heard this one before -- beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you're in the clear. Does the order in which you consume booze make a difference?

    HOLT: It doesn't matter. The order is not what's relevant, it's the volume that you consume which is important. But the reason that this myth came about is that when you drink alcohol , your inhibitions go down and then you have a tendency to want to want to drink more. So if you start with a beverage that has a higher alcohol content, it lowers your inhibitions more quickly and you may tend to drink even more.

    Dr. PETERSON: Let's talk about the gender difference . There are women who think they can match their husbands drink for drink . Any chance of that?

    HOLT: Absolutely not. If a woman tried to keep up drink for drink with a man, she'd be under the table because what happens is men have a better ability to metabolize alcohol . They have a higher level of an enzyme that breaks it down more quickly. Plus men have a higher percentage of water in their body, and that dilutes the alcohol and keeps the blood alcohol content down.

    Dr. PETERSON: I thought it was just a weight thing, that men generally weigh more, and that would be the difference.

    HOLT: It's not the difference. If you had a man and a woman that weighed the same, men still have that higher water content , which makes the difference.

    Dr. PETERSON: All right. You may think eating before you go to sleep with help absorb the alcohol -- eating before you go to sleep would help absorb the alcohol in your stomach and ease your hangover. Does it really?

    HOLT: No. You have to eat before you drink for it to make an impact because food inhibits the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, and so you have lower, more steady state levels of alcohol if you eat first. And you should eat a fatty meal because that works best. If you wait until after you've drank, the blood -- the alcohol is already absorbed and it's too late.

    Dr. PETERSON: This next one's really important because it could be dangerous. A lot of folks think acetaminophen...

    HOLT: Yes.

    Dr. PETERSON: ...or ibuprofen are a good cure for certainly the hangover headache. One of those you got to be really careful about.

    HOLT: That is right. Acetaminophen is very dangerous if taken when you're drinking alcohol . Normally the liver will metabolize acetaminophen just fine into these harmless compounds. However, when you drink alcohol , the liver is busy metabolizing the alcohol so it shunts the acetaminophen to this different pathway, which creates toxic compounds and they can inflame the liver or even cause liver failure . So instead of taking acetaminophen, you should take ibuprofen when you got to bed that night.

    Dr. PETERSON: OK. What -- so when you go -- not just when you wake up, but when you go to bed.

    HOLT: That's right .

    Dr. PETERSON: All right. Let's look at the next little bit of information here. After a poor night's sleep you may think coffee will both wake you up and reduce your hangover. In all the movies, they bring coffee out.

    HOLT: Mm-hmm.

    Dr. PETERSON: Does it work?

    HOLT: Well, it may give you that little energy boost, but overall it worsens your hangover.

    Dr. PETERSON: Really?

    HOLT: It does. The reason is that alcohol dehydrates you, and that's the reason that you feel the majority of your hangover symptoms. And coffee does the same thing. The caffeine is a diuretic so you become more dehydrated and your hangover gets even worse over the long term.

    Dr. PETERSON: Here's a legend that persists, the hair of the dog that bit you idea. Have another drink and that'll bring you down quick -- easily.

    HOLT: No. Actually what it will do is just postpone the hangover until a little later in the day.

    Dr. PETERSON: You're going got get the hangover.

    HOLT: Yeah. Because you get hangover when your alcohol levels start to drop, and your hangover's at its worst when your alcohol levels are at zero. So the hair of the dog is just going to put it off till later.

    Dr. PETERSON: What's your best advice for avoiding a hangover?

    HOLT: A few tips. Try eating that fatty meal before you go out, so a pizza or a hamburger before you go out drinking. Take ibuprofen when you go to bed at night with a full glass of water and in the morning. Eat eggs for breakfast. This is an interesting one. Eggs contain an amino acid called cysteine, and cysteine may help the liver metabolize some of those toxic compounds that alcohol creates.

    Dr. PETERSON: You're assuming you can stomach a plate of eggs.

    HOLT: If you can, right.

    Dr. PETERSON: After a hard night of -- hard night of drinking.

    HOLT: If you're not nauseous, right.

    Dr. PETERSON: Is spreading out drinks over the evening, is that -- does that help your tolerance any?

    HOLT: Well, what it will do is slow down the alcohol levels in your bloodstream, especially if you can have a glass of water in between every drink . That's a great idea.


updated 12/30/2010 6:16:08 PM ET 2010-12-30T23:16:08

Legions of revelers are likely to experience hangovers on Jan. 1 — and the myths about hangovers are legendary. Which have merit, and which are just plain false? Dr. Keri Peterson helps sort fact from fiction for TODAY viewers:

Myth: Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear.

  • Bottom line is it isn't which order you consume your drinks in that matters, it's the total amount of alcohol that you consume.
  • With any alcohol, your inhibition decreases, which often leads to drinking more — so if you start with a beverage that has a higher alcohol content, your inhibition goes down more quickly and you tend to drink more.

Myth: I can match my husband drink for drink.

  • No way! Women will always get more intoxicated on a smaller dose than men even if you weigh the same.
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  • That's because men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, which dilutes the alcohol.
  • Men also have higher levels of the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, so they break it down better than women.

Myth: Eating before bed will absorb the alcohol in your stomach and ease a hangover.

  • Not true. Food has to be in your stomach BEFORE you drink to help a hangover.
  • That's because the alcohol is delivered to your bloodstream more slowly, giving it less of a chance to reach high levels.
  • All food slows digestion but fatty meals work best, so eat a steak or pizza, for example.
  • Instead of eating before bed, you should drink a full glass of water before bedtime.

Myth: Take acetaminophen before bedtime to relieve your hangover in the morning.

  • Taking acetaminophen is actually potentially very dangerous.
  • Normally when you take it your liver metabolizes it by converting it into harmless compounds, but when you've been drinking the liver is busy metabolizing the alcohol so it shunts the acetaminophen to a separate pathway that metabolizes it into toxic compounds that can cause liver inflammation and possibly liver failure.
  • Instead, you should stick to ibuprofen: It not only helps with the headache but treats inflammation. You should take two before bed and two in the morning.

Myth: Alcohol helps you sleep well

  • Many people have a glass of wine to help them sleep, but actually alcohol disrupts sleep.
  • While a nightcap may help you fall asleep more quickly, it interferes with the quality of your sleep. You don't spend enough time in the deepest cycle of sleep call the REM cycle, and since you sleep more lightly you wake up earlier.

Myth: Drinking coffee is a good cure the next morning

  • Alcohol dehydrates you by stopping the production of a hormone that allows you to retain water.
  • Coffee is a diuretic, which causes you to lose more fluids and could make your hangover worse.
  • After a night of drinking you should avoid all caffeine and instead drink water and sports drinks with electrolytes to counter dehydration and replace lost electrolytes.

Myth: A morning mimosa eases a hangover

  • The infamous "hair of the dog that bit you" cocktail doesn't cure a hangover — it merely postpones it until later in the day.
  • Hangovers set in when blood-alcohol levels start to fall, and the worst symptoms begin when the levels drop to zero.
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Tips to prevent a hangover:

  • Drink a glass of water between each drink and before bedtime to prevent dehydration.
  • Eat a fatty meal before you start drinking.
  • Drink water and sport drinks the next morning to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes.
  • Take ibuprofen before bed and the next morning to ease a headache.
  • Sleep.
  • Eat eggs for breakfast: Eggs contain cysteine, which may help the liver break down one of the toxic metabolites of alcohol.

Dr. Keri Peterson is a contributor to Women's Health and Men's Health magazines.

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