60-Second Science

Lighter Drinks Avoid Heavy Head

A study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research finds that lighter colored spirits, such as vodka, may cause lesser hangovers than darker drinks, such as bourbon. Cynthia Graber reports

It’s the season for celebrating – and many of those celebrations include imbibing alcohol. Which sometimes leaves us the next morning with uncomfortable reminders of our excesses. But does what we drink—say bourbon versus vodka—make a difference? Apparently so, according to a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Researchers enlisted 95 volunteers. Their sleep patterns were measured to make sure that lack of rest didn’t distort the results. Those who got drunk on bourbon reported worse hangovers—headaches, nausea and general discomfort. And they performed worse on tasks that required careful attention for decision-making. They didn’t sleep any worse than vodka drinkers, though.

Here’s why bourbon might hurt more: many alcoholic beverages contain byproducts of fermentation called congeners, complex organic compounds that in large doses can have toxic effects. And darker distilled drinks and wines generally have more of these congeners than do lighter ones. Bourbon, in fact, has 37 times more than vodka does. Which, the researchers note, may add to the hangover effect. So if you’re worried about a dark hangover cloud in the morning, maybe stick to lighter drinks tonight.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of the audio in the podcast.]

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