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How alcohol slows down digestion.

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Here, to give those unfamiliar with the process of digestion a clear understanding of this important operation and the effects of alcohol when taken with food, we quote from a lecture by Dr. Henry Monroe, a British physician, on “The Physiological Action of Alcohol”. He said

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“Every substance used by man as food consists of sugar, starch, oil and sticky substances, mixed together in various proportions; these are intended to support the body of the animal. The glutinous substances in food, cellulose, albumin and casein, are used to build structure; while oil, starch and sugar are used primarily to produce heat in the body.

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“The first step in the digestive process is the breaking up of food in the mouth with the jaws and teeth. Saliva, a viscous liquid, is poured into the mouth from the salivary glands, and when it is mixed with the food it plays a very important part in the process of digestion, making the starch in the food soluble and gradually changing it into a sugar, after which the other principles become more easily mixed with it. An adult person has to provide nearly a pint of saliva for his use every twenty-four hours. When the food is chewed and mixed with the saliva, it enters the stomach, where it is affected by the juice secreted by the filaments of that organ, which floods the stomach whenever it comes in contact with the mucous membrane of the stomach. It consists of a dilute acid which chemists call hydrochloric acid, consisting of hydrogen and chlorine gas, combined in a certain proportion. The gastric juice also contains a special organic ferment or decomposer, containing nitrogen of a yeast-like nature, called pepsin, which is readily soluble in the acid just mentioned. That the gastric juice acts as a simple chemical solvent is evidenced by the fact that after death it dissolves the stomach itself.

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It is a mistake to think that a glass of spirits or beer after a hearty meal will aid digestion, or that any alcoholic liquor, even bitter beer, will aid digestion in any way. Mix some bread and meat with the gastric juice; put them in a glass jar, and place that jar in a slow sand bath at 98 degrees, occasionally shaking the contents gently to imitate the movements of the stomach; you will find that after six or eight hours the whole contents are mixed into a paste. If, in another bottle of food and gastric juice treated in the same way, I add a glass of light beer or a certain amount of alcohol, after seven or eight hours, or even a few days, the food has hardly any effect at all. This is a fact; and if you ask why, I answer that it is because alcohol has a peculiar ability to affect or break down the gastric juice by precipitating its main constituent (i.e., pepsin), making it much less effective as a solvent. Therefore, alcohol can be regarded neither as food nor as a solvent for food. Certainly not as the latter, since it refuses to interact with gastric juices.

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“It is a remarkable fact,” says Dr. Dundas-Thompson, “that the addition of alcohol to the digestive juices produces a white precipitate, so that the juices are no longer capable of digesting animal or vegetable matter.’ Drs. Todd and Bowman say, ‘The use of alcoholic stimulants retards digestion by coagulating pepsin, which is an essential element of the gastric juice, and thus interferes with its action. If wines and spirits were not rapidly absorbed, the introduction of these into the stomach, in any quantity, would entirely retard the digestion of food, as the pepsin in the gastric juice would soon precipitate out of solution, as it formed in the stomach. Any quantity of spirit, as a dietary aid, is injurious, because it has antiseptic properties, and prevents the digestion of food by absorbing water from its particles, in direct opposition to chemical action.”