By Alex Therrien Health reporter, BBC News
“Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine, wine before beer and you’ll feel queer” – many of us may swear by this time-honoured tip when “mixing” our drinks.
But a new study has refuted the idea that the order we have alcoholic drinks in affects the severity of a hangover.
To test the theory, they gave 90 volunteers drinks in varying orders, switching the order a week later.
The study found that how drunk people felt and whether they vomited provided the best indicators for the next day.
People should pay attention to these “red flags” to lessen the chances of a bad hangover, scientists say.
Testing age-old ‘wisdom’
Many of us will have our own ideas about what prevents a hangover or makes it more bearable when it has started.
But surprisingly little is understood about what exactly causes a hangover, and science has found no truly effective remedy.
So to test the wisdom that the order in which we have alcoholic drinks affects how we feel the following day, scientists took 90 people aged between 19 and 40 and split them into three groups:
- the first group drank around two-and-a-half pints of lager, followed by four large glasses of white wine
- the second had the same amounts of alcohol, but in reverse order
- the third had only beer or wine (a control group)
A week later, participants in the first two groups switched around, while those in the control group changed to the other alcoholic drink.
Participants were asked to judge how drunk they were at the end of each study day and were kept under medical supervision overnight.
Changing the order of drinks made no significant difference to hangover scores, which were measured using a questionnaire, the study found.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Science has found no truly effective remedy for a hangover
It was also not possible to predict hangover intensity based on factors such as age, body weight, drinking habits and how often people usually got hangovers.
However, there was a difference between the sexes, with women tending to have slightly worse hangovers than men.
Jöran Köchling, from Witten/Herdecke University in Germany, who was the first author of the paper, said: “The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”
‘Early warning system’
Though hangovers are not well understood by science, it is thought that causes include dehydration, our immune systems, and disturbances of our metabolism and hormones.
Colourings and flavourings may also make hangovers worse, which might explain why drinks of the same concentration can cause a more severe hangover.
As unpleasant as they are, however, hangovers do serve a purpose, according to experts.
Dr Bob Patton, a lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Surrey, who was not involved in the study, said: “It’s nature’s early warning system to encourage a change of lifestyle, which if left unchecked can lead to serious physical and psychological issues.”
Tips to avoid a hangover
Once you have a hangover, there is no magic cure, although rehydrating, painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, and sugary foods are some of the things that may ease your discomfort.
But there are steps you can take to reduce the chance of getting one in the first place, beyond the obvious – drinking less.
- not drinking on an empty stomach
- not drinking dark-coloured drinks if you have found you are sensitive to them (they contain chemicals that irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse)
- drinking water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink
- drinking a pint or so of water before you go to sleep
Source: NHS website