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Liquor before beer, never fear? Hangover myths exposed

The myths about hangovers are legendary. But which have merit, and which are just plain false? Dr. Keri Peterson weighs in.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

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:

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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.

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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.
  • 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.
Couple at dinner
Couple at dinnerGetty Images stock

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.

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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.

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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.
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Are you guilty?Shutterstock

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.