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Debunking the Folk Wisdom That You Shouldn't Mix Beer and Wine

New research finds that hangovers result from heavy drinking, no matter the combination of beverages.
wine toast drinking alcohol

For many suffering souls, the hangover is more than a silly movie. It's a recurring reality, a painful reminder of the previous evening's debauchery.

Always searching for ways to overindulge in enjoyable activities without suffering the consequences, humans have devised formulas that allegedly allow for consequence-free consumption. Among the most popular is the admonition not to mix beer and wine—or, if you must, to begin with the brew before switching to syrah.

A European research team put these theories to the test—and found they were bunk. On average, the more participants drank, the worse they felt the next morning. The specific drinks, or the combination in which they were consumed, was irrelevant.

"Unfortunately, we found that there was no way to avoid the inevitable hangover just by favoring one order over another," senior author Kai Hensel of the University of Cambridge said in announcing the findings, which are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

While this is, by design, an attention-grabbing study—Hensel said he hopes it will show the next generation of physicians that research can be both engaging and meaningful—hangovers are not a trivial matter. A meta-analysis of hangover-related research released last year found the condition can impair both long- and short-term memory, as well as the ability to sustain attention. One study concluded that driving with a hangover is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to 0.08 percent. That latter figure is the legal limit for drivers in the United States.

The study's participants (one suspects they were not hard to recruit) were volunteers from Witten/Herdecke University in Germany, where first author Jöran Köchling is based. The 45 men and 45 women ranged in age from 19 to 40.

They were divided into three groups. The first drank about two and one-half pints of beer, followed by four large glasses of wine. The second drank the identical combination, but in reverse order; the third drank only beer or wine. (For what it's worth, the beer was a lager, and the wine was white.)

One week later, presumably having recovered, the participants gathered again. This time, the first group drank wine followed by beer, while the second group did the opposite. Those in the third group that had consumed beer the first night now drank wine, and vice-versa.

All participants were regularly asked how they were feeling during the course of both evenings, and estimated their level of intoxication at the end of each. The day after, they completed the Acute Hangover Scale, noting their levels on a variety of hangover-related symptoms including headache, dizziness, nausea, thirst, and fatigue.

"Neither type nor order of consumed alcoholic beverages significantly affected hangover intensity," the researchers report. "We didn't find any truth that drinking beer before wine gives you a milder hangover than the other way around," Köchling says.

But they did find some reliable signs that a bad hangover may be on the way: namely, "perceived drunkenness and vomiting." If you're at the point where you're throwing up, it's likely your pain and discomfort have just begun.

So feel free to mix beer and wine—as long as it's one bottle of beer and one glass of wine. Your body doesn't care what type of alcohol you're enjoying; it just reacts poorly to excessive amounts.