Many studies have evaluated the risks and benefits of alcohol intake, with some concentrating on potential benefits while others focus on the risks of abuse.
According to new research presented at Digestive Disease Week 2006 (DDW), the volume of alcohol ingested and how it is mixed with other beverages can affect the health of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
In the study researchers at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in South Australia explored a variety of drinking methods to differentiate which patterns are most harmful and which may have some beneficial protective effects.
They found that when alcohol is mixed with beverages such as orange juice or soda, the rate of alcohol absorption into the blood stream depends not only on the individual, but also the "mixer."
The researchers analyzed alcoholic beverages mixed with diet or regular soda (with sucrose) to determine the rate of gastric emptying and blood alcohol response.
They found that alcohol combined with sugar-free mixers were processed through the stomach and entered the blood stream much more quickly than alcohol with regular mixers.
For the research eight male volunteers were asked to consumed orange-flavored vodka beverages with both a diet mixer and regular mixer.
The researchers then measured the rate of stomach emptying using ultrasound technology and blood samples were also taken at 30-minute intervals for three hours.
The team discovered that the substitution of artificial sweeteners for sucrose in mixed alcoholic beverages may have a substantial effect on the rate of gastric emptying and the blood alcohol response
The time to empty half of the diet drink from the stomach was 21 minutes, compared to regular drinks which took 36 minutes for the same degree of emptying.
Peak blood alcohol concentrations were substantially greater with diet drinks at an average of 0.05 percent, while regular drinks measured at 0.03 percent BAC.
Chris Rayner, M.D., the lead author of the study, says more and more people are shifting personal preferences by choosing 'diet' drinks as a healthier alternative, and do not understand the potential side effects that diet mixed alcoholic drinks may have on their body's response to alcohol.
He says it is surprising how much of a difference the artificial sweetener made.
Rayner suspects people may consume more because of the lower calorie content; he says the findings have public health significance and recommends that product labeling include information on the intoxicating qualities of artificially sweetened alcoholic drinks as there could be legal implications for those driving home.