Can anything cure a hangover? 15 myths about alcohol debunked

BBC2's The Truth About Alcohol teaches us some interesting truths about Britain's drinking habits

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You might feel like you don’t need your coat to walk home after you’ve had a couple of drinks because, when you’re feeling the effect of alcohol, you get the sensation of feeling warmer. But actually drinking has the opposite effect. Alcohol increases the flow of warm blood to the skin which means your body actually loses more heat. 

We had suspected this might be true, but it’s a scientific fact that you can’t multi-task when you’ve been drinking. Alcohol limits your mental resource, meaning you are less capable of doing two things at once. Makes sense now, huh?

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It’s no secret that alcohol contains a lot of calories (one large glass of wine = 180 calories, one pint of beer = 215 calories) but drinking actually has the power to make you eat more too. 

Studies have found that people eat more when they’ve been consuming alcohol. The Truth About Alcohol replicates the test and found alcohol drinkers consume 11% more food than non-drinkers on a night out. Explains those cheesy chips, doesn’t it? 

Eating when drinking is also a good thing. Lining your stomach with a good meal before a drinking session has been proven to work. Presenter and A&E doctor Dr Javid Abdelmoneim carried out a test and found that, after eating a meal and then drinking a glass of wine, he consistently had a lower blood alcohol content than his friend, who drank the same amount on an empty stomach. 

Apparently this has an even bigger effect if you’re a man. 

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Ever wondered why some people appear to get drunk quicker than others? Well, it’s down to body shape and size, or, more accurately, the total amount of water in a person’s body. Someone with more water feels less drunk because the water in their blood dilutes the effects of the alcohol. 

There is more water in muscle than there is in fat. So, if you want to handle your drink better, best leave the pub and get down the gym. 

It’s long been mooted that red wine has health benefits – a theory that does have some scientific backing. Dr Javid found that after a large glass of red wine there was a significant increase in the diameter of an artery in his arm. The suggestion is that it might decrease blood pressure and have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. 

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The reason red wine has this effect on our hearts is because it contains polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Red wine contains almost 10 times more than white wine – and the darker the wine, the better it is. (The show found Italian wine Sagrantino is the best.)

So if you’re going to have a glass of wine there might be some added benefit in choosing a red. BUT polyphenols are also found in cranberries, pomegranate juice, apples and other much healthier options. Just 24g of walnuts or 25g of 70% dark chocolate contain the same as a glass of red wine. 

There is evidence that women over the age of 55 benefit from five units of alcohol a week. Drinking this much (around two glasses a week) protects against heart disease. But drink more than five units and you lose the positive benefits. 

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Nightcaps might be relied on by over five million Brits but it turns out drinking alcohol before bed actually damages your sleep. A late-night tipple gets you to sleep faster and causes a very deep sleep to begin with, but during the second half of the night there’s a rebound effect and drinkers will have fragmented, lighter sleep. The disruptive effect alcohol has on our sleep also increases as we age. Horlicks, anyone?

Fact. Scientists aren’t sure why, but if you’re one of them we are very, very jealous. 

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Always searching for the perfect hangover cure? Borage might be your answer. Tests have found it works better than your classic English fry up.

You take borage in starflower capsule form as a preventative measure before you start drinking. But hangover expert Dr Richard Stevens isn’t 100% convinced. Borage is an anti-inflammatory so he reckons it could be just the same as taking an ibuprofen the morning after. 

His advice? “If you don’t want a hangover, don’t drink too much.” 

We know! We’ve long believed this to be the case, but, according to The Truth About Alcohol, this is officially fiction. 

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Congeners are to blame. They are the result of the fermentation process, improving the taste of our alcoholic drinks but potentially making our hangovers worse. 

If you’re desperate to improve your morning after, opt for lighter coloured drinks or spirits like vodka and gin (which don’t contain any congeners.) Red wine is the worst, apparently.

It’s worth noting that congeners have a small effect on us, compared to the alcohol itself, but every little may still help. 

On a more sobering note, the goverment recently changed its guidelines when it comes to our alcohol consumption due to links between alcohol and cancer. While sensible drinking has long been considered to be relatively safe, it now turns out even drinking small amounts of alcohol comes with risks. 

Alcohol is a carcinogen. It damages cells and it even does things like change oestrogen levels, which could increase the chances of breast cancer. 

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Both men AND women are now advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread out over three or more days. i.e. don’t drink all 14 in one go!

That’s a low risk guideline which keeps your chances of dying from a disease attributed to alcohol consumption at around 1%. 

If you need a reminder, one large glass of wine = 3 units, one standard glass of wine = 2 units and one pint of beer = 2 units. 

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The Truth About Alcohol is now available on BBC iPlayer