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The Daily Tar Heel

Searching for the hangover Holy Grail

Agiddy Tim Tebow decided to celebrate after his unlikely playoff win last weekend. But his night spent with Mike’s Hard Lemonade and his favorite movie “Rudy” left the superhero quarterback with a pounding headache the next day.

Like us mortals, NFL stars get hungover too. Not even Tebow has a magical cure for them. He probably sips Gatorade while “Tebowing” over his toilet.

Of course, this account of Tebow’s post-game celebration is purely speculative and probably fictional (my requests for an interview were not answered).

Regardless, hangovers have been around so long that, even if Tebow hasn’t experienced one firsthand, he has surely read about them in the Bible: “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink” (Isaiah 5:11).

In today’s world, hangovers cost the U.S. economy $148 billion annually, according to a 1998 study, and contribute to near-empty 8 a.m. classes nationwide.

So, given their repercussions, why hasn’t someone invented a better cure for them yet?

For one, the precise cause of hangovers is a mystery. Possible contributors include excess acetaldehyde, which accumulates during the liver’s breakdown of alcohol, alterations of chemical messengers called cytokines and out-of-whack hormone levels.

In addition, sediments found in wine, tequila, whiskey and other dark liquors can worsen symptoms, which is why clear liquors like rum, vodka and gin are popular among career alcoholics.

Unfortunately, studies to fill these information gaps are scarce, possibly because hangovers are largely viewed by the scientific community as a dose of karma for irresponsible boozehounds.

As a result, only a few remedies have supporting research. The most effective hangover remedies are preventive — staying hydrated, not drinking on an empty stomach, and taking a pregame vitamin B6 supplement and a postgame ibuprofen (although the alcohol-ibuprofen’s combination raises risks of stomach bleeding).

For each evidence-based remedy, there are dozens of urban legends. A little hair of the dog may delay symptoms but leads to a worse hangover later. Contrary to folklore, hangover brunch doesn’t affect the absorption of alcohol that was consumed hours before. Caffeine works for some but worsens headaches for regular coffee drinkers. And hitting the gym is great for raising endorphins but not so great for nausea.

Research is scant on most over-the-counter hangover fixes, and those that have been tested have had disappointing results. In short, Chaser and its imitators are probably just overpriced placebos.

Not surprisingly, the most effective way to avoid a hangover is to reduce or cut out drinking, which can sometimes seem like a feat when you’re in college.

But more students are able to avoid hitting the bottle than you might think. Almost 35 percent of UNC students didn’t drink any alcohol in the past month, according to the October 2010 Core Survey. Those who chose to booze consumed an average of only 4 drinks per week.

So until that miracle hangover cure arrives, cutting yourself off is the best way to avoid “Tebowing” to the porcelain goddess.

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