What You Don't Know About Your Hangover

How to wake up without regretting the night before (at least as far as alcohol is concerned)

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MYTH #1

A MORNING MIMOSA EASES A HANGOVER

Not for long: The "hair of the dog that bit you" remedy just pushes a hangover to later in the day. Hangovers set in when blood-alcohol levels start to fall; the worst symptoms strike when levels reach zero, says alcohol researcher Robert Swift, M.D., Ph.D., of Brown University. A better a.m. cocktail: Gatorade, to replace lost electrolytes (the chemical messengers that help your body function effectively), and water, to counter dehydration (which can leave you weak, dizzy, light-headed, and cotton-mouthed).

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MYTH #2

POPPING ACETAMINOPHEN BEFORE YOU GO TO BED MAKES MORNING EASIER

You're wrong about two thing: Choice of drugs and timing. When you take acetaminophen, most of it is converted in the liver to harmless compounds. But when you've been drinking, the liver is so preoccupied with metabolizing the alcohol that it processes the painkiller in a separate pathway where these compounds can become toxic, causing liver inflammation and permanent damage.

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Stick to ibuprofen, says David J. Clayton, M.D., co-author of The Healthy Guide to Unhealthy Living. And, he says, don't take it before bed: The drug's effectiveness peaks in about four hours, so it won't do anything for you by morning. Clayton's best, use-it-only-when-you-have-to Rx: "Get up and take 800 milligrams of ibuprofen an hour before you need to be functional. You'll feel awful when you wake up to take it, but you'll feel much better an hour later."

MYTH #3

DRINKS WITH FEWER CALORIES ARE ALWAYS A HEALTHIER CHOICE

As if. According to a study by Chris Rayner, M.D., of the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, people actually get more drunk after ordering up diet cocktails. The reason? The fewer calories in the drink, the more quickly it empties from your stomach. Blood initially passes through the liver, where some of the alcohol is filtered out. But faster emptying saturates the liver, so more alcohol ultimately makes it through to your bloodstream.

MYTH #4

EATING BEFORE BED WILL ABSORB THE ALCOHOL AND MUTE A HANGOVER

Nice try, but food has to be in your stomach before you drink to help a hangover. If you're busy digesting steak, your martini will be delivered to your bloodstream more slowly, giving it less of a chance to accumulate to the headache-worthy levels. (All food slows digestion, but fat does it best.)MYTH #5

WINE IS BETTER FOR YOU THAN BEER

Wine gets all of the health props, but studies consistently show that people who drink beer in moderation also receive health benefits--including a lower risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, and osteoporosis. And when it comes to how you feel the next day, beer is the gentler choice. "Specific compounds in red wine, like tannins, can trigger headaches in susceptible people," says Swift, "and that just adds to the hangover."

MYTH #6

DRINKING THROUGH A STRAW GETS YOU TRASHED FASTER

Only if you suck faster than you chug. It isn't how you get the booze from glass to mouth that affects your buzz; it's the type of glass you're drinking from. A Cornell University study found that people--even experienced bartenders--consistently pour 20 to 30 percent more alcohol into short, stout tumblers than into tall, skinny highball glasses. "They focus on the height of what they are pouring at the expense of width," says study author Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Mindless Eating.

MYTH #7

IF YOU WEIGH THE SAME AS YOUR BROTHER, YOU CAN MATCH HIM DRINK FOR DRINK

"Women will always get more intoxicated on a smaller dose than men"--even if you've diligently built up your tolerance, says Swift. "Men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, so if you dump alcohol in there, it's going to be more diluted." Plus, men have higher levels of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which allows guys to metabolize alcohol better.

MYTH #8

IF THE DRINKS ARE FREE, THE CALORIES DON'T COUNT

Ok, we know you don't really believe this, but something does happen when someone else is paying that can make good judgment disappear. Take a look at the true cost of an open bar: Four Mike's Hard Lemonades sabotage your diet with 880 extra calories--the equivalent of five Krispy Kreme glazed donuts!) And that's not counting whatever you tear into during the 3 a.m. munchies.) Four beers fill you with the equivalent of two McDonald's cheeseburgers.

MYTH #9

BEER BEFORE LIQUOR, NEVER SICKER

There's nothing about the chemistry of these drinks interacting with each other that makes you sick the next day. With any alcohol, your inhibition to drink more diminishes as you drink, so you start drinking faster. If you stick with beer, you don't get drunk as fast because its alcohol content is lower than that of liquor. If you switch to the hard stuff, you end up on the express train to hangover city.

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