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A Jolt of Cold Water Can 'Cure' Hangovers

It beats fancy remedies, experts say

THURSDAY, Jan. 1, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The best remedy for a hangover may not be the one with the fancy packaging and the big price tag, but one that comes out of a tap -- and not a keg tap.

Still stumped? It's plain, old-fashioned water.

"No one is sure what causes a hangover, but dehydration is certainly part of it," says Dr. Petros Levounis, director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center.

That's why coffee, another diuretic like alcohol, will likely only give you a bigger headache.

So your best bet is a couple of glasses of water before going to bed.

This paean to water will no doubt come as unwelcome news to makers of hangover "remedies."

They include RU21, which was supposedly developed by the KGB to keep its agents alert and sober while drinking with the enemy. It purports to "balance alcohol metabolism" by minimizing the amount of time acetaldehyde lingers in the body.

"Supposedly this would have less effect on the body, but it's very speculative," Levounis says. "Nobody knows."

The remedy contains Vitamin C, sugar and other ingredients -- all of which are found in abundance in common foods. "When people say they get better when they take RU21, I'm not sure it is the pill itself or the glass of water they take with the pill," Levounis says.

Levounis isn't particularly worried that RU21's main effect may be on your wallet ($7.99 for 20 tablets). He is concerned, however, about other claims made on its Web site, such as it "significantly reduces the risk of alcohol-related diseases."

"This is a dangerous claim to make and it's unsubstantiated," he says. "The [hangover claim] is fun and games, paying $2 for something you could get from Minute Maid. But the other one can kill you."

Emil Chiaberi, chief executive officer of Spirit Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., which makes RU21, says the product isn't being marketed as a drug. Nor is it a cure for alcohol-related diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver.

However, Chiaberi says, "every alcohol-related disease is caused by the way we metabolize alcohol." And because RU21 "enhances the metabolism of alcohol, if our product has been proven to regulate that process, then every time you drink -- regardless of how much you drink -- it's a good idea to take the pill. And by doing that, in the long run, you may reduce the risk of those diseases," he says.

Another pill out there, Zeo, claims to prevent hangovers if it is taken before drinking alcohol. When Levounis did an Internet search on one of the pill's main ingredients, a natural mineral called zeolite, he found 163,287 articles about alcohol and 106 articles about zeolite and no articles that overlapped.

It appears that the zeolite in Zeo, which sells for $24.99 a bottle, has nothing to do with alcohol, Levounis says.

Micah Portney, president of Zeo Health Ltd., concedes "there haven't been any direct studies that have to do with alcohol." However, he adds, zeolite "is a mineral that's known to absorb toxins and... we know that toxins in alcohol are what causes hangovers." He also says he has "conducted my own personal studies as far as giving the product to a lot of people in a group atmosphere and getting feedback the next morning."

Which brings us back to that magical elixir pouring forth from your kitchen tap (or, if you prefer, from a designer bottle at your local supermarket).

"Water performs a lot of services," says Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine. "It gets you re-hydrated, flushes out your system and helps you metabolize alcohol faster."

Acetaminophen-based products, such as Tylenol, or aspirin might help, Siegel adds. But acetaminophen can also put additional strain on your liver, which is already working overtime. And aspirin, like alcohol, can be irritating to the stomach. "I say take analgesics with caution, either that night or the morning after," Siegel says.

Also, go easy on the exercise the day after, as sweating will dehydrate you even more. And pass up the spicy Buffalo wings the night before. "Recognize that part of being hung over is usually gastrointestinal symptoms," Siegel says. "Have a soft bland meal."

With a pint. Of water.

If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before drinking lots of water because fluid shifts can be dangerous for people with this condition.

More information

If you feel you have been suffering too many hangovers, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's treatment facility locator.

SOURCES: Petros Levounis, M.D., director, Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City; Marc Siegel, M.D., clinical associate professor, medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Micah Portney, president, Zeo Health Ltd., West Nyack, N.Y.; Emil Chiaberi, chief executive officer, Spirit Sciences, Beverly Hills, Calif.
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