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June 1, 2007

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).

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.

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.)


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