There is an age-old belief that if you are drinking alcohol, you should always drink beer before wine but never the other way round to avoid a more unpleasant hangover.
Many languages have their own sayings about which type of alcoholic beverage should be drunk first to avoid the worst consequences; “Grape or grain, but never the twain” in English, while Germans claim “Wein auf Bier, das rat’ ich Dir—Bier auf Wein, das lass’ sein” and the French say “Bière sur vin est venin, vin sur bière est belle manière”. But despite this widespread belief, there has been very little formal investigation of whether it is true or just a myth.
A new study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sought to finally find out whether there is any truth in these popular sayings. But why?
“A clear result in favor of one particular order could help to reduce hangovers and help many people have a better day after a night out – though we encourage people to drink responsibly,” said Dr. Kai Hensel, a senior clinical fellow at the University of Cambridge and senior author of the study.
The study took over two years to plan and get approved and nearly 300 brave people volunteered to get drunk for science, with 90 ultimately passing the selection criteria and completing all parts of the study. Participants were split randomly into three study groups: The first drank beer then wine, the second drank wine then beer and the third group had people drinking exclusively wine or beer, with no mixing.
“We wanted to see if we could do a study that people will find amusing, that will make science fun, but making sure we are completely rigorous in what we do,” said Hensel.
The researchers then asked people to report how drunk they felt, scoring themselves between 0 and 10 at the end of each study day and also noted whether they vomited or not. Participants then rated their hangover the next day, using the Acute Hangover Scale, which is based on factors including thirst, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach ache, increased heart rate and loss of appetite.
Contradicting the numerous sayings, the study concluded that there was no difference in hangover score irrespective of the order in which beer or wine was consumed. It did, however, reveal that perceived drunkenness and vomiting during the study were associated with a stronger chance of drinkers experiencing a heavier hangover.
“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,” said Hensel.
The participants were given a lot of alcohol, two-and-a-half pints of beer and four large glasses of wine, far more than is recommended as healthy by guidelines from most countries and would be considered “binge drinking.”
“We had consent from the ethics committee, who were at first quite skeptical about it. We don’t give them more than they would drink on their own and they even get medical supervision. Everyone volunteered and were healthy, young and would have drunk on their own anyway,” said Hensel.
Despite the more jovial nature of the research subject, the study was meticulously designed. All participants drank exactly the same types of lager beer and white wine and after their alcohol drinking was complete, they were given a drink of water, the amount of which was measured relative to their body weight before going to sleep in the lab under medical supervision.
“This is an interesting study, which was well designed to examine popular sayings about alcohol effects. The results could have been expected, as beer and wine mix in your stomach/gastrointestinal tract during the drinking session. As a result, the sequence beer/wine or wine/beer is not likely to have an impact on next-day alcohol hangovers,” said Joris Verster, Associate Professor at Utrecht University’s Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences and Founder of the international Alcohol Hangover Research Group.
Although the study was reasonably light-hearted in nature, Hensel believes that hangovers might, in some way at least, be there to try and help us.
“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. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes,” said Hensel.
The important question is, do any of us pay attention to what our hangovers are trying to tell us?