For some of us, there’s nothing like unwinding with a martini or glass of red in the evening. Sometimes, though, one drink turns into . . . more than one drink (we’re looking at you, Saturday night). There’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink, but moderation is vital to stay safe and healthy. And when you take the woes of a hangover into consideration, we think you’ll agree.
Everyone has a different experience with alcohol, so it’s impossible to have one rulebook. But rumors and myths abound about how alcohol affects your body. Do genetics impact your tolerance level? Does imbibing darker liquors cause a nastier hangover? We got the lowdown on the truth—busting these out at a party is up to you!
You feel more buzzed when you’re on your period.
A hundred percent true. Sue Petersen, MSACN, an applied clinical nutritionist in New York, says, “If a woman is drinking, her blood alcohol concentration will be highest if it is right before and after menstruation.” Your BAC will also be higher during your period than at other times in your cycle. This is due to the female sex hormone estrogen. According to Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, estrogen facilitates the breakdown of alcohol and increases levels of acetaldehyde—the primary by-product of your liver processing alcohol. It’s also responsible for tissue damage and the unpleasant feelings associated with drinking, which can include drowsiness, headache, dizziness, fatigue, sweating, and nausea. Because estrogen is at its highest around and during your period (even if you take oral contraceptives), you’re more likely to be intoxicated for longer periods of time.
Some Asians turn red when they drink because they lack certain enzymes.
True. A study by Gastroenterol Nursing states that about 40 percent of Asians experience what has been nicknamed “Asian glow” or “Asian flush.” This is characterized by vasodilation, causing reddening of the skin. Individuals who experience vasodilation do not have two enzymes—alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), which break down alcohol. The latter metabolizes acetaldehyde, which as we mentioned above, is the main by-product of metabolizing alcohol and responsible for the lousy drunk feelings. When the enzyme is lacking, acetaldehyde builds up and causes facial flushing, rapid heartbeat, and feelings of nausea. A genetic ALDH deficiency is only carried by people of East Asian decent, according to GB Health Watch. Some people of European decent, such as Ashkenazi Jews, experience a similar phenomenon, but the genetic cause for “European flush” is yet unknown.
Darker liquors will give you a worse hangover.
Sorry, wine and whiskey lovers—this one is true. “Congeners, which are chemicals made in alcohol production, determine the severity of a hangover,” Petersen says. Congeners are responsible for a liquor’s taste and appearance. “The darker the liquor, the more congeners there are.”
An experiment by Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that these liquors promoted poor sleep efficiency, next-day sleepiness, and a worse hangover. How does this happen? According to Alcohol Health & Research World, a type of congener called methanol is present in alcoholic drinks, along with ethanol (alcohol). Darker liquors such as bourbon and brandy have high methanol concentrations. While methanol is also broken down by ADH and ALDH, its by-products (formaldehyde and formic acid) are much more toxic for the body. The end result is one heck of a nasty hangover.
If you’re trying to avoid the hangover of all hangovers, opt for clear alcohol such as vodka or gin. The same goes for white wine versus red. While these won’t completely free you from a rough morning if you’ve had too much, Alcohol Health & Research World says that hangover effects are less likely with these drinks.
Pedialyte cures hangovers.
True to an extent but mostly false. Pedialyte is a flavored drink designed to rehydrate children, especially during times of diarrhea and vomiting. Because alcohol consumption causes you to urinate more, you’re more likely to experience dehydration. And in the interest of rehydrating yourself, Pedialyte does seem like a good idea. After all, it provides just enough sodium to help your body retain water, and it contains more sodium than sports drinks.
Yet Pedialyte isn’t the be-all and end-all. It may rehydrate, but it’s missing all the antioxidants that your body needs to recover. Petersen suggests making a “hangover chaser.” Mix tomato juice, green onions, celery, parsley, rosemary, and Bragg Liquid Aminos. This concoction will give your body the nutrients it needs to get you back on your feet the natural way.
Coffee and greasy foods cure hangovers.
False! While coffee can pick you out of a slump, a hangover isn’t one of them. Sure, caffeine might wake you up, but your body needs to recover. “You’re better off drinking 16 ounces of water prior to bed and eating crackers with honey to soak up the alcohol,” Petersen says. Again, that good old H2O will help keep dehydration in check. For a more natural hangover solution, Petersen suggests taking milk thistle and N-acetyl cysteine. These two supplements support your liver and reduce the severity of a hangover.
As for greasy foods? This type of “cure” is all in the mind. When you consume alcohol, levels of a brain chemical called galanin increase. Galanin also ups the craving for fatty foods. This may be why nothing sounds better than a breakfast bacon sandwich and home fries after a night of drinking. The International Business Times says that fulfilling this craving is more of a neurochemical fix rather than one driven by your stomach. Because a fatty meal is the ultimate comfort food, it makes sense why we would crave it during an uncomfortable hangover. If anything, eating fatty food before drinking will be more beneficial to you. Petersen reminds us that the amount of food in your stomach impacts how fast your body absorbs the alcohol.
It’s OK to drive while you’re hungover. It’s not the same as being drunk.
False. Even when you wake up sober, the alcohol has already left its mark. A study by Traffic Injury Prevention found that even professional drivers did not feel responsible, safe, or relaxed while driving with a hangover. Increased pain perception, depression, and anxiety from a hangover were also present in a study by Behavioral Brain Research. All these feelings can be detrimental to driving a vehicle, emphasizing the importance of safety even after you drink. You may be sober, but your reflexes and focus need some time to play catch-up.
While drinking is common in most social settings (though not required), indulge with caution. Cheers . . . to your health!