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Strategies for a Hangover-Free Holiday Season

Old-fashioned remedies remain most effective prevention for hangovers
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Prevention

Before the hangover hits, you can do some damage control. Here are some of the old-fashioned remedies you may have heard of that really work.

  • Choose your beverage of choice wisely. "A couple of studies show that alcoholic beverages that are mainly just alcohol and water, like vodka and gin, produce less severe hangovers, while other compounds that contain congeners -- brandy, whisky, red wine, to name a few -- tend to produce more severe hangovers," Hetzler tells WebMD. What if you're a beer lover? "Beer has a relatively low congener level, although the heavier the beer, the more congener it contains," Hetzler says.
  • Eat before you drink. "The alcohol is absorbed more slowly when you have food in your stomach," White tells WebMD. Exactly what should you eat? Whatever you want. "It's a myth that one type of food is better than another," he says.
  • Pace yourself. White suggests having a nonalcoholic drink between each alcoholic beverage, which helps to maintain a low blood alcohol level, and keeps you hydrated.
  • Replenish lost fluids. Before you put your head on the pillow, guzzle some water or other nonalcoholic drink, but avoid caffeine. Like alcohol, it has a diuretic effect and may contribute to hangover symptoms.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief before the headache hits. Experts warn, however, to avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol), a common aspirin alternative. "Too much acetaminophen is toxic to the liver. Alcohol can disrupt the metabolism of acetaminophen, making it even more toxic to the liver," White says. Although the risk of liver damage from the combination is minimal, it's possible, he explains.

New Hangover Prevention Strategies?

You may have seen ads for products that promise a night of excessive drinking with minimal hangover residue, simply by popping some pills or even changing the way you consume alcohol. But do they work?

As for the hangover prevention pills, many in the medical community remain unconvinced of their effectiveness. "They haven't been carefully studied," Hetzler says.

A few "hangover helper" pills contain a single key ingredient designed to ward off the unpleasant aftereffects of alcohol. Artichoke extract is one of them. While the product manufacturer touts this natural substance's effectiveness against hangovers, scientists at the UK's Peninsula Medical School found artichoke extract ineffective at curbing alcohol's aftereffects.

Of all the hangover helper pills, HPF Hangover Prevention Formula, an herbal supplement containing derivatives of the prickly pear cactus, has shown the most promise. Researchers found it reduces three of nine hangover symptoms: nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite. It's believed to work by reducing the body's inflammatory response that alcohol causes.

But skepticism remains high.

"The supplement [HPF Hangover Prevention Formula] is designed mostly to address allergic reactions that cause headaches. It does nothing for things like abstract memory impairment linked with learning, nothing for the central nervous system suppression, the diuretic effect, etc.," asserts Patrick Breslin, an alcohol and drug prevention facilitator at Western Wisconsin Technical College.

"The only evidence is their [manufacturers'] own internal reports. To the best of my knowledge, there's no evidence that there's any supplement you can take that will prevent a hangover. These claims have not stood up to scientific scrutiny by unbiased researchers," White tells WebMD. Incidentally, the study that demonstrated the prickly pear derivative's defense against hangovers was supported by the product's manufacturer.

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