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HEALTHWATCH / HANGOVERS : Shades of Green : There may be no sure cure for the effects of over-imbibing, but a doctor and bartenders offer suggestions to help ease the pain.


Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day, which means it's time for our annual focus on the color green.

Green, of course, is the color of four leaf clovers. The color of your average shamrock. The color of the majority of a leprechaun's wardrobe.

And, sadly, it's also the color of many a face the day after St. Paddy celebrating.

You know what we're talking about here. Hangovers. Remember, those things that happen when you drink more alcohol than your body can tolerate? The things you think will never happen to you? Or at least you wish, with all the power you can muster as you refill the ice pack for your head, that they would never happen to you?

For many folks, the definition of a hangover is simple: A bad way to end a good time. To others, it's a bit more complex than that.

"Alcohol converts to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a substance you use if you want to preserve somebody's brain to the year 2050," said Dr. Richard Loft, a family practitioner in Camarillo. "It is a pickling and preserving agent and it's not nice to the tissues in the body."

Alcohol gets inside the nervous system, said Loft, and it stays awhile. "The next morning," he said, "you will have inflammation of the nervous tissue." The result can be a headache, lack of energy, malaise and general aches and pains.

Loft said scientists have estimated that 400,000 cells from the nervous system are killed with each ounce of alcohol consumed. "It's a good thing we have a few extra (cells)," he said.

Those are the effects of alcohol simply being alcohol. But alcohol also contains elements that can cause problems of their own.

"There are a lot of impurities in most of the things we drink, especially some of the hard beverages like gin, Scotch and bourbon," said Loft. "These are things that make the body actually react, almost in an allergic way. They tend to cause headaches, intestinal upsets and just a generalized poor feeling."

Though there's not much one can do to get rid of the effects of a hangover as quickly as the sufferer would like, there are certain remedies that people have adopted over time, sometimes out of desperation.

The most effective remedies seem to be any of the over-the-counter or prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)--otherwise known as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The drugs target inflammation in joints, tissue and muscles.

And then there are the other "remedies."

"People need spice--tomato juice, menudo, tacos, orange juice--to take away that feeling of malaise," said Sonny Sandoval, a bartender at Hub's bar in Fillmore and a former paramedic and respiratory therapist. "But they are really all old wives' tales. It's all psychological."

Sandoval said there is no true, quick remedy for the symptoms of hangovers except some pain relievers for the headache and the passage of time for the rest of the symptoms.

"People say breathe in oxygen," he said. "Some say swim. If I had a hangover, I'd probably drown if I did that."

Debbie Rodkey of the Buckhorn Saloon in Camarillo has tended bar for 14 years. She recommends going straight for the old "hair of the dog that bit you" remedy. In other words, more alcohol.

"Beer with tomato juice or a Bloody Mary the day after," she said.

Perhaps a grain of salt with that advice wouldn't hurt, either.

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