New study on alcohol use reveals how much is considered too much 2:50
Toasting a new year is an age-old ritual, and for many, so is the dreaded aftermath the morning after: a hangover.
What seemed like a lot of fun at the time is now causing your hands to shake, your head to pound, and your heart to race, not to mention other unpleasant symptoms like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and unbearable thirst.
Why are you suffering?
Because the liquor that passed smoothly across your lips is now wreaking havoc on your body, causing dehydration, upset stomach, and inflammation.
These ailments reach their peak when all the alcohol leaves your body.
There's no scientifically proven way to cure a hangover, but experts say it can be prevented, or at least minimize the misery the next day.
Drink on a full stomach
Forget a late-night meal after a night of drinking;
that's too late, experts say.
Instead, eat before your first drink and keep eating as the night goes on.
"Food in the stomach slows gastric emptying and can reduce hangover symptoms," said Dr. Robert Swift, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Warren Alpert School of Medicine in Providence, Rhode Island. .
Eating a little before you start drinking can reduce hangover symptoms, experts say.
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Why does food help?
Because alcohol doesn't get metabolized in the stomach, but through the intestinal tract just below, Swift said.
"If someone takes it on an empty stomach, for example, all that pure alcohol doesn't get diluted in the stomach and goes into the intestine very quickly," said Swift, who has studied alcohol abuse since the 1990s.
"However, if the stomach contains food, there are gastric juices and enzymes that mix the food and alcohol together, and only small amounts of food pass into the intestine," he said.
"Now the alcohol is diluted in the stomach and only a small amount of alcohol is absorbed at any one time."
The same principle applies to water and other non-alcoholic beverages, Swift said.
“If alcohol mixes with liquid, it dilutes, so when it passes into the intestines, it's not as irritating.
You are less likely to have inflamed intestines or an inflamed stomach lining."
Drinking water can help reduce dehydration that occurs from drinking too many alcoholic beverages.
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There's another benefit to drinking water between drinks, said John Brick, former chief of research at the Center for Studies on Alcohol, Division of Education and Training at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"The main cause of a hangover is dehydration and fluid loss, along with vitamins and minerals," said Brick, author of "The Doctor's Hangover Handbook" and scientific articles on the biobehavioral effects of alcohol and other drugs.
Drinking just 3½ alcoholic drinks can result in the loss of up to a quart of water over several hours, Brick added.
"That's a good amount of water that needs to be replenished."
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Dehydration from alcohol can affect a woman even more, and she's more likely to suffer from a hangover, even if she drinks less than a man, Swift said.
That's because a man has a higher percentage of body water than a woman of the same height and weight, so the same amount of alcohol will be more diluted in a man, she said.
“The woman will have a higher concentration of alcohol in her blood because her body contains less water to dilute it,” he said.
"Women are much more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol (and they) become more intoxicated and develop alcohol liver disease earlier than men."
Choose beer, wine or spirits with fewer additives
The alcohol we drink, called ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is the byproduct of the fermentation of carbohydrates and starches, usually some type of grain, grape, or berry.
We use fermentation byproducts in other ways: Ethanol is added to the gasoline in our cars, and methyl alcohol, or methanol, a toxic substance, is used as a solvent, pesticide, and alternative fuel source.
Also called wood spirit, methylated spirits made by bootleggers blinded or killed thousands of people during Prohibition.
That's not all: the list of by-products or chemicals added by manufacturers for flavor reads like a supply list in an industrial warehouse: ethyl formate, ethyl acetate, n-propanol, isobutanol, butan-1-ol , isopentanol and isoamyl alcohols.
A 2010 study investigated the intensity of hangovers in people who drank the darker colored liquor bourbon compared to clear vodka.
In general, dark-colored beer and spirits tend to contain more congeners and are therefore more likely to cause hangovers, experts say.
A 2010 study investigated the intensity of hangovers in people who drank the darker-colored bourbon versus the clear vodka.
Experts recommend not drinking alcohol in the heat.
"The congeners in the bourbon ... significantly increased the intensity of the hangover, which is not too surprising since bourbon has about 37 times the amount of congeners as vodka," Brick said.
Chemical preservatives called sulfites, known to cause allergic reactions in sensitive people, are also a natural byproduct of fermentation in small amounts.
However, many beer and wine manufacturers add sulfites to their products to extend shelf life.
(Sulphites are also added to soft drinks, cereals, sweeteners, canned and ultra-processed foods, medicines, and more.)
Sweet and white wines tend to have more sulfites than reds, but red wines contain more tannins, which are bitter or astringent compounds found in the skin and seeds of grapes.
Like sulfites, tannins can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people.
As a result, limiting your intake to light beers, light spirits, and white wine could help keep a hangover at bay.
In the end, though, the experts say there's only one true way to prevent—or cure—a hangover: don't drink.
“There is no simple cure because there are so many complex factors that produce the multiple symptoms of a hangover,” Swift said.
"And that's why the only real hangover cure is either not drinking alcohol or drinking such a low amount of alcohol that it doesn't cause a hangover."
Disclaimer: This story has been updated to clarify that the alcohol we drink, called ethanol, and the ethanol in gasoline used in cars are the same byproduct of fermentation.