St. Patrick’s Day: Is green beer bad for your health?

Published on March 17, 2014

It's St. Patrick’s Day, and many pubs and restaurants are serving green beer to mark the occasion. While many people down the green beer without a second thought, some might be wondering, what’s in it, and is it bad for you?

Dr. Eli Pendleton, a family medicine doctor with UofL Physicians, said it’s not the green beer you have to worry about - it’s the alcohol itself.

“The green in green beer is most likely a harmless, plant-derived food coloring, the same thing that would be in green icing,” Dr. Pendleton said. “It won’t hurt you. And that hangover you have the next morning? You can’t blame the green beer.”

Yes, hangovers are the biggest problem with drinking all that green beer. Dr. Pendleton said what makes those who overdo it with alcohol feel so bad is the chemical formed by the breakdown of alcohol in the body, combined with dehydration. These two factors contribute to the headache, nausea and general feeling of malaise. The dehydration occurs because alcohol acts as a diuretic, and most people who are drinking alcohol aren’t drinking enough water at the same time, Dr. Pendleton said.

“We are made up of about 50 percent water, and a body needs all that water to function normally. Alcohol interferes with the mechanism in your brain that regulates your water balance. So when you drink alcohol, you eliminate more water than you are taking in,” he said.

Is there a way to avoid a hangover?

“The first and foremost way to avoid a hangover is to simply not drink so much,” Dr. Pendleton said. “And, as you’re drinking alcohol, also drink some water. And drink some water before you go to bed.”

Taking some aspirin or ibuprofen before bed can also help, he said.

But if it’s the next day, and you haven’t followed the doctor’s advice, is there a cure for a hangover?

“Everyone seems to have a hangover cure,” Dr. Pendleton said. “But there aren’t many studies that show one thing works better than the other. There was a paper published a few years back in which caffeine and aspirin won the day, and worked regardless of dehydration. So coffee and aspirin might work well for breakfast. And carbonated beverages can ease the nausea a bit.”

It’s OK to also take some aspirin or ibuprofen in the morning, but take it easy on your upset stomach.

Dr. Pendleton said “there is some truth” that clear liquors such as vodka are better when it comes to avoiding a hangover, as they don’t contain some of the substances found in aged alcohols like whiskey, tequila and wine.

But if you want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without the after effects, he said, “it turns out Mom’s right – the best way to feel good after having a good time is to not drink so much in the first place.”