If you drink alcohol during a rich meal, a highly likely occurrence this Christmas, the alcohol may slow down your digestion, but will not cause indigestion symptoms, such as burping, nausea, bloating or heartburn, researchers from the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland, wrote in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).

Indigestion is the same as dyspepsia or stomach upset.

Dr. Mark Fox and team set out to determine what the effects of alcohol might be on the human digestive system during a rich meal. Their study involved 20 participants, 14 male and 6 female, who ate cheese fondue and drank either black tea or wine, followed by an after-dinner digestive drink of cherry liqueur (brandy) or water.

Fondue is a dish of melted cheese, usually served in a communal caquelon (pot) over a rechaud (small burner). Long-stemmed forks with bread at the end are dipped into the cheese and eaten. Fondue originates from the Jura region of Switzerland and France.

The authors wrote that their findings using a fondue meal “can be generalized 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.”

None of the volunteers, aged between 23 and 58, had a history of stomach disease/conditions or alcohol misuse/abuse. Their average BMI (body mass index) was 23.6 – they were neither overweight nor underweight. None of them were on any prescribed medications.

The volunteers were tested twice, with a seven day interval between each experiment. The Alcohol Group drank wine with their fondue, followed by schnapps (cherry brandy), while the Control Group drank black tea with their fondue, followed by water. The schnapps and water were taken 90 minutes later.

Established scientific breath tests were used to gauge the effects of alcohol intake on the individual’s digestive system.

The scientists found that alcohol slowed down digestion, but did not contribute to any increase in belching (burping), bloating, nausea or heartburn – typical symptoms of indigestion. In other words, the Alcohol Group did not have a higher incidence of indigestion symptoms than the Control Group.

The authors 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.”

“Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue: randomised controlled crossover trial”
Henriette Heinrich, Oliver Goetze, Dieter Menne, Peter X Iten, Heiko Fruehauf, Stephan R Vavricka, Werner Schwizer, Michael Fried, Mark Fox
BMJ 2010; 341:c6731 doi: 10.1136/bmj.c6731 (Published 14 December 2010)

Written by Christian Nordqvist