RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Richard Knox reports.
RICHARD KNOX: Have you ever had a hangover?
JOYCE WALKER: Excuse me?
KNOX: Have you ever had a hangover?
WALKER: Of course not, never.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KNOX: That's Joyce Walker. We're at a holiday party near Boston. The hostess has just kindly consented to let me ask some impertinent questions.
CHARLIE EVETT: My name is Charlie Evett. I live in Concord, Massachusetts.
KNOX: Have you ever had a hangover?
EVETT: Oh yes, a few. More than a few. I mean especially around festive occasions it does occur.
KNOX: Charlie Evett runs down a list of symptoms familiar to many of us.
EVETT: Very bad headache and I feel very tired, sort of shaky.
KNOX: Sort of fragile?
EVETT: Oh, yes, very fragile, unable to move quickly, you know? As though prematurely aged. As though I needed a walker but I don't have one handy.
KNOX: What causes this whole body misery? Dr. Robert Swift of Brown University says there are three theories.
ROBERT SWIFT: The first theory is that hangover is a type of alcohol withdrawal.
KNOX: Swift says that's because alcohol sedates the brain. To compensate, the body puts out chemicals that excite the brain. They're still around the next morning.
SWIFT: You're left with the increased excitability for a period of time, and then it takes a while for that to go away.
KNOX: The most evil is a type of alcohol called methanol. The liver breaks methanol down into formaldehyde.
SWIFT: Now, formaldehyde is embalming fluid. And when this gets in your blood, it makes people feel uncomfortable. It may contribute to the headache and some of the toxic symptoms of hangover.
KNOX: So when they say you're pickled, they're right. The third theory is that the main type of alcohol in beverages, called ethanol, is the culprit.
SWIFT: Alcohol is an irritant to the gastrointestinal tract.
KNOX: That's not all.
SWIFT: Alcohol in itself is dehydrating.
KNOX: Because it dials down a hormone that causes the body to retain water.
SWIFT: It also can disrupt biological rhythms, producing a kind of jet lag.
KNOX: So which theory explains the hangover?
SWIFT: I think they're actually all operative, which is why there's no one cure.
KNOX: But there are a lot of stories about what works, like this one from my friend Marylene Altieri.
MARYLENE ALTIERI, Host:
I was at a lovely dinner with friends at a very beautiful country restaurant outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Our host was ordering champagnes and wines.
KNOX: After a while, all that alcohol caught up to her.
ALTIERI: My eyes were spinning around in my head. I was really, really, really gone.
KNOX: As her hostess put her to bed, she gave Marylene her favorite remedy.
ALTIERI: She said take these two pills, drink this tea, drink this water and you'll be fine in the morning - and I was. I was totally without hangover the next morning.
KNOX: Unidentified Group: (Singing) (Unintelligible)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KNOX: So here's to a cheery and pain-free morning after. Richard Knox, NPR News, Boston.
MONTAGNE: Not that we want to contribute to your hangover, but if you're looking for the best bubbly for New Year's Eve or a recipe for eggnog, you can go to npr.org and find it.
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