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Alcohol, schnapps, cheese fondue study allays fears about indigestion

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Drinking wine or schnapps during a traditional Christmas meal is found to slow digestion, but new research finds it won't cause indigestion.

The study from University Hospital of Zurich, led by Dr Mark Fox now at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham serves to allay fear about digestive discomfort that can accompany holiday food and wine.

The authors write, “Tradition holds that the intake of different drinks with a meal has an important influence on the digestion of food and postprandial symptoms such as fullness, bloating and satiety; however this assumption have never been subjected to controlled study.”

The research study found that alcohol suppresses appetite when consumed with a calorie rich meal, but for healthy individuals it won't cause heartburn, belching and bloating.

For the study, scientist recruited twenty healthy volunteers 16 men and 4 women, given a famous Swiss cheese fondue with either 4x 50 ml of wine or black tea during the meal. One and a half hours later the subjects were given either water or cherry schnapps to test whether the meal would cause digestive discomfort.

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The study group age was between 23 and 58 with body mass index 19-30 kg/m2. Excluded from the study were individuals with evidence of current drug or alcohol abuse, psychiatric disorders, those taking medications that interfere with gastric motility and history of gastrointestinal disease with the exception of appendectomy or hernia repair.

The findings revealed gastric emptying was faster when fondue was consumed with black tea or water, compared to schnapps or wine. Appetite remained the same with tea or schnapps, but reduced when both tea and schnapps were consumed.

The study, titled, "Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue: randomised controlled crossover trial", found an "inverse dose-response relation between alcohol intake and gastric emptying."

The study concluded, “Gastric emptying after a Swiss cheese fondue is noticeably slower and appetite suppressed if consumed with higher doses of alcohol. This effect was not associated with dyspeptic symptoms”, and the authors say, healthy readers should be reassured that they can continue to enjoy this traditional meal with the beverage of their choice without undue concern about postprandial digestive discomfort".

Even though the researchers focused on Swiss cheese fondue and alcohol to find if it causes indigestion, they say the findings “can be generalised to address the wider issue of alcohol's effects on digestion and digestive comfort after any large, rich meal of the kind we all enjoy over the festive season". Though alcohol slowed digestion, there was no evidence that drinking alcohol and eating, then drinking more alcohol, contributed to indigestion.

BMJ 2010; 341:c6731