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Artificial Sweeteners Affect Alcohol

Study: Mixing Alcohol With Artificially Sweetened Drinks May Spike Blood Alcohol Levels
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 22, 2006 -- Scientists report that alcohol may hit the bloodstream faster when mixed with artificially sweetened beverages, compared with those containing sugar.

The finding was announced in Los Angeles at Digestive Disease Week 2006, an international meeting of doctors, researchers, and academics.

“Substitution of artificial sweeteners for sucrose in mixed alcoholic beverages may have a marked effect on the rate of gastric emptying and the blood alcohol response,” write the researchers. They included Reawika Chaikomin, PhD, and Chris Rayner, MD, of the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide, Australia.

The magnitude of the effect was “striking,” Rayner told reporters in a teleconference.

“I think it’s something that needs to be borne out both in public education and the labeling of these beverages,” he says. Because in the eyes of many consumers, all they think about is the number of units of alcohol consumed and we want to highlight the idea that the context in which the alcohol is consumed is very important” with regards to intoxication.

Drinking Data

The researchers studied eight healthy young men on two different days. Each day, the men were served vodka mixed with an orange-flavored drink.

On one day, the drink was made with a “regular” mix containing sugar (sucrose). On the other day, the drink was made with “diet” mix.

The men fasted before each session. The drinks were the equivalent of three standard alcoholic beverages, Rayner told reporters in a teleconference.

The key questions:

  • How quickly did the drink empty from the men’s stomachs
  • How did the men’s blood alcohol concentration change 180 minutes after downing the drinks.

The results:

  • The artificially sweetened drink was quicker to leave the men’s stomachs (21 minutes, compared with 36 with the sugar drink to empty half of the drink from the stomach).
  • The men had a higher peak blood alcohol concentration after drinking the artificially sweetened drink (0.05 blood alcohol level, compared with 0.03 with the sugar drink).
  • For both groups, blood alcohol levels peaked about 30 minutes after drinking the drinks.

‘Marked Difference’

“The findings conformed to our hypothesis but in fact it was surprising what a marked difference there was between the two drinks,” Rayner said, in the teleconference.

The small study only included men, so it’s not clear if the results apply to women. If the men had eaten before drinking, the results likely would have been smaller, Rayner notes.

“In many countries in recent years, there has been a great rise in sales of premixed alcoholic beverages,” Rayner says.

“These are usually sweetened flavored beverages, which are marketed particularly to young people. Women are particular targets in the marketing, and they’re precisely the group of people that are likely to be concerned about the number of calories they’re consuming,” he says.

None of the products used in this study is named in Rayner’s report.

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