European researchers have bad news for the 76% of Americans who experience hangovers after a drinking session: Try as you may to change up the order of your alcoholic beverages, if you drink too much, you will still be hungover.
Determined to find a way to help people have a better day after a night out, the researchers recruited 90 brave souls in Germany between the ages of 19 and 40 to drink beer, wine or both. One group drank 2½ pints of beer, followed by four large glasses of wine. The second group drank the four glasses of wine first, then the 2½ pints of beer. A third group drank only beer or only wine. Everyone was kept under medical supervision overnight.
The researchers then let the alcohol wash out and people recover, and a week later -- still fueled by scientific curiosity and determined to find the right way to drink -- they brought everybody back for a second day of drinking. This time, people drank in the reverse order: Those who had started with beer on the first day were given wine this time, those who had started with wine were given beer first, and those who had drunk only beer were given wine and vice versa.
The results, published Thursday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show no difference in the intensity of the hangover brought on by drinking wine first followed by beer or the other way around.
"We didn't find any truth in the idea that drinking beer before wine gives you a milder hangover than the other way around," said Jöran Köchling, a researcher at Witten/Herdecke University and lead author of the study, in a statement.
Two factors did seem to predict the severity of symptoms the day after: how drunk people felt while they were drinking and whether they vomited. The people who scored themselves higher on the 1 to 10 how-drunk-are-you scale at the end of the night and those who threw up at any point were the ones most likely to rate their hangover as severe.
"The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover," Köchling 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."
That's the thing about hangovers: If you ignore the red flags while you're drinking, headaches, dehydration, tiredness, sensitivity to light and stomach ailments will ensue.
And although the amount of alcohol that brings on a hangover varies by person, a hangover often means you've gone over what is considered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be moderate drinking: one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
The researchers acknowledged limitations to their study. For example, they couldn't assign a control group to drink beer or wine without alcohol, as the participants in an alcohol study were not interested in being in a non-alcoholic group.
And although they didn't find a way to drink that would help people feel better the day after, the researchers say hangovers are not always bad news.
"Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: they are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior," said Dr. Kai Hensel, a senior clinical fellow at the University of Cambridge and senior author of the study, in a statement. "In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes."