Food & DrinkWhy it is not true that alcohol is a...

Why it is not true that alcohol is a good digestive and what negative consequences it can have on the stomach

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Raise your hand to anyone who has heard that  the digestion of a copious lunch or dinner will be better if, at the end, they add a glass of alcohol, a shot or a drink of some other liquor to the menu.

We have no proof, but no doubt either, that many of you have raised not just one, but both arms. Along with that pint of beer that supposedly clears up a hangover the day after a night of partying (which won’t work, no matter how hard you try), this is another of the most popular alcohol-related rumors. We are sorry to disappoint you again, but no:  alcohol is not a good digestive. 

“Traditionally these drinks are taken after meals in which alcohol in the form of wine or beer is usually present.  If alcohol were digestive, why should a shot of herbal liqueur have more effect at the end of the meal than the wine you’ve been drinking throughout it?“, says dietitian-nutritionist Daniel Ursúa. “This legend of the digestive liqueur comes from the vegetable origin of many of these liqueurs and is the perfect excuse to give your stomach the last straw,” he adds, before making it clear again that alcohol has no relation to this benefit in digestion.

In the words of Eugenio Freire, a general and digestive surgeon at the Digestive Diseases Medical-Surgical Center (CMED), that alcohol is digestive “is not true.” “Ethyl alcohol is  irritating to the gastric mucosa, in addition to other harmful effects on other organs and systems such as the liver or cardiovascular system. The ‘digestive’ effect is a false perception,” he clarifies to  Maldita Ciencia .

According to  Vicente Pascual Fuster, from the Nutrition Working Group of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (SEMERGEN), consuming alcohol for this purpose is ” more of a problem than a solution.” “It is noteworthy that, in addition to their high alcoholic content, these drinks often contain other added sugars, contributing to the increase in the caloric content of the intake without providing other nutrients,” adds Pascual to  Maldita Ciencia .

“There is no scientific data that shows that drinking alcoholic beverages improves digestion,”   Luis Bujanda, president of the Spanish Association of Gastroenterology (AEG) , tells Maldita Ciencia . In the words of the expert, this  would mean that alcohol has a prokinetic effect  (which facilitates gastric emptying), when it is not. “There are some drugs that do produce it, but  it has not been proven that alcohol does,” adds Bujanda. In fact, he points out that alcohol can stimulate acid secretion and that the repercussions it can have on our digestive system are negative: “There are studies that attribute alcohol consumption to reflux, that is, acidity rises into the esophagus.” and can cause discomfort. 

Violeta Sastre, a specialist doctor in the Digestive System Area at the Santa Lucía University Hospital, in Cartagena (Murcia), explains to  Maldita Ciencia  that it  is true that alcohol has a vasodilator effect  that, at the beginning of digestion, can favor the arrival of enzymes and somehow speed up the process. “But whether the food has been copious or rich in fat, or if the amount of alcohol ingested has been high,  the process of absorption and digestion of food will be hampered by a slowdown in gastric emptying, the appearance of gastroesophageal reflux and even abdominal pain or swelling,” says the expert.

In the short term, this could trigger acute or chronic inflammatory pathologies such as gastritis or favor the appearance of ulcers. In the long term, current scientific evidence supports that alcohol is one of the main causes of various cancers (larynx, oropharynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast).

Sastre’s advice is to  avoid alcohol consumption, since its harmful effects on health are widely known and include both physical illnesses and those in the field of mental health. For his part, Freire agrees that it is not advisable to consume alcohol: “Apart from causing gastritis and inflammation of the liver, it is an independent risk factor for the  development of cancer of the digestive system, especially the colon, and heart attacks,” he points out.

The only safe consumption of alcohol is 0. We must be clear that there are no health reasons that justify its intake and, above all, it is important that we accept the contradiction that being aware of this implies and, even so, drinking”.

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