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Here's what really helps -and what doesn't - for hangovers

Dec. 10, 2013 - 11:06AM   |  
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“Hangovers have been called a ‘metabolic storm,’ ” says professor and food chemist Alyson E. Mitchell with the University of California at Davis.

And for good reason. The headaches, nausea and vomiting are the unhappy thunder to all that lightning the night before.

Experts say just five to six drinks for an average-size man — and three to five drinks for a typical woman — will almost always lead to a hangover.

“They result from high blood levels of ethanol and the accompanying dehydration, direct toxic effects of the body’s breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde and toxic effects of substances called congeners that are present in darkly colored liquor like scotch and bourbon,” Mitchell told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in April.

But her research shows that some things can help lessen the storm.

Eggs, for example, contain the protein building block cysteine, which helps remove acetaldehyde from the body.

And one of her favorite food-as-hangover cures is a noodley New Orleans standby imported from Korea dubbed Yak-a-mein.

Better known in the French Quarter as “Old Sober,” the recipe typically calls for a salty broth of noodles mixed with beef, chicken or shrimp, along with onions or chopped scallions and sliced hard-boiled egg — all of which can help ease hangovers, Mitchell says.

“Folklore has it that American soldiers from New Orleans stationed in Korea in the 1950s learned to appreciate Yak-a-mein on the morning after, and brought a taste for it back home,” Mitchell says. “It may be a good example of intuitive science — an effective remedy, and with the scientific basis revealed only years later.”

The science of relieving hangovers, however, is relatively new. For years, researchers were happy to let partygoers suffer the natural consequences of drinking too much.

More studies are now beginning to emerge.

Here’s some of the latest science on soothing that aching head.

Do

Drink water, fruit juice, maybe some coffee

Because booze dehydrates and saps electrolytes, most docs will tell you to drink plenty of water or juice. Although many swear by it, there is little scientific evidence that the fructose in fruit juice or honey will burn the alcohol out of your body any more quickly, but at the very least you’re replenishing fluids. And that’s good. While coffee is a diuretic and may slightly set back your efforts to rehydrate, regular coffee drinkers should probably have a cup of Joe to avoid compounding the hangover with a pounding caffeine withdrawal headache. One 2011 study even suggested that coffee along with a painkiller may be one of the best treatments out there.

Don’t

Drink more booze

The old “hair of the dog that bit you” thing will only give you hairballs and, in the end, a worse hangover. And drinking more the day after is a good sign you may have a more serious drinking problem: A study at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that college students who drank booze to relieve hangovers typically drank two to three times more than other students and were more likely to become alcoholics.

Do

Take some Motrin

Aspirin can irritate an already booze-churning stomach, say the experts at the Mayo Clinic, so consider ibuprofen painkillers such as Motrin or Advil instead to ease that throbbing head.

Don’t

Take Tylenol

Experts have long known that acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, can overload a liver that’s already trying to process alcohol. Now, a new study reveals that acetaminophen mixed with even small amounts of booze — just one or two drinks — can do serious damage to the kidneys as well.

Do

Drink Korean pear juice

A centuries-old favorite for relieving hangovers in Asia, Korean pear juice cut symptoms by 21 percent in an August 2013 study. Not only were blood alcohol levels lowered, but trouble concentrating, memory impairment and sensitivity to light and sound all were “significantly” lessened as well.

Don’t

Smoke cigarettes

Not only are smokers more likely to get a hangover, their hangovers are worse. Smoking while drinking “significantly increases the odds of hangover incidence and hangover severity,” according to a January study at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. Researchers aren’t sure why, exactly, but suspect it’s probably because you’re forcing your body to purge all the nasty byproducts created by both smoking and drinking at the same time.

Do

Pop some B Vitamins

Vitamin B6 reduced the number of hangover symptoms by approximately 50 percent in one study. Partygoers were given 1,200 mg: 400 mg before drinking, 400 mg during and 400 mg after. Meanwhile, B1 helps prevent the buildup of glutarate, a substance linked to the headache aspect of a hangover.

Don’t

Sweat it out in the sauna

Don’t believe the hype about sweating out the toxins. Researchers in Scandinavia says saunas are actually dangerous for those nursing hangovers because you’re sweating out fluids when you need them most. According to one study out of Finland, hangovers expose people to cardiac arrhythmias, and “sauna may further increase the arrhythmia risk due to enhanced adrenergic activity.” Other studies have found mixing booze with sauna bathing increases the risk of hypotension and sudden death.

Do

Eat bouillon soup

Bouillon soup is a great for replacing salt and potassium, according to the National Institutes of Health. Both are electrolytes that get sucked out of your body with heavy drinking. Better yet, try Yak-a-mein soup — better known as “Old Sober” in New Orleans — which adds carbs and protein that can also help relieve symptoms.

Don’t

Eat a greasy meal (but do before drinking)

A greasy meal won’t help you when you’re already suffering from a hangover, but it can help lessen the effects of a night on the town before you start drinking. Any food in your stomach is a good idea regardless, because it slows down the alcohol absorption process.

Some fatty foods — say, burgers or pizza — do even better by lining the stomach with some of that grease, just like a well-oiled rifle helps ward off rust.

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