(NEXSTAR) — We all know the saying (or a variation of it): “Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” But can it possibly be true?
According to health experts, the answer isn’t as simple as it may seem.
It isn’t clear where exactly the saying comes from. It may stem from how we digest certain alcoholic beverages, according to The New York Times. Beer and other carbonated drinks often irritate our stomach lining, which increases how fast the alcohol is absorbed.
It may also come from how we drink the beverages, Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic tells Nexstar.
Experts believe that with liquor, which typically has a higher alcohol content, you’re more likely to be sipping your drink, Czerwony explains. Meanwhile, when it comes to beer (and wine), you may be drinking them faster.
“Then you’re having a good time and you can’t regulate how much you’re drinking,” she says.
So, if you start with liquor and you’re drinking slower, your body has a chance to process the drink. If you decide to switch to beer, you may still be able to regulate your drinking. But if you start with beer before ending with liquor, you’re “likely intoxicated and then that liquor is going to kind of push you over the edge,” Czerwony says.
Yet some say it’s not what you drink – or in what order – but instead how much you drink.
“The most common reason for feeling sick during or after drinking is drinking too much,” a pamphlet from the University of Arizona’s Campus Health explains. It goes on to note that drinking on an empty stomach can make you feel worse, as can congeners (substances produced during fermentation) or sulfites (naturally-occurring compounds associated with grapes and hops that can prevent the growth of bacteria).
A study published in 2019 found similar results, according to CNBC. Researchers divided participants into three groups: one drank two and a half pints of beer, then four large glasses of white wine; the second drank in the reverse order; and the third drank either just beer or just wine with matching alcohol levels. All participants judged their hangovers, then came back a week later and drank either in reverse or the opposite beverage, and judged their hangovers again.
Overall, the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found participants reported little to no difference in their hangovers between the two weeks. The study even debunked another common phrase, “grape or grain but never the twain,” which warns against drinking both beer and wine on the same night to avoid a hangover.
Even the “Mythbusters” busted the myth, finding no difference in the hangover.
If you’re hoping to dodge a hangover — or at least minimize its impact — make sure to eat before or while you drink, and have some water between each drink, Czerwony recommends. And when you wake up the next morning, reach for a sports drink to help rehydrate and eat foods that will be easier on your stomach.
“Generally, being responsible … pacing it out, and making sure you eat with it, will make the night a little bit easier for you,” Czerwony says.