Alcohol Myths Busted

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“Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine” and “Grape or grain but never the twain” may be age-old sayings, but they are myths. It doesn’t matter if people combine beer and wine or in what order they drink them-they’re likely to get an equally bad hangover.

That was demonstrated by a recent German study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which 90 volunteers (ages 19 to 40, generally healthy and customary drinkers) were split in three groups: One drank a fair amount of beer followed by white wine; the second did the reverse; and the third drank only wine or only beer (participants stopped drinking when they reached set breath alcohol levels, or earlier if desired). The next day, participants reported their hangover symptoms. A week later, groups one and two reversed their order of beverages, while participants in group three switched beverages; then hangover symptoms were again reported. In the end, neither the type nor order of beverages significantly altered hangover intensity. Not surprisingly, the best predictors of hangover intensity were perceived drunkenness (during and after drinking) and vomiting.

In the real world, remember that if you choose to drink alcohol, you should do it responsibly. Here is some advice on drinking alcohol safely.

1. If you are a man, limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks per day and half that amount after the age of 65, because the body’s ability to process alcohol declines with age. One drink is equal to 12 oz. of regular beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits. While this amount is enough to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, it may have a negative effect on your ability to drive or operate machinery.

2. If you are a woman, limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per day. If you are not at an increased risk for breast cancer, consuming a few drinks a week is probably safe and may protect your heart. If you are in a high-risk group for breast cancer, the American Cancer Society suggests that you consider drinking no alcohol at all.

3. Remember that heavy alcohol consumption is a health risk. Heavy drinking (more than two alcoholic drinks a day) can cause many life-threatening diseases, including hypertension, stroke, cardiomyopathy (diseases that affect the heart muscle), and cirrhosis of the liver.

4. Certain people should avoid alcohol altogether. These include people with high blood triglyceride levels, uncontrolled high blood pressure, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), liver disease, or a rare inherited metabolic disorder called porphyria. Certain prescription or over-the-counter medications can also interact with alcohol, so ask your doctor whether you should avoid or limit alcohol intake because of any medication you are taking. Anyone with a past or current problem with alcohol also should not drink. And, of course, if you’ll be driving or operating heavy machinery, you should abstain from alcohol.