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Q: Is the saying "beer before wine and you'll be fine" true, meaning less chance of a hangover?

A: A study recently published in The Journal of Clinical Nutrition addressed that very question.

Researchers enrolled 90 adults between the ages of 19 and 40, randomly assigning them to one of three groups:

--Group 1 drank beer until their breath alcohol level was at least .05 percent, then drank wine until it was at least .11 percent. That's well over the limit of what can get you charged with drunk driving in the U.S.

--Group 2 drank wine until their breath alcohol level was at least .05 percent, then drank beer until it was at least .11 percent

--Group 3 was allowed to drink either only wine or only beer until their breath alcohol level was at least .11 percent

After a week or so, the experiment was repeated. This time, though, members of Groups 1 and 2 swapped, so that the order of the wine or beer they drank was reversed from the initial assignment. For Group 3, wine drinkers were provided only beer and vice versa.

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The groups were similar with respect to gender, body size, drinking habits, and frequency of hangovers. Hangover symptoms were assessed after each drinking session.

According to one popular theory, if you start with wine and then drink beer, the carbonation in beer makes you absorb more alcohol from the wine. In theory, this leads to greater inebriation and a worse hangover.

So, beer-before-wine drinkers should have been in better shape than wine-before-beer drinkers. But that's not what this new research found. There was no correlation between hangover symptoms and whether subjects drank only wine, only beer, or switched between them in either order. Perhaps the least surprising findings? The best predictors of a bad hangover were how drunk the subjects felt or whether they vomited after drinking.

And it makes sense: Alcohol is absorbed rather well and rather quickly, regardless of its source.

File this one under "medical myths debunked." It probably matters little whether you drink wine then beer or the reverse. Regardless of your drinks of choice or the order in which you drink them, what matters most is drinking responsibly, never driving under the influence, and knowing when to quit.

(Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., is associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and clinical chief of Rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu.)

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