Many people swear by drinking water or eating food directly after a session of heavy drinking to avoid a hangover. However, new research suggests that this strategy offers no guarantee that your head will be free from aching the following morning.
Findings of the study examining the drinking habits of students from Canada and the Netherlands also indicate that no one is immune to hangovers, despite many people suggesting that they never experience them.
The research is presented at the European College of Neuropharmacology (ECNP) conference in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
"Throughout the world, the economic and social costs of alcohol abuse run into hundreds of billions of euros per year," says Dr. Michael Bloomfield, of University College London in the UK, commenting for the ECNP. "It's therefore very important to answer simple questions like 'how do you avoid a hangover?'"
A hangover is the body's reaction to excessive alcohol consumption, characterized by a headache, queasiness, dizziness, fatigue, confusion and thirstiness. Although unpleasant, they do serve the purpose of discouraging most people from continuing drinking.
Research suggests that if a person does not experience a hangover, they may be more likely to continue drinking. According to the researchers, 25-30% drinkers regularly claim that they do not experience hangovers.
For the study, 789 Canadian students reported their drinking habits for the previous month, including the number of alcoholic drinks consumed, how long it took them to drink them and how severe any hangovers were. The researchers also calculated estimated blood alcohol concentration scores for the participants.
They found that 79% of the participants that claimed they never experienced hangovers had estimated blood alcohol concentration scores of less than 0.10%. As a point of comparison, many states in the US have a safe driving limit of 0.08%.
"The majority of those who in fact reported never having a hangover tended to drink less, perhaps less than they themselves thought would lead to a hangover," reports lead author Dr. Joris Verster, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Dr. Verster states that, overall, they found that the more alcohol the participants consumed, the more likely they were to develop a hangover afterwards.
Only way to prevent hangovers is to drink less
The other side of the study investigated whether or not consuming food or water directly after drinking helped to protect against a hangover. The researchers asked 826 students from the Netherlands about their most recent heavy drinking session, how severe any hangovers were and whether or not they had food or water after the alcohol.
A total of 449 of the students (54.4%) reported eating or drinking water after consuming alcohol.
Dr. Verster reveals the students that reported consuming food or water also reported a slight statistical improvement in how they felt compared with those who did not, but that this improvement did not translate into a meaningful difference.
He describes how useful the research is and what the team's future plans are:
"These are early questionnaire-based studies, and are amongst the first of their kind. This means they have limitations, but they do give us an indication of what happens. Our next step is to move forward with more controlled trials."
Dr. Bloomfield told Medical News Today that people may believe drinking water after heavy alcohol consumption can prevent hangovers because alcohol causes dehydration and part of feeling hungover is probably about dehydrating.
"Likewise, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach causes a rapid increase in alcohol levels in the blood," he said. "However, as many can testify, even a hearty meal and drinking lots of water won't fend off a hangover when people drink 'one too many,' given that alcohol has other effects on the body too."
"Up to now the only thing that is effective to prevent hangovers is to consume alcohol in moderation," Dr. Verster told MNT. "Water may help against thirst and dry mouth but other hangover symptoms (e.g. nausea) persist. Dehydration is an effect of alcohol, but not the cause of the hangover. It's more likely that the immune system is involved."
Recently, MNT published a Knowledge Center article detailing the 10 most common health risks of chronic heavy drinking.