Tuesday, August 22, 2006

War On Hangovers

- More than half of American adults drink alcohol and statistics show 77 percent of those who drink will have at least one hangover every year. About 15 percent of drinkers will have a hangover once a month.

Jeff Wiese, M.D., from Tulane University Health Sciences Center, says hangovers are serious business. People who suffer from them are at risk for workplace injuries because of diminished visual-spatial skills and reduced dexterity. Cognitive impairment from hangovers is also common.

Having frequent hangovers may also increase the risk of cardiac death. Dr. Wiese says, "At least one retrospective study seems to suggest that there was a two-fold increase risk of heart attacks."

The economic impact of hangovers is also huge. Dr. Wiese explains: "Most of the people that are hung over in this country are people who are gainfully employed. It's the person that works Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and goes to the happy hour Thursday; doesn't show up to work Friday." Estimates for how much lost productivity costs the country range from $11 billion up to $48 billion.

Although the obvious answer to this question is, of course, just don't drink to excess, it's unlikely that will work for everyone who chooses to have a drink now and then. There are some things that might help your condition the morning after if you do plan on having a few more drinks than usual.

Try vitamin B. "The whole B complex of vitamins is important for liver function, which is going to be important for metabolizing the alcohol," says Dr. Wiese. Vitamin B6 is the only one that has been studied and it does slightly improve symptoms the next day.

However, for people who take a multivitamin or who get enough vitamin B in their diet already, it probably won't help much. For people who are slightly deficient in vitamin B, however, it could help to have some extra on hand.

There is some science behind the skin of the prickly pear cactus. Dr. Wiese's study on supplements containing the extract shows they reduce the risk of severe hangover by half by increasing heat shock proteins in the body.

According to Dr. Wiese's study: "An early peak of heat shock proteins has been shown to reduce the vascular damage and morbidity in mice exposed to extreme stress. In one study of subjects exposed to high-altitude conditions, those with the highest early peak of heat shock proteins had the lowest severity and incidence of headache, nausea and weakens. Of note, this symptom complex is similar to that of an alcohol hangover."

There are things you can do to ease the inevitable hangover that don't require taking any pills. First, pick your poison carefully. The darker the beer, wine or liquor; the worse the hangover. In other words, whiskey and dark rum will give you a worse hangover than vodka or gin. Dr. Wiese explains, "The impurities that you see in the fermentation process of alcohol are what we refer to as congeners. We know those are foreign particles and we know they do make their way into the body." The darker the liquor, the higher the congener count.

Another tip -- stay hydrated. At the very least, drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink, but it's even better if you can have a sports drink like Gatorade between each drink. A final tip -- don't drink more than 1.5 grams of liquor per kilogram of body weight and you probably won't get hung over.

Important to note: Dr. Wiese is not encouraging drinking, but says, "Until we get a society that just comes together and says, yeah, responsible drinking is the way to go, I think it is still worth knowing if there is a way that we can make alcohol safer."

Dr. Wiese says stay away from Tylenol and acetaminophen when drinking. He says, "The combination of alcohol and acetaminophen is something even folks with pretty good liver function do not want to get into and especially folks that have poor liver function from whatever cause & that could be deadly."
Instead, stick to ibuprofen for pain relief instead.


More hangover cures:

The Hangover Handbook: 101 Cures for Humanity's Oldest Malady