Enjoy the Holidays Without Hangovers

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Enjoy the Holidays Without Hangovers

Toast the New Year, but Don't Fry Your Brain
by Kim Hoo-ran (Contributing Writer)

With slightly more than two weeks to go before we bid farewell to 2000, many people are preparing to attend end-of-year parties. After all the corks have been popped comes the inevitable New Year's day hangover. It is at this time of year in particular, when one attends a succession of holiday parties, that the miserable morning-after malaise known as the hangover - when you feel like a sledgehammer hit you over the head and your mouth tastes like the bottom of a birdcage - makes you wonder if it was really worth it.

So why do we do it? To forget, of course. The end-of-year party, known in Korean as mangnyonhoe, is literally a gathering to forget the past year. Unfortunately, many people drink as if they also want to forget the new one as well.

"I've been to three parties so far this month and have two more to go to," says Mr. Cho, 35, a venture firm employee. Mr. Cho says a party typically consists of at least two rounds of drinking at different places. "We normally start with dinner, with which we drink soju or beer," he says. "The really serious drinking starts after dinner, when we move to a karaoke club or a night club."

During this second round of hardcore boozing, boilermakers, or "cocktail bombs" as they are known in Korea, are often passed around. The ritual is carried out by dropping a shot glass of hard liquor into a mug of beer and kicking back the intoxicating concoction in one long gulp.

"I normally down four or five of those," says Mr. Cho. Not surprisingly, he says the rest of the evening is normally a blur.

This sort of heavy drinking, although more common at the end of the year, is not reserved for the holiday season. A Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs survey conducted last year found the average Korean over 20 years old drank on an average of eight days a month in 1998. Nearly 27.2 percent of all drinkers said they drank more than one bottle of soju at a time.

All this drinking takes a heavy toll. Many partygoers remember only too well waking up and feeling as if they could count the number of brain cell destroyed by a night of delirious drinking. But most people do not have the luxury of taking a day off from work to nurse a nasty hangover. So how do they cope?

While some people believe in the restorative properties of soup made from cow's blood, bean sprout soup or dried pollack soup are also popular remedies.

"I usually have a bowl of hot bean sprout soup or dried pollack soup with breakfast," says Mr. Cho.

One may ask what soup can do to alleviate a hangover, but these home remedies have some scientific backing. Soup made with cow's blood is rich in protein. Dried pollack, rich in amino acid is another aid to recovery. Asparagine, found in large amounts in bean sprout roots, helps break down alcohol and lowers the concentration of toxins that remain after heavy drinking.

In fact, Aspa, a drink that is claimed to help ease hangovers, lists asparagine among its ingredients. Aspa was developed as a result of the popularity of bean sprout soup.

"I don't feel so bad the next day if I drink Aspa before I start partying," said a neurosurgeon, 38. When he goes drinking with friends, he takes along a bottle of Condition, another tonic claimed to ease hangover symptoms.

Condition is a market leader, and flies off the shelves this time of year. Sales, which totaled 2.5 billion won ($2.1 million) last year, are expected to jump to about 3.5 billion won this year, according to Cheil Jedang, the company that makes Condition. Although the so-called "health tonics" rely on a wide range of ingredients, from a substance found in rice grain to an oak tree extract, their basic function is to break down alcohol and protect the liver.

The popularity of these tonics provides strong evidence of the misery that comes in the aftermath of heavy drinking. A hangover is the body's reaction to alcohol's toxicity and dehydrating effects.

On the other hand, some scientific reports indicate that moderate drinking is actually beneficial. Recent studies show that moderate drinkers have less heart disease than teetotalers do. Moderate drinkers also tend to live longer and spend less time in hospital than those who abstain and heavy drinkers.

But binge drinking can lead to many health problems. Heavy drinking is a major cause of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer - both leading killers in Korea. No matter what you do to cope with a hangover, the conventional wisdom that the "hair of the dog" is the ticket is not the recommended route. Drinking on top of a hangover numbs the central nervous system, desensitizing the drinker to the pain. But drinking more alcohol when the liver and the stomach are in distress can cause significant damage to these organs. In fact, after drinking excessively, one should stay away from alcohol for two to three days to allow the liver to recover.

Of course, the best cure is not to get drunk. This means your drinking should not exceed the standard quantity set by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The agency rates standard drinks as follows: a 12 ounce glass for beer (0.5 percent alcohol), a 1.5 ounce glass of liquor (40 percent alcohol) and 5 ounce glass for wine (12 percent alcohol). Men should not drink more than two standard drinks a day. Women should not have more than one.

Drinking slowly, at a rate of one drink an hour, helps reduce the chances of getting drunk. So does eating food and drinking non-alcoholic beverages in between drinking alcohol. The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs also recommends abstaining from boilermakers, not passing around glasses and not going for more than one round of drinks.

Illustration by Bae Min-ho
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