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Hangover Helper

Tips for surviving the morning after the Big Night before

TUESDAY, Jan. 1 (HealthScout) -- Ah, yes, you've got that throbbing head, a pasty taste in your mouth, nausea and the feeling that death would be preferable to opening your eyes and getting out of bed.

Welcome to the New Year's Eve aftermath, better known as the holiday hangover.

Here's some expert advice on hangovers and recovering from them.

"Alcohol ingestion can produce toxic metabolites," says Manuela Newman, director of the In Vitro Toxicology Laboratory at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. "The alcohol is broken down by the body by different enzymes … which are actually responsible for metabolizing the ethanol that is ingested."

Different people have different quantities of those enzymes, depending on gender and race. For example, women have fewer than men, and because Japanese men have fewer, they are very sensitive to small quantities of alcohol, says Newman.

Dr. Michael Shlipak, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, says many hangover symptoms are associated with dehydration and reduced blood-sugar levels. "However, we think that there's also an inflammatory reaction created by not just the alcohol, but the impurities that come along with the alcohol. Those impurities are called the congeners," he says.

Studies suggest the difference between feeling a little under the weather and feeling like your body is a nuclear testing ground is due mostly to the inflammatory reaction.

Different beverages have different levels of congeners. Clear, odorless and virtually tasteless vodka has very little, while brandy, whisky and cognac have high levels.

Approximately six to eight hours after you've had your last drink, and you're suffering through your hangover, your blood alcohol level is probably 0, but that doesn't mean you aren't impaired.

"There are many both cognitive and physical functions that a person can't perform very well when they have a hangover," says Shlipak. You may blow 0 on a Breathalyzer test, but good luck passing a driving or flying test.

And anyone who's gone to work the morning after too much drink can tell you that simple occupational and managerial tasks are significantly impaired by a hangover. "It's not as benign as people would tend to think," Shlipak says.

Hangovers have prompted a number of folk remedies. In Mexico, suffering drinkers swear by boiled tripe. The Irish eat corned beef and cabbage for breakfast after a night of too much Guinness.

The Finns prefer whole, salted herring with a little warm vodka, while in Turkey yogurt and two cloves of garlic is the cure of choice. Koreans recommend alder-and-licorice tea. And hungover residents of Quebec head for the nearest poutine stand for a helping of French fries, meat gravy and cheese curds.

But Shlipak says, most folk remedies probably won't work after the fact.

The most common and best advice is to drink a lot of water and eat while you're drinking. "That decreases the amount of intoxication, and will decrease the amount of hangover," Shlipak says.

But for the morning after, your best bet is to keep drinking water and use aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce headaches.

And remember for the next time, there's only one sure-fire way to avoid a hangover altogether: "The only way is to not drink, or not drink excessively," says Shlipak.

What to Do: To read more about some hangover "cures," including the "hair-of-the-dog" approach, check Allsands.com or All About Hangovers or The Global Hangover Guide.

SOURCES: Interviews with Michael G. Shlipak, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco; Manuela G. Newman, director, In Vitro Toxicology Laboratory, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto
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