Tuesday, November 17, 2009

To Avoid a Hangover, Drink Plenty (of Water)

"One of the biggest problems with avoiding and treating hangover is recognizing the misconceptions," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist and clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

He believes the best remedy -- and preventive -- for a hangover is also the simplest: Drink lots of water.

"Remember, the main cause of hangover is dehydration -- alcohol is a really powerful diuretic, and people get much more dried out when they drink than they may realize," Siegel said. "So the most important thing to do -- before and after a hangover -- is to drink water."

Smart punters ideally alternate one glass of water for every drink consumed, providing their body with extra fluid to compensate for what's been lost. "Some kind of electrolyte solution, such as Gatorade, might be good, too," Siegel suggested.

And remember, what you imbibe may be as important as how much you imbibe when it comes to hangover.

"While all alcohol can cause hangover, wine tends to cause more headache," Siegel said. "Also any drink with lots of sugar in it -- that has a dehydrating effect separate from the alcohol."

Despite the best precautions, a hangover can still rear its aching head come sunrise. Siegel advised that, besides drinking copious amounts of water, the following remedies may help:

  • Coffee. A cup of java can cut headache, but watch out -- it's another diuretic, so don't refill that mug too often.
  • Analgesics. Again, moderation is the key. "They're good to use for headache, but Tylenol [acetaminophen] is toxic to the liver, like alcohol, while aspirin is toxic to the stomach -- again, like alcohol," Siegel said. A regular Tylenol or two is fine, but any more than that might be hazardous.
  • Exercise. A workout can be great for your circulation and might perk the body up, but it dehydrates, so be sensible about it.
  • Prickly pear cactus flower. "It's a new remedy on the market now, and it seems to soothe the stomach, but it's also another diuretic," Siegel added.

Then there are more dubious hangover "cures," some of which might do more harm than good:

  • Staying awake. There's a theory that keeping awake through the night somehow inhibits the buildup of toxins within the body. "That's a nice idea, but unfortunately it's never been proven," Siegel said.
  • Hair of the dog. Many swear by a nip of alcohol the morning after to take the edge off a hangover. "It can work, but it's a really poor treatment," Siegel said. "Ultimately, you're hangover is going to catch up with you later on, with even more dehydration and more toxins."
  • RU-21. This drug -- originally developed by the Russian KGB -- is designed to ward off a hangover even among those who drink heavily. "I'm not a fan of RU-21," Siegel said. The buildup of toxins "is a warning sign that we've drunk too much. Without it, you may drink more, get more inebriated, and do something like drive drunk."
  • Spicy meals. While some are hot on the idea that Kung-Pao chicken for lunch thwarts a hangover, spicy meals "may add to the problem," Siegel said. "They simply give your [gastrointestinal] tract another problem to deal with."

In the end, he said, the best way to treat hangover is to avoid getting one in the first place. That means pacing yourself when it comes to drinking, and consuming lots of water. "Water is great, too, because it flushes out the kidneys," Siegel said, "increasing the rate at which toxins are gotten rid of."

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